Top 15 Most Expensive Movies Ever Made
Huge and elaborate sets, authentic costumes, spectacular special effects, and sizeable salaries paid to the stars – all of these cost a lot of money, especially when you want every detail to be perfect. A lot of the time, it’s worth it and your project earns many times the invested amount. Other times, it’s a flop which can nearly bankrupt a studio and ruin careers. There’s a little bit of everything below, on the list of the most expensive movies ever made.
(Note: Movie budget figures are adjusted for inflation)
15. Spider-Man 2 (2004): $250.1 Million
Hollywood has developed quite a penchant for sequels, prequels, and reboots to the point that it’s becoming hard to follow characters and their storylines. We are now in the middle of the Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man era, but the first trilogy featuring the wall-crawling superhero had the much nerdier Tobey Maguire as the leading character. The second installment of the series is the first to make our list.
The elaborate sets, cutting-edge camerawork, and excellent special effects (which earned the movie its sole Academy Award) ended up being very expensive, however Spider-Man 2 managed to emulate the commercial success of the previous film and, in an impressive feat for a sequel, actually receive similar or better reviews.
14. King Kong (2005): $250.4 Million
King Kong is Peter Jackson’s other epic blockbuster, a remake of Merian C. Cooper’s iconic 1933 movie.
The film exceeded its initial budget by a huge margin, so much so that Peter Jackson himself had to cover more than $30 million of its cost (this was after the release of the very lucrative Lord of the Rings trilogy, which earned their director at least $200 million, so he could certainly afford it). Nevertheless, King Kong eventually more than made up the money spent to produce it and was received with mostly positive reviews, so it was a gamble that actually paid off.
13. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003): $256.8 Million
The first Terminator movie not to involve James Cameron, Rise of the Machines brought the franchise into the 21st century, at least when you consider the cutting-edge special effects. Arnold Schwarzenegger reprised his role from the previous two installments, however even with this and all the resources available and great special effects, the film lacks a bit of the spirit that made the first two parts (and especially the second) such classics.
In a totally unrelated point we feel we have to mention for some reason, the movie was released in July 2003, just a few months before Schwarzenegger become The Governator (the Governor of California).
12. John Carter (2012): $257.2 Million
Released in 2012, John Carter is certainly one the more unremarkable movies on this list – it’s quite shocking to know it actually cost so much. Based on the 1917 novel A Princess of Mars, the picture doesn’t feature huge movie stars (with the most recognizable name probably being that of Willem Dafoe). What drove the costs up so high is the fact that it had to be reshot twice, since the movie’s director, Andrew Stanton, only had experience directing animated flicks (Finding Nemo and WALL-E). Perhaps not the wisest move, as John Carter only earned about $284 million at the box office, way less that it had to in order to justify its massive budget.
11. The Dark Knight Rises (2012): $257.2 Million
The dramatic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises was at least as ambitious in scale and impressive as any other of the other two installments.
Filming took place in locations as varied as Jodhpur (India), London, Nottingham, Pittsburgh, New York, and Los Angeles, and almost half an hour was shot on IMAX cameras, for the best image quality possible. Sets, costumes, and equipment added a lot to the eventual production cost, especially since Nolan is known to prefer “practical” effects to CGI. The Bat, for instance, actually had to be supported by wires and suspended from cranes and even helicopter to appear airborne!
10. The Hobbit (2012): $257.2 Million
Interestingly enough, the most expensive of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien-based movies isn’t one of those huge epics with wizards, Elves, Orcs, and mighty human Kingdoms, but the one following the adventures of the unassuming Bilbo Baggins (these Hobbits never cease to surprise, do they?).
Like previous films set in this fantasy universe, The Hobbit features awesome special effects, great costumes and makeup, and was shot mostly among the stunning landscapes of New Zealand.
9. Avatar (2009): $261 Million
James Cameron had been known for decades as someone who relies on technology and special effects to tell his stories, but with Avatar he brought this a whole new level. The first screenplay was actually written in 1994, but Cameron chose to wait for technology to catch up with his vision, so he could actually make the movie look and feel the way he wanted to.
Fifteen years later, after a huge investment in time and money, the film was finally released, receiving lavish praise (and an Oscar nomination) for its visual effects. It was also hugely successful at the box office, becoming the first ever film to earn over $2 billion. Money well spent, it seems.
8. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006): $263.7 Million
Most successful movies inspired by other mediums are based on things like books, comics, or graphic novels, but one of the most popular franchises ever is actually based on…a Disneyland ride. Much of its charm comes from Johnny Depp’s performance as the swashbuckling Captain Jack Sparrow (which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor after the series` first installment, quite uncommon for a comedic role).
The movie won the Oscar for Visual Effects, which isn’t surprising given its massive budget. But it was all worth it in the end, as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest went on to become the fastest to gross over $1 billion (though the record has since been surpassed by The Avengers) and the highest grossing film of 2006, as well as being the most successful movie of the franchise. Not bad for a sequel.
7. Waterworld (1995): $271.3 Million
When it was released in 1995, Waterworld was the most expensive movie ever made. Ever since then, critics have not been overly kind with the picture, especially with the acting and directing, though the production values have received praise. Like many other high-priced flicks, Waterworld was marred by production difficulties – on one occasion, the set was badly damaged by a hurricane. So much was invested into the project that the state of Hawaii (where filming was taking place) actually had over $35 million added to its economy.
6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009): $275.3 Million
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the sixth and the most expensive film of the Harry Potter series, with a significantly higher budget than any other previous installment. It even cost less the two-part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
The effects are as good as they ever get in a Harry Potter movie, while the cinematography is simply gorgeous, fully deserving its Academy Award nomination. Overall, it was also one of the most positively reviewed.
5. Tangled (2010): $281.7 Million
When you consider the cost of animations, you’d think that all you have to pay for is a bunch of artists working on their computers, no sets, costumes, staff, or extras. But Disney’s Tangled cost about as much as the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy to produce – so what happened there?
Well, as the studio was moving away from hand-drawn animation towards CGI, new technologies and methods had to be invented to keep that “Disney feel”. Production lasted the better part of a decade, directors were changed, and cutting-edge mathematics had to be employed to make Rapunzel’s hair behave believably.
4. Spider-Man 3 (2007): $293.9 Million
The third and final Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie, starring Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man 3 was the least well received among critics, though it fared best at the box office. Shooting took place in multiple locations across the U.S. and lasted almost an entire year.
In terms of special effects, the movie picked up where the previous film left off. The three villains, the mayhem they inflict, and the action scenes look great. All in all, it was a fun action flick featuring a beloved superhero, the sort of thing we expect to see every summer.
3. Titanic (1997): $294.3 Million
Titanic was released in theaters two years after Waterworld, breaking its record for most expensive movie ever made and almost starting a trend of gargantuan productions set on water (which thankfully never became a thing). Unlike the Kevin Costner picture, Titanic was enormously successful, launching Leonardo DiCaprio on his path to superstardom and becoming the highest grossing film of all time (not adjusted for inflation), a record eventually broken by another James Cameron production, Avatar, which are also the only two movies to earn more than $2 billion.
The epic disaster film/tear-jerker also matched records for number of Oscar nominations (fourteen) and wins (eleven).
2. Cleopatra (1963): $339.5 Million
Here’s where that pesky thing called inflation actually plays a role. Released in 1963, starring Liz Taylor in the title role alongside the likes of Richard Burton and Rex Harrison, the film has a budget of $44 million – average in today’s money, but the cost almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox 50 years ago!
This huge cost was in part due to the fact that the elaborate costumes and sets had to be made twice (initially in London, then in Rome after production was relocated there). Liz Taylor’s massive fee, which would eventually reach $7 million (over $50 million in today’s money), also didn’t do much good to the bottom line. On the flip side, she did earn a Guinness World Record for her 65 costume changes (since surpassed by Madonna’s 85 changes in Evita), while the film won four of its nine Academy Award nominations (for Cinematography, Special Effects, Art Direction, and Set Decoration).
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007): $341.8 Million
The third installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series was released in the summer of 2007, just a couple of weeks after Spider-Man 3, beating its record as the most expensive movie ever made.
While not exactly the best part Gore Verbinski’s “trilogy”, the production values are still amazing. And even with its staggeringly large cost, it still more than made up for it at the box office. Which goes to show that, if you invest enough money that it looks good and you find the perfect star to lead, you could probably turn a coloring book into a highly lucrative film series.