Made with the bare minimum and with a cast of five young actors, newbie director Shane Carruth practically made his film student’s budget. In fact, in order to save money on the production, Carruth took on multiple roles and was the writer, director, producer, cinematographer, editor, and music composer. That’s one talented guy. The actors were actually his friends and family, so he must have saved a fortune on the cast.
In the end, it really paid off, and the movie landed in a series of prestigious film festivals, most notably the Sundance Film Festival, for which it won the Grand Jury Prize in the year 2004. The film ultimately grossed $840,000 at the box office. Not too shabby.
This delightful simple story follows the chaotic life of a dancer living in New York who is forever between apartments. The film was created by indie king and queen Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. The two made this film together with little publicity. By the time it came out, it had created a huge buzz and a few million dollars.
The film actually brought the now-married couple closer together. For a couple of years, the two would share drafts of the script. When it was ultimately done, Baumbach (the now Oscar-nominated filmmaker) directed the film.
A film about a traveling mariachi musician who finds himself entangled in the law by being mistaken for a murderous criminal. The film paved the way for film director Robert Rodiguez's gory obscure action films. As one of his firsts (made in 1992), the Spanish language film was both written and directed by Rodriguez and was made for only a $7,000 budget. Rodriguez, who was a film student at the time, made money for the film by being a human lab rat and getting medical tests done on him. That's commitment!
The film eventually made over $2 million worldwide, which was a huge surprise considering it was an extremely low-budget student film. The film consisted of not one professional — not in the crew and not the casts, so that is quite an accomplishment.
A film about a paranoid mathematician who has isolated himself from the world, "Pi" (not to be confused with the blockbuster hit, "The Life of Pi"), enchanted its viewers. This certainly was a big surprise, considering it cost the film a measly $60,000. The 1998 film that followed the mathematician's search for natural patterns in the universe bought in $3.2 million in the U.S. alone.
The film ended up winning a number of awards, including the Gotham Awards, the Open Palm Award, as well the Dramatic Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
Richard Linklater, the master of coming-of-age stories, out-did himself in the 1991 low-budget comedy-drama "Slacker." The film, which only had a shoestring budget of $23,000, ended up grossing over $1.2 million in the U.S. Part of the budget came out Linklater's own credit card.
The film even inspired the low-budget hit "Clerks." Not only was this a box-office surprise, but the British film magazine "Empire" included it in its list of 50 greatest American independent films.