Hollywood, CA/ USA - July 26, 2018: Oscar golden award in a souvenir store on Hollywood Boulevard. Success and victory concept
vzphotos/iStock

29 Small-Budget Films That Went on to Win Oscars

View Slideshow
Hollywood, CA/ USA - July 26, 2018: Oscar golden award in a souvenir store on Hollywood Boulevard. Success and victory concept
vzphotos/iStock

Budget Blockbusters

Most of the Oscar buzz this year was around the movie "Nomadland," which was up for six awards and claimed three: best picture, best director, and best actress. It's about the issues facing the working poor as seen through the trials of the recently widowed Fern (Frances McDormand), who decides to become a "houseless" nomad after losing her job (it also stars many real-life nomads featured in the 2017 book of the same name). Made with a shoestring budget of $5 million, the movie is impressively cheap — but it's not the first Oscar-winning film to have a small budget. Keep reading for some of the movies that took home gold despite tiny budgets.  


Related: Rich, Famous — and Cheap! 40 Frugal Celebrities

Moonlight (2016) Movie Poster
Amazon

Moonlight (2016)

Budget: $1.5 million

Awards: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali)


The cheapest best picture winner (when older film budgets are adjusted for inflation), this coming-of-age drama examined a boy's grappling with Black masculinity and sexuality, but it may always be most famous because competitor "La La Land" was accidentally announced by Warren Beatty as the best picture winner. Moments later, Jordan Horowitz, one of the producers of "La La Land," announced "Moonlight" as the correct winner. Another memorable takeaway: Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar.


Related: The Most Surprising Items Found in Celebrity Swag Bags

Marty Film
Wikimedia Commons

Marty (1955)

Budget: $350,000 ($3.2 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Ernest Borgnine), Best Adapted Screenplay


An expansion of writer Paddy Chayefsky's TV screenplay, this simple story centers on Marty (Borgnine), a bachelor butcher who finally meets the right woman and must contend with all the people pushing him away from her. It became a classic. Betsy Blair played the object of Marty's affections, Clara — but it wasn't easy getting the part. She had been blacklisted, but desperately wanted the role. Luckily, she had her famous spouse to lobby on her behalf — Gene Kelly.

Rocky (1976) Movie Poster
Amazon

Rocky (1976)

Budget: $1.1 million ($4.6 million)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing


Written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, "Rocky" told the story of a "ham and egger" boxer whose only goal was to stay upright while fighting world champion Apollo Creed. This gritty film was Stallone's big break — and resulted in, if you include three Creed films, eight sequels.


Related: 30 Strange and Expensive Celeb Purchases

It Happened One Night (1934)
Wikimedia Commons

It Happened One Night (1934)

Budget: $325,000 ($5.9 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Clark Gable), Best Actress (Claudette Colbert)


This film starred Clark Gable as an unemployed reporter and Claudette Colbert as an heiress, but neither star was the first choice for their roles. Myrna Loy, Robert Montgomery, Loretta Young, and other stars passed on the parts. Bette Davis, however, wanted the role of the heiress but couldn't get loaned to the production by Warner Brothers, who held her contract. 


For more fun trivia stories, please sign up for our free newsletters.

Crash (2005) Movie Poster
Amazon

Crash (2005)

Budget: $6.5 million

Awards: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing


An ensemble drama about racial tensions in Los Angeles starring Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard, Thandiwe Newton, and a host of other actors, the movie won three of the six Oscars for which it was nominated. 


Related: Hollywood: Then and Now

Capote (2005) Movie Poster
Amazon

Capote (2005)

Budget: $7 million

Awards: Best Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman)


A close look at author Truman Capote as he researched the real-life crime at the center of his 1965 book "In Cold Blood," Hoffman's performance — he even nailed Capote's distinctive speaking voice without veering into caricature — was jaw-dropping. 


Related: 40 Famous People's Homes You Can Visit

Hamlet (1948) Movie Poster
Amazon

Hamlet (1948)

Budget: $679,000 ($7.1 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Laurence Olivier), Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction


Laurence Olivier was panned by Shakespeare fans for cutting down the classic play to a movie-length two hours (Fortinbras, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern were chopped out of the movie entirely), but that may not be the biggest shock about the film. Eileen Herlie, who played Hamlet's mother, was 29 when the film was made. Laurence Olivier, who played Hamlet, was 40.

