Identifying the most expensive movie ever made is not an easy task. This is because movie budgets are often a closely-guarded secret in Hollywood. Studios have made a habit of including the individual budgets as part of their overall expenses for tax purposes. However, research from Forbes lists 10 movies that have had surprisingly high budgets.
The cost of movie production has been raised by inflation, changes in filming technology, and market forces. Record budgets that have stood for years are being broken. Classics like the 1963 Cleopatra had a budget of $31.1 million and years later, the 1997 Titanic had a $200 million budget.
10 most expensive movies to date
What are the top 10 most expensive movies? The numbers keep rising as the demands of viewers grow. Based on their production budgets, and unadjusted for inflation, these are the costliest movies in history:
10.The Dark Knight Rises - $250 million
All fans of the legendary Batman movie adore this 2017 Hollywood blockbuster. In this film, a terrorist threatens to destroy the beautiful Gotham City and Batman (played by Christian Bale) is forced to come to the city's rescue.
The production budget for this movie's prequel titled Dark Knight was just $185 million. After the prequel's success, the budget for The Dark Knight Rises was set at $250 million. It was a gamble at the time, considering that very few blockbusters had such a budget. Luckily, the risk paid off as the film generated at least a billion dollars following its release.
The Dark Knight Rises was directed by super director Christopher Nolan and is a collaboration product between Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures.
9.The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - $250 million
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is one of the most expensive films ever made that earned a nomination for Best Sound Editing during the 87th Academy Awards. This nomination proved that spending such an amount on production was worth it. The movie, which was directed by Peter Jackson, grossed $950 million in earnings.
The amount earned was almost four times its production budget. It was also $100 million above what Peter Jackson's other movie, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring made.
The $950 million gross generated in 2014 made this movie the second-highest earner that year. It tells the story of Bilbo who fights a long list of enemies just to save his dwarf friends and the Lonely Mountain. It was a great superhero box office hit that was distributed by Warner Bros.
8. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice - $250 million
For those who enjoy superhuman blockbusters, it does not get better than the contest between Batman and Superman. The two superhumans have a massive fan base and so the need to see who between them is the real superhero catapulted the movie's popularity.
Although the Zack Snyder-directed superhero movie was highly anticipated, it didn't satisfy everyone. For some, the storyline was just weak, and for others, the acting was tiresome. We don't have to go there, but most fans compare the release with Wonder Woman, which was an instant hit.
Critics have said that Warner Bros outdid themselves in marketing this movie yet it did not live to the hype. The movie was also criticized for overdoing the special effects. However, after turning the movie’s $250 production budget into $829 million gross earnings, who can blame Warner Bros for going the extra mile?
7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - $250 million
At the time of its release, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was the second most expensive film ever made, after Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. It has since been overtaken by other films, placing it 7th on this list.
This sixth installment in the classic series focuses on the life of Harry Potter (played by Daniel Radcliffe). He falls for the friend's sister and is lucky to discover a mysterious book labeled “The property of the Half-Blood Prince”. With Dumbledore's help, Radcliffe learns about the dark past of Lord Voldemort.
In the eyes of many, making $934 million after spending $250 million on production is a big success. In 2009, this fantasy movie was among the highest earners in the box office chart and the fifth highest in the Harry Potter series.
While the previous release, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, stirred mixed reviews among fans, things were much better for its sequel. Even harsh critics had something good to say about the hit.
If you are looking for a combination of a spy thriller, a horrifying movie, and a romantic story, you will get the full package in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
6. Avengers: Age of Ultron - $250 million
This movie was one thing Disney and Marvel got right in 2015. They didn't spare a cent when it came to producing Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it earned them over a billion dollars. The 2015 blockbuster had everything one would expect from a costly sci-fi.
Directed by Joss Whedon, it was easy for the star-studded film to become an instant hit at the box office. It featured Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Scarlet Johansson, just to name a few Hollywood favorites.
Robert Downey Jr., for instance, is reported to have made $50 million more than any other actor, and this briefly explains the costly budget. The filming took place in five different countries - South Africa, South Korea, Italy, Bangladesh, and England.
The producers relied on computer-generated imagery to enhance the visuals for this film. The most impressive thing, however, was the gross earnings. The $1.4 billion revenue made the sci-fi one of the biggest earners of all time.
The storyline is about the Avengers whose mission is to stop Ultron (voiced and acted by James Spader) from destroying planet earth. For someone who is looking to see a collision of powerful forces, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a must-watch. Young people and comic book fans, in particular, go crazy for the movie and it has been so since its release in 2015.
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - $250 million
Though Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides doesn't beat the production budget set by the Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, there is no doubt that Disney used a fortune on this 2011 epic.
Of course, the $1.405 billion return on investment was worth it. Not many of the most expensive movies in this listed raked in a billion dollars.
