The business of making movies is an expensive one. As an audience, sometimes we don’t even realize how much money goes into the fictional storylines and fantasy worlds that allow us an escape from our average reality. Some films are fortunate enough to not just make back what they spend, but profit enormously. And others… become flops or forgotten in time, and a few have even bankrupted a studio or two after their commercial failure.
Cleopatra: $339.5 Million
Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, was the most expensive film made during its time. The project cost $339 million, which was a staggering expenditure for a production studio in 1963. The original budget for the film was $31 million but after a short time of filming, the director and crew made a considerably large dent in in the bank after exceeding the approved budget.
Cleopatra won four Academy Awards and was the highest grossing film of ’63, although, the film’s profit couldn’t make up for the amount of money it largely spent. Liz Taylor’s greatest film was the reason 20th Century Fox went bankrupt a year later.
Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince: $275.3 Million
The Half-Blood Prince installment in the Harry Potter franchise was a crucial chapter to the universally-beloved story; even more so, then dare we say, The Deathly Hallows. Warner Brothers broke out the big bucks to ensure that the film’s most pivotal moments made an emotional impact on its audience.
These events, the most important ones, were the discovery of the Voldemort’s locket and the death of Albus Dumbledore at the hands of Severus Snape. The project costs WB Studios a total of $275 million and it seems as it was definitely worth it.
Waterworld: $271.3 Million
After Cleopatra, Waterworld held the record of Hollywood’s most expensive film made until Titanic was released (don’t worry Leo fans, we’ll get there soon enough). At the time of its release, it received mixed reviews and was nominated for the category of Best Sound at the 68th Academy Awards.
It cost about $270 million to make and for a fleeting moment, was the highlight of Kevin Costner’s budding career. Waterworld still has a loyal fandom and those who still feel connected to the aqua-themed film journey to Universal Studios theme parks to ride the Waterworld excursion attractions.
Avatar: $261 Million
Avatar was the film that reminded everyone of what James Cameron is truly capable. The visionary director spent a pretty penny on this new-age masterpiece, racking up a bill of $261 million before the film’s release in 2009.
It was the first film in box-office history to gross more than $2 billion. There are currently 4 sequels in place, which was confirmed by Cameron in 2016. Avatar 2 is set to be released in 2018, with 3 follow-ups due in 2020, 2022, and 2023.
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End: $300 Million
Pirates of the Caribbean is a Disney film franchise that’s based off of the long-standing attraction in the Disney World’s Magical Kingdom. Since the success of the original trilogy, a replica of Johnny Depp’s character, Captain Jack Sparrow, has been placed at the end of the ride to bid participants farewell.
The third installment of the Pirates Saga, At World’s End, cost $300 million to produce and market. It was the most expensive chapter of the series to make, until Stranger Tides went into production in 2010.
The Hobbit: Battle Of The 5 Armies $257.2 Million
Strangely enough, The Lord of the Rings franchise managed to abide by the budget given to them MGM. It’s prequel series, The Hobbit series spent an overall estimate of $900 million between the 3 installments but the Battle of the 5 Armies was the most costly to create out of the entire project.
Battle of the 5 Armies cost $257 million and grossed $956 million on a worldwide scale – $255 million of profit made solely from the United States. The 3rd and final film of the prequel series was nominated in the category of Best Sound Editing at the Academy Awards.
Tangled: $281.7 Million
Tangled is one of the 2 animated films on our list, with an expenditure of a surprising $281 million. Released in 2010, the Disney 3-D animated film is based on the Brothers Grimm tale of Rapunzel and was remarkably transformed into a musical-comedy for young audiences.
Worldwide, the animated film grossed almost $600 million and due to its success, spawned a short-film sequel, 4 Academy Award nominations, and a television series set to premiere in 2017.
The Dark Knight Rises: $257.2 Million
Christopher Nolan reinvented not just the city of Gotham, but a vigilante superhero who would compromise himself and the lives of others in a morbid interpretation of the Batman storyline. With $257 million, the director transformed the comic’s most villainous characters and iconic heroes into the form of everyday socialites living deceptive, double lives.
The Dark Knight Rises, debatably the most successful installment in the franchise, made over $1 billion worldwide and is ranked as the 17th highest grossing film of all time.
Toy Story 3: $218.2 Million
Toy Story 3 was a monumental accomplishment for both Pixar Animation Studios and Disney. It was the 3rd animated film in history to be nominated at the Acadamy Awards for Best Picture, coming after Beauty and the Beast and Up.
Toy Story 3 cost around $218 million to make and grossed over $1 billion worldwide, now ranked as the 3rd highest grossing animated movie of all time. A long-awaited sequel, Toy Story 4, is set to be released in mid-2019.
