The movie industry involves huge amounts of money. It is not uncommon for films, especially blockbusters, to have budgets that run well into figures in excess of $100 million. Studios will often try to ensure that costs stay down, though, so that their profit margins will increase but almost every production goes over budget, due to unexpected costs and surprise issues that could not initially be accounted for. However, some directors can go completely overboard and lose all control over the budget. As problems arise, millions of dollars can be simply thrown at them as crews try to solve them and budgets can swell to such an extent, that the original costs seem minuscule in comparison.
This article explores those movies whereby the budget ballooned excessively, where directors and filmmakers lost all control as expenses continued to spiral far beyond anything movie studios had envisioned.
10. Evan Almighty
Evan Almighty was already set to be the most expensive comedy film ever made when studio executives agreed to green-light a budget of $140 million. However, with the cost of the large construction of the wooden ark far exceeded what was expected by the filmmakers prior to production. Large CGI sequences involving the ark travelling through Washington DC (and of animated animals) further led to the cost spiraling out of control. The largest factor though, was the surprise cost of acquiring and training the animals. With handlers losing control of the animals, production slowed for retakes to allow for the animals be re-positioned. This led to an overall budget of around $200 million by the end of the project.
9. The Lone Ranger
The Lone Ranger, produced and directed by Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski and starring Johnny Depp, had a protracted development. Disney initially gave the movie a budget of around $150 million, but with the trio previously mentioned in charge of production, costs began to arise steadily until Disney eventually halted production in August of 2011, as the budget approached the $250 million mark. The number of action sequences and the director’s wish to build period-accurate trains from scratch, rather than simply redesigning existing trains, were mainly to blame for the extra cost. Depp, Bruckheimer and Verbinski had to agree to cut numerous scenes and a 20% reduction in their fees to ensure that production could begin again, with a budget of $215 million. However, just several months later, insiders at Disney revealed that the price of making the film had once again, risen to $250 million.
8. Heaven’s Gate
Heaven’s Gate was beset with problems almost immediately after it began production. Helmed by Oscar winning director Michael Cimino, the film was hugely ambitious and was given a budget of $11.6 million by United Artists. Common consensus claims that the movie was already five days behind schedule after just six days of filming. The biggest drain on resources came from the almost fanatical attention to detail of the director. He would take endless reshoots, ordered entire sets to be torn down and rebuilt and in one case, delayed a shoot until a cloud he particularly liked was blown into view. Estimates at the time say that United Artists were spending roughly $200,000 a day on funding actors, sets and the salary of the crew. With more than 200 hours of footage filmed, it is clear why the budget got out of control and grew to $44 million.
7. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a film based on the hit video game series and was funded through production company, Square Pictures. Director Hironobu Sakaguchi had a unique vision in mind when he set about creating the movie, as he aimed to have an animation style that would appear to be as realistic as possible. This meant that each frame of the movie would take a large amount of work to complete, with the entire project needing 200 animators working for four years. Estimates by those who had been involved in production noted that Square Pictures had around 15 terabytes of artwork rendered and that the employees had put in a total of around 120 years’ worth of work to complete the film. This excessive amount of work resulted in the budget rising from $70 million at the start of production, to $137 million by the end.
6. Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now, the cult war film set during the Vietnam War, was given an initial budget of $12 million. Directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola, the movie is famous for its troubled production that led to the budget growing considerably in a short amount of time. Typhoon Olga hit the original filming location and completely destroyed all of the sets. This meant that a new location had to be found, while all of the sets would have to be rebuilt. Production was also slowed by the fact that Marlon Brando was completely unprepared for his role, and the heart attack that Martin Sheen suffered during filming. A protracted post-production period also increased the budget significantly, as Coppola tried to create a film out of the incredibly large amount of footage filmed. Eventually, the original $12 million set aside to create the film more than doubled to $31 million.
5. Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous is a movie about a young man writing for Rolling Stone, while exploring the rock lifestyle of the bands he is covering for the magazine. With a relatively unknown cast and the fact that this was considered by DreamWorks to be a personal film, meant that they set a budget of just $45 million. Filming overran by a month, as the director re-shot almost every scene multiple times, and the fact that the actor playing the main character was only 16, meant that production had to slow to allow for breaks that are required by law.
One of the biggest costs was the music budget. With more than 50 songs in the film, the total cost rose to around $3.5 million. In comparison, most blockbusters will only have a music budget of about $1.5 million. All of this combined led to the film going over budget by $15 million, meaning the overall cost was $60 million.
The 1963 film Cleopatra entered production in 1960, with a large budget of $2 million. After the first director had been replaced, more than $7 million had already been spent and none of the footage was suitable to be used because two of the original starring actors left filming due to other commitments. Costs further increased thanks to a world record contract that was given to Elizabeth Taylor to play the title character, a figure that eventually rose to $1 million itself. As the budget continued to spiral out of control, production moved from England to Rome, which required that all the complex sets had to be completely rebuilt in the new location. Scenes were also constantly re-shot, as there was no fixed script during the entire production, further adding to the convoluted budget that eventually rose to a staggering $44 million.
1995’s Waterworld is already infamous for its troubled development. Originally set a budget of $100 million by Universal Studios, the film would later go on to exceed this by tens of millions of dollars and end up costing $175 million. There were numerous factors that contributed to the budget continually expanding, including the large number of props and customers, an incredibly large shoot of 157 days and a haphazard approach to the the script, that saw it continually rewritten up until 7 weeks before production ended. The biggest expenses, though, came from breaks in filming when numerous actors suffered injuries and almost drowned, while freak weather damaged the multi-million dollar set and halted progress several times.
Directed by James Cameron, a man who is famous for overspending on blockbuster movies, it should come as no surprise that Titanic ended up exceeding its original budget. While Fox originally gave the director $100 million to complete filming and post-production, the fact that studio executives under estimated the cost of creating a full scale replica of the ship and the construction of a huge water tank, meant that the budget soon began to balloon past its initial constraints. Funding to research and build specialists equipment, so the shots of the actual sunken wreckage could be filmed, a collection of costly special effects and the production running two months over-schedule soon meant that the budget had gotten out of control and grown to a massive $200 million.
One of the biggest reasons that led to the budget of Tangled getting out of control was the fact that Disney wanted to use a unique animation style that fused together computer generated imagery, with more traditional animation, while a special rendering tool was used to create the visual effect of the video looking like a painting. New programs also had to be created in order to allow for Rapunzel’s hair to appear realistic. A six-year production time and a number of different directors taking on the role and then dropping out, also added to the costs. Although, the biggest expense came when the concept of the movie was changed so that it would be more gender neutral, and this led to Tangled being reworked and the original title of Rapunzel being dropped. Eventually, the budget swelled to $260 million, a figure that dwarfs some of the biggest films of all time.