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Films made for under a Million

In a multi-billion dollar industry, there are more than enough big budget productions dominating the box office with their epic stunts and remarkable graphics. However every now and then a film will come along that is so ripe with creativity and production value that it makes studio heads weep, showing that a minimal budget doesn’t always mean a minimal hit.

Upcoming sci-fi thriller KILL COMMAND is this exception to the rule. With an overall production budget of £1 million, the film pits man against machine using terrifyingly detailed robots in a stunning futuristic landscape, truly showing what can be achieved on a tight budget in the VFX age. The film hits cinemas and is available on iTunes and Sky Store from May 13, and to celebrate its release we take a look at some of the greatest films that have been made for under a million.

Watch the action-packed trailer here.

Primer (2004)


Written, directed, produced, edited and scored by Shane Carruth, who also stars in the film alongside David Sullivan. Made for $7,000 the film featured complex technical dialogue, which Carruth, a college graduate with a degree in mathematics and a former engineer, chose not to simplify for the sake of the audience. The film collected the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. A fantastic small film with huge ideas that deserves, and occasionally needs, repeat viewings.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)


The daddy of zombie movies saw George A. Romero bring it in for $114,000. It went on to make $12 million in the US and $18 million internationally. Not a bad return. The initial budget was $6,000 with the ten members of the production company, investing $600 each for a share of the profits. Another ten investors were found when it was found that another $6,000 was required but this was also soon found to be inadequate. It went on to spawn a whole heap of sequel and is a blueprint for zombie film to this day.

Saw (2004)


With the film’s director James Wan now being called the modern master of horror, it’s hard to believe that the now seven-part franchise had several attempts to get its script published. Left with no choice but to shoot a low-budget short to attract producers, the full-length cult film was then shot in the space of just 18 days. Telling the dark story of two men who wake to find themselves chained in a decrepit bathroom at the mercy of a sadistic mad man’s horrifying game, 6pm is the deadline for one man to escape and the other to save his family by killing him before he does. Refusing to be defeated by a lack of willingness for spend to be put behind it, the now hugely popular franchise proved that a little bit of faith and perseverance is enough to create an epic success.

The Raid (2011)

the raid

With sights set high, The Raid was initially planned to tell the tale of a large scale prison gang starring prolific international fight stars. As the project progressed it became apparent that the funds required to make the film as director Gareth Evans wanted were not sufficient. Changing to a simpler plot requiring a smaller budget, determination ensured that all stops were pulled to make the film happen. Persistence prevailed, creating the adapted shady story of a S.W.A.T team who become trapped in a tenement run by a ruthless mobster and an army of dangerous thugs. Proving that the initial high hopes could be lived up to, the film received numerous awards and a positive box office, confirming money isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to producing a notable film.

Mad Max (1979)

mad max

George Miller’s Mad Max spawned a number of sequels and influenced so many post-apocalyptic movies since then. Principal photography took place in and around Melbourne, Australia, and lasted six weeks. Upon its release Mad Max received mixed reviews, although it won three AACTA Awards and its critical reputation has grown considerably over the years. The film earned over $100 million worldwide in gross revenue. It held the Guinness record for most profitable film from 1980-1999 and has been credited for further opening up the global market to Australian New Wave films. According to Miller, his interest while writing Mad Max was “a silent movie with sound”, employing highly kinetic images reminiscent of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd while the narrative itself was basic and simple. Miller believed that audiences would find his violent story more believable if set in a bleak dystopian future.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

reservoir dogs

Dubbed as the “Greatest Independent Film of all Time” by Empire magazine, Reservoir Dogs is a neo-noir crime thriller that effectively showcased how a truly great film needs minimal funding. Depicting the events before and after a simple diamond heist goes terribly wrong; the criminals suspect that a mole in the group is in fact a police informant. With a limited budget, the heist was initially kept out of the filming, but the outstanding script soon drew attention and spend was increased.  With the initial lack of money already forcing director Quentin Tarantino into daring creativity, he chose not to let his increased budget influence him from keeping the heist ambiguous. Standing as an important milestone in independent film making, the film showcases the striking originality that lack of funding can create.

The Evil Dead (1981)


Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell brought us a classic cabin in the woods movie, that has grown in popularity over the years. To generate funds for the film, Raimi approached Phil Gillis, a lawyer to one of his friends. Raimi showed him a short he had made called Within the Woods, and although Gillis was not impressed by the short film, he offered Raimi legal advice on how to produce The Evil Dead. With his advice in mind, Raimi asked a variety of people for donations, and even eventually “begged” some. Campbell had to ask several of his own family members, and Raimi asked every individual he thought could be interested. He eventually raised enough money to produce a full-length film, though not the full amount he originally wanted. The success of the Ash vs Evil Dead TV show is proof that we all need to hail to the Hing!

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

lock stock

The first film written and directed by Guy Ritchie, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels ironically tells a tale of money woes whilst being crafted on a tight budget. Bringing both Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham to the screen for the first time, the story follows a heist involving a young card shark who loses £500,000 to a powerful crime lord in a rigged bluff game Three Card Brag. Desperate to pay off his debts, he convinces his friends to rob a small-time gang who happen to be working next door. Nominated for a BAFTA in 1998 for the Outstanding British Film of the Year, the film is a perfect example of how a small budget can be exactly what is needed to portray the gritty realism of crime.

El Mariachi (1992)

el mariachi

Robert Rodriguez made his feature debut with El Mariachi. He wrote and directed the film that had a budget of $7,000, half of which he raised by participating in experimental clinical drug testing while living in Austin, Texas. The film was shot in numerous locations in Acuña, Coahuila, located in Northeastern Mexico. He cut costs at every possible opportunity. He did not use a slate; the actors, instead, signaled the number of scene and number of take with their fingers. He did not use a dolly but held the camera while being pushed around in a wheelchair. He did not employ on set sound recording equipment; the film was instead shot silent with audio dubbed in post-production. Professional lighting was replaced by two 200-watt clip-on desk lamps. No film crew was hired; actors not in the scenes helped out. Also, Rodriguez believed in filming scenes sequentially in one long take with a single camera; every few seconds, he froze the action, so he could change the camera angle and make it appear that he used multiple cameras simultaneously.

Kill Command (2016)

kill command

With plenty of competition boasting generous budgets, Kill Command finds itself up against a huge array of blockbuster sci-fi films and is the true underdog amongst the superhero films and alien attack films of 2016. Set in the near future, a team of marines are sent on a training exercise on a remote island where a group of highly advanced military robots await. It is only once they are in position and all communication is cut off that they realise that the robots are learning all their war strategies, becoming more and more dangerous the longer they stay. With incredibly detailed visual effects, the robots are a threatening enemy in this action-packed thriller that shows what can truly be achieved with a talented and passionate VFX team on a budget.


There are of course many other low budget movies, but which are your favourites?



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