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Hollywood film budgets getting out of hand
July 1, 2011 - Cory Giger
'Tis the season for gigantic movie budgets, and hopefully Hollywood will deliver a high level of quality that equals the gigantic sums of money being spent on summer films.
Remember when Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" came out in 1995 and people were shocked that a movie could cost upwards of $200 million? That film wasn't terrible, as some suggested, but it didn't deliver anywhere near the amount of entertainment for that incredible budget.
Sadly, "Waterworld" is far from alone.
Film budgets have soared at an incredible level in the past 15 years, to the point where "Waterworld" is now merely the 38th most expensive movie ever made, with a since-revised budget of $175 million.
Are we, the moviegoing audience, getting our bang for the budget bucks? Sometimes yes -- such as with 2009's "Avatar" ($237 million budget) or 2010's "Inception ($160 million) -- but more often blockbuster movies leave you scratching your head at how they could have spent so much money.
Here are the top 10 most expensive films ever made, according to the movie tracking website the-numbers.com. Note that the budgets are in dollar values at the time, not current dollars. Based on inflation, the $44 million budget for Elizabeth Taylor's "Cleopatra" in 1963 would hold the top spot today at about $320 million.
1. "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" -- $300 million budget; $309 million domestic gross; $960 million worldwide gross.
2. "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" -- The 2012 film has an estimated budget of $270 million.
3. "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" -- Same goes for this 2013 film.
4. "Tangled" -- $260 million budget, which is absurd for this caliber of cartoon film; $200 million domestic gross; $586 million worldwide gross.
5. "Spider-Man 3" -- $258 million budget; $336 million domestic gross; $890 million worldwide gross.
6. "The Dark Knight Rises" -- The newest Batman movie, due in 2012, has an estimated budget of $250 million.
7. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" -- $250 million budget; $229 million domestic gross; $933 million worldwide gross
8. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" -- $250 million budget; $229 million domestic gross; $986 million worldwide gross.
9. "Avatar" -- $237 million budget; $760 million domestic gross (most all-time); $2.78 billion worldwide gross (most all-time).
10. "Superman Returns" -- $232 million budget; $200 million domestic gross; $390 million worldwide gross.
You can see that every one of these films made a profit when taking worldwide gross into consideration. It's that figure, not the domestic numbers we see most frequently, that makes the biggest difference.
Take, for instance, "Superman Returns," which was lousy and the worst performer of the top 10, yet it still made a hefty profit. Going back to the original example, even "Waterworld," which pulled in just $88 million domestically, turned a profit with a $254 million worldwide gross.
Bigger doesn't always mean better, and we saw an example of that in 2009. The second "Transformers" installment cost $210 million, while "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" cost $175 million, yet neither was as efficiently entertaining as Best Picture nominee "District 9," which cost only $30 million.
Then there's "Paranormal Activity," the most profitable mainstream movie in history. The film cost only $15,000 and grossed $196 million worldwide, a profit of 655,000 percent.
Keep that little film in mind this summer when you're watching tens of millions of dollars wasted on explosions and a bombardment of other special effects that add very little to the quality of many movies.