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A low-budget film or low-budget movie is a motion picture shot with little to no funding from a major film studio or private investor. Many independent films are made on low budgets, but films made on the mainstream circuit with inexperienced or unknown filmmakers can also have low budgets. Many young or first time filmmakers shoot low-budget films to prove their talent before doing bigger productions. Most low-budget films that do not gain some form of attention or acclaim are never released in theatres and are often sent straight to retail because of their lack of marketability, look,
narrative story
narrative story
, or
premise A premise or premiss is a true or false statement that helps form the body of an argument In logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, apply ...
. There is no precise number to define a low budget production, and it is relative to both genre and country. What might be a low-budget film in one country may be a big budget in another. Modern-day young filmmakers rely on
film festival A film festival is an organized, extended presentation of film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art The visual arts are art forms such as painting Painting is the practice of ...

film festival
s for pre-promotion. They use this to gain acclaim and attention for their films, which often leads to a
limited release __FORCETOC__ Limited theatrical release is a film distribution strategy of releasing a new film in a few theaters across a country, typically in major metropolitan markets. The purpose is often used to gauge the appeal of specialty films, like d ...
in theatres. Films that acquire a
cult following A cult following refers to a group of fans Fan commonly refers to: * Fan (machine) Sounds from a household fan. A fan is a powered machine A machine is a man-made device that uses power to apply forces and control movement to perfor ...
may be given a
wide releaseIn the Cinema of the United States, American motion picture industry, a wide release (short for nationwide release) is a film playing at the same time at cinemas in most markets across the country. This is in contrast to the formerly common practice ...
. Low-budget films can be either professional productions or
amateur An amateur (; ; ) is generally considered a person who pursues a particular activity or field of study independently from their source of income. Amateurs and their pursuits are also described as popular, informal, , , , and ist. History Histor ...
. They are either shot using professional- or consumer-grade equipment. Some genres are more conducive to low-budget filmmaking than others.
Horror film A horror film is one that seeks to elicit fear or disgust in its audience for entertainment purposes. Initially inspired by Horror fiction, literature from authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, and Mary Shelley, horror has existed as a ...
s are a very popular genre for low-budget
directorial debut This is a list of film directorial debuts in chronological order. The films and dates referred to are a director's first commercial cinematic release. Many film makers have directed works which were not commercially released, for example early works ...
s. Jeremy Gardner, director of '' The Battery'' says that horror fans are more attracted to how the films affect them than seeing
movie star A movie star (also known as a film star or cinema star) is an actor or actress who is famous for their starring, or leading, roles in movies. The term is used for performers who are marketable stars and whose names are used to promote movies, fo ...
s. This allows horror films to focus more on provoking a reaction than on expensive casting choices.
Thriller Thriller may refer to: * Thriller (genre), a broad genre of literature, film and television ** Thriller film, a film genre under the general thriller genre Comics * Thriller (DC Comics), ''Thriller'' (DC Comics), a comic book series published 1983 ...
films are also a popular choice for low-budget films, as they focus on narrative.
Science fiction film Science fiction (or sci-fi) is a film genre A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art used to simulate experiences that communicate ideas, stories, perceptions, feelings, beauty, or atmosphe ...
s, which were once the domain of
B movie A B movie or B film is a low-budget A low-budget film or low-budget movie is a motion picture shot with little to no funding from a major film studio or private investor. Many independent films are made on low budgets, but films made on the ...

B movie
s, frequently require a big budget to accommodate their special effects, but low-cost do-it-yourself
computer-generated imagery Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is the application of computer graphics to create or contribute to images in art Art is a diverse range of (products of) human activities involving creative imagination to express technical proficiency, ...
can make them affordable, especially when they focus on story and characterization.
Plot device A plot device or plot mechanism is any technique Technique or techniques may refer to: Music * The Techniques, a Jamaican rocksteady vocal group of the 1960s *Technique (band), a British female synth pop band in the 1990s *Technique (album), ''T ...
s like shooting as found footage can lower production costs, and scripts that rely on extended dialogue, such as ''
Reservoir Dogs ''Reservoir Dogs'' is a 1992 American crime film Crime films, in the broadest sense, is a film genre inspired by and analogous to the crime fiction literary genre. Films of this genre generally involve various aspects of crime and its dete ...

