Warner Bros. (NYSE:TWX) is not holding any punches when it comes to spending money on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy. Documents filed online by New Zealand’s Companies Office revealed that the trilogy has cost 676 million New Zealand dollars — or $561 million at current exchange rates — through March 31. That number more than doubles the cost of Jackson’s previous Lord of the Rings trilogy, which came in at $281 million total.
That number — $561 million — is the type of production budget that can blow up in a studio’s face, but for Warner Bros. and director Jackson, the number almost seems like a bargain when put in perspective. Considering that this number represents the budget for three films shot simultaneously, it might make sense to divide the number by three, which yields a production budget of $187 per film — still a huge number, but nowhere near as mind-blowing as half of a billion dollars.
Now take that number — $187 million — and put it up against the box office take of the first film in the series: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. That film went on to gross $303 million domestic and $714 million abroad for a worldwide total of $1.01 billion. Considering that the second and third films in the series are garnering more buzz than An Unexpected Journey seemed to have leading up to release, the numbers $561 million and $187 million just might be the highest-priced bargain that Warner Bros. has ever undertaken.
But not every studio is so fortunate with their high-priced film investments in the film industry’s equivalent to a high-stakes gamble. Here are the ten most expensive films of all-time, not adjusted for inflation, and how the investment ultimately paid off for its studio. The information on this list can be found over at Box Office Mojo.
Check them out after the jump.
10. Marvel’s The Avengers (Walt Disney Co.) — $220 Million
Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) Marvel’s The Avengers took the box office by storm in May of 2012 en route to a variety of box office records including: third highest domestic take all-time; greatest weekend opening of all-time; and best ever opening week. And with the film’s production budget — $220 million — Disney needed the film to perform like it did in order to profit from it.
Of course, the high-powered performance of The Avengers was never really in doubt even if the massive popularity of the film took a lot of people by surprise. When all was said and done, the film ended up grossing $623 million domestic and $888 million overseas for a worldwide take of $1.51 billion total. Count Disney’s $220 million investment as a good one.
9. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Walt Disney Co.) — $225 Million
Following the enormous success of the $140 million Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Disney wasn’t shy in its decision to load up big on the sequel, Dead Man’s Chest. The film’s final reported budget was $225 million.
While Dead Man’s Chest didn’t get the kind of critical acclaim the first film had enjoyed, that didn’t seem to impact the film’s box office take. The sequel ended up making $423 million domestic and $642 million overseas for a worldwide total of $1.06 billion.
8. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Walt Disney Co.) — $225 Million
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is the second film in the series based on C.S. Lewis’ beloved children’s fantasy series. Released in May of 2008, Prince Caspian‘s budget was reportedly $225 million, which must have seemed like a bargain considering the first film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, made $745 million worldwide on a $180 million budget.
It’s important to note that while Disney was Prince Caspian’s distributor, Walden Media was actually responsible for the bulk of the film’s financing — Fox (NASDAQ:FOXA) would later take up the film’s distribution following Prince Caspian’s release.
Prince Caspian ultimately disappointed for Disney and Walden Media, taking in $141 million domestic and $278 million overseas for a worldwide total of $419 million. When marketing costs and foreign licensing fees are factored in, Prince Caspian could be the first film on this list to have ended up losing money.
7. The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros.) — $230 Million
Director Christopher Nolan’s epic conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, was the most expensive of the bunch by far, coming in at $230 million — the next closest, The Dark Knight, cost $185 million. And, according to reports, the film could have cost upwards of $300 million had it not been for location-based tax credits Warner Bros. received for the film.
At this point in the Dark Knight trilogy, not to mention Nolan’s directing career, Warner Bros. was just about willing to give Nolan anything he asked for — the studio didn’t even balk at the prospect of the film being 2 hours and 45 minutes. In the end, Nolan would reward Warner Bros. with a domestic gross of $448 million and an overseas take of $636 million, good for a $1.08 billion worldwide total.
6. Avatar (20th Century Fox) — $237 Million
The budget of James Cameron’s 3D sci-fi epic Avatar was the talk of the town when the film was released in 2009. Shot with cutting-edge motion capture techniques and using revolutionary 3D camerawork, the film’s budget was officially listed at $237 million, although other estimates put the cost of the film anywhere between $280 million and $310 million.
Because Avatar was Cameron’s first film since his smash-hit Titanic, the success of the Avatar was never really in doubt — but the actual raw numbers are absolutely astounding. Including re-releases (which only make up an estimated $10 million or so of the domestic gross), Avatar made $749 million domestic and $2.02 billion overseas for a worldwide total of $2.78 billion.
