10. King Kong (2005)
Director: Peter Jackson
Cost of production: $250 million USD
Peter Jackson, director of the Lord Of The Rings AND Hobbit Trilogy is used to handling massive budgets, and making 3 hour + movies that glue the audience to their seats. But King Kong was considered a large risk for Universal Pictures as the budget grew out of control from an initial estimate of $150 million all the way up to it´s final cost of over $250 million.
A good deal of the budget was spent on animating Kong himself. Witness some of the fantastic scenes in the film – such as a 25 foot Kong delivering death to 3 T Rex´s at once, and you´ll have some idea how this massive budget was spent.
Luckily for Universal Pictures, Peter Jackson delivered once again and the picture became the fourth highest grossing film for the studio of all time (it finally made over $550 million)
9. Avatar (2009)
Director: James Cameron
Cost of production: $261 million USD
Cameron wanted to make this movie for over 12 years but had to wait for the technology to do so. This movie was a paradigm shift on release, taking the cinema goer to a 3rd dimension that had never been experienced before. Consider that the movie was an almost entirely digitally created new world, built using super advanced (and expensive 3D), that created a fully immersive world to draw in and captivate the audience.
90 hours was spent in producing every single frame for the movie..And there were 24 frames per second!
To add to the costs, a new language was created and taught to over 100 actors, big name stars and scriptwriters were hired, not to mention the production costs of the 3D glasses themselves.
Remember this next time you bemoan the cost of a cinema ticket!
8. Waterworld (1995)
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Cost of production: $271 million USD
Probably the most famous cinematic flop of recent times, Waterworld ate up a staggering budget, $20 million of which was Costners own money!
The film was shot off the coast of Hawaii, aboard a gigantic 400 feet diameter atoll, build specifically for the production. However the costs kept getting out of control, as aerial filming was required using seaplanes and helicopters (not cheap), and also due to plain bad luck: three huge hurricanes sank the entire set whilst filming.
The film made back only $88 million at the box office, a total loss of nearly $200 million. OUCH.
Waterworld was probably responsible for Kevin Costners subsequent disappearing act from cinema screens since it was made (except for the occasional low budget nothing movies that hardly anyone hears of.)
7. John Carter (2012)
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cost of production: $271 million USD
John Carter is probably the biggest Disney flop of all time, putting the company $200 million out of pocket. Flops like these have consequences, so Rich Ross – former chairman of Disney Studios – resigned 1 month after the film was released (and everyone realised what a huge mistake it was)
Part of the reason why the costs were completely out of control was because much of the movie had to be shot twice due to intractable problems in Post Production. Adding all of this together, the movie would have had to make $600 million just to break even…Of course, it didn´t even come close.
6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
Director: David Yates
Cost of production: $275 million USD
Warner Bros financed the entire Harry Potter series from beginning to end and it was one of the most astute investments they ever made. However as the costs grew and grew for the most expensive (and least well favoured of the series), a few hearts must have been beating faster at the massive spend.
One of the principal reasons for the increase in costs was due to the main characters becoming big stars in their own right (largely due to the exposure that the earlier movies gave to them). Of cours they then demanded a higher pay packet which Warner Bros were practically forced to spend, because the series would have been nowhere near as successful without the continuity of actors and actresses.
They need not have worried though: the film made $302 million domestic and $632 million overseas for a worldwide total of $934 million.
5. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Director: Joss Whedon
Cost of production: $280 million USD
This year’s superhero cluster flick – which included everyone from Captain America to Iron Man, to The Hulk, Thor, Falcon, Quicksilver and Black Widow – became the third-highest-grossing film in North America, behind Avatar and Titanic. But, superheroes don’t come cheap. Before production started, multiple members of the Age Of Ultron cast threatened to quit if their contractual demands (read: money) weren’t met, so Marvel had some serious work cut out for them if they wanted all the big names back on board for the Avengers sequel – all of whom were reportedly looking for $5 million on the table and a cut of the post-release profits.
On top of that, there were the far-flung international locations, the drone cameras used for some of the filming, and the CGI to make the titular villain with all the nuances that Whedon wanted to capture. Everyone knows that increased CGI is never a substitute for clean writing, but given that Age Of Ultron brought in almost $1.3 billion at the worldwide box office, that doesn’t seem to matter.
4. Tangled (2010)
Director: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
Cost of production: $281 million USD
Tangled was so expensive mainly because of how long it took to get the story right. It took about ten years of multiple aborted attempts at the movie, each of which got pretty far in before they scrapped everything and started again. Much of the budget included redesigning versions of previously-attempted flick Rapunzel, dating back to 2000, that were never produced. What’s more, extensive research was done to develop the animation process that allowed the CGI to evoke some of the qualities of traditional hand-drawn Disney characters – animating all of that blonde hair must’ve been quite the ordeal.
An entertaining if rather forgettable Disney animation that in no way earned its colossal budget, Tangled eventually bagged a profit when it was released in international theaters, but it’s still pretty mind-boggling how much cash they spent on this one.
3. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Director: Sam Raimi
Cost of production: $293 million USD
When Spider-Man was released in 2002, it almost singlehandedly laid the groundwork for the current superhero boom. But, then they just started throwing money at the franchise…And unfortunately, making expensive, flagship superhero sequels is no small or simple feat. Production for the movie dragged on into late summer where it had been scheduled to conclude in June, pushing up the costs dramatically. On top of that, there was the huge cost of CGI, the web-slinging set pieces, the star salaries and – of course – the marketing and promotion campaign costs.
After Spidey 2 had a hard time convincing fans that an ageing arachnid fan was still living in a single bedsit and popping round to his Aunt May’s house for some home-cooking before climbing into the old red-blue Spandex for the evening, the studio probably didn’t have much of a choice on the whopping marketing budget. And, unfortunately, despite Spider-Man 2 costing $250 million to produce and Spider-Man 3 even more, the critical reception just didn’t pay off.
2. Titanic (1997)
Director: James Cameron
Cost of production: $294 million USD
The cost to construct the Titanic set was somewhere between $120 to $150 million alone (in 1997 dollars). For that amount of money, you might feel ripped off with anything less than the “ship of dreams.” Remember that grand staircase scene, where the water comes crashing in as Rose and Jack try to escape? It only had one shot, because the set and furnishings were so hugely expensive to produce there was no room for error. And then there were the reams of other convincing special effects – in one apparently uninterrupted shot, we saw the ship from bow to stern, with flags flying and smoke coiling from its stacks, and on the deck hundreds of passengers strolling, children running, servants serving, and so on.
And it paid off. Titanic made its huge production costs part of its marketing campaign, promoting the rich value of the movie like none other at the box office; it went down swimmingly (pun intended). Despite it’s $294 million price tag, Roger Ebert described the film as “value for money” – every cent of that budget spent on production flickers on screen.
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Director: Rob Marshall
Cost of production: $397 million USD
Despite the very agreeable box office returns, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was no cheap date. 2007 and 2006’s Gore Verbinski-directed Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End cost $263 million and $341 million, respectively, with On Stranger Tides landing a slot as the most expensive long shot – with Jack Sparrow and Barbossa’s quest to find the elusive fountain of youth costing nearly $400 million.
Regardless of the huge production costs (Depp’s payment was an estimated $55,000,000) the box office-busting Pirates of the Caribbean flicks have been the most extraordinary cash cow, and since the first time we saw Johnny Depp parading around with beaded dreads and guy-liner in 2003, the Disney execs behind the franchise have been simultaneously wading around in gold up to their armpits.