8 Great Action Movies With Surprisingly Low Budgets
Action movies tend to be spectacular, often through thrilling fight scenes, crazy stunts, or over-the-top violence. This naturally comes with high budgets, especially in the world of Hollywood, where many of the biggest blockbuster movies costing upwards of $100-200 million are loaded with action. Action scenes seem to sell tickets, and so action movies naturally attract high budgets.
However, that’s not to say mountains of cash are needed for an action movie to deliver the goods. With the costs of decent filming equipment and the editing software required for digital effects having become more affordable and prevalent over the last decade or two, a number of impressive and thrilling low-budget action films have been published in the last 10 years or so. The following eight are some of the most notable, and all were made for less than $5 million…which is miniscule compared to the nearly $200 million it costs to average mcumovie, for example.
Upgrade (2018) – $3 million budget
Upgrade mixes action, sci-fi, and even some light horror elements into an ambitious and entertaining film that does wonders on a budget of just $3 million. It’s a revenge movie with a twist – the revenge-seeking man has been “enhanced” by a mysterious tech company that gives his body enhanced strength and reflexes, though the new skills aren’t without consequences…
The premise is weird, but it works well enough, and the film manages to strike an appropriate tone where it doesn’t take itself too seriously, or ever slow down to the point where it feels boring. The main character’s enhanced abilities also make for some really inventive (and quite bloody) action scenes, which end up being some of the most memorable sequences in Upgrade.
Lowering (2011) – $1.1 million budget and The Raid 2 (2014) – $4.5 million budget
Lowering and The Raid 2 are both great examples of what can be done with great stunt work, awesome fight choreography, and a lack of fear when it comes to portraying such visceral and brutal action scenes. Lowering is the simpler and cheaper of the two, with a story set almost entirely in the same location about a group of police officers who have to fight their way out of a building run by (and filled with) gang members, who are told by their leader not to leave anyone alive.
The Raid 2 quadruples the budget, but the scale and scope of the film are at least tenfold compared to the first. There are more locations, larger scale fight scenes, more striking visuals and more variety in the action (this one even has a car chase!) It also has a crime/gangster plot more complex that’s pretty usable, but the action is really what it’s all about, and it’s probably even better than the first one in that respect. Although it’s more expensive, it still does a lot on a relatively small budget and certainly doesn’t look like a movie made for less than $5 million while you’re watching it. It’s a shame there probably won’t be a third Raid movie, but at least we’ll still get the first two, which remain shining examples of how to do big things on a small budget.
Hobo with a shotgun (2011) – $3 million budget
Hobo with a shotgun began as a fake movie trailer that was included in the (incredibly violent) double feature film known as Crusher (2007), a filmmakers project Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Thanks to the popularity of the trailer, it was made into its own movie, starring Rutger Hauer as a titular drifter with a shotgun, who becomes a vigilante who stands against the crime and corruption that plagues his nightmarish, borderline post-apocalyptic city.
It’s a simple premise done in an intentionally gratuitous and sordid grindhouse style. As such, it probably won’t appeal to everyone, but for anyone who enjoys on-screen ultra-violence on a very low budget, Hobo with a shotgun should prove to be up to their expectations.
Who killed Captain Alex? (2010) – $85.00 budget
That “$85 budget” above is not a typo. Who killed Captain Alex? would have been made for that much money, produced and created by Wakaliwood, which is a very low budget film studio in Uganda. The movie may pretend it’s about finding out who killed a police captain after a violent gunfight, but that’s really just an excuse for having over-the-top action, crazy characters, and frantic pacing, all pulled by a group of people who clearly had fun doing it.
It ends up being a very enjoyable and charming watch, and making any kind of action movie with so little money is to be applauded. Who killed Captain Alex? is the best-known Wakaliwood production to date, but bad black also deserves some love. It was made six years later and is even wackier, less predictable and arguably more entertaining than Wakaliwood’s biggest hit.
red state (2011) – $4 million budget
red state is a rather unusual film, at least compared to the films that the director Kevin Smith had done in the years before its release. He was (and probably still is) best known for workplace comedies Clerks and Clerk 2but the kind red state shows he’s not too bad at directing movies with horror, action and thriller elements.
There is a lot of tension and unpredictability in red state which makes plot description difficult, and even implying that there are action/thriller sequences might arguably be saying too much. But it’s still a riveting and compelling film when viewed alongside Smith’s other works, and while it can be a weirdly paced and unsettling watch, it has a lot to offer and does a lot on a budget. only $4 million.
Hard Henry (2015) – $2 million budget
Hard Henry is an almost comedic adrenaline rush of an action movie. It’s about a robotic super-soldier (Henry) and his charismatic, clumsy sidekick who fight against an army of mercenaries to save Henry’s wife from an over-the-top antagonist. It does have a unique gimmick, however: the entire film takes place in first-person, so the viewer sees everything from Henry’s point of view.
This makes Hard Henry a movie that’s not ideal for those who get motion sickness easily, but anyone else will find it an enjoyable, visually dynamic (if a bit repetitive) ride. There’s so much action set and special effects that it’s amazing the whole movie is apparently only $2 million because the fight scenes, gunfights, car chases and stunts are almost uninterrupted throughout its 97-minute duration.
forever killer bean (2008) – budget under $1 million
forever killer bean is an animated action film about a world filled with talking, living and breathing coffee beans. It follows an assassin bean who hunts a bean crime boss while being targeted by the bean police and the bean mercenaries, leading to many action scenes where the beans shoot, punch and give each other kicks.
All that’s known about the budget is that it wasn’t over $1 million, and while it doesn’t look like an expensive animated film, it was practically made by a single person : Jeff Lew. He worked on the film for several years, and when you look at the credits of the film, it’s amazing how Lew did just about everything (writing, directing, producing, animating, editing, music and even a lot dubbing). For showing how one person can make an animated action movie that lasts almost an hour and a half, forever killer bean is a remarkable low-budget action film that has earned its cult following.
NEXT: Essential Action Movies Every Serious Movie Fan Should See