Image courtesy: Toho Company, LTD.

In a nutshell

  • Low-budget films can achieve both critical and commercial success.
  • Some of 2023’s most successful films were made with low budgets.
  • A film can achieve success through strong storytelling and creative filmmaking techniques.

2023 saw the release of many great films, from blockbuster smashes such as “Oppenheimer” (2023) and “Barbie” (2023) to comedy feel-good movies like “No Hard Feelings” (2023) and amazing video-on-demand releases like “Pain Hustlers” (2023) on Netflix. But what was really unique to 2023 was the influx of low-budget films cracking the box office and giving even major studios like Marvel a run for their money. With the average cost to produce a movie coming out to be about $100 million nowadays, it’s always inspiring to see a sub-$100 million movie make a run at the box office.

Now, with 2023 in our rearview mirror, it’s time we take a look back on 2023’s movie season and reflect on some of the year’s most successful films that, despite their low budgets, made it big at the box office.

“The Creator” takes audiences by storm (Budget: 80 million)

Image courtesy: 20th Century Studios

One of the standout film releases of 2023 that took everyone by storm and had critics applauding due to its visually impressive nature despite its lower budget was “The Creator” (2023). Directed by Gareth Edwards — known for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016) and “Godzilla” (2014) — Edwards is no stranger to the lower-budget side of filmmaking. He first gained popularity with his 2010 film called “Monsters,” which he wrote, directed, and did visual effects for by himself. During production, they would use a guerilla shooting tactic, where he and his crew simply traveled through Thailand and would pick random spots to shoot quickly.

Edwards also taught himself visual effects and did the effects for “Monsters” from his bedroom. This film projected him far into his career when he was given the chance to direct “Star Wars: Rogue One,” which was on the total opposite end of the budget spectrum he was used to. But with his latest film, “The Creator,” he moved back to the smaller scaled budget with only $80 million to work with (and yes, in the real world, saying “Only $80 million” sounds crazy, but for films now, that’s considered low budget). He even used a $4,000 camera for this film, which is roughly ten times less than just one camera on the average feature film. “The Creator” is a perfect example of how films don’t need a massive budget to achieve great visuals and storytelling abilities.

“Godzilla Minus One” shocks the masses (Budget: Less than 15 million)

"Godzilla Minus One" (2023)
Image courtesy: Toho Company, LTD.

“Godzilla Minus One” (2023) deserves all the praise and credit it gets. With some of the best visual effects we’ve seen all year and incredible cinematography and writing, this film stands at an incredible 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. The budget for this film is hard to pinpoint exactly, with rumors online of it being $15 million, but the director himself, Takashi Yamazaki, has denied this, revealing that his budget was much less than $15 million. The film is still in theaters and has grossed $81 million worldwide so far.

With large set pieces and big visual effects sequences, the production sunk most of the budget into their VFX work and set design. This is definitely a film that teaches a lesson in proper focus on plot points and character development, and if you’re an aspiring filmmaker, it should certainly be on your watchlist. And if you’re wondering — as I was — yes, the movie features the iconic Godzilla theme song.

“Evil Dead Rise” rises to the occasion (Budget: $15–19 million)

Evil Dead Rise (2023)
Image courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures

Going into the horror genre, the “Evil Dead” franchise made a massive comeback with “Evil Dead Rise” (2023). Directed by Lee Cronin, “Evil Dead Rise” was made with a budget of up to $19 million and stands still with a high rating of 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film predominantly takes place in a single location, a locked-down apartment building, meaning there are not many large-scale sets or locations that would have needed a large cost to make.

However, there are plenty of incredible visual effects shots in this film that show where the majority of this budget went and why it is such an incredible film. Anyone who has seen any of the “Evil Dead” films knows that a lot of gory and bloody scenes happen (and we really mean a lot), so this film really put an incredible amount of effort into visually telling its story. The film went on to make $146 million worldwide, which is a huge accomplishment for a horror film today, especially on such a low budget.

“Talk to Me” grabs everyone’s attention (Budget: $4.5 million)

"Talk to Me" (2023)
Image courtesy: A24

Next, we have another horror hit, “Talk to Me” (2023). Directors Danny and Michael Philippou, who operate the popular YouTube channel RackaRacka, were able to create a universally acclaimed film with a meer budget of just 4.5 million USD. The film went on to make around $91.9, grossing nearly ten times its budget, and became A2’s highest-grossing horror film and its second-highest-grossing film of all time — only behind “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” (2022). “Talk to Me” accomplishes a lot with little. While the film doesn’t reinvent the horror genre, it proves that productions don’t need a massive budget, an established franchise or a ton of effects to make a successful horror film in this day and age.

“Knock at the Cabin” comes knocking at the box office (Budget: $20 million)

"Knock at the Cabin" (2023
Image courtesy: Universal Pictures

Veering away from big, large-scale and extensive visual effects, “Knock at the Cabin” (2023) kept within its $20 million dollar budget by keeping its visual effects to a minimum. “Knock at the Cabin” is from Director M. Night Shyamalan, known for his other films like “The Sixth Sense” (1999) and “Split” (2016). “Knock at the Cabin” is a very well-made film packed with moments of mystery and guessing for the audience — as Shyamalan often likes to do with his films.

As the title suggests, the film takes place in a cabin in a wooded area where a family is staying on a getaway trip from the city. With this locked-off location, the film guarantees itself no specific need for expensive set pieces or set design. Also, with minimal visual effects in this film, Shyamalan relies on good storytelling and character designs to get the audience through the film. Sitting still at 67% on Rotten Tomatoes, “Knock at the Cabin” is a great example of high-quality low-budget filmmaking done right.

2023 was a great year for low-budget films

These are just a few examples of films that made it big this year while having low budgets. They are perfect examples of why it isn’t always necessary to have an astronomically high budget in order to make a good film. If you are dedicated to your craft and you have a team behind you that has the same passion for filmmaking, then the budget of your film shouldn’t hold you back. After all, anyone who has gone to film school will know what zero-budget filmmaking is, and we can say for sure I’ve seen some film school projects that are way better than the $100+ million films that get released today.

So, keep an open mind when it comes to the films you watch. If you look at the budget to decide what to watch, then the films we’ve listed in this article should serve as a good example of not judging based on budget. After all, Quentin Tarantino made “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) with just $1.2 million.