Reservoir Dogs
'' or ''
Sex, Lies, and Videotape ''Sex, Lies, and Videotape'' is a 1989 American independent drama film In film and television show, television, drama is a category of narrative fiction (or docudrama, semi-fiction) intended to be more serious than humour, humorous in tone. ...
'', can entertain audiences without many sets. The money flow in filmmaking is a unique system because of the uncertainty of demand. The makers of the film do not know how well the film they release will be received. They may predict a film will do very well and pay back the cost of production but only get a portion back. Or the opposite may happen where a project that few think will go far can bring in more profit than imaginable. A big gambling variable that is also involved is the use of stars. Frequently stars are brought on to a project to gain the film publicity and fame. This process can be profitable, but it is not a foolproof mechanism to successful funding. Well-known actors may join a low-budget film for a portion of the gross.


Notable low-budget films

Bruce Lee Lee Jun-fan (; November 27, 1940 – July 20, 1973), commonly known as Bruce Lee (), was a Chinese American martial artist, actor, director, martial arts instructor and philosopher. He was the founder of Jeet Kune Do, a hybrid martial a ...

Bruce Lee
's low-budget 1970s
Hong Kong martial arts filmsHong Kong action cinema is the principal source of the Hong Kong film industry's global fame. Action films from Hong Kong combined elements of Cinema of the United States, Hollywood with Chinese culture, Chinese and Culture of Hong Kong, Hong Kong cu ...
were some of the most commercially successful and
profitable An economic profit is the difference between the revenue a commerce , commercial entity has received from its outputs and the opportunity costs of its inputs. Unlike an accounting profit, an economic profit takes into account both a firm's Impl ...
films of all time. ''
The Way of the Dragon ''The Way of the Dragon'' (, originally released in the United States as ''Return of the Dragon'') is a 1972 Hong Kong martial arts action-comedy film written, co-produced and directed by Bruce Lee, who also stars in the lead role. This is Lee's ...
'' (1972) grossed worldwide against a $130,000 budget (a %
return on investment Return on investment (ROI) or return on costs (ROC) is a ratio between net income In business Business is the activity of making one's living or making money by producing or buying and selling Product (business), products (such as goods an ...
), while ''
Enter the Dragon ''Enter the Dragon'' (Chinese: 龍爭虎鬥) is a 1973 martial arts action film directed by Robert Clouse. The film stars Bruce Lee Lee Jun-fan (; November 27, 1940 – July 20, 1973), commonly known as Bruce Lee (), was a Chines ...
'' (
1973 Events January * January 1 January 1 or 1 January is the first day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar. There are 364 days remaining until the end of the year (365 in leap years). This day is known as New Year's Day since the day mar ...
) grossed worldwide against a $850,000 budget (a % return on investment). Another example of a very successful low-budget Asian film from the same decade was the 1975
Bollywood Hindi cinema, often known as Bollywood and formerly as ''Bombay cinema'', is the Indian Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). The term is a portmanteau of "Bombay" and "Cinema of the United States, Hollywood". The ...

