Top 10 Films That Were Successful But Cost Nothing To Make, Or Could Have

This list is the top ten films that anybody — you included — could make today if you wanted to. These films required no extensive Hollywood-style production, and either cost almost nothing to make or could have. (What I mean here is that even though a few of these films actually cost hundreds of thousands, it wasn’t necessary to spend that to make the film per se, and you could make these films almost the same without any budget).

If you have any films to add to this list, or you disagree with any of them, you had better comment underneath the article.


1. Kids – Even though out of this list this film had one of the highest costs, anyone watching this movie can see that they could make it themselves with a camera or two and a handful of local actors. This is possibly the “ultimate indie film.” Everything about the aesthetic, cast, writing and locations showed us all that anyone could make a movie — even if you were a couple teenagers sitting on a couch watching Kids, you were struck by how non-Hollywood this 1995 film was, and that you could get a camera and make this yourself. Anyone could make a full-length, in-the-theaters-and-on-talk-shows movie, if this was what a film could be.

All that was required, it seemed, to make Kids or a show like it, was writing a rough script (this seemed optional, actually, when watching Kids) and shooting some friends around town.

Kids was the first film directed by Larry Clark, and launched the career of writer Harmony Korine (and several of the actors in the show), and a lot of the reason it got so much exposure was the hype that surrounded its controversial subject matter.

Kids was filmed on city streets, parks, a public pool, a house, apartments and a club. The production may have had something to it the large budget, but it seems minimal when watching the film. The camera is hand held, and this was something mainstream audiences hadn’t really seen before in 1995.

2. Swingers – Anyone — or maybe any guy — around in 1996 or the few years after that will probably remember how much of an important movie this seemed to a lot of the people they knew. Other films of the time were more popular and grossed more, but guys talked about and recommended this film to each other, and when they talked about it, it was with a special meaning.

Swingers was filmed in locations anyone could easily shoot in: apartments, bars, a car on the highway, a trailer, a diner, a casino. The story didn’t have a traditional Hollywood plot, but it definitely took you somewhere, and took you somewhere different from where you started from, and whatever the message is, it seemed a worthwhile film.

3. Buffalo 66 – Somber, sober, absorbing. Christina Ricci, who was hung up on quite a few guys’ walls at the time, was at her most beautiful, with her hair dyed blonde, her voluptuous presence highlighted by an unusual-seeming outfit — a baby blue ballet suit — and her characteristic sensitive mien made a movie out of reactions to Gallo’s character — the tension and simple complexity of the states of mind traveled through during the hours portrayed in the film.

The cast of Buffalo 66 is small: 4 or 5 main characters. The locations: a dance studio, driving around in a small car, a hotel, a house, a restaurant. The script does not have a lot of dialogue. Again, the arc is not a traditional Hollywood one, but some of the scenes are unforgettable and it too definitely takes you somewhere.

4. Blair Witch Project – How many of you were just waiting for me to write “Blair Witch” on this list? This film exploded when it was screened in art house cinemas, then was picked up by and exploded in mainstream movie theaters. A lot of its success came, like Kids, from the hype surrounding it. It made $250 million — yes, $250,000,000 — and cost $35,000 to make, but you could see how you could make this film for even less over a weekend with some minor adjustments. It also resulted in a sequel film and a lot of associated Blair Witch products.

It was shot on a cheap (and low-quality) video camera bought from Walmart (and returned after use — there WERE no phone cameras at that time, but today you could shoot this on your cell). The settings: houses, trailer parks, the woods. The script: there was one, but most of the film was improvisation done by the three main characters. Like Kids, this film clearly shows that anyone they can make a film with nothing but a camera and a few local actors.

5. Clerks. A story about some people in a town. Watching this film anywhere in the world, you may think “it’s just like normal life.” This film was made for $25,000 by writers and directors Jay and Silent Bob. It was picked up quickly by Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein, who saw something in it that he thought would cause it to succeed with a wide audience. Like Woody Allen, there is a lot of dialogue in Jay and Silent Bob’s films. Everything is done with dialogue. And it’s funny: The jokes, because the film depicts people and scenarios at the level of the common blue collar man, are jokes that could be made about most people’s lives and social circles. People laughed out loud at this film, and you’re never going to fail if a film does that. It appealed to a certain demographic as well — like Kids and Swingers — and was kind of in the same vein as a lot of TV shows and pop culture things going on at the time.

Clerks was filmed in a basement and a convenience store. There were no stars or outstanding beauties (as there were in Jay and Silent Bob’s later films). Did I mention it was successful despite being in black & white?

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