Inside the $18 Million ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Pilot

Hollywood is a place where money flows, and we often talk about the eye-popping salaries of stars with whispered admiration. At the same time, audiences have higher and higher expectations for the quality of everything from the writing to the special effects to the sound editing of their favorite films and television shows, and all that work comes with a price tag.

When it comes to Boardwalk Empire, just the pilot alone cost an astounding $18 million to create.

A sign for 'Boardwalk Empire' inside of a Casino
A sign for Boardwalk Empire scene inside a casino | Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

HBO is known for its expensive tastes

Many of the most expensive shows of all time have been created by HBO. By the time Game of Thrones was in its eighth season, episodes were costing an average of $15 million each. Perhaps — with its pyrotechnic special effects, sprawling cast, and literal dragons — that cost isn’t entirely surprising, but several other shows for the network have similarly impressive budgets. 

Rome, which only ran for two years, had a budget of nearly $9 million per episode. Deadwood, likewise, cost the network a pretty penny, averaging $4.5 million per episode for the Western-themed drama that racked up plenty of accolades.

Westworld, too, is an HBO darling that has managed to rack up some impressive production costs — owed in no small part to its makeup and special effects crew’s ability to turn humans into robots just as the show questions what it takes to turn robots into humans.

HBO spared no expense on ‘Boardwalk Empire’

RELATED: Steve Buscemi Misses ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Just Like the Rest of Us

With a history of being willing to let the money flow for a good project, HBO definitely invested heavily in Boardwalk Empire. The show ran for five seasons, premiering in 2010 and wrapping up — much to fans’ chagrin — back in 2014.

As the title suggests, the series follows the action on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Set in the Prohibition era of the ’20s, the series transports viewers to a time when mobsters ruled the city and Enoch “Nucky” Thompson — portrayed by Steve Buscemi — is the city’s treasurer who is drawing heat for the mismatch between his salary and his lavish lifestyle.

What follows is five seasons of heart-stopping suspense as the story winds its way through subterfuge, betrayal, power, and corruption. Buscemi remembers his time on set fondly, calling it one of the greatest jobs he’s ever had.

What made ‘Boardwalk Empire’ so expensive?

The entire show was an expensive endeavor with an average budget of $5 million each episode, according to Insider. The pilot, however, was in a whole other ballpark with a cost of $18 million by itself. What drove up the expense for this premiere episode?

Well, for one thing, the show was directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese, and he had the clout to make sure things were done to his specifications. The director insisted on having a real boardwalk for the setting. It was 300-feet long and cost $5 million to create.

On top of that, the show had some serious star power behind it with a large ensemble cast. As a period piece, the costumes and details in the setting were key to transporting the viewers back in time.

The show would go on to become a fan favorite that won two Golden Globes and racked up a series of nominations and wins across different awards categories. The success of the expensive production likely ensures that future endeavors in the entertainment industry will be emboldened to stretch their budgets as well.