Bollywood
"
Dacoit Western Dacoity is a term used for " banditry" in the Indian subcontinent. The spelling is the anglicised Linguistic anglicisation (or anglicization, occasionally anglification, anglifying, or Englishing) is the practice of modifying foreign words, nam ...
" film ''
Sholay ''Sholay'' (, ) is a 1975 It was also declared the '' International Women's Year'' by the United Nations The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization that aims to maintain international peace and international secu ...
'', which cost ($400,000) to produce and grossed ($67 million), making it
Indian cinema Cinema of India consists of films produced in India India (Hindi: ), officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, second-most populous country, t ...
's
highest-grossing film Films generate income from several revenue streams, including movie theater, theatrical exhibition, home video, Broadcasting rights, television broadcast rights, and merchandising. However, theatrical box office earnings are the primary metric ...
ever up until then.
Wayne Wang Wayne Wang (; born January 12, 1949) is a Hong Kong–American director, producer, and screenwriter A screenplay writer (also called screenwriter for short), scriptwriter or scenarist, is a writer who practices the craft of screenwritin ...
's film '' Chan Is Missing'', set on the streets of San Francisco's Chinatown, was made for $20,000 in 1982.
San Francisco Chronicle The ''San Francisco Chronicle'' is a newspaper serving primarily the of . It was founded in 1865 as ''The Daily Dramatic Chronicle'' by teenage brothers and . The paper is owned by the , which bought it from the de Young family in 2000. It is ...
columnist
Herb Caen Herbert Eugene Caen (; April 3, 1916 February 1, 1997) was a San Francisco humorist and journalist whose daily of local goings-on and insider gossip, social and political happenings, and offbeat puns and anecdotes—"A continuous love letter to ...
wrote that the budget would not have paid for the shoelaces in the film '' Annie''. One of the most successful low-budget films was 1999's ''
The Blair Witch Project ''The Blair Witch Project'' is a 1999 American supernatural horror film Supernatural horror film is a film genre that combines aspects of horror film and supernatural film. Supernatural occurrences in such films often include ghosts and demons ...
''. It had a budget of around $60,000 but grossed almost $249 million worldwide. It spawned books, a trilogy of video games, and a less-popular sequel. Another successful low-budget film was 2007's
Paranormal Activity ''Paranormal Activity'' is a 2007 American supernatural horror film produced, written, directed, photographed and edited by Oren Peli. It centers on a young couple (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) who are haunted by a supernatural presence in t ...

Paranormal Activity
, with a budget of only $15,000, the film went on to gross more than $190 million. Possibly an even more successful low-budget film was the 1972 film '' Deep Throat'' which cost only $22,500 to produce, yet was rumored to have grossed over $600 million, though this figure is often disputed. Another film that not only had a major return on its investment but also had a huge cultural impact was Mad Max. Mad Max was made for $200,000 USD but returned over 100 million USD. It also started off a major franchise that resulted in another 3 movies. Mad Max held the
Guinness Book of Records ''Guinness World Records'', known from its inception in 1955 until 1999 as ''The Guinness Book of Records'' and in previous United States editions as ''The Guinness Book of World Records'', is a reference book published annually, listing world r ...
record for most profitable movie for 20 years, eventually beaten by The Blair Witch Project. ''
Rocky ''Rocky'' is a 1976 American sports drama film A sports film is a film genre that uses sport as the theme (arts), theme of the film. It is a production in which a sport, sporting event, athlete (and their sport), or follower of sport (and the ...

Rocky
'' was shot on a budget of $1 million and eventually grossed $225 million worldwide, making
Sylvester Stallone Sylvester Enzio Stallone (; born Michael Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone, ) is an American actor, screenwriter, director, and producer. After his beginnings as a struggling actor for a number of years upon arriving to New York City in 1969 and lat ...

Sylvester Stallone
a star. ''
Halloween Halloween or Hallowe'en (a contraction of "All Hallows' evening"), less commonly known as Allhalloween, All Hallows' Eve, or All Saints' Eve, is a celebration observed in many countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian 250p ...
'' was produced on a budget of $325,000 and grossed $70 million worldwide. ''
Napoleon Dynamite ''Napoleon Dynamite'' is a 2004 American comedy film produced by Jeremy Coon, Chris Wyatt and Sean C. Covel (producer), Sean Covel, written by Jared and Jerusha Hess and directed by Jared Hess. The film stars Jon Heder in the role of the title ...
'' cost less than $400,000 to make but its gross revenue was $46 million. Divisions of
major film studio Major film studios are production Production may be: Economics and business * Production (economics) * Production, the act of manufacturing goods * Production, in the outline of industrial organization, the act of making products (goods and serv ...
s that specialize in such films, such as
Fox Searchlight Pictures Searchlight Pictures, Inc. (or simply Searchlight) is an American film studio A film studio (also known as movie studio or simply studio) is a major entertainment company or motion picture company that has its own privately owned studio A stu ...
,
Miramax Miramax, LLC (also known as Miramax Films) is an American entertainment company known for producing and distributing films and television shows. Its headquarters are located in Los Angeles Los Angeles (; es, Los Ángeles; "The Angels") ...
, and
New Line Cinema New Line Productions, Inc., doing business as A trade name, trading name, or business name is a pseudonym A pseudonym () or alias () (originally: ψευδώνυμος in Greek) is a fictitious name that a person or group assumes for a particu ...

