For better or worse, I have had some experience in the "ultra-low budget" filmmaking world. So, it has fallen to me to create this particular list of the seven best films of that class. Before I go on, let us first define what exactly qualifies a film as "ultra-low budget." If we were to follow the Screen Actors Guild definitions for these things, then "low budget" films have a budget of less that $2.5 million, all the way down to $625,000. Really, I don't think that's exactly right for our purposes here. We're really talking about "ultra-low budget" films -- not "low budget" -- so how do we define the category? Some might consider a film "ultra-low budget" if its made in Des Monies by a teenager and some friends with a video camera and a credit card. That's certainly one way to look at it, but I feel that definition might limit us a little too much.
For our purposes, I'm going to consider films made for a million dollars or less to be "ultra-low budget." That way, we can have a much larger set of films from which to choose. By Hollywood standards, where the average "studio" movie costs over $60 million, a film made for a million dollars or less really should be considered "ultra-low budget." Heck, the catering budget of the average studio film is probably more than the total budgets of the films on this list. You know those big stars, they really love to eat. Anyway, moving on. Here is my list of the best "ultra low-budget" films -- in order of release. Enjoy.
THX 1138 (1971) -- George Lucas' first feature foray into sci-fi -- a genre that would, in a few short years, make him one of the most famous and successful filmmakers of all time. It's a rather dark and depressing tale of survival and forbidden love in a dystopian future city, with the lives of the city's inhabitants being closely regulated and medicated and with love and procreation strictly controlled and monitored by the state. The film, which is a more elaborate and elongated version of a Lucas' short film Electronic Labyrinth 1138 4EB, was shot in and around San Francisco and became notable for its use of the new, state-of-the-art BART system to help depict the city of the future.
Also notable is Lucas' use of students and military personnel -- who were learning filmmaking from Lucas at the time -- as crew and extras, and the elaborate use of sound and sound effects which would become a Lucas mainstay going forward. It's also notable that the actors, including Robert Duvall, had to shave their heads to better depict Lucas' vision of a future nearly devoid of hope. Finally, I really love the smoothly polished killer police robots -- a great contrast to Lucas' depiction of robots in subsequent films like Star Wars.