This week’s should’ve-been-released-during-summertime John Carter reportedly cost a staggering $250 million to make. Again, that’s merely the reported figure, which means the actual number could be much higher. If accurate, John Carter immediately becomes one of the most expensive movies ever, and “one of the most expensive movies ever” isn’t a tag studios ever like to have attached to their movies. It got us thinking about the costliest movies of all time – and how they fared at the box office. Read on to see if massive budgets equaled massive box office return.
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
Estimated Cost: $300 million
Worldwide Box Office: $963 million
Most people probably assume that a James Cameron production would sit comfortably atop the list of costliest movies ever – which is a logical but incorrect assumption. Rather, it is the third installment in the very lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. At World’s End is the only (known) movie to ever cross the insane – and soon-to-be-standard – $300 million mark. Of course, it was money well spent, as the movie racked up nearly $1 billion worldwide.
2. Tangled (2010)
Estimated Cost: $260 million
Worldwide Box Office: $590 million
Even more surprising than the No. 1 spot? The movie directly below it! Tangled boasts no A-list, large-percentage-of-the-backend-commanding stars and, well, no live action – but it’s easy to forget that today’s animation can cost studios just as much as traditional productions. Plus, Tangled – which is by far the most expensive animated movie ever ($60 million pricier than the next costliest, Toy Story 3) – employed a groundbreaking, complex animation technique that caused its budget to soar.
3. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Estimated Cost: $258 million
Worldwide Box Office: $891 million
The third installment in one of the most lucrative franchises ever was the third most expensive movie to make, ever. And while fans and critics were largely underwhelmed with the final Sam Raimi Spidey, you wouldn’t know it based on ticket sales, which were the series’ highest. It’s safe to say that Sony would be more than thrilled if this summer’s “reboot,” The Amazing Spider-Man – whose exact budget isn’t yet known but is said to be small by comparison – hits those numbers.
Estimated Cost: $250 million
Worldwide Box Office: $1 billion and $934 million, respectively
That’s right – another Pirates entry (and spoiler alert: It’s not the last on this list). The most recent Johnny Depp starrer made a killing at the box office, justifying its exorbitant budget (and effectively canceling out its terrible reviews). Half-Blood Prince, too, had enough of a built-in audience to guarantee major profits regardless of cost. And for those wondering about the two-part Potter finale and how it didn’t place in the top 10, get this: The Deathly Hallows films, which were more or less shot as one movie but obviously released as two, cost a combined $250 million and together grossed more than $2 billion. Talk about a budget!
6. Avatar (2009)
Estimated Cost: $237 million
Worldwide Box Office: $2.8 billion
You would think the highest-grossing movie of all time – by an extremely wide margin – would have a somewhat proportional budget, but that wasn’t the case at all with James Cameron’s Avatar, no matter how under-reported its budget was! In fact, it’s very safe to assume that even if the figures at the higher end of the rumor mill were to be believed (like, say, half a billion bucks), Fox would still be OK with a gross of almost $3 billion.
7. Superman Returns (2006)
Estimated Cost: $232 million
Worldwide Box Office: $391 million
There’s a wide range of numbers associated with Superman Returns’ budget – factoring in the entire development, including starts and stops, raises the figure by tens of millions – so take $232 million with a grain of salt. The number to really pay attention to, though, is Superman Returns’ returns, which were a huge disappointment for one of the most highly anticipated films ever and one that Warner Bros. was likely projecting would net somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion. Thus next year’s Man of Steel (whose budget is reportedly in the relatively reasonable area of $175 million) has nowhere to go but up.
8. Quantum of Solace (2008)
Estimated Cost: $230 million
Worldwide Box Office: $591 million
If you’re wondering why it’s taken so long for a new James Bond movie to hit theaters, look no further than the last 007 flick, Quantum of Solace – which was met with mixed reviews and good-enough box office but cost an outrageous amount of money to produce. Skyfall, due this November, marks a return to financial sanity (rumored cost: $150 million) – and hopefully greatness overall – for this franchise.
Estimated Cost: $225 million
Worldwide Box Office: $419 million and $1.1 billion, respectively
Ah, yes, the lone financial disaster among the most expensive movies ever made – or, to be fair, the lone near-disaster. Disney and Walden Media clearly thought they had a Lord of the Rings-style franchise on their hands with Prince Caspian, so, hey, why not greenlight an almost quarter-billion-dollar budget? Unfortunately, audiences didn’t quite feel the same way, and although Caspian made the studio its money back in the end (domestically, the film mustered a paltry $140 million), $419 million is NOT what financiers are hoping for from a movie that costs (at least) $225 million to make. Things were a little bit smoother with Dead Man’s Chest, which, like all Pirates movies, cost a lot to make but also earned a lot, too. It is currently the sixth-highest-grossing film of all time.