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List of Most Expensive Films
Ben-Hur (1925) was the most expensive film of the silent era, possibly holding the record for over twenty years.
Inflation, filming techniques and external market forces affect the economics of film production. Costs rose steadily during the silent era with Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) setting a record that lasted well into the sound era. Television had an impact on rising costs in the 1950s and early 1960s as cinema competed with it for audiences, culminating in 1963 with Cleopatra; despite being the highest earning film of the year, Cleopatra did not earn back its costs on its original release. The 1990s saw two thresholds crossed, with True Lies costing $100 million in 1994 and Titanic costing $200 million in 1997, both directed by James Cameron. Since then it has become normal for a tent-pole feature from a major film studio to cost over $100 million and an increasing number of films are costing $200 million or more.
This list contains only the films that are already released to the general public and no films that are still in production, post-production or just announced films, for the reason that these costs can change during the production process. Listed below is the net negative cost: the costs of the actual filming, not including promotional costs (i.e. advertisements, commercials, posters, etc.) and after accounting for tax subsidies. The charts are ordered by budgets officially acknowledged by the production companies where they are known; most companies will not give a statement on the actual production costs, only estimates by professional researchers and movie industry writers are available. Where budget estimates conflict, the productions are charted by lower-bound estimates.
Most expensive productions (unadjusted for inflation)
Only productions with a net budget in excess of a nominal value of $200 million in U.S. dollars are listed here. Due to the effects of inflation, all but one of the films on the chart have been produced in the 21st century.
The productions listed here have their nominal budgets adjusted for inflation using the United States Consumer Price Index taking the year of release. Charts adjusted for inflation are usually ordered differently, because they are dependent on the inflation measure used and the original budget estimate.
The Soviet War and Peace, released in four parts across 1966 and 1967, is sometimes cited as the most expensive production ever: Soviet claims stating it cost $100 million (equivalent to $754 million in 2017 dollars) were circulated in the American press during its showing there. However, its financial records reveal it cost slightly more than $9 million (about $50-60 million in today's money).[nb 30] Another notable omission is Metropolis, the 1927 German film directed by Fritz Lang, often erroneously reported as having cost $200 million at the value of modern money. Metropolis cost $1.2-1.3 million at the time of its production, which would be about $12 million at 2009 prices according to the German Consumer Price Index.[nb 31]
Foolish Wives was the first film to have a $1 million budget.
Throughout the silent era, the cost of film-making grew steadily as films became longer and more ambitious and the techniques and equipment became more sophisticated. It is not known for certain which was the first film to cost $1 million or more to produce, and several myths have grown over time: D. W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916) was reputed to have cost $2 million but accounts show it cost $385,906.77, and A Daughter of the Gods (1916) was advertised as costing a million dollars but Variety estimated its true cost at $850,000. The first film that is confirmed to have had a $1 million budget is Foolish Wives (1922), with the studio taking advantage of its exorbitant price and advertising it as "The First Real Million Dollar Picture".
The most expensive film of the silent era was Ben-Hur (1925), costing about $4 million--an astronomical sum in those days at twenty-five times the $160,000 average cost of an MGM feature. It is unclear which sound era production superseded it as the most expensive film, although this is commonly attributed to Hell's Angels (1930), directed by Howard Hughes; the accounts for Hell's Angels show it cost $2.8 million but Hughes publicised it as costing $4 million, selling it to the media as the most expensive film ever made up. The first film to seriously challenge the record was Gone with the Wind (1939), reported to have cost about $3.9-4.25 million, although sources from the time state that Ben-Hur and--erroneously--Hell's Angels cost more.Ben-Hur was definitively displaced at the top of the chart by Duel in the Sun in 1946, meaning Ben Hur may have held the record for 21 years.
The 1950s saw costs rapidly escalate as cinema competed with television for audiences, culminating with some hugely expensive epics in the 1960s that failed to recoup their costs. A prominent example of this trend was Cleopatra (1963), which lost money on its initial release despite being the highest-grossing film of the year. Since the 1990s, film budgets have once again seen a dramatic increase as the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) has become commonplace in big-budget features.