Avengers: Age of Ultron: $280 Million
After the success of the first Avengers installment, it came as no surprise that Age of Ultron, the Avenger’s sequel, went bigger and bolder with the allotted budget. Age of Ultron cost Marvel Studios and Disney $280 million but they earned back what they spent ten-fold, with a profit of over $800 million.
Marvel fans speculated over whether or not the Hulk switch would impact the Avengers franchise, with Mark Ruffalo stepping in after Edward Norton’s original performance in The Incredible Hulk solo-flick.
Oz The Great & Powerful: $218 Million
Oz the Great & Powerful was a reboot of the 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz. It serves as a prequel to the Old Hollywood film, where we saw Oscar Diggs enter in the magical land of Oz by way of a tornado.
The film cost around $218 million, no doubt in partial thanks to the animation and special effects required to recreate the flying monkies, Glinda’s bubbles, and Mila Kunis’ interpretation of the Wicked Witch of the West. A sequel has been written and in talks to start production but as of yet, it seems to be temporarily on hold.
Wild Wild West: $241.1 Million
Wild Wild West was expected to go further than it did with an international audience and sadly, received negative reviews after its anticipated release. Based loosely on the 1960’s television series The Wild Wild West, Will Smith and Kevin Kline starred as the main characters accompanied by Kenneth Branagh and Salma Hayek.
Spending $241 million on what was supposed to be a $170 million budget, Wild Wild West didn’t live up to the expectations it was meant to surprise.
Alice in Wonderland: $218.2 Million
Tim Burton re-imagined Wonderland in the 2010 release of the film based on the original Disney animation. Alice in Wonderland, starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Mia Wasikowska, spent $218 million to bring the majesty of the fictional realm to live-action life.
During its run, it was ranked as the 5th highest grossing film of all time, despite its mixed reviews and lack of cohesive narrative. The imagery and special effects alone, were enough to inspire Walt Disney Studios to greenlight the trend of fantasy-inspired films.
Quantum Of Solace: $219.4 Million
Quantum of Solace was released in 2008 as the 22nd installment in the James Bond franchise. It cost about $219 million to make and grossed $586 million worldwide. Daniel Craig reprised the role of James Bond and starred alongside Olga Kurylenko, as well as Mathieu Amalric.
Quantum of Solace had 250 violent accounts occur, the most in any Bond film ever created. It’s the fourth highest-grossing James Bond film in the entire franchise.
King Kong: $250.4 Million
King Kong has been rebooted about, oh let’s say, a million different times but this version was the most expensive to make. 2005’s King Kong cost about $250 million and performed much lower than expected upon its box office release.
Internationally, the film made $550 million but still managed to become the fourth highest grossing film in Universal Studios film history. King Kong won 3 Academy Awards; Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects.
Troy: $218.9 Million
Troy received mixed reviews upon its release but still managed to make an impact on the film industry in 2005. It cost $218 million to make Troy and the film grossed $497 million worldwide, so as it appears, they made a 50% profit after the film’s release.
The movie’s all-star cast may have had something to do with the cult following the film cultivated after it left theaters; Orlando Bloom, Eric Bana, Brad Pitt, and Diane Kruger were center stage to bring Homer’s “Iliad” to life.
Titanic: $294.3 Million
Titanic began production with a budget of $220 million and exceeded expenses by an estimate of $70 million by the time filming wrapped. James Cameron’s proudest masterpiece, which he wrote, directed, produced, and co-edited, famously starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
Titanic is the 2nd highest grossing movie all time, after Avatar, earning just over $2 billion in worldwide box office sales. It’s one of 2 films in Academy history to win the most Oscars in a consecutive sweep.
John Carter: $350.2 Million
John Carter, a film loosely based on the novel A Princess of Mars, is a sci-fi fantasy that cost Walt Disney Studios a whopping $350 million to create. Unfortunately, John Carter performed poorly in box office sales; worldwide the film only grossed $284 million, resulting in a $200 million loss for Disney.
The movie was praised for its action sequences, special effect visuals, and its original music score. Otherwise, John Carter’s mixed critical reviews and Taylor Kitsch topless couldn’t save it from flopping internationally.
Superman Returns: $244.9 Million
2006’s Superman Returns received positive reviews amongst critics but mixed reviews amongst its audience. The film cost Warner Bros. and DC Comics $244 million to make and while it was technically a box office success, it didn’t generate a large enough worldwide profit to guarantee a sequel.
Any chance of a second installment going into production was canceled a year later. In 2013, a Superman reboot was released under the title of Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill and Amy Adams.
