District 9 got it for cheap!
Thirty million dollars is a lot of money in the real world, but in the action-packed, CGI-heavy science fiction film universe, it's like a single food stamp. Provided this shoestring budget by producer Peter Jackson, first-time director Neill Blomkamp made District 9, his superb story of humans and aliens living together discordantly in South Africa, look like 200 million bucks. The film's extraterrestrials, or "prawns," as they're derisively referred to by their oppressive human counterparts, are rendered entirely by high-quality CGI, which obviously costs. Blomkamp, whose movie comments upon the system of apartheid he grew up in (amongst other modern societal ills like corporate greed), saved money by filming in abandoned Johannesburg shanty towns. Rather than hire an expensive name actor, he cast his friend and colleague Sharlto Copley, who, despite no previous acting credits, is tremendous in the lead role of unassuming government agent Wikus Van De Merwe.
We're rooting for District 9 to make back its budget many times over, because we've seen a lot of expensive crap recently (ahem, Transformers 2, ahem). In honor of District 9 and everything that Blomkamp has already accomplished, Complex gives you 12 other ill action-packed movies that didn't break the bank to be money.
28 DAYS LATER (2002)
Synopsis: Four weeks after the outbreak of a rage virus turns the UK into a violent zombieland, survivors try to get to safety without pissing off the infected.
Worldwide gross: $82,719,885
Corners cut: Director Danny Boyle filmed on digital video not only for a gritty look but also because it allowed for quicker setup while filming in London. In and out—it's the only way to get your shoot off.
Synopsis: Strangers wake up in a giant cube maze filled with deadly traps and must work together if they're to solve the puzzle, understand why they've been imprisoned, and escape.
Budget: $365,000 (Canadian)
Worldwide gross: N/A ($489,220 in the U.S.)
Corners cut: Director Vincenzo Natali shot the whole movie on a single 14'x14' set and used a variety of colored panels to make it look like many different cubes; the special effects company C.O.R.E. did effects for free to show support for the Toronto film industry. And you thought Canada was cold.
BAD TASTE (1987)
Synopsis: In Peter Jackson's splatter-tastic cult classic, four dudes battle aliens who've taken over a New Zealand town to harvest humans for their intergalactic fast-food chain.
Budget: $30,000 (New Zealand)
Worldwide gross: N/A (but we're pretty sure it didn't do LOTR numbers)
Corners cut: Jackson made the alien masks in his mom's kitchen and shot the film on weekends over a four-year period with friends playing the lead roles. It's not how we'd take advantage of "friends with benefits," but hey.
MAD MAX (1979)
Synopsis: In a dystopic future Australia, a cop seeks revenge after a vicious biker gang murders his wife and child.
Worldwide gross: $99,750,000
Corners cut: To keep costs down, director George Miller let his own van be smashed during the filming of a chase; cars were constantly repainted so it'd appear that many more vehicles had been used; and while Mel Gibson got a real leather police jacket and pants, the other cops got vinyl outfits (at least Miller didn't save on fabric costs by giving them ass-less chaps).
Synopsis: A professional assassin gets creative to keep his pulse pounding after his rival injects him with a poison that will kill him if his heart rate drops.
Worldwide gross: $33,824,696
Corners cut: Despite the non-stop action, the movie features zero explosions—besides Jason Statham and Amy Smart's public sex scene, of course.
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)
Synopsis: The inhabitants of an abandoned police station try to survive a street gang's bloody siege in John Carpenter's ode to the classic western Rio Bravo.
Worldwide gross: N/A
Corners cut: Carpenter cast relatively unknown blaxploitation and commercial actors, including his neighbor, Darwin Joston; he also wrote, directed, scored, and edited the film. Despite his name, he did no set carpentry. Slacker.
EL MARIACHI (1992)
Synopsis: A Mexican gang mistakes a traveling musician for a murderous adversary and tries to kill him.
Budget: $220,000 (only $7,000 before post-production)
Worldwide gross: N/A ($2,040,920 grossed in the U.S.)
Corners cut: Director Robert Rodriguez raised $3,000 of the $7,000 by volunteering to test a cholesterol-reducing drug; the only job he did not do himself was act, because he needed to operate the camera; he shot every scene in one take to minimize the amount of film used (24 rolls total); he filmed on only two blocks for most exterior scenes to cut down on the amount of gasoline used in transport; the guns pictured were either water pistols or real ones borrowed from local police. Now Rodriguez is a super-paid Hollywood player who gets to have sex with Rose McGowan—if only our grandparents had explained frugality to us this way, we wouldn't be spending $200 on sneakers.
A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964)
Synopsis: Clint Eastwood debuts as The Man with No Name, a wandering gunfighter-for-hire who plays two rival families against each other in a town torn apart by greed, pride, and revenge.
Worldwide gross: N/A ($3,500,000 grossed in the U.S.)
Corners cut: Like all "spaghetti westerns," the movie was shot in Italy, where production costs less. Get it? Spaghetti? Italy? Marinara-ate on that.
RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
Synopsis: After a simple heist goes terribly, bloodily wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police snitch.
Worldwide gross: $22,012,029
Corners cut: Director Quentin Tarantino saved money by never actually showing the heist; the initial budget was to be $30,000, with producer Lawrence Bender playing Nice Guy Eddie, but Harvey Keitel got involved as a co-producer and helped raise money. People were all too happy to fund any movie that wouldn't feature a cameo from Keitel's cock.
THX 1138 (1971)
Synopsis: Set in the 25th century, the story centers around a man and a woman who rebel against their rigidly controlled society.
Worldwide gross: $2,437,000
Corners cut: Director George Lucas wanted to film in Japan but producer Francis Ford Coppola made work with cheaper San Francisco and Los Angeles locations; Lucas used a rehab center's recovering drug addicts, whose heads were already shaved, as extras—surprisingly cost-effective for the man who's become an icon of overdone modern CGI fuckery.
Synopsis: An American martial artist competes in the Kumite, an ultimate illegal underground martial arts tournament, where fights are occasionally decided by who died and who didn't.
Worldwide gross: N/A (grossed $11,806,119 in the U.S.)
Corners cut: The film's star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, also helped edit the film; director Newt Arnold got seven trademark, junk-busting splits for the price of one relatively unknown JCVD.
MS. 45 (1981)
Synopsis: In Abel Ferrara's cult classic, a mute seamstress is raped twice on her way home from work, kills her second attacker, then takes his gun and lets it do the talking for her as she goes on an anti-misogyny killing spree.
Worldwide gross: N/A (as you might have guessed, it wasn't exactly "date movie" material)
Corners cut: They don't call them "exploitation films" for nothing.