Hollywood’s budgets for big movies have skyrocketed to $200 million, but there are cheaper alternatives that prove excessive spending is unnecessary. CGI and special effects are the main factors that drive up movie budgets, but creative choices and practical effects can help trim costs without sacrificing quality. There are successful filmmakers who are able to create amazing films with smaller budgets, demonstrating that a bigger budget doesn’t always make a better movie.

Hollywood’s budgets have ballooned over the last few years to include $200 million movies, but there are cheaper alternatives which make these figures seem excessive and absurd. Sci-fi movies, especially superhero movies, are the most likely to require enormous budgets, but they are far from the only offenders. Even action movies like No Time to Die and Fast X have cost over $200 million. There are still filmmakers who are doing incredible things with half of the investment, or even less, and studios should learn from them that there are smarter ways of operating.

CGI and other special effects are the main reason that movie budgets can spiral out of control. Some movies, like Star Wars or Marvel movies, are bound to require heavy investments because of this, but they can still be creative with the way they choose to spend their money. Whether they revert to practical effects or alter their scripts to eliminate unnecessary CGI, there are plenty of different tactics to trim a movie’s budget. Whatever the case, the story and the characters must take priority. A bigger budget doesn’t necessarily make a better movie, as some of these cheap but excellent alternatives illustrate.

10 The Creator (2023)

Budget: $80 million

There are synthetic humanoids with exposed machinery, expansive spaceships, and a whole army of robots.

Directed by Gareth Edwards, The Creator takes place in a world torn apart by artifical intelligence. There are synthetic humanoids with exposed machinery, expansive spaceships, and a whole army of robots. The Creator doesn’t just incorporate these features from other movies; it has its own unique visual style. Although the budget is a surprisingly low $80 million, Edwards and his team managed to create an entire world that feels genuine. (via THR) Sci-fi movies are notorious for enormous budgets, but The Creator is proof that great CGI doesn’t need to cost $100 million. Edwards directed Rogue One with an immense budget, but The Creator shows that he didn’t need it.

9 Prey (2022)

Budget: $65 million

Big franchises are often notorious for inflated budgets, but Prey shows a different way of doing things. The story is set in the same universe as the rest of the Predator series, but the events take place in 1719 in the Great Plains. Prey should be praised for its revolutionary approach to the franchise, not just for what it does with its modest budget. Prey cost around $65 million to make, which is a relatively low sum for a big franchise with sci-fi elements. (via The Numbers) Prey could have been a box office hit, but it came to Hulu without a theatrical release.

Box Office Success of the Predator Franchise Before Prey


Worldwide Box Office (Nearest Million)

Predator (1987)

$98 million

Predator 2 (1990)

$55 million

AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)

$173 million

Alien vs. Predator – Requiem (2007)

$129 million

Predators (2010)

$127 million

The Predator (2018)

$159 million

8 Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)

Budget: $25 million

Oscar-winning multiverse adventure Everything Everywhere All At Once is so densely layered and imaginative that it’s hard to believe it cost a mere $25 million. (via The Guardian) It’s a freewheeling sci-fi epic that somehow stays intensely personal at the same time. Its medium budget doesn’t restrict it for a moment. Multiverse movies are seeing an increase in popularity, but they don’t need to rely on mind-bending CGI. Everything Everywhere All At Once‘s deep meaning comes from its restrained use of sci-fi tropes. It uses costumes, dialects, and other subtle filmmaking techniques to differentiate between its universes. It’s a triumph of creativity over mere spectacle.

7 Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (2023)

Budget: $100 million

Another multiverse adventure, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse pushes the boundaries of animation to new frontiers. Compared to movies like Lightyear and Elemental, which each cost around $200 million, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse represents a bargain at just half that price. (via THR) Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Spider-Verse sequel is a generous patchwork of different animation styles and ideas, each contributing to a quirky but perfectly-functioning final product. There are reasons that Pixar’s big budgets are misleading, but both Spider-Verse movies show that modest budgets and compelling, fresh animation don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In any case, the story must take priority over technical considerations.