New Line Cinema
, have made the distribution of low budget films competitive. The UK film ''
Monsters A monster is a type of fictional creature found in Horror fiction, horror, fantasy, science fiction, folklore, mythology and religion. Monsters are very often depicted as dangerous and aggressive with a strange, grotesque appearance that causes ...
'' is a recent successful example of bringing what was once considered the exclusive preserve of the big studios—the expensive, special effects blockbuster—to independent, low-budget cinema. The film's budget was reported to be approximately $500,000, but it grossed $4,188,738 at the box office. A considerable number of low- and modest-budget films have been forgotten by their makers and fallen into the
public domain The public domain consists of all the to which no intellectual property rights apply. Those rights may have expired, been forfeited, expressly waived, or may be inapplicable. As examples, the works of , , and are in the public domain eit ...

public domain
. This has been especially true of low-budget films made in the United States from 1923 to 1978 (films and other works made in the US during this period fell into public domain if their copyrights weren't renewed 28 years after the original production). Examples include a number of films made by
Ed Wood Edward Davis Wood Jr. (October 10, 1924 – December 10, 1978) was an American filmmaker, actor, and author. In the 1950s, Wood directed several low-budget science fiction, crime and horror films, notably ''Glen or Glenda'' (1953), '' ...
or
Roger Corman Roger William Corman (born April 5, 1926) is an American film director, producer, and actor. He has been called "The Pope of Pop Cinema" and is known as a trailblazer in the world of independent film. Many of Corman's films are based on works th ...

Roger Corman
. Some low-budget films have failed miserably at the box office and been quickly forgotten, only to increase in popularity decades later. A number of cheaply made movies have attained cult-film status after being considered some of the worst features ever made for many years. The most famous examples of this latter-day popularity of low-budget box-office failures include ''
Plan 9 from Outer Space ''Plan 9 from Outer Space'' is a 1957 Independent film, independently made American black-and-white science fiction film, science fiction-horror film, produced, written, directed, and edited by Ed Wood. The film was shot in November 1956, and h ...
'' and '' Manos: The Hands of Fate''. Additionally, some low-cost films that have had little (or modest) success upon their initial release have later been considered classics. '' The Last Man on Earth'' was the first adaptation of the novel ''I Am Legend (novel), I Am Legend'' by Richard Matheson. Due to budgetary constraints, the vampires in the film were zombie-like creatures instead of fast and agile monsters portrayed in the novel. This approach (and film) was not considered a success at the time, but it inspired George A. Romero's work in his film ''Night of the Living Dead''. Thus ''The Last Man on Earth'' became a precursor to numerous zombie films, and fans of those films later re-discovered the original, making it a cult classic. The 2017 Indian film ''Secret Superstar'' became one of the most profitable films of all time, grossing () worldwide on a limited budget of , with over %
return on investment Return on investment (ROI) or return on costs (ROC) is a ratio between net income In business Business is the activity of making one's living or making money by producing or buying and selling Product (business), products (such as goods an ...
(ROI).


