Great Low-Budget Sci-Fi Films

by Craig B.

Not too long ago, I read an article that highlighted eight great low-budget sci-fi films. What caught my attention was a factoid attached to each movie pointing out how many times the highlighted film could have been made if it had been blessed with Avatar’s $425 million budget. I was especially struck by the disparity between Primer and Avatar. Primer, arguably my favorite movie of 2004, could have been made 60,710 times if it had been graced with the same cash it took to create James Cameron’s CGI extravaganza.

Now, I’m not trying to insinuate that James Cameron is a hack. I happen to like his movies quite a lot. But I am saying that Primer, with a bottom line cheaper than my car, managed to deliver the goods. That blows me away. If I was an economist, and consequently filled with self-loathing, I might try to calculate how much money and time I’ve wasted NOT making my own low-budget masterpiece. Or, I could buy another pizza and keep playing Red Dead Redemption. Choices, choices.

Anyway, here are some of my favorite “popularly priced” sci-fi flicks. A few worthy titles didn’t make the cut, not through oversight, but because I’ve already covered them in other lists I’ve made in the past. As for the slight similarities between my choices and the ones in the article, what can I say? Mickey Ralph has great taste.

Safety Not Guaranteed

Three Seattle Magazine employees answer a want ad for time travel partners, only to discover that the supposed crackpot who wrote it might be telling the truth. This lighthearted tale has an excellent cast and a seriously good script, which is hard to pull off for $750,000. The film is shot in and around the Seattle area, and earned enough recognition that its fledgling director, Colin Trevorrow, was handed the reins for Jurassic World.

The FP 

The FP is a tongue-in-cheek parody of the post-apocalyptic flicks of the 80’s. J-TRO, our eyepatch wearing protagonist, attempts to exact revenge on his brother’s killers by challenging them to “Beat Beat Revelation,” a potentially lethal dance-off video game. Yes, it’s a send-up. Yes, most send-ups are tedious. This one’s hilarious because it never drops the pretense of being serious. If you like lots of cheese on your burger, you are going to love The FP. And for the bargain budget of $45,000, you’ll definitely find it on the value menu.

The Road Warrior

I loved, loved, LOVED this flick when I was a kid. When it comes to post-apocalyptic vehicular destruction, Aussie director George Miller is the undisputed maestro. When it comes to Miller’s masterpiece, The Road Warrior is his Mona Lisa. You might argue that Fury Road is better, and you might be right, but Fury Road cost a whopping $150 million. The Road Warrior cost a paltry $4 million.


Science fiction gets the western treatment in this offbeat flick about a father/daughter duo who secure the rights to mine alien geoduck creatures for their exotic wobbly bits. Directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl create a world for us that feels worn and lived-in, and the old-timey dialect is reminiscent of sci-fi cult classics like Firefly. Hikers of the Olympic Peninsula will recognize Washington’s rainforest in many of the exterior shots. That’s because the film’s creators are local boys. You might also be surprised to learn that the entire movie was made for $4 million.


When post-apocalyptic wasteland meets monster madness, the ten year old in me salivates like Pavlov’s dog. All I need is some fake buttered popcorn and a box of Whoppers; the world can wait. And for a rock-bottom $500,000, you won’t even feel the calories. This is director Gareth Edwards’ (Godzilla, Rogue One) first flick. He also wrote the script and created the special effects himself.

I hope you enjoy these titles! Be sure to comment with any additional titles you discover so I can add them to my list.

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10 responses to “Great Low-Budget Sci-Fi Films”

  1. Jennifer Keirans says:

    I love this post! I recently discovered that the library’s streaming movie service Kanopy is a treasury of weird old science-fiction movies.

    I’m waiting for a free afternoon to watch The Day of the Dolphin with George C. Scott.

  2. Alez says:

    The FP always needs more love. It has such a low profile, but is so ridiculously fun. You are probably only the 4th person I’ve ‘met’ that knows what it is.

  3. Gloria says:

    You have some of my favorites listed, particularly “Monsters” and the super great “Thx-1138” what about?
    “eXistenZ” Is another low budget fun, but smart sci-fi – if you don’t know it, you must check it out.

    • Craig Burgess says:

      I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never seen it. I’ll add it to my list!

    • Isaac H. says:

      As a gamer nerd and a Cronenberg fan I have to second on eXistenZ. That movie was Inception before Inception. Speaking of which another great low budget thriller I enjoy is Videodrome, another Cronenberg science fiction thriller.

  4. Gloria says:

    Oh, I thought of two more: both under appreciated, super provocative & “cheaply” made> the Mexican movie “Sleep Dealer” & a kind of cult favorite “They Live”. be sure to check these out also.

    As to Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” it is just too violent for me. Sorry.

    • Craig Burgess says:

      I love They Live. It is indeed a worthy cult classic, and it only cost around 4 million bucks. And I’ve never seen Sleep Dealer. You’re giving me some great leads to follow!

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