Economics, Finance, Marketing

Tiny Budget/Big Profit: Napoleon Dynamite & Blair Witch

EVERY aspiring filmmaker at one point or another dreams of making the next Blair Witch Project or Napoleon Dynamite.  For one, these movies cost next to nothing to produce and two, they make BOATLOADS of cash. Today we’ll take a look at the outlier flicks that rank among the most profitable movies of all time and ask ourselves the age old question…why?

Boatload of Cash

Looks like this guy has an abundance of…LIQUID ASSETS…Ha, MBA puns.

So how much money are we talking about here Rivers? Well, The Blair Witch Project cost $22,500 to make. ($32,178 in today’s bucks) and it grossed…Drumroll… 248 million dollars (343 million in modern day greenbacks.) The movie was purchased at Sundance from the producers for $1 million dollars by Artisan who subsequently spent $1 million more dollars promoting it though grassroots techniques.  Source. Let’s do a little ROI calculation here boys and girls. Original Producers ROI:  4,344.4%.  For every dollar they put in they made $43.4 bucks. Artisan ROI:  12,300%.  For every dollar they put in they made $123 bucks.


That’s right Disbelieving Deb, your fiscal investment in independent film really can pay off! Will it? NO. Because you like Rom-Coms.

Does this ever happen?  NO. Think about this.  Even a big success like the new Superman movie cost about 250 million to produce and market. Even if it makes a BILLION dollars the ROI in that case is 400% or 4 dollars for every 1 they put in.  These returns are RARE.


Nobody knows more about rare stuff than Magic the Gathering players. Here our friend William shows off a rare card and his new beard that boasts +7 defense against members of the opposite sex. (note: I told Bill I’d get him after he pulled off that mana trick in last weeks tournament. You sir, have been served.)

Everyone knows that horror movies are typically lower budget ways for directors/producers etc. to break in to the industry.  But how about the opposite end of the spectrum with one of my favorite movies EVER, Napoleon Dynamite?


He also said he could throw “a pigskin a quarter mile.” Apparently Uncle Rico can throw about 5 times farther than the longest recorded throw ever. Meh, sounds about right.

Numbers Time:

Budget:  $400,000 to producer. $3 million in Advertising/Promotion (About 4.1 million total today)

Gross:  $46 million dollars.  (About 56 million bucks today.)

Since I don’t have sale price from when Jared Hess sold to MTV we’ll do a simple ROI this time.  %1,253 or $12.5 dollars return for every dollar spent.  Compared to Blair Witch this may seem like chump change but PUMP THE BRAKES there hombre… Remember this:


Lunchboxes, Action Figures, iPod cases, apparel, backpacks, notepads, stickers, time machines magnets, costumes, diapers. EVERYTHING was branded Napoleon Dynamite and they made Scrooge McDuck coin.

What separates THESE two examples from the slew of other films that hit the theaters each year and don’t make a splash?

Uniqueness. Difference.  I wouldn’t call it newness but each of these films took a basic idea:  Surviving a terror.  Getting the girl. And they did it DIFFERENTLY.  Blair Witch really created the faux documentary horror thing. Napoleon was this generations Revenge of the Nerds -esq protagonist.  Can you really relate to him?  Well, maybe not but holy hell now I want to take my bike off sweet jumps and go to the zoo to pet the ligers.


Ligers are real and dreams DO come true!

The moral of today’s story is that as aspiring filmmakers don’t copy what everyone else is doing.  You’ll just get lost in the shuffle.  If you really want to make an impact (and boy band money) then have a theme people can relate to, but do it in a way people haven’t seen before.

Cause if you don’t there’s a pretty good chance you’ll end up doing something boring like…SALES.  This could prove difficult…unless you’ve got something EVERYONE wants…

Something Everyone Wants

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