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10 Best Low-Budget Movies of the 21st Century | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

It isn’t news that big budgets and grand productions have long been associated with success. But that does not necessarily mean that a great story cannot be told unless it is a multi-million dollar project. In the not-so-distant past, films like El Mariachi (1992) by Robert Rodriguez and The Blair Witch Project (1999) by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez broke the game by creating some of the most beloved big-screen classics of all time, on shoestring budgets.

With the advent of digital technology and the democratization of filmmaking tools in the new millennium, independent directors have taken the torch and risen to prominence, employing fresh perspectives and bold storytelling techniques. In this article, we celebrate some of the most impactful 21st-century low-budget movies that have shattered expectations for under $1 million.

10 Fruitvale Station

The Weinstein Company

Directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station (2013) is a heartbreaking drama based on true events that recount the final 24 hours in the life of Oscar Grant, a young African-American man living in the San Francisco Bay Area. It follows the challenges Oscar faces as he grapples with his troubled past, striving to make positive changes in his life for the sake of his family and young daughter.

The film was shot for $900,000 and brought the studio a seventeen-fold return on investment. Fruitvale Station currently rocks a 94% critics score and an 87% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

9 Open Water

Actors Float in Open Water
Lions Gate Films

Open Water (2003) is a gripping tale of survival that follows Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis), a couple on vacation in the Caribbean who join a group of diving excursionists, only to find themselves stranded in the vast open ocean after the boat accidentally leaves them behind. Based on a true story, the film expertly captures the terrifying and psychologically intense experience of being adrift in the vast ocean, challenging the boundaries of human resilience and the unforgiving power of nature.

Director Chris Kentis shot the film mostly inside the vast Pacific waters of the Bahamas for $500,000, creating one of the most realistic film experiences of all time. Celebrating his accomplishment, critic Roger Ebert described Open Water as a film that “gets under your defenses and sidesteps the “it’s only a movie” reflex and creates a visceral feeling that might as well be real.”

8 Grave Encounters

Grave Encounters
Tribeca Film

Grave Encounters is a 2011 Canadian found footage horror film directed by The Vicious Brothers. It follows a team of paranormal investigators who lock themselves in an abandoned hospital to shoot a reality TV show in hopes of finding evidence of supernatural activity. As the night unfolds, they desperately search for an exit, but the hospital seems to have a sinister agenda of its own.

Even though Grave Encounters was made on a budget of merely $120,000, it put itself on the map as one of the most impactful found footage films of the 21st century and is the Vicious Brothers’ most successful film to date.

7 Napoleon Dynamite

Main characters of Napoleon Dynamite
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Napoleon Dynamite (2004) is a quirky and offbeat comedy that follows the life of an awkward and socially challenged high school student (Jon Heder as Napoleon) living in a small rural town, as he tries to help his new friend win the class presidency. Filled with deadpan humor, unforgettable one-liners, and eccentric characters, it is a cult classic that embraces the comedic flaws of adolescence and celebrates the power of individuality.

Directed by Jared Hess, the Dynamite was completed for around $400,000 – peanut money for a comedy that has received several high-end awards, including the MTV Movie & TV Award for Best Movie. Complimenting the unique nature of Hess’s masterpiece, The Guardian called Napoleon Dynamite “a sweetly dopey comedy that has a style all its own.”

Related: 10 Low Budget TV Shows That Are Well Worth Your Time

6 Primer

Shane Carruth as Aaron and David Sullivan as Abe in Primer (2004).

Released in 2004, Primer is a sci-fi drama that revolves around two aspiring entrepreneurs, Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan), who accidentally stumble upon a mind-bending discovery while working on a garage project. They invent a device that grants them the ability to time travel. Primer stands as a masterful exploration of time, causality, and the human psyche, leaving a profound impact on audiences worldwide.

Also known for National Geographic’s documentary series, Breakthrough, director Shane Carruth shot Primer on a shoestring budget of just $7,000 – the exact amount Robert Rodriguez spent on his debut action flick, El Mariachi (1992).