Iron Man 2: $218.2 Million
Iron Man 2 is the follow-up to 2008’s Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. The film was one of the many installments that take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as we see Downey Jr.’s depiction of Iron Man join the cast of The Avengers before the third installment of his solo franchise.
The film made $623 million at the box office after being produced on a budget of $218 million. Iron Man 3, the final installment in Tony Stark’s solo chapter, was released in 2013. Robert Downey Jr. will reprise the role of Tony Stark in Spiderman Homecoming.
The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian: $246.9 Million
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian was the sequel to the 2005 live-action film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. The film’s final cost was $247 million and grossed $419 million worldwide.
The film received positive feedback but only achieved moderate commercial success, unlike its predecessor which was thoroughly anticipated because of the novel’s popularity. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third installment of the franchise, was released in 2010.
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen: $220.2 Million
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was the second chapter in the live-action sequence of the Transformers franchise. It was the final film in which Megan Fox starred, alongside recurring castmate Shia Labeouf.
As the most successful film in the franchise, Revenge of the Fallen cost $220 million, no doubt at the request of the film’s director, Michael Bay. The movie gained wide commercial success not because of a coherent storyline, but because of the explosives and dramatic special effects.
X-Men: The Last Stand: $246.1 Million
The X-Men franchise is a profitable one for 20th-Century Fox and Marvel Studios. X-Men: The Last Stand is the third installment in the live-action comic, costing production companies an estimated total of $246 million. Worldwide, the film grossed $459 million and $239 million at domestic box offices in North America.
The movie consisted of a mega-ensemble cast featuring high-profile names such as Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Ian McKellan, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, and Rebecca Romijn.
The Amazing Spider-Man: 236.7 Million
You may have expected us to tackle the crazy expenditure of Spiderman 3 before discussing the Andrew Garfield version but we promise, we’ll get to Tobey McGuire, too. The Amazing Spiderman was expected to gain major traction upon its release, considering the fandom that was birthed from the original Spidey trilogy.
However, after spending $236 million, The Amazing Spiderman couldn’t quite compete with its predecessor. The reboot performed well internationally, grossing $700 million internationally, and was followed up with a sequel. The third installment of the franchise was canceled after interest continued to decline.
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: $378.5 Million
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was the fourth installment in the famed Disney franchise and the immediate follow-up to At World’s End. The cast included Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush, reprising their characters from the prior trilogy, and Salma Hayek.
On Stranger Tides cost Walt Disney Studios a staggering $378 million. The film achieved a high level of success, although, polarizing in the eyes of its fans. The movie was said to lack originality (and Orlando Bloom), but the nostalgia of the project was enough to make it soar at the box office.
Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines: $256.8 Million
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was a costly venture, especially in comparison to other films in the Arnold Schwarzenneger franchise. Spending about $256 million on the movie, Terminator 3 only grossed $433 million internationally.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day achieved a 17% increase in box office sales back in 1991; the producers of the third installment didn’t expect to see a decline in interest in the franchise, even though there was a 12-year difference between the films.
Man Of Steel: $220 Million
Superman reboot, Man of Steel, performed exponentially greater amongst its audience than Superman 3 did. It cost around $220 million to make and made over $600 million at worldwide box offices.
Starring Henry Cavill and Amy Adams, Man of Steel was the first Superman movie to spark continued interest in the DC franchise since the early 2000’s and Warner Bros. Pictures decided to move forward with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. For this sequel, Henry Cavill reprised his role as Clark Kent and Ben Affleck starred as Batman.
Spiderman 3: $250 Million
Spiderman 3, released in 2007, was the third installment in Sam Raimi’s Marvel Spiderman trilogy. The all-star cast featured Tobey McGuire, James Franco, and Kirsten Dunst as its lead characters and achieved critical success throughout the franchise’s entire run.
Spiderman 3, however, cost $250 million to make. In return, it grossed more than $800 million worldwide. Due to its colossal success, Spiderman 4 was supposed to follow and be released in 2011 – but, the project was scrapped to reboot the comic superhero in the form of Andrew Garfield and The Amazing Spiderman.
Spectre 007: $245 million
In his final appearance as James Bond, Daniel Craig starred in Spectre, the 26th installment in the continuing franchise. Spectre cost MGM and Columbia Pictures $245 million to produce; the movie was filmed in Austria, the United Kingdom, Italy, Morocco, and Mexico.
Upon its release, Spectre grossed over $800 million internationally, becoming the second highest-grossing film of the franchise that starred Craig. The film won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, “The Writing’s on the Wall” performed by Sam Smith.