Generally speaking, dramas don’t require big budgets in order to be successful. Usually, a budget of around $50 million should be enough to make a decent drama that wouldn’t take long to turn a profit. That said, there are many examples of dramas that were able to do more with less, surpassing the expectations of even the most pessimistic observers.
This list complies ten of the lowest-budgeted dramas that not only broke even, but went ahead and dominated in their respective fields. Before we begin, we’d like to give a shout out to the brilliant nerds at The Numbers and Box Office Mojo, as well as IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, all of whom helped make this list possible.
10 Lady Bird (Budget: $10 Million. Box Office: $78 Million)
The story of a rebellious teenage girl during her final year of high school was a hit with audiences and critics, and is one of A24’s highest grossing films to date. A relatable drama with a fantastic cast, the movie won viewers over thanks to its brilliant writing and acting. Lead actress Saoirse Ronan was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, and the movie was nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay.
9 The Intouchables (Budget: $10 Million. Box Office: $426 Million)
Perhaps best known as the inspiration for the 2018’s The Upside, this French drama recalls the true-life story of a rich quadriplegic and his impoverished, immigrant caretaker. A story about friendship and overcoming obstacles, The Intouchables struck a nerve with audiences, thanks to its feel-good story and themes.
While the movie got mixed reviews, audiences ate it up, bringing its worldwide box office total to almost $500 Million. It is currently the 42nd highest-rated movie on IMDb, with a user rating of 8.5 out of 10.
8 My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Budget: $5 Million. Box Office: $368 Million)
There was a point when My Big Fat Greek Wedding was inescapable. Perhaps one of the most enduring rom-coms ever made, the movie tells the timeless story of two lovers from different backgrounds, attempting to overcome cultural norms before their wedding.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s relatable premise made it an instant hit, and propelled it beyond anyone’s expectations. The film would later inspire its own TV spinoff, My Big Fat Greek Life, and a sequel.
7 Moonlight (Budget: $4 Million. Box Office: $65 Million)
Winner of the Best Picture Oscar at the 2017 Academy Awards, this impactful drama revolves around topics of race, sexuality, and impoverishment.
A timely film, Moonlight is loaded with commentary regarding our current society. While a movie like this was bound to ruffle a few feathers, it was nonetheless a hit, and audiences helped push Moonlight’s box office total beyond the $60 million mark.
6 Boyhood (Budget: $4 Million. Box Office: $44 Million)
While not the highest grossing film on this list, it’s still impressive that director Richard Linklater was able to pull off such a feat of cinematic mastery without going over $10 million. Produced over the course of 12 years, the movie follows a boy named Mason, as he literally grows up on screen.
An absolute marvel of a movie, Boyhood made a splash at the Oscars, and those who saw it were in for a once-in-a-lifetime treat that broke film records left and right.
5 War Room (Budget: $3 Million. Box Office: $73 Million)
An evangelical Christian film by the directors behind Courageous and Facing the Giants, War Room was met with both hostility and praise from secular and religious audiences alike. The movie revolves around a long suffering wife, who turns to prayer when her husband starts cheating on her.
Critics were disgusted by the movie’s themes regarding traditional gender roles, and allegations of misogyny were hurled at both the movie and its creators. Still, it made quite a bit of money, especially for a movie that lacked the backing of a reputable production company.
4 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Budget: $3 Million. Box Office: $108 Million)
Considered one of the greatest movies ever made, which is based on a book that many considered the best ever written, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest paints a damning portrait of America’s mental health system.
The movie helped cement the career of its lead actor, Jack Nicholson, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his role, and would later go on to star in hundreds of movies over the next forty years. Produced on a budget that was meager for the time, the movie went on to break the $100 million mark, and would later win the coveted Oscar for Best Picture.
3 God’s Not Dead (Budget: $2 Million. Box Office: $64 Million)
The move that helped propel its production company, Pure Flix, into the public’s consciousness, God’s Not Dead is another Christian drama that was controversial after its release.
The story of a Christian college student trying to navigate the world of secular higher education, the movie was accused of relying on straw man characters and racist stereotypes to push its conservative agenda.
2 Taxi Driver (Budget: $1.3 Million. Box Office: $28 Million)
This is the movie that made the careers of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, and would start a decade’s long partnership that continues with this year’s The Irishman. A masterpiece of the New Hollywood era of films, Taxi Driver shocked audiences with its violence and its raw, unflinching look at the effects of PTSD on veterans.
The movie was snubbed by the Oscars, but is regularly cited by film scholars and historians as one of the greatest movies ever made. When adjusted for inflation, the movie’s total is said to side over the $100 million mark.
1 Rocky (Budget: $960,000. Box Office: $117 Million)
It’s rare that such a small production like Rocky can launch one of the longest-running franchises in movie history. But that’s just what happened when Sylvester Stallone took his humble screenplay about a down-on-his-luck boxer to Hollywood.
Rocky surpassed every expectation, and evolved into a worldwide phenomenon that continues evolve and adapt to new tastes. The latest movie in the franchise, Creed II, came out last year to rave reviews and solid Box Office returns. When adjusted for inflation, Rocky’s box office is estimated to be over $200 million, making it one of the highest grossing movies on this list.
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