5 Catfish

Catfish Documentary
Universal Pictures

Directed by and starring Henry Joost Ariel and Schulman, Catfish is a 2010 documentary film that follows the captivating journey of a young New York photographer who develops an online friendship with a young woman and her family on Facebook. However, as the story progresses, troubling inconsistencies and red flags arise, leading Nev to question the authenticity of the personas he’s grown close to. Determined to unravel the truth, Nev, Ariel, and their friend Henry Joost embark on a road trip to confront the people behind the profiles.

Filmed on a budget of $30,000, Catfish received an overwhelmingly positive reception around the world, with the Rolling Stone noting that “there’s more killer suspense and shocking intimacy in this one-of-a-kind documentary than you’ll find in a dozen thrillers”. However, the film did not go without its fair share of controversy, with some audiences accusing it of being fake. In an interview with MTV, Joost responded to the accusations by saying, “I think what people are reacting to a lot is, the film is edited. We can’t put out a 250-hour movie, so we’re making decisions and streamlining the narrative and presenting what we feel is the clearest representation of what happened, but it’s real, and there’s nothing disingenuous about it”.

Related: 25 Great Low-Budget Horror Movies You’ve Probably Never Heard Of


VHS Vampire Girl
Bloody Disgusting / The Collective

V/H/S (2012) is a found-footage horror anthology that weaves together chilling tales of terror. The film centers around a group of misfits hired to break into a seemingly abandoned house and retrieve a mysterious videotape. Upon entering the house, they discover a vast collection of VHS tapes, each containing a different horrifying story.

Filmed by multiple directors, including Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, and Tyler Gillett, V/H/S was shot for $242,000, with Empire Online haling it as “another reminder that in the right hands found footage still has plenty of capacity to surprise”. Following its success, V/H/S received fiver more parts, as well as a spinoff series. Currently, there is also a sixth installment in the works, titled V/H/S/85. Although the plot is still under wraps, there are speculations it might be released later in 2023, and with the title containing the year 85, it is certain to attract a lot of 80s nostalgics.

3 Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity
Paramount Pictures

Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity is a 2007 horror film starring Katie Featherston (as Katie) and Micah Sloat (as Micah). It tells the story of a young couple who move to a suburban ‘starter’ tract only to become haunted by a potentially demonic presence that manifests most actively at night while they sleep. To understand the mysterious events, they set up video cameras to capture video evidence, which reveals increasingly terrifying and unexplainable events, pushing the couple to the brink of fear and desperation.

Peli, also known for the Insidious films and Chernobyl Diaries (2012), used only a single shooting location and managed to complete the film for a shocking $15,000. Paranormal became one of the most popular films in the scary genre and made nearly $200 million at the box office. Talk about a return on investment! Naturally, this excited the makers to such a degree that the film received a whopping six sequels, with the latest one, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin, released in 2021.

2 Megan is Missing

Megan is missing amy cam
Anchor Bay Films

Another found-footage horror film, Megan is Missing (2011) revolves around the chilling disappearance of two teenage girls, Megan (Rachel Quinn) and Amy (Amber Perkins). The story unfolds through video diaries, online chats, and video recordings, portraying the girls’ ordinary lives until they befriend a mysterious online stranger who turns out to be a sick, murderous predator.

With a budget of just $35,000, Megan is Missing stands as a disturbing cautionary tale that explores the potential nightmares that can manifest when children are left to befriend strangers online. However, for those contemplating watching the film, director Michael Goi cautions not to watch the movie alone or in the middle of the night, as per Entertainment Weekly.

1 Another Earth

Brit Marling in Another Earth
Fox Searchlight Pictures

In Another Earth (2011), a thought-provoking science fiction drama, our world is forever changed when an identical Earth-like planet appears in the sky. The story follows Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), a smart 17-year-old fascinated by astronomy whose life takes a shocking turn after an accident caused by her reckless actions takes the life of a pregnant mother and her child on the night of the new planet’s discovery.

Known as the film that shot Marling into stardom and directed by Mike Cahill, Another Earth was shot on a relatively small budget of $100,000. In the year of its release, Another Earth won Sundance’s Alfred P. Sloan Prize as well as the Special Jury Prize, with the La Timescalling it “a provocative meditation on the prospect of rewriting your life history”.

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