Timeline of the most expensive million dollar productions
^ abcFinancial statements filed in the United Kingdom show that production costs for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides totaled $410.6 million between October 2009 and April 2013 offset by a tax rebate of $32.1 million.
^ abDisney spent $444 million on Avengers: Age of Ultron but $79 million of this was offset by payments from the UK tax authority.
^ abIn an interview with Victoria Alonso, executive vice-president of physical production for Marvel Studios, The Hollywood Reporter placed the budget of the film at "upwards of $300 million". Financial statements filed in the United Kingdom show that Avengers: Infinity War had accumulated £248 million of production costs. Between January 2017 (when principal photography started) and April 2018 (the date of the film's release) the dollar to pound conversion rate fluctuated between $1.20 and $1.45 to £1, which would put the budget at approximately $300-360 million. Deadline Hollywood estimated the dollar equivalent at $316 million.
^ abcdefPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End were produced together on a combined budget of $450 million.Budget overruns reportedly pushed the final cost of the joint production up to a total of $500 million. The individual budget estimates conjecture how the overall budget was divided between the two films, but many of the costs are indivisible such as the fees for the actors who appeared in both films and would most likely have been contracted for a single fee, and the cost of the sets common to both films.
^ abFinancial statements filed in the United Kingdom show that production costs for Solo: A Star Wars Story came to $275 million between 2015 and 2017. The figure does not include post-production work so the final figure is expected to rise.
^ abFinancial statements filed in the United Kingdom show that production costs for John Carter totaled $306.6 million between 2010 and 2013 offset against a tax rebate of $42.9 million. The net budget was $263.7 million, a figure consistent with Disney's claim that the film cost "around $250 million".
^ abThe budget for Batman v Superman was at least $250 million, after rebates and tax incentives, with the gross figure as high as $325 million.FilmL.A. estimates the gross budget at $300 million, before factoring in an incentive of $37 million.
^ abAccording to company accounts filed in the United Kingdom Disney spent £204 million making Star Wars: The Force Awakens, offset against a £31.6 million tax credit.Variety estimates that this would be equivalent to a $306 million cost and $47.4 million rebate ($259 million after deducting the rebate).
^ abEstimates for Avatar's cost have varied considerably with some as high as $500 million. The $500 million figure also incorporates the $150 million marketing budget, and the costs of developing the necessary 3-D cameras and motion capture technology which were independently financed by private investors and none of which are included in the production cost. Recent estimates put the production costs at about $310 million, although a 15% tax rebate from New Zealand is expected to reduce the final bill by $25-30 million, which would ultimately put the cost at around $280 million.Avatar was initially budgeted at $190 million but the studio later acknowledged it cost $237 million after its budget came under intense media scrutiny. A further $1 million per minute were spent on the nine minutes of extra footage in Avatar: Special Edition.
^ abExpenditure on The Dark Knight Rises is estimated to be about $250-300 million, with the cost of production coming down to around $230 million after tax credits.
^ abInternal memos that were leaked during the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack revealed that the budget for Spectre at the time stood in the "mid $300Ms" with Sony actively pursuing measures to reduce the expenditure. The leaked figure continues to be widely reported by the media, but after rebates the production ultimately cost $250 million before taking a rebate of $20 million into account.
^ abThe budget for Captain America: Civil War was $250 million before taking an incentive of $20 million into account.
^ abThe budget for Maleficent was $263 million before taking an incentive of $37 million into account.
^ abStudio reps for Disney state the cost of the production was $225 million, although other estimates put the film's cost at around $250 million with over $150 million spent on worldwide marketing and distribution.
^ abPeople close to Warner and the film's production offered slightly different estimates for its final cost, ranging between $225 million and $270 million, split between the studio and Legendary Pictures LLC.
^ abThe budget for Rogue One was $265 million before taking an incentive of $45.5 million into account.
^ abSome estimates put the production budget for Men in Black 3 at nearly $250 million; however, a $38 million tax rebate from New York is expected to bring the final cost down to about $215 million.