Several things influenced this movie’s hefty production budget. Firstly, the need to retain the leading cast member Johnny Depp meant that the creators had to dig deeper into their pockets.
Secondly, the budget for visual effects was unusually high, given that ten visual companies collaborated in the project. Ordinarily, a standard movie features about 200 visual effects, but Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides saw the number rise to 1,112. We also cannot forget to mention the production staff number, which is was a record 895.
The major criticism that this movie has faced over the years is that it was too long. Of course, that is according to those who like short productions. This fourth installment is about a quest and the confusing romance between Captain Jack Sparrow and Angelica.
4.Spider-Man 3 - $258 million
Spider-Man 3 was highly anticipated, especially by young viewers. Upon release, it was heavily criticized for stuffing too many villains into its storyline. The movie's reputation was salvaged by its $891 million gross returns on a budget of $258 million.
Though some people see the movie as the worst release in the Spider-Man trilogy, it was the most successful, financially. Part of the reason for its success was its aggressive marketing campaign. Immediately after its release, Spider-Man 3 was shown on more than 4252 screens in the United States alone. This set a new record at the time.
The polarizing superhero movie was described by critics as a mixture of unnecessary romantic misunderstandings, crowded streets, and too many villains. The negative responses that the movie faced marked the conclusion of the trilogy. It was, however, rebooted as The Amazing Spider-Man.
3.Tangled - $260 million
Disney never shies off from spending heavily on an animated movie, and Tangled is proof of this. The returns of $592 million are quite decent if you consider the disastrous financial misfire that was John Carter. But why would a simple, computer-animated story like Tangled be number three in the list of the most expensive movies ever made?
It probably sounds weird, but the hair had a lot to do with the budget. It is both expensive and time-consuming to animate human hair. Given that Tangled is a Rapunzel-inspired story, it made sense to invest heavily in the hair.
However, there were several other significant expenses. The experimentation, visual effects, and the settings were just a few of them. The creator also had to blend different backgrounds to suit the story, and this wasn't cheap. Tangled took at least six years to produce, and it suffered costly stops along the way.
Over these six years, software developers and animators worked hard to create programs that would make the hair move naturally. They also had to ensure that the visuals match those in older Disney animated classics. Luckily, their hard work paid off as the movie was a success.
Most young people and some adults related to Tangled, and this partly explains why the 2010 release was such a big hit. It features Mandy Moore, Brad Garret, and Ron Perlman as lead actors and is co-directed by Byron Howard and Nathan Greno.
2. John Carter - $263.7 million
After spending $263.7 million minus marketing costs and only making $284 million, there is no doubt that John Carter is one of Disney's most expensive movie flops. If you factor in marketing and other costs, Disney reportedly made a $200 million loss.
What’s worse is that it took 80 years for the film to land in the hands of a filmmaker bold enough to produce it. The creator of the John Carter character, Edgar Rice Burroughs, had success with other films but could not get this particular one to the big screen over all those years.
It is also worth noting that the movie producers were quite ambitious from the first day when it came to visual effects, casting, and photography. As expected, all these increased the production budget.
This movie was such a flop that Rich Ross, Walt Disney Studio’s chairman at the time, resigned a month after its release. In a statement, he said he no longer believed that being chairman was the right profession for him. Although John Carter had been in development long before Ross joined the company, he was faulted for approving its production.
John Carter is an action-adventure movie that is based on the Edger Rice novel titled A Princess of Mars. The story is about a war veteran (Carter) who gets captured by aliens. Eventually, he conquers them and is labeled a hero. Unfortunately, due to this catastrophic financial misfire, Disney decided not to franchise the movie in the future.
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - $300 million
Who doesn't know about the Pirates of the Caribbean series? Unless you live on a different planet where there are no cinemas or TV sets, you must have watched or heard about this epic production. The movie starts with Captain Jack Sparrow trapped in a locker. Luckily, he is rescued by a team of adventurous friends.
While there are several editions under the franchise, the one that grabs the headlines, budget-wise, is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. With an estimated budget of $300 million, this is undoubtedly the most expensive movie in history.
Let us face it; you cannot talk about the Pirates of the Caribbean series without mentioning Johnny Depp. He is the lead actor who plays Captain Jack Sparrow. Jack embodies comedy, guts, and wit.
Depp and the other cast members didn't come cheap, and they are part of the reason why the production was this expensive. The different areas where more money was spent include the location, crew transportation, and production set. This movie was a success and the $963 million gross return made up for the expensive budget.
Multiple filming locations, A-list actors and special effects are behind the cost of each most expensive movie ever made. This list does not take marketing and other related costs into account. Inflation has not been factored into this ranking, so these figures may vary when that is put into consideration.