Posted by Ian M. Simpson @thesimpsonian
I love superheroes and villains alike! I'm also a big fan of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Gaming! Follow me on Twitter! @The_Simpsonian
Ian M. Simpson

In modern cinema, blockbusters rule the theaters. Big-name companies dish out giant budgets for franchise films to ensure an even larger box office return. Mad Max: Fury Road had a budget of $150 million. Captain America: Civil War had $250 million. Even Deadpool with its famously tight budget had over $50 million.

All three of those movies were fantastic and earned big at the box office, but they don't set the standard for cinema. There have many movies throughout the recent decades that have gained critical acclaim off of a minuscule budget. Seeing as inflation can drastically affect the numbers of budgets and box office returns, I've hand-picked thirty amazing movies released after 1990 that were made for less than $20 million.

Nightcrawler

Not the X-Men character.
Not the X-Men character.
  • Budget: $8.5 Million
  • Box Office: $32 Million

Nightcrawler is the 2014 story of a man who enters the world of journalism. In the realm of movies like Shattered Glass, Louis Bloom (played by the remarkable Jake Gyllenhaal) takes a less-than-ethical approach at his job, making it difficult to root for him. On a tight budget of $8.5 million, director Dan Gilroy gives us a compelling story with an intriguing protagonist.

Office Space

Everyone needs a little more flair.
Everyone needs a little more flair.
  • Budget: $10 Million
  • Box Office: $10.8 Million

If you're a fan of the show The Office, you should definitely check out 1999's Office Space. The workplace comedy follows mistreated employees as they attempt to strike back, which leads to dozens of memorable and quotable moments. With Ron Livingston and Jennifer Anniston leading a comedy, it's sure to be hilarious no matter how big the budget is.

The Crow

Everyone likes a good revenge story.
Everyone likes a good revenge story.
  • Budget: $15 Million
  • Box Office: $50 Million

After Eric Draven and his bride-to-be are both killed, Draven returns from the grave to strike vengeance upon his murderers. The Crow is an extremely underrated horror/action movie that makes you root for Draven until the bitter end.

Black Swan

Natalie Portman definitely earned her Oscar.
Natalie Portman definitely earned her Oscar.
  • Budget: $13 Million
  • Box Office: $106 Million

Darren Aronofsky certainly knows how to make a good psychological thriller, as he proved once again with Black Swan. Watching Natalie Portman working for her lead role in a ballet is creepy, inspiring, and thought-provoking all at the same time. With great performances and even better directing, no wonder Natalie Portman won an Oscar for this movie.

Requiem For A Dream

Jared Leto before he was the Joker.
Jared Leto before he was the Joker.
  • Budget: $4.5 Million
  • Box Office: $3.6 Million

If you want a happy ending, don't watch this movie. If you want to see four people spiral into lives of destruction and despair, go ahead. By no means is it a bad movie. Actually, with Darren Aronofsky's master directing and emotionally-deep performances by the likes of Jared Leto and Jennifer Connolly, you won't even be able to tell that it was made for so little.

The Danish Girl

Redmayne and Vikander at their best.
Redmayne and Vikander at their best.
  • Budget: $15 Million
  • Box Office: $11 Million

Finally, after movies like Testament of Youth and Ex Machina, Alicia Vikander wins an Oscar opposite Eddie Redmayne in a hard-hitting story about one of the early pioneers of the transgender movement. The performances in this movie are some of the best performances in all of 2015, and it deserved every award that it got. With a budget the fraction of the size of 2015 blockbusters Star Wars and Avengers: Age of Ultron, it delivers not just a good movie, but a great film.

Little Miss Sunshine

A real loser is someone who's so afraid of not winning he doesn't even try.
A real loser is someone who's so afraid of not winning he doesn't even try.
  • Budget: $8 Million
  • Box Office: $59 Million

Fun fact: Little Miss Sunshine was made for about half the budget of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, which came out nearly 20 years prior. As far as road-trip movies go, Little Miss Sunshine really hits all the high points you could hope for. Comedy, drama, and a dysfunctional family are found in all 110 minutes of the film, which includes a surprising dramatic performance by Steve Carell. It's heartbreaking and inspirational at the same time, and it deserves to be watched over and over again.

The Boondock Saints

There was a firefight!
There was a firefight!
  • Budget: $6 Million
  • Box Office: $30,000

The infamous Boondock Saints divided critics and fans even more than movies like Batman v Superman. On RottenTomatoes, it has a 20% rating from critics, and a 91% rating from fans. As a fan of the film, I can honestly say that no matter the box-office loss, The Boondock Saints made magic with it's $6 million budget. Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flannery are great as the two vigilantes of the film, and Willem Dafoe gave a memorable performance as the FBI agent tracking them down. The movie more than deserves the cult following that it currently has.

