Rating movies: Do you give a higher score to a lower-budget film?

In Memorium posterWhen I went to ComicCon 2012, I met a whole heapin’ helpin’ of new people. It was a creative-types extravaganza. One of the people I met was actress Johanna Watts. After chatting, she wanted to read NOCTURNAL, and I wanted to watch one of her movies, an indie horror flick called IN MEMORIUM, so the ol’ “artistic switcheroo” plot was hatched.

IN MEMORIUM was a 2005 micro-budget flick, so it took me a bit to track it down. If you want to watch it, it’s streamable on Vudu for a couple of bucks (and that’s Johanna’s crying face in the movie poster at right).

I’ll get to my question for you in just a moment.

But first, I enjoyed the movie. I’ve written a one-location screenplay myself, so I understand the challenges of writing a horror plot that can be shot on a low budget, or even no budget at all. You need to justify isolation, so your characters have to stay in that one setting and can’t get help from expensive extras. The plot has to incorporate your budget! It was fun to watch what writer/director Amanda Gusack did to achieve that isolation.

IN MEMORIUM is a variation on the “found footage” style of filmmaking seen in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. The protagonist is dying of cancer. He and his girlfriend (Watts) move into a house and wire it top to bottom with security cameras, so he can make a documentary on his final year of life. Those cameras, of course, catch a lot of other activity, very spooky activity, that no one would have seen without these ever-present (and plot-justified) cameras. Like BLIAR WITCH, the milieu even incoporates low-quality cameras, so footage that looks “bad” still feels “right.”

Now, to my question. I finish the movie and see that’s poorly rated on Vudu. I can understand why: if you’re just watching this movie and not accounting for a non-existent budget, there are a lot of problems with it. If, however, you have any level of experience in making movies (even my tiny amount of knowledge based on writing a couple of screenplays and shooting a few book trailers), you can see the places in the movie where an FX budget would have fixed a ton of issues. But, Gusack didn’t have the money hose needed to create an FX-ladden flick. She found a way to write a compelling horror story, cast it, shoot it, and actually get the thing made; that’s an amazing accomplishment in itself.

So, I ask you — when you’re reviewing a movie, do you give it “bonus points” for trying if it is low-budget? Do you bump a 3-star flick up to 3.5, or even 4, if you can see they didn’t have the money to make the movie what it should have been? Or, do you simply judge a movie as-is? Do you say to yourself “they knew their budget, they should have written something they could accomplish?”

A low-budget flick can even influence my opinion of the acting. If you’ve got the money to pay John Malkovitch, you get one product. If you’re asking the actors you know to work for free for a week or more, you get another. I know how hard it is to make anything that involves a cast and crew, so I take that into consideration when I’m watching. I thought Watts did a great job. I wasn’t as crazy about Erik McDowell’s role as the male lead, but the budget limitations made me appreciate the performance whereas if he delivered the same effort on a big-budget flick, I might have felt more critical about it.

What are your thoughts? Budget: does it affect your perception of an artisitic effort?

About The Author


  1. mistfullkittie

    Hahaha!! Right?!? I was just sitting there like “Oh my gosh!! This tire is just ruthless!!” hahaha

  2. mistfullkittie

    I watch more Low Budget films than any other. I enjoy them, but I also ignore most of the effects… I mainly sit there and enjoy whatever unique story they’re feeding me… like Rubber, I LOVED that cheezy movie…

  3. Wyll

    As a guy who watches 100+ movies a year, I can honestly say that I rate movies based on how well they entertained me, regardless of budget size. I would like to say that a great story will help carry a movie with a low budget, but I often find it is not the lack of money that is a problem, but a lack of experience with the production crew that can really hurt a low budget film. I agree with Scott: the instant I see something that takes me out of enjoying the film (i.e. bad acting, poor lighting), I tend to rate the film a lot lower. Big plot holes and things that push my suspension of belief way too far will earn a turkey rating for me.

  4. steffiebaby140

    For me budget only makes a difference because I expect a lot more out of a movie that had millions of dollars to play with.  But as far as rating, I definitely wouldn’t pad a rating for a low budget film.  My ratings on films are mostly about the story, the consistency of the story, the characters, the acting, and my overall enjoyment of it. And you don’t need a big budget to have a good story with good characters and make me enjoy it.  For example, I saw Prometheus recently…huge budget, and I hated it!  But then you get a B horror movie with a super low budget but the story and the characters just click and it turns into one of those “so bad it’s fantastic” movies. 

  5. Chris.BigCat.Valliere

    I think far too much emphasis is placed on the dollar mount of a flick. The movie review should based upon what they did with what they had. How good the story was, and how it was acted out. Unless the effects were so cheesy that they were distracting to the plot, they shouldn’t even factor in on the finished review.

  6. JZ

    I tend to expect (much) more from high budget movies and I’m more inclined to rate down an overpriced ‘big’ movie on that account.

    Like xdpaul I will consider a movie in a more positive light if I learn it was done on a limited budget.

    What yanks my chain is when Big Budget is over-used for PR. Without the right project Big Budget is just much more opportunity to mess up.

  7. scottsigler

    @BigDaddyCarl2011: I just looked up the budget for CLERKS — $28k, according to one source. That’s an amazing accomplishment for that much money. I think IN MEMORIUM was much, much less — probably the cost of renting a house for a week, unless the house belonged to one of the cast or crew, which is more likely. 

  8. scottsigler

    @Stacey: And the foley was bad in this, as was overall sound. I’m a big sound guy — if I hear problems, it takes me out of the story. 

  9. treed

    You would hope low budget would focus on the acting, script and plot. those tend to be what i look for in any film no matter the budget. (except for action movies, then it is all about the explosions). budget should not effect the quality of the acting. there are excellent actors out there that have yet to be “Discovered”. There is no excuse for bad writing. The script should be of high quality, no matter the budget. The plot should grab you and keep watching to the end of the credits.

    (I’ll post again, just wait and see)

  10. Kefo_of_The_Mountain

    I look at the story first.. the setting, the acting, but if it’s not a good story I get bored.  I have seen some very beautiful big budget movies that made me go “it’s gorgeous, but where’s the story?”.  I need a story to keep me interested.

    Skybox #18, Ionath Stadium
  11. Kefo_of_The_Mountain

    I look at the story first.. the setting, the acting, but if it’s not a good story I get bored.  I have seen some very beautiful big budget movies that made me go “it’s gorgeous, but where’s the story?”.  I need a story to keep me interested.

    Skybox #18, Ionath Stadium
  12. BigdaddyCarl2011

    While I don’t look at the budget I do tend to appreciate movies in which the passion the filmmakers had in making the film translates onto the screen, which tends to happen more on low budget movies.  In example, I’m a huge Kevin Smith fan, and my favorite movies of his are Clerks and Red State, his two passion projects.  Also, I did enjoy Ink as well.  Sorry to go round about when answering the question.

  13. treed

    Yes and no

    Yes, I would allow for certain “budget” effected things. (Special effects, quality of acting, sets, props, film quality, cinematography, etc.)

    No. Script, directing, dialog, plot, the acting (given that the quality of actor might not be the best). Somethings should transcend BUDGET.

  14. Shadygirl

    I thinki do tend to give bonus points for a movie that has a compelling story but could have been improved with a bigger budget. One film in particular comes to mind and that is Ink. It is a wonderful story. Could a bigger budget have fixed some problems in the film? Yes it could have. But the story is very interesting and well written. I never hesitate to recommend the movie.