Among the box office records Avatar has to its name are the all-time domestic gross record; the all-time worldwide record; and for those who are sticklers for adjusted box office, Avatar’s take is good enough for number 14 on a list dominated by some of histories most monstrous films. It’s safe to say Fox has never thought twice about that budget, and with a series of sequels set to release over the coming years, there could be more records in-store for the studio and Cameron.
5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.) — $250 Million
While it’s not surprising that Warner Bros. was willing to put up as much money as needed to bring the Harry Potter series to the screen, the fact that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was the most expensive of the series is. Half Blood Prince reportedly cost $250 million to produce, which is remarkable given that the combined cost of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and 2 has also been reported at $250 million.
Still, $250 million for a Harry Potter film is probably one of the safest investments Warner Bros. could have made and the results prove it: $302 million domestic and $632 million overseas for a worldwide total of $934 million. Half-Blood Prince is also the third highest grossing Harry Potter film after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($1.34 billion) and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ($974 million).
4. John Carter (Walt Disney Co.) — $250 Million
At number four on the list, we have the first expensive box office bomb among the most expensive films of all-time: John Carter. At the time, Disney was hopeful that the sci-fi epic, which cost an estimated $250 million to produce, could become a jumping pad for a series based on the Barsoom series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Things didn’t work out.
There are a lot of theories as to why John Carter failed so miserably — analysts have pointed to a lackluster marketing campaign, an uninspiring title, and the film’s lack of bankable movie stars as three good starting points. But even those reasons don’t explain how the $250 million John Carter wound up grossing only $73 million domestic and $209 million overseas for a worldwide total of $282 million.
Paul Dergarabedian, the president of Hollywood.com, told the National Post in 2012 that “John Carter’s bloated budget would have required it to generate worldwide tickets sales of more than US$600-million to break even.” And Disney would later attribute a $160 million swing from profit to loss in its Studio Entertainment division to John Carter’s performance. As of today, the film is likely to go down as the biggest box office flop of all-time.
3. Spider-Man 3 (Sony Pictures) — $258 Million
Sony’s (NYSE:SNE) Spider-Man 3 was the last film in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy before the studio opted to reboot and begin the Amazing Spider-Man film series — and a large part of that decision likely revolved around the skyrocketing budgets for the Spider-Man films and the growing distaste for the series from both fans and critics alike. Spider-Man 3 is Sony’s most expensive film to date, and its most expensive Spider-Man film by far (Spider-Man 2 cost $200 as did The Amazing Spider-Man) with a production budget of $258 million.
Spider-Man 3 made $336 million domestic and $554 million overseas for a worldwide total of $890 million, and while the film didn’t exactly perform poorly, it did reveal some worrying signs. While the film’s worldwide take remains the highest of the Spider-Man films, it’s domestic gross totaled the lowest amount of Raimi’s trilogy. In an example of how much studios still rely on a film’s domestic gross to compensate for diminished foreign box office takes when distributing fees are factored in, it’s possible that Spider-Man 3 wasn’t necessarily the success it looks like on paper once advertising is factored in.
2. Tangled (Walt Disney Co.) — $260 Million
As we’ve seen, Disney isn’t afraid to spend money — and that goes for its animated releases as well. The studio’s 2010 children’s animated film Tangled took roughly six years to make and the studio racked up a production bill of $260 million in the process.
Tangled was well-received by movie-goers and critics en route to $200 million domestic and $390 million overseas for a worldwide total of $590 million, but given the film’s bloated budget it’s unlikely that the film ended up being much of a money-maker for Disney. Considering that industry analysts projected that the $250 million John Carter needed to make $600 million to break even, the thinking follows that Tangled didn’t end up making a huge profit for the studio, although home media sales likely boosted the film’s profitably quite a bit.
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Walt Disney Co.) — $300 Million
Given the way this list has gone, is it any surprise that Disney takes the number one spot for most expensive film of all-time? Counting Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Disney accounts for six of the ten most expensive films of all-time — including an impressive three films in the top five. As for At World’s End? It’s been widely reported as the most expensive film of all-time with a production budget of $300 million, making it $40 million more costly than the next film on the list — which is, unsurprisingly, also a Disney film.
While the Pirates of the Caribbean series seemed to have lost a lot of its critical luster by the time the third film in the franchise was released, the film’s box office performance didn’t reflect that sentiment. At World’s End went on to make $309 million domestic and $654 million overseas for a worldwide total of $963 million. The film actually ranks third worldwide among the Pirates of the Caribbean films, above The Curse of the Black Pearl ($654 million) and below Dead Man’s Chest ($1.06 billion) and On Stranger Tides ($1.04 billion).
To date, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has grossed an enormous $3.72 billion worldwide. And although Disney recently ended it’s partnership with producer Jerry Bruckheimer amidst The Lone Ranger debacle this summer, you can see why Disney and Bruckheimer still plan to work together on the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean despite the rift.