Perks Of Being A Wallflower

Hermione, Percy Jackson, and the Flash taking a relaxing drive.
Hermione, Percy Jackson, and the Flash taking a relaxing drive.
  • Budget: $13 Million
  • Box Office: $17 Million

If you are questioning whether or not you have emotions, watch this movie. It will bring out every emotion you have and squash them into pulp. The story of Perks of Being a Wallflower is incredibly powerful, with intense performances by Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll want to watch this movie over and over.

Clerks

The rise of Kevin Smith.
The rise of Kevin Smith.
  • Budget: $27,000
  • Box Office: $3 Million

Kevin Smith is a genius. It's that simple. How else could he pull off such a brilliant cult-classic comedy for so little? He funded the movie by selling his comic book collection and putting his name on 10 credit cards. It was a risky move, but it resulted in $3 million being brought in at the box office. Now Kevin Smith is directing movies with Johnny Depp in them, and he directs The Flash episodes in his off-time. A little bit of money and a lot of hard work can go a long way.

Boyhood

12 years. 1 cast.
12 years. 1 cast.
  • Budget: $4 Million
  • Box Office: $25 Million

Chances are most of you haven't watched this movie, but I bet a lot of you have heard of it. Two years ago, the internet was alive with buzz of a movie that was made over the course of 12 whole years. Yep, that's this one. Richard Linklater took an entire cast and filmed a story over 12 years to see them actually grow up. All with only $4 million! If that doesn't shock you I don't know what will.

American Psycho

Quite the classy serial killer.
Quite the classy serial killer.
  • Budget: $7 Million
  • Box Office: $15 Million

The psychopathic businessman Patrick Bateman is perhaps one of the best roles we've ever seen Christian Bale portray. He appears to be a typical wealthy businessman around the rest of his colleagues, but as soon as he gets home we get to see his sick, twisted mind get to work. Bale plays both parts perfectly, and he proves that you don't need a huge budget when you have a talented director and cast.

Memento

A better memory-loss movie than 'Finding Dory'.
A better memory-loss movie than 'Finding Dory'.
  • Budget: $9 Million
  • Box Office: $25 Million

Before Christopher Nolan had a lot of popularity and big budgets for movies like The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception, he gave us a small, contained story of a man trying to find his wife's murderer. Unfortunately, his short-term memory-loss provides a bit of a problem. For the viewers, it gives us a chance to see a mystery solved in reverse, which is a fresh and original way to watch a fascinating movie.

Chronicle

Give into your anger...
Give into your anger...
  • Budget: $12 Million
  • Box Office: $64 Million

Before Josh Trank had to deal with the mess that was the Fantastic Four movie, he directed an incredible found-footage superhero movie called Chronicle. When three friends explore a hole in the ground, they encounter a mysterious artifact that gives them telekinetic powers. It's not often that you see a superhero movie like this with such a small budget, but it still gives us awesome visuals as these kids explore their newfound powers.

Shaun Of The Dead

There is no i in team, but there is an i in pie.
There is no i in team, but there is an i in pie.
  • Budget: $4 Million
  • Box Office: $13 Million

I bet you didn't know that you could make a zombie movie with $4 million dollars. Well you can when you're Edgar Wright! With Simon Pegg and Nick Frost at the helm, Wright delivers an unforgettable zombie comedy that cemented his status as a brilliant visionary director.

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

Don't watch if you hate crying.
Don't watch if you hate crying.
  • Budget: $8 Million
  • Box Office: $6 Million

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl brings a hilarious and sad book to life with three young actors that act beautifully. This movie makes you laugh and cry all at the same time with an emotional story and comedic dialogue. Though it didn't get much attention in theaters, it still is a fantastic movie with a smaller budget.

Moonrise Kingdom

An A-list cast with a smaller budget.
An A-list cast with a smaller budget.
  • Budget: $16 Million
  • Box Office: $45 Million

How do you bring talented actors like Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis, and Edward Norton all into one movie? Easy. Bring in director Wes Anderson. His quirky comedy classic Moonrise Kingdom became a huge hit after audiences saw the simple tale of two youngsters falling in love and running away together. All with only a $16 million budget.

10 Cloverfield Lane

The perfect 2016 thriller movie.
The perfect 2016 thriller movie.
  • Budget: $15 Million
  • Box Office: $72 Million

Not only did 10 Cloverfield Lane give us an intriguing and entertaining thriller, it was made for almost half as much as the original Cloverfield movie! Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman both bring it hard with their performances in a movie that sets up a sequel that we can't wait for!

Saw

Starting off a franchise strong.
Starting off a franchise strong.
  • Budget: $1.2 Million
  • Box Office: $55 Million

Saw is the perfect example of what a good director can do with a small budget. While Saw is now known as an expansive franchise, it began as a small, claustrophobic film starring Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride fame. The movie is thick with tension, and it leaves you on the edge of your seat until the big twist ending.

The Usual Suspects

Who is Keyser Soze?
Who is Keyser Soze?
  • Budget: $6 Million
  • Box Office: $23 Million

Known for having one of the biggest twist endings of all time, The Usual Suspects had a very intriguing plot about five criminals that worked together until a climactic gun battle on a boat. With all of the strong acting and set pieces, it's hard to believe that the movie was made for so little.