^ abDisney claim that Oz the Great and Powerful cost $215 million, although an insider suggests its cost was approximately $235 million.
^ abThe budget for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was $235 million before taking an incentive of $26.4 million into account.
^ abThe budget for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies was $250 million before factoring in a tax rebate of $41 million.
^ abcWarner Bros. put the production cost of Superman Returns at $223 million, and around $204 million after factoring in tax credits. Some other estimates place the figure higher, but these higher numbers include the development costs of earlier aborted projects, taking the total figure to $263 million. Warner later stated it cost $209 million, although the film's director Bryan Singer maintains that the approved budget was $184.5 million, and it eventually came in at $204 million: "So the hard, honest number is $204 million."
^ abThe official cost of The Amazing Spider-Man is unknown; however, various estimates put its cost at $200 million, $215 million, $220 million, and $230 million.
^ abA knowledgeable source says the first two installments cost $315 million each, and that's with Jackson deferring his fee. A studio source insists that number is wildly inflated and, with significant production rebates from New Zealand, the cost is closer to $200 million a movie.
^ abThe Amazing Spider-Man 2 cost over $200 million, with some sources placing the budget at over $250 million.
^ abFinancial documents filed in New Zealand show that production costs on The Hobbit trilogy totaled $745 million through March 2014 against a $122 million tax rebate.
^ abWingnut Films stated that the budget for the three Lord of the Rings films was $260 million, however estimates of the cost during production varied from $270 million to $360 million, none of which were confirmed or denied by Wingnut. Estimates put the final cost at around $285 million.
^ abThe Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were produced together at a reported cost of $127 million and $110 million respectively for a combined total of $237 million. Some reports put the combined cost of the production at $300 million.
^Summit Entertainment projected a total cost of $263 million for both parts, with $127.5 million to be spent on the first part, and the second costing $136.2 million. After tax rebates, Part 1 cost $110 million, and Part 2 cost $120 million.
^The $100 million figure, based on Soviet statements, appeared frequently in the U.S. press in 1968, when War and Peace was released in the country. The New York Times reported it was "the most expensive film ever made... Russians say cost $100 million."New York Magazine asserted that "what the Russians estimate to be the equivalent of $100 million" was invested in making it. Other, conflicting estimates were issued by the Soviets to news outlets in other countries (see War and Peace: Budget). Yet, the protocols of the Soviet State Committee for Cinematography from 25 August 1964 record a meeting of the agency's directors in which a final budget of 8.5 million Soviet ruble was approved for the series; it included all expenses to be made, including 2.51 million to cover those of the Soviet Ministry of Defense, which supplied thousands of soldiers as extras and other assistance. According to the producers' financial statements, compiled after the work on the series was completed in August 1967, the total cost of the film came to 8,291,712 Soviet ruble--or $9,213,013 with the 1967 0.9 ruble = $1 exchange rate. It is technically impossible to adjust the ruble for inflation since the Soviet Union did not formally acknowledge it; instead, the USSR would periodically reprice everything from goods to labour to services. Inflation is usually measured in Western free market economies using a price index such as the Consumer price index, but no such measure existed in the case of the Soviet Union. However, it is possible to measure the increase in average annual earnings in the Soviet Union and there is typically a strong correlation between average earnings and inflation. In 1965 the average annual wage in the Soviet Union was 1,158 Soviet rubles, and in 2016 the average monthly salary in Russia was 37,000 Russian rubles (the Russian ruble replaced the Soviet ruble in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union), amounting to 440,000 rubles per year. This puts salary inflation at over 38,000% (if the 1998 redenomination of the ruble is factored in, but if not then the true inflation level is 1,000 times higher at 30,000,000%). Applying this rate of inflation to the original cost (8,291,712 rubles) of War And Peace would yield an approximate amount of 3.2 billion Russian rubles. At an exchange rate of approximately 58 rubles to the US dollar, this would be equivalent to about US$54 million in 2017, and considerably less than the $700 million figure that is often reported.