Micro budget

A micro budget film is that which is made on an extremely low budget, sometimes as little as a few thousand dollars. An example of such would be the popular 1992 film ''El Mariachi'', in which the director Robert Rodriguez was unable to afford second takes due to the $7000 budget. Despite this, it was a success both critically and commercially, and started the young director's career. Some of the most critically acclaimed micro-budget films were by the Cinema of West Bengal, Bengali film director Satyajit Ray, his most famous being ''The Apu Trilogy'' (1955–1959). The first film in the trilogy, ''Pather Panchali (film), Pather Panchali'' (1955), was produced on a shoestring budget of Indian rupee, Rs.200,000 ($3000) using an amateur cast and crew. The three films are now frequently listed among the Films considered the greatest ever, greatest films of all time. All his other films that followed also had micro-budgets or low-budgets, with his most expensive films being ''Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha'' (1968) at Rs.600,000 ($12,000) and ''Shatranj Ke Khilari'' (1977) at Rs.2 million ($40,000). Another example would be the 1977 cult film ''Eraserhead'', which cost only $10,000 to produce. Director David Lynch had so much trouble securing funds that the film had to be made over a six-year period, whenever Lynch could afford to shoot scenes. In 2014, journalist Kyle Smith (critic), Kyle Smith estimated the film has grossed over $7 million. ''Slacker (film), Slacker'', a 1991 comedy-drama film written and directed by Richard Linklater, was produced for $23,000. The film was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2012. Influenced by the success of ''Slacker'', ''Clerks (1994 film), Clerks'' was written and directed by Kevin Smith for $27,575 in 1994 which he paid for on his credit card and grossed $3.2 million in theatres. ''Clerks'' launched Smith's career as a director and he has made several considerable higher budget films. In Russia, the 1997 crime film ''Brother (1997 film), Brother'' was made with a budget of around $10,000, and was extremely successful when it was first released. In 1998, Christopher Nolan's first film ''Following'' was filmed on a budget of £3,000. Nolan then received another £3,000 to "blow it up to 35mm". ''Primer (film), Primer'' is a 2004 American science fiction film about the accidental invention of time travel. The film was written, directed and produced by Shane Carruth, a former mathematician and engineer, who also starred, and was completed on a budget of only $7,000. Also in 2004, the Documentary film, documentary ''Tarnation (2003 film), Tarnation'' had a budget of $218.32, but grossed $1,200,000. In 2007 the Tribeca Film Festival premiered the first film shot in a cell phone. Dutch avant-garde filmmaker Cyrus Frisch shot the 70-minute film, titled Why Didn't Anybody Tell Me It Would Become This Bad in Afghanistan for only $200 on a Sharp 903 cell phone, with its built-in 3.2-megapixel camera. ''
Paranormal Activity ''Paranormal Activity'' is a 2007 American supernatural horror film produced, written, directed, photographed and edited by Oren Peli. It centers on a young couple (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) who are haunted by a supernatural presence in t ...

Paranormal Activity
'', a 2007 horror film written and directed by Oren Peli, was made for $15,000 and grossing about $193,355,800 (adjusted by inflation: $). ''Entertainment Weekly'' critic Owen Gleiberman gave ''Paranormal Activity'' an A− rating (A being the highest mark) and called it "frightening...freaky and terrifying" and said that "''Paranormal Activity'' scrapes away 30 years of encrusted nightmare clichés." ''One Cut of the Dead'' (2017), a low-budget Japanese zombie comedy film, was produced on a budget of ($25,000) and went on to gross over () at the Japanese box office, where it made history by earning over a thousand times its budget.


Academic research on low-budget film production (economic)

Only a small amount of academic research has been conducted on the economic impact of low-budget feature-film production. Two studies conducted from a British perspective includes Steve Chibnall's ''Quota Quickies: The Birth of the British 'B' Film'' and JC Crissey's doctoral thesis ''The UK low-budget film sector during the 'digital revolution' between 2000 and 2012: a quantitative assessment of its technological, economic and cultural characteristics''.John Crissey III, Crissey, John C. III (21 June 2019)
''The UK low-budget film sector during the 'digital revolution' between 2000 and 2012: a quantitative assessment of its technological, economic and cultural characteristics''
Ph.D. thesis. Royal Holloway, University of London.


See also

*Independent film *No budget film


References

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