Inside Llewyn Davis

It's hard being a musician.
It's hard being a musician.
  • Budget: $11 Million
  • Box Office: $13 Million

Have you ever wanted to see a movie where Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron, and Justin Timberlake perform a wacky acoustic tune together? Thanks to the Coen Bros, you can! Even after the Coens had massive success with No Country For Old Men and The Big Lebowski, they served up a smaller-scale story that exceeded on all levels with a smaller budget than many of their other movies.

American Beauty

Kevin Spacey brought it all for an Oscar-winning performance.
Kevin Spacey brought it all for an Oscar-winning performance.
  • Budget: $15 Million
  • Box Office: $130 Million

Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Writing, and Best Director all went to an emotional story of a dysfunctional family that really holds up almost two decades later. With a budget of only $15 million, Sam Mendes gave us a deeply personal tale with a perfect story that really shocks audiences with it's unforgettable finale.

Ex Machina

You'll never look at Alicia Vikander the same way again.
You'll never look at Alicia Vikander the same way again.
  • Budget: $15 Million
  • Box Office: $25 Million

In a year dominated by Star Wars and Mad Max, Ex Machina managed to stand out with its incredible performances and spectacular visual effects. It's not often that you can see such a ground-breaking modern sci-fi movie made for so little, and with a star-studded cast including Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, and Domhnall Gleeson, it deserved all the praise it got.

Donnie Darko

The beginning of an amazing career for Jake Gyllenhaal.
The beginning of an amazing career for Jake Gyllenhaal.
  • Budget: $4.5 Million
  • Box Office: $1 Million

Even though the movie suffered in theaters, it gained a cult following on home video when people watched the mind-bending story of a troubled kid that has to deal with all kinds of trauma. Donnie Darko launched the careers of Jake Gyllenhaal and Jena Malone thanks to their brilliant performances in this overlooked classic.

Good Will Hunting

Robin Williams at his dramatic best.
Robin Williams at his dramatic best.
  • Budget: $10 Million
  • Box Office: $138 Million

We all love Robin Williams as a comedic actor, but Good Will Hunting proved to the world how amazing he was in dramatic roles. Featuring both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in their younger years, Good Will Hunting brought an inspirational tale and walked away with two Oscars.

The Raid 2

Best. Action. Scenes. Ever.
Best. Action. Scenes. Ever.
  • Budget: $4.5 Million
  • Box Office: $6.6 Million

When it comes to martial arts movies, none do it better than The Raid 2. Even Samuel L. Jackson named it one of his favorites on an episode of Jimmy Fallon. The action scenes are expertly choreographed and continue to get better and better throughout the film.

Before Sunrise

Isn't everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?
Isn't everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?
  • Budget: $2.5 Million
  • Box Office: $5 Million

The world of romance movies is packed with well-known titles like The Notebook, but the best of the genre is a lesser-known flick directed by cinematic master Richard Linklater. The heartfelt dialogue is the soul of this movie, which is executed flawlessly with a minuscule budget.

Silence Of The Lambs

Have the lambs stopped screaming?
Have the lambs stopped screaming?
  • Budget: $19 Million
  • Box Office: $272.7 Million

Silence of the Lambs barely squeaks under the $20 million mark, but what it manages to do with its budget is remarkable. Anthony Hopkins famously won the Oscar for Best Leading Actor with his minimal screen time and the film itself won Best Picture. Silence of the Lambs is widely regarded as one of the best films of all time, with not a single shot wasted in its two hour run-time.

Whiplash

Were you rushing or were you dragging?
Were you rushing or were you dragging?
  • Budget: $3.3 Million
  • Box Office: $13 Million

Miles Teller has had his share of big roles, such as Peter in the Divergent movies of Reed Richards in Fantastic Four, but no role was quite as legendary as Andrew in Whiplash. Teller and J.K. Simmons both act their heart out in the movie, which won three Oscars. It was even nominated for Best Picture. For a movie with a $3 million budget, that is an incredibly impressive feat.

Pulp Fiction

Do you know what they call a quarter-pounder with cheese in Paris?
Do you know what they call a quarter-pounder with cheese in Paris?
  • Budget: $8 Million
  • Box Office: $107 Million

Pulp Fiction is one of the most beloved movies in cinematic history, and for good reason. The movie is packed full of incredible performances and classic lines. From John Travolta and Uma Thurman winning the twist contest to Samuel L. Jackson giving that brilliant speech to Tim Roth at the end, I'd say Tarantino spent his $8 million budget very well.

With all of the high-budget Avatar or Avengers movies that we have coming up in the next few years, it's nice to see how many remarkable films exist with smaller budgets. Big budget movies always have more to lose, but the smaller films always tend to surprise audiences with how intriguing and emotional movies can be when you strip down their budget.

Poll

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(Source: boxofficemojo.com)