6 Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021)

Budget: $110 million

It’s very rare for a Marvel or DC Studios production to cost anything less than $200 million.

Along with epic sci-fi movies, the superhero genre is a constant source of enormous-budget blockbusters. Both genres have a proclivity for huge CGI set pieces, and superhero movies often employ pricey A-list actors. It’s very rare for a Marvel or DC Studios production to cost anything less than $200 million, with the biggest movies regularly exceeding $300 million. Their passionate audiences mean that they are likely to see a return on these investments, but there are ways of making superhero movies for less. Venom: Let There Be Carnage had half the budget of most superhero movies, and still earned over $500 million at the box office. (via Box Office Mojo)

Venom 3 is slated for release in November 2024.

5 No One Will Save You (2023)

Budget: $22.8 million

Horror movies are often reliable low-budget money-makers for studios, but incorporating sci-fi elements can make them much more expensive. No One Will Save You is able to develop a whole cast of frightening aliens without the need for an exorbitant budget. The movie is carried along by Kaitlyn Dever in a remarkable solo performance, and the use of CGI is sparse and deliberate. When the large set pieces do come along, they are made all the more powerful due to their rarity. Having too much CGI can fatigue an audience, and No One Will Save You is proof that less is more. (Budget via Fastlane)

4 Asteroid City (2023)

Budget: $25 million

One factor that can quickly balloon a movie’s budget is a large cast. Asteroid City‘s cast features many of Wes Anderson’s regular collaborators, but he also adds some extra A-list firepower with Tom Hanks, Margot Robbie and Scarlett Johansson. Despite this, Asteroid City cost just $25 million. (via IndieWire) Anderson is regularly able to assemble such impressive casts because his actors relish the chance of working with him. They are often willing to cut their own salaries to appear in his movies alongside talented co-stars. Studios would do well to learn that artistic fulfillment can be just as alluring as money in some cases.

3 Nope (2022)

Budget: $68 million

Nope is Jordan Peele’s most visually ambitious project to date. While Get Out and Us were produced for just $4.5 million and $20 million respectively, Nope cost $68 million. (via Variety) The sci-fi horror genre mashup more than justifies its price tag, however. With just $68 million, Nope is more impressive than many movies with budgets even three or four times larger. Horror can be done for much cheaper, but Nope shows that even the most expensive end of the spectrum shouldn’t stray into hundreds of millions of dollars. The visual effects are breathtaking, but Nope‘s story is so strong that it doesn’t need to lean on excessive CGI.

2 The Green Knight (2021)

Budget: $15 million

The Green Knight looks like it cost ten times its $15 million budget.

A24 are masters of stretching small budgets to the extreme. Midsommar, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, and The Whale all received widespread critical acclaim at a cost of less than $10 million. The Green Knight is proof of the studio’s ability to avoid overspending even on bigger productions. The Green Knight looks like it cost ten times its $15 million budget. (via The Movie Database) The period setting and elements of fantasy are portrayed with intense vibrancy, but they cost a fraction of the amount lesser movies would have used. The Green Knight is able to tell its story on a grand scale thanks to boldly innovative visual storytelling.

1 The Northman (2022)

Budget: $70 million

The Northman achieves an incredibly immersive feeling with relatively modest expenditure. The brutality of Viking life is best illustrated in the epic raid sequences, each of which illicit a far more visceral response with practical effects than CGI would have been able to muster. CGI is often used to provide action without true violence. All the supernatural parts of sci-fi and superhero movies create a layer of separation and sanitization, but this comes at the cost of realism. Movies which want to appeal to children can’t be as bloody as The Northman, but they can learn how different camera techniques and blocking can heighten the drama without spending $200 million. (Budget via British GQ)

Sources: THR, The Numbers, The Guardian, THR, Box Office Mojo, Fastlane, IndieWire, Variety, The Movie Database, British GQ.

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