Clerks III is here, and Kevin Smith fans are curious to see what he has in store for this third installment of the famous series. What’s even more interesting is that this franchise started off on a microbudget and was made for less than $30,000, but has now ballooned into a multi-million dollar property.
There’s a rich tradition to this, of course. After all, Halloween Ends is a massive production while the original Halloween was famously made for less than half a million dollars. These are a few other big-budget sequels of low-budget movies, ranked by how big the budget gap is between the two installments.
Night Of The Living Dead (1969): $114,000 / Dawn Of The Dead (1978): $1,500,000
George Romero launched the zombie-apocalypse genre with Night Of The Living Dead, one of the first independent horror films. Made for only $114,000, Night of the Living Dead was such a hit that Romero returned to make a sequel, Dawn Of The Dead, with an increased budget of $1,500,000.
While that doesn’t sound like a huge budget, Romero and his team made the most of it and delivered a sequel that was teeming with production value. Set in a mall, Dawn of the Dead features more gore, action, and stuntwork than the original could’ve possibly dreamed of.
Mad Max (1979): $200,000 / Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981): $2,000,000
It’s amazing that one of the biggest and most spectacular action franchises started off with a microbudget film, but the original Mad Max was only filmed for roughly $200,000. When director George Miller was given ample more funds to make the sequel, he didn’t waste the opportunity.
Miller directed The Road Warrior for $2,000,000, and he put that budget to the best use possible. With high-octane chase scenes, wonderfully creative production design, and decked-out vehicles that make the Batmobile look like a go-kart, The Road Warrior overshadows its bare-bones predecessor in almost every way.
Halloween (1978): $325,000 / Halloween 2 (1981): $2,500,000
Before the seemingly endless series of sequels and remakes, John Carpenter’s Halloween had its very first sequel in Halloween II, which had been produced by Universal Studios. While Halloween was famously a low-budget affair, Halloween II had a substantially increased budget of $2,500,000, which allowed the filmmakers to indulge in more special effects for the kills.
While Halloween II has accrued a solid fanbase, other fans of the original feel that it was the low-budget filmmaking of the original that forced Carpenter and company to be so creative. Halloween II, on the other hand, blends in with the other slasher movie fare of its time.
Phantasm (1979): $300,000 / Phantasm 2 (1988): 3,000,000
In a similar case to Halloween, the original Phantasm was a low-budget cult classic that Universal decided to make a franchise out of. While the original Phantasm was only made for $300,000, the sequel was made for at least $3,000,000.
Unlike Halloween, many fans actually think the increased budget worked to the sequel’s advantage and gave the filmmakers more freedom to fully realize the science-fiction elements of the original. It also lent the sequel more mainstream appeal in contrast with the original film, which was more eccentric and niche.
Paranormal Activity (2009): $450,000 / Paranormal Activity 2 (2010): $3,000,000
One of the most genre-defining sleeper hits of the new millennium, the original Paranormal Activity took the world by storm with only a $450,000 budget thanks to its found-footage aesthetic. It spawned a series of sequels, all of which had an exponentially higher budget.
The first of the sequels, Paranormal Activity 2, had a budget of $3,000,000. Still, it only grossed about as much as the original, meaning that it was less profitable overall. With a series of critically-panned sequels that followed, it seems that the higher budgets have only led to diminishing returns for the Paranormal Activity franchise.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): $140,000 / The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1985): $4,700,000
A decade after he made genre-defining classic with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper worked with Cannon Productions to finally make a sequel. While the original was made for roughly $140,000, this sequel had a beefed-up budget of $4,700,000.
The budget hike shows, as Tobe Hooper constructs a number of elaborate if not cartoonish set pieces, and also put his production design team to good work. While the low-budget gave the original a realistic and unnerving aesthetic, this sequel is a spectacle that serves to shock and delight.
Clerks (1994): $27,000 / Clerks 2 (2006): $5,000,000
Before Clerks III, Kevin Smith made his first official sequel to his cult-classic debut with Clerks II, which beefed up the original budget of $27,000 to $5,000,000. Smith had already been working at that level of scale with films like Mallrats and Dogma, so he was ready to take Clerks to the next level.
While Clerks II isn’t the venerated cult hit that the first one is, it’s a fondly remembered sequel with a number of memorable sequences. Most importantly, the amplified budget didn’t dilute Smith’s unique personality as a filmmaker. Even with a huge Hollywood production, Clerks II is undeniably Smith’s project.
Evil Dead (1981): $300,000 / Evil Dead II (1987): $3,500,000
Often considered one of the greatest horror sequels ever made, Evil Dead 2 was both a sequel and soft reboot to Sam Raimi’s micro-budget masterpiece, The Evil Dead. After it became a smash hit, Raimi returned to the franchise to make a sequel that both upped the gore and special effects.
As opposed to the $300,000 budget of the first film, Raimi now had $3,500,000 to play with. He used the budget to do everything he couldn’t with the original and turn Evil Dead into a splatterfest action-comedy that absolutely oozed style. While an increased budget can water down a franchise, Raimi used his budget to spruce up the Evil Dead franchise and turn it into a truly iconic series.
El Mariachi (1993): $7,000 / Desperado (1995): $7,000,000
The original El Mariachi is one of the most famous microbudget films ever made, famously only made for $7,000. Director Robert Rodriguez made the most of his shoestring budget and delivered a clever action film that showed off his directing talents. His efforts paid off so well that studio paid for a sequel, Desperado, with an increased budget of $7,000,000.
With that money, Rodriguez not only upped the ante in terms of action and gunfire, but got stars like Antonio Banderas and Steve Buscemi for the cast. The success of Desperado proved that Rodriguez wasn’t a one-hit wonder and cemented his status as an action-cinema auteur.
The Blair Witch Project (1999): $600,000 / Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows (2000)
The first Blair Witch Project movie wasn’t just a cultural phenomenon, it was one of the most profitable films ever made. That’s largely thanks to the fact that it was produced for a minuscule budget of approximately $600,000. A sequel was inevitable, but instead of keeping to the original’s microbudget aesthetic, producers opted to make a sequel with a budget of $15,000,000.
Instead of that increased budget enhancing this sequel, many fans felt that it totally ruined what had made the Blair Witch Project resonate with audiences. Gone was the gritty and raw believability of the original. Instead, Blair Witch 2 is a competently shot but ultimately incoherent mess that’s a sequel in name only.
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