On the Waterfront (1954)
Wikimedia Commons

On the Waterfront (1954)

Budget: $900,000 ($8.4 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), Best Actress (Eva Marie Saint), Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction 


This movie — focused on prizefighter-turned-longshoreman Terry (Marlon Brando) who fights corruption in his union — proved to be much more than just a contender, winning a remarkable eight Oscars after being nominated for 12. Frank Sinatra is said to have wanted the role of Terry, but director Elia Kazan lobbied for Brando — much to Sinatra's fury.

Tom Jones (1963) Movie Poster
Amazon

Tom Jones (1963)

Budget: $1 million ($8.6 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score


A British adaptation of the 1749 book "The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling," this bawdy period comedy seemed especially cheap given that it trounced the bloated, problem-plagued Elizabeth Taylor vehicle "Cleopatra," which cost $31 million.


Related: Which Celebrities Have Dual Citizenship?

Shine (1996) Movie Poster
Amazon

Shine (1996)

Budget: $5.5 million ($9 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Actor (Geoffrey Rush)


This Australian film chronicles the struggles of real-life pianist David Helfgott, and the Helfgott family protested against the monstrous portrayal of father Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl) in the movie. Fact, fiction, or in between, no one can deny that the role of David Helfgott propelled Geoffrey Rush's acting career — he's won not only an Oscar but an Emmy and a Tony.

The French Connection (1971)
Amazon

The French Connection (1971)

Budget: $1.8 million ($11 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Gene Hackman), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing


Based on the 1969 nonfiction book of the same name, the film (which has one of the most famous car chases in movie history) follows Detective "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) as he tries to catch a French heroin smuggler.

Parasite (2020)
Amazon

Parasite (2020)

Budget: $12 million  

Awards: Best Picture, Best International Feature, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director


This genre-busting and surprising film veers from black comedy into horror as it follows a poor family angling to improve their lives by claiming to be highly qualified to help the wealthy residents of a beautiful house. It was the first South Korean film to win an Oscar. 


Related: 50 Famous Gravesites Worth Seeing Around the World

How Green Was My Valley (1941) Movie Poster
Amazon

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Budget: $800,000 ($13 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Donald Crisp), Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction


Based on the 1939 bestseller of the same name, this movie about a Welsh mining family starring Maureen O'Hara and Walter Pidgeon (as well as a young Roddy McDowall) was nominated for 10 Oscars. Despite the film's focus on Wales, only one Welsh actor was cast in the movie, Rhys Williams, who had a small part, and filming there was impossible due to travel limitations imposed by World War II. 

Casablanca (1942) Movie Poster
Amazon

Casablanca (1942)

Budget: $878,000 ($13 million)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay


Possibly one of the most famous (and most quoted) movies of the 20th century, this romance about American expatriate Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and his love for married woman Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) has inspired songs, books, other movies, but happily (despite reports of an Iraq-set modern day remake by Madonna) has never been remade.


Related: 28 Famous Kisses Captured on Film

Grand Hotel (1932) Movie Poster
Amazon

Grand Hotel (1932)

Budget: $750,000 ($13.4 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture


This Greta Garbo film about guests in a luxurious Berlin hotel is worth watching today to spot a lot of major, old-school stars in one place. Also appearing in the film are Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore, and Wallace Beery.


Related: Mister Rogers' Home and Other Celebrity Houses Regular People Can Afford

All About Eve (1950) Movie Poster
Amazon

All About Eve (1950)

Budget: $1.4 million ($14 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders), Best Adapted Screenplay


The ultimate story of Broadway backstabbing starring Bette Davis and Anne Baxter, the movie ironically pitted both actresses against each other in the best actress category. The statuette went to Judy Holliday for "Born Yesterday."


Related: Best Hollywood Movies About Getting Older

Platoon (1986) Movie Poster
Amazon

Platoon (1986)

Budget: $6 million ($14 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Director


Inspired by director and writer Oliver Stone's time in Vietnam, the story follows Army private Chris (Charlie Sheen) as he's torn between the perspectives of his vicious platoon sergeant Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) and his idealistic squad leader Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe). The film was the first studio feature written and directed by a Vietnam veteran.