^Metropolis originally cost 5.1 million or 5.3 million Reichsmarks in 1927, depending on the source, equivalent to $1.2-1.3 million at a conversion rate of US$1 = RM 4.2080. Calculating the effects of inflation is complicated, since Germany has undergone two currency conversions since Metropolis was produced. As part of the Marshall Plan following World War II, the Deutsche Mark replaced the Reichsmark in 1948 to stave off hyperinflation. However, this was not a simple redenomination exercise: while the Deutsche Mark replaced the Reichsmark at an official rate of DM 1 to RM 10, this only applied to the actual currency, with wages, products and services charged at a rate of DM 1 to RM 1 (see Deutsche Mark: Currency reform of June 1948). This was equivalent to introducing 1000% inflation into the old currency before replacing it. As of 1948, Metropolis would have cost RM 6.2 million adjusted for inflation according to the German Consumer price index; redenomination would have inflated that to RM 62 million, which would have been equivalent to DM 6.2 million in the new currency. This only applied to West Germany, but following German reunification, the Deutsche Mark later replaced the East German mark and exchanged at parity. The second redenomination occurred in 1999 when Germany converted to the euro, and this time fully adhered to the conventions of a basic redenomination, with all financial assets exchanged at a rate of DM 1.95583 to EUR1; at this time, Metropolis would have cost DM 29 million, equivalent to EUR15 million after conversion. At 2009 prices, it would cost about EUR9 million, equivalent to US$12 million at an exchange rate of EUR0.7198 to the dollar. Often reported as having cost $200 million at the value of modern money, this estimate is clearly in error by a factor of ten; it is most likely that it came about by adjusting the original cost for inflation, converting the German marks to euros, and then converting the euro figure to US dollars. The process probably failed to account for the fact that the original cost was in Reichsmarks and not Deutsche Marks, so must be divided by 10 to get the equivalent Deutsche Mark value. In applying this methodology, the estimate would come down to about $20 million, and more in line with the CPI figure.
^ abAfter Waterworld ballooned from its initial $100 million budget, people involved in the project estimated the final production cost at around $175-180 million, with Kevin Costner--also a producer on the film--confirming it had cost $172 million. Including distribution and marketing the total cost of producing and releasing the film came to $235 million.
^ abWith top tickets set at an all-time high of $5.50,Cleopatra had amassed as much as $20 million in such guarantees from exhibitors even before its premiere. Fox claimed the film had cost in total $44 million, of which $31,115,000 represented the direct negative cost and the rest distribution, print and advertising expenses. (These figures excluded the more than $5 million spent on the production's abortive British shoot in 1960-61, prior to its relocation to Italy.) By 1966 worldwide rentals had reached $38,042,000 including $23.5 million from the United States.
^The production budget for Terminator 3 was initially set at $169-170 million, making it the most expensive film ever to be greenlit at the time. Budget statements put the final cost of the film at $187 million (or $167 million excluding the production overhead).
^ The figure for Who Framed Roger Rabbit includes the production overhead. Amblin Entertainment and Touchstone Pictures placed the actual expenditure on the film itself at around $50 million, but it is not clear if the figures for the other films on the list include or exclude the overhead. Interest payments on the budget came to $17,105,000 which brought the full financial commitment on production to over $75 million.
^ ab20th Century Fox put the official budget of James Cameron's The Abyss (1989) at $43 million; however, some estimates place the true cost as high as $70 million, which would have made it the most expensive film made up to that point.
^Estimates put the budget for True Lies between $100 million and $120 million, but either way it was still the first film to cost over $100 million.
^Bachman, Holger (2002). "The Production and Contemporary Reception of Metropolis". In Minden, Michael; Bachmann, Holger. Fritz Lang's Metropolis: Cinematic Visions of Technology and Fear. Studies in German literature, linguistics, and culture. Camden House Publishing. pp. 3-46. ISBN9781571131461.
^ abBlock, Alex Ben; Wilson, Lucy Autrey, eds. (2010). George Lucas's Blockbusting: A Decade-By-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success. HarperCollins. ISBN978-0-06-177889-6.