For this list, we’re gonna take a look at ten of my favorite films that were made for less than ten million dollars. While I enjoy a good high budget action movie, I also consider myself a fan of low-budget movies that don’t spend as much time on eye candy. These movies show that you don’t need a lot of money to make a great movie, just a tight script and great performances.
This will only cover films released between 2010-2018, since inflation can alter some of the budgets (meaning what would’ve cost $3 million in 1980 could now cost $11 million today).
#10: Don’t Think Twice ($3 million budget, $4.4 million gross)
I wasn’t really familiar with Mike Birbiglia, who directs, writes, and co-stars in this comedy/drama. I watched this because Keegan-Michael Key was in it. This was a movie that took me by surprise. The movie follows the lives of an improv troupe when one of them suddenly finds success on an SNL style show. Key’s character gets on the show due to his tendency to grandstand, and in turn steals the show for most of the movie. The supporting cast is also really good, and the script is very witty.
Don’t Think Twice is available to stream on Netflix in select regions.
#9: Manchester by the Sea ($9 million budget, $79 million gross)
One of the Oscar darlings of recent years, this drama got Casey Affleck an Oscar for Best Actor. Affleck plays a reclusive man who suddenly finds himself taking care of his nephew following his brother’s sudden death. The Oscar winning screenplay by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan is very emotional, bringing out great performances from not only Affleck, but Lucas Hedges (in his breakout role) and Michelle Williams (despite minimal screen-time).
Manchester by the Sea is available to stream on Prime Video.
#8: The Big Sick ($5 million budget, $56.4 million gross)
Kumail Nanjiani has made a name for himself between his stand up and his role on HBO’s Silicon Valley, but here he shares a co-writing credit with his wife Emily V. Gordon. The movie is based around their real life relationship and the clash of cultures following Gordon’s sudden illness. Nanjiani plays himself in the movie, while Zoe Kazan plays Emily. It’s a very sweet movie and full of light-hearted moments, including scenes with Emily’s parents played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter.
The Big Sick is available to stream on Prime Video.
#7: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl ($8 million budget, $9.1 million gross)
I never expected the “sick teenager” genre to go any further than The Fault in Our Stars, but then Jesse Andrews came along and adapted his own novel for the big screen. The coming of age story follows Greg Gaines and Earl Jackson, two friends and aspiring film-makers who get forced into befriending a girl in their class who has cancer. This movie was a big hit at Sundance, and it’s not hard to see why. The young actors are very good here and the script is top-notch. It’s been a bit since I’ve seen it, but I would love to revisit this in the near future.
#6: Nightcrawler ($8.5 million budget, $50.3 million gross)
One of the biggest snubs at the Oscars in the last ten years was Jake Gyllenhaal not being nominated for Best Actor for his excellent work in Nightcrawler. Dan Gilroy’s thriller follows Lou Bloom, an opportunistic young man who builds a career filming crimes in L.A. and selling them to local news stations. Worth noting alongside Gyllenhaal is Riz Ahmed as his reluctant partner in crime and Rene Russo as a local news director who gives Bloom a chance. This was easily one of the best films of 2014 for me and I highly recommend it if you can find it.
#5: Moonlight ($1.5-4 million budget, $65.2 million gross)
*Sources vary on the budget for the film, but they say it cost no more than four million to make.
Moonlight may be remembered for its Best Picture mix-up at the 2016 Oscar ceremony, but it should be remembered for more. It’s the first Best Picture winner with an all black cast, and the first Best Picture winner to have LGBT characters front and center. Mahershala Ali won an Oscar for his role as a drug dealer turned father figure in the coming of age story, while Naomie Harris was nominated for her turn as an unstable, drug addicted mother. Add some beautiful cinematography and music and you have yourself a real winner.
Moonlight is available to stream on Netflix in select regions.
#4: The Gift ($5 million budget, $59 million gross)
Joel Edgerton has had a number of roles before his 2015 debut as a writer/director, but this psychological thriller shows that he is a force to be reckoned with. Edgerton plays Gordo, a man who reconnects with one of his classmates, played by Jason Bateman. Over time, he begins to stalk Bateman and his wife, played by Rebecca Hall. All three of the leads are excellent. I don’t want to give too much away about this movie because it has some compelling turns that will change your perspectives on the characters involved.
#3: Blindspotting ($1.2 million budget, $4.9 million gross)
Blindspotting was my favorite movie of last year. The comedy/drama follows two friends in Oakland, California navigating life after an incarceration and witnessing a cop killing an unarmed African-American. The script, written by co-stars Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, covers a lot of themes from the Black Lives Matter movement to hipsters taking over their neighborhood. There’s a scene towards the end that was one of the best scenes of 2018, and you’ll know it when you see it.
#2: Get Out ($4.5 million budget, $255.4 million gross)
For Jordan Peele’s debut as a writer/director, he chose his own personal blend of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Stepford Wives to be his first film. And what a way to kick off a film-making career. His horror satire about a young African-American man visiting his white girlfriend’s family was a smash hit with critics and audiences, making by far the most money out of any movie on this list. The movie benefits from its lead actor Daniel Kaluuya feeling awkward and uncomfortable throughout, and a very tense third act.
Get Out is available to stream on Netflix in select regions.
#1: Whiplash ($3.3 million budget, $49 million gross)
Whiplash is in my top five favorite movies of all time and for good reason. The story of an aspiring jazz drummer and his abusive teacher was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival (winning its top prizes), had a nice run with critics and audiences, and went on to win three Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons, quickly making him a household name. The theme of aspiring to be the best at any cost has been told many times before, but Whiplash manages to stay fresh.
Whiplash is available to stream on Netflix in select regions.