Imitation Game (2014) Movie Poster
Amazon

Imitation Game (2014)

Budget: $14 million

Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay


Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, this adaptation of the 1983 biography of the codebreaking mathematician received eight nominations but took home only one Oscar.


Related: The Best TV Shows Starring Boomers

Driving Miss Daisy (1989) Movie Poster
Amazon

Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

Budget: $7.5 ($15 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress (Jessica Tandy), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Makeup


Based on the play of the same name, the story of an unlikely friendship between an elderly White woman (Jessica Tandy) and her Black chauffeur (Morgan Freeman) in the '40s through the '70s seems dated today, but at the time, it was catnip for Oscar voters.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) Movie Poster
Amazon

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Budget: $15 million 

Awards: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing


Based on the novel "Q&A," the movie is told mostly in flashback as a "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" contestant must prove to police he hasn't cheated to get to the final question. In addition to being only the 11th best-picture winner to have no nominations for acting, it was also the first film shot using digital technology to win an Oscar for best cinematography.

The Hurt Locker (2009) Movie Poster
Amazon

The Hurt Locker (2009)

Budget: $15 million

Awards: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing


This war drama about an Iraq War explosive-ordnance disposal team who must battle with insurgents was well-reviewed, even though many Iraq veterans complained about a lack of realism. What excited many people was that Kathryn Bigelow became the first female director to win an Oscar in her category.

The King's Speech (2010) Movie Poster
Amazon

The King's Speech (2010)

Budget: $15 million

Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Colin Firth), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay


An historical British drama about the future King George VI (Colin Firth) seeking help from a speech therapist (played by Geoffrey Rush) to tame his stutter, this small film had a big showing at the Oscars, getting 12 nominations and winning four awards.

In the Heat of the Night (1967) Movie Poster
Amazon

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Budget: $2 million ($15.2 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Rod Steiger), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing


Starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, this drama about a Black police detective reluctantly recruited to help solve a murder in Mississippi dealt frankly with racism. There were two sequels, "They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!" and "The Organization," but they bombed at the box office.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) Movie Poster
Amazon

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Budget: $15.5 million

Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Penelope Cruz)


A romantic dramedy from Woody Allen, the film starred Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, and Rebecca Hall, but it was Penelope Cruz's performance as the emotionally unstable ex-wife of Bardem's character that got most of the attention — and the movie's sole Oscar nomination and win.

Chariots of Fire (1981) Movie Poster
Amazon

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Budget: $5.5 million ($16 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design


A period drama about two runners during the 1924 Olympics, this British movie was nominated for seven Oscars, winning four. And many would argue that the memorable score by Vangelis was worthy of an award — if only for how often it has been parodied. 


Related: 34 Famous Cancer Survivors

Blue Jasmine (2013) Movie Poster
Amazon

Blue Jasmine (2013)

Budget: $18 million

Awards: Best Actress (Cate Blanchett)


Following the decline of a socialite who has lost everything after her husband was exposed for scamming clients out of money, a la Bernie Madoff, this Woody Allen movie proved to be more lucky for Blanchett. She won her second Oscar, having won her first for 2005's "The Aviator."

Birdman (2014) Movie Poster
Amazon

Birdman (2014)

Budget: $18 million

Awards: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Directing, Best Cinematography


This low-budget movie starring Michael Keaton and Emma Stone may have swept the Oscars, but none of the four writers of the screenplay were nominated for a Writers Guild award. Why? None of them were members of the guild. 


Related: 24 Funniest Comedy Specials You Can Watch Online

Ordinary People (1980) Movie Poster
Amazon

Ordinary People (1980)

Budget: $6 million ($19 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Timothy Hutton), Best Adapted Screenplay


Based on the 1976 novel of the same name, "Ordinary People" was Robert Redford's directorial debut — but the bigger surprise was Mary Tyler Moore. Playing the icy, uppercrust mother of one son who has drowned and another (Timothy Hutton) who has attempted suicide, Moore was also nominated for an Oscar.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) Movie Poster
Amazon

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Budget: $4.4 million ($21 million in today's dollars)

Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay


Based on the Ken Kesey novel of the same name about a patient at a mental hospital facing off against a cruel and controlling nurse, this movie was only the second in history to land Oscars in all five major categories (best picture, actor, actress, director, and screenplay).


Related: 24 Famous People You Probably Didn't Know Were Diabetic