Making a great movie is hard enough with all the money in the world. Even if you could hire the best actors, add stunning effects, and make everything visually beautiful, you could still easily be left with 2+ hours of garbage. That’s exactly why low-budget movies that turn out great are even more impressive. Here are 12, all with a budget under $250,000, that you need to see.
1. Primer – Movies about time travel lend themselves to grand Hollywood effects and big-time budgets. Shane Carruth’s debut film is so far on the other end of the spectrum it’s almost laughable. Instead of a shiny time machine, it tackles the idea of time travel itself and does so in thrilling and bewildering fashion. Carruth did just about everything to get Primer off the ground including starring in the film himself. (Budget: $7,000) Amazon iTunes
2. Following – Speaking of debut movies from talented directors, Following is the first time we were introduced to Christopher Nolan. Nolan’s first movie – before the attention that came with Memento – was this black and white film he shot on the weekends. It’s short without Dark Knight-esque effects, but the subject matter – privacy and personal intrusion – will resonate with viewers. (Budget: $6,000) Amazon iTunes Netflix
3. Bronson – We guess when your protagonist is spending years in solitary confinement, a huge budget isn’t necessary. Bronson is based on the story of Michael Gordon Peterson, aka Charles Bronson, the U.K.’s most violent prisoner. Tom Hardy gives a harrowing performance as Charles Bronson and is only upstaged by his tremendous mustache. (Budget: $230,000) Amazon iTunes Netflix
4. In the Company of Men – In the Company of Men feels like a movie about some grown up frat guys. That said, it is by no means all pointless debauchery. The film comically delves into the evils guys can cause when they are scorned by life. The style is so plain that it actually feels realer and that seems to work. (Budget: $25,000) Clip Amazon iTunes
5. Clerks – Clerks really introduced the world to Kevin Smith and made hanging out outside of convenience stores cool. On one hand it’s all stupid laughs, and on the other it’s a perfect encapsulation of the (slightly) misunderstood Gen X slacker. (Budget: $27,000) Amazon iTunes Netflix
6. El Mariachi – El Mariachi is everything Desperado should have been and for a lot less money. The movie was filmed in just two weeks by Robert Rodriguez while he was on summer break from school and is an interesting blend of thrilling action and seriously weird comedy. (Budget: $7,000) Amazon iTunes
7. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – Unsettling. That would be the best word we could use to describe Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Hey, it earned its NC-17 rating for a reason. Henry goes through the film selecting people to kill, plotting the murders, and carrying it all out. Probably not the movie you want to pick for Valentine’s Day. (Budget: $110,000) Amazon iTunes Netflix
8. Eraserhead – Eraserhead is one of the quintessential low-budget cult hits. It introduced David Lynch’s style to the world while refusing to be pinned down by any simple description. It’s in a category all its own and is more a piece of art than a simple movie. The baby still freaks us out to this day. (Budget: $20,000) Amazon iTunes
9. Once – Even if you put on Once just to hear the music, it is worth the time. The film, which stars musician/actors Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, is really all about the songs including the award-winning “Falling Slowly.” The love story isn’t just chick flick fodder, it’s folded into the emotion in the music and won’t make you cringe. (Budget: $160,000) Amazon iTunes
10. The Man from Earth – When you’re making a cheap sci-fi movie and you can’t splurge on the effects you’d normally expect in the genre, you can turn to grand ideas and making your audience think to produce something bigger than the sum of its parts. The Man from Earth follows this to a T. The cerebral flick centers around a man who claims to be immortal and the thought-provoking ideas that come from this revelation. Watch it while high and your brain might actually explode. (Budget: $200,000) Amazon iTunes
11. Pi – We first saw Pi when it was included with our purchase of Requiem for a Dream on DVD. The directorial debut of Darren Aronofsky stole the show when we thought we were just getting a throwaway with our purchase. On the surface it’s about math and numbers, but sit through it and realize it tackles far bigger issues. (Budget: $60,000) Amazon iTunes Netflix
12. Night of the Living Dead – Low-budget horror movies are in a category all their own. Usually they are successful because they are just so, so bad. Night of the Living Dead is in this category but succeeds not because it is bad, but because it is so good. Aside from the sheer terror created, the film is actually deeper than any simple zombie/slasher flick. A cult classic that still holds up today. (Budget: $114,000) Amazon iTunes
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