In 2015 there were 700 films released across the globe, the likes of which included the long awaited Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. These 700 movies made around $11,128 million! That’s right, that is 11 thousand millions, crazy right? To put it into context, that’s around the same GDP as Albania, a country with a population of just under three million people.
So, in order to make money, you’ve got to spend money! A movie studio is (usually) very selective about which movies they will finance and to what extent they will pile money into them. For example, 50 Shades of Grey made $569 million on “just” a $40 million budget. The movie studios are selective about which films they finance and which they don’t. So with that in mind, here is a list of the most expensive movies ever made, (with inflation being taken into account) as well as how much money they actually made.
15. Man of Steel (Released 2013) Cost $225 million – Made $668 million
2013 saw the release of a Superman film for the first time since 2006 (remember Brandon Routh?) and a lot of expectation came with the movie. Stars such as Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner and the impressive Michael Shannon all signed on, not to mention the star man, Henry Cavill, the handsome devil that he is. Cavill famously transformed his body for the role and put on a whole load of muscle in order to fill out the famous suit.
The movie follows Clark Kent as he embarks on his career as a journalist alongside Lois Lane (Amy Adams). He does his “super-heroing” on the side, that is until the return of General Zod (and his heavies), the man that killed Jor-El (Clark’s father back on Krypton). This causes a huge rift on earth and Superman is used as a bargaining tool in order to save the human race. Chaos ensues and an almighty fight is begun, with no skyscraper safe from the Kryptonian’s force. The movie cost around $225 million and I have a feeling a lot of this was spent on Cavill’s protein shakes.
14. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Released 2013) Cost $225 million – Made $959 million
Let’s face it, any film based on Middle-earth is going to do extremely well. JRR Tolkien’s hugely imaginative world is as popular as any book can get and was sure to draw in the crowds. The first instalments from the world created by Tolkien were major successes and were adorned with awards and were seen as the standard for which all fantasy films would be held. The Desolation of Smaug was no different and the studios put up around $225 million to see it made. It’s safe to say that this movie did well, it made almost $1 billion, now that is mammoth and was an almost 300% return on investment. The peculiar thing about this movie is the distinct lack of major A-list movie stars, it is led by Martin Freeman, and as brilliant as he is, he isn’t as well-known as, say, Brad Pitt. Nevertheless, this is a mammoth movie with a huge up-front budget.
13. The Dark Knight Rises (Released 2012) Cost $230 million – Made $1.085 billion
In the world of cinema, Christopher Nolan can do no wrong, hell, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him undertake a remake of Four Weddings and a Funeral and absolutely nail it. He remade Batman into a dark and brooding character and fully stripped him back to leave nothing but the man, before he made the legend. This is as far away from Tim Burton’s neon-clad re-imagining as you can physically get (something I’m personally very happy about) and he brought a new generation of fans to the famous hero of Gotham. Add into the mix Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and you have a winner.
The Dark Knight Rises is a battle of the voices, Christian Bale’s gruff, raspy tone versus Tom Hardy’s pre-pubescent squeak. Bane is a great character and when paired with Marion Cotillard’s Talia al Ghul is just fantastic. Oh, Robin also gets his origin story thrown into the mix, something that left fans weak at the knees. With the overly positive repletion of the first two instalments, it’s no wonder the studio stumped up for the finale of the saga.
12. Avatar (Released 2009) Cost $237 million – Made $2.78 billion
Avatar is nothing less than a phenomenon; a behemoth which no film has ever matched, and which every future film will hope to match. James Cameron changed the face of cinema when he made this movie. He actually had to wait for twenty years for technology to catch up with his vision, now that is impressive. Avatar tells the story of human colonization in space, where they are mining a beautiful and distant planet for the rare material “Unobtanium”.
Sam Worthington heads the cast as ex-marine Jake Sully, whose mind is placed into the synthetic body of one of the indigenous populous named the Na’avi. He is tasked with infiltrating them but instead falls in love with one of their number and comes to be an honorary member of the Na’avi. The scenery is beautiful and the planet is richly imagined. Couple this with the IMAX and 3D release of the movie and you have something that captured the imagination of millions around the world. They flocked in their droves to see this movie and it made an absolute killing at the box office. Kudos Mr Cameron.
11. Spectre (Released 2015) Cost $245 million – Made $880 million
Daniel Craig as James Bond is something that was hotly debated when he took over the role in 2005 when he starred in Casino Royale. But it is safe to say that now, there is no denying his ability to bring a certain reality and gruffness to Ian Fleming’s hero. Spectre is the fourth film in which Daniel Craig has played James Bond (and it may yet be his final film) and follows his fight against an unknown organisation that aims to bring down MI6. This drags up Bond’s past and pits him against the most evil and, arguably well-known Bond villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (played by Christophe Waltz in a pair of slippers).
Slippers aside, this movie did quite well. It had a chart-topping theme song (courtesy of Sam Smith) and made a boat load of money. Tom Hiddleston is rumoured to be the next Bond and, if he manages to draw in the crowds like Craig did, then the studios certainly won’t be complaining.
10. Captain America: Civil War (Released 2016) Cost $250 million – Made $1.15 billion
Before the release of Captain America: Civil War, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) had grossed just under $3 billion, now that is money! With this in mind it’s easy to see why studios would be so willing to pile more money into a project, and Civil War is no different. The Captain America franchise had grossed around $450 million already and was sure to make another good return on investment. Civil War blew its predecessors out of the water and grossed over $1.1 billion! No doubt brought about by the fact that there were a spate of other superheroes from the MCU, including the ever-popular Iron Man and the introduction of the “new” Spider-Man. Paul Rudd brings an extra dimension to the superhero genre and his goofiness is a good break from the other, more broody characters. The MCU phenomenon shows no signs of abating, and with the all-star cast being added to every year, you can see why so many people are flocking to theatres to see them.
9. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Released 2016) Cost $250 million – Made $872 million
Now we find ourselves in the DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU?) an altogether darker and more immoral take on the superhero genre. It brings together two of the most recognisable, and most often re-imagined, superheroes ever created and pits them against each other. Batman is played by someone other than Christian Bale for the first time in 11 years and everybody was eager to see what Ben Affleck would do with the character (if anything else, he’s got the chin for it). Cavill returned as the Man of Steel and the movie wasn’t half bad.
It may seem like on hell of an unfair match up but Brucey actually manages to hold his own, albeit unconvincingly. Gal Gadot makes her debut as Wonder Woman and has the easiest job of them all, she stands there, looks pretty, looks shocked, back to pretty and then gets involved in a fight when no one asked her to. This is an easy movie to finance because the fan base is humongous and it proved to be popular, grossing just under $900 million during its release in theatres.
8. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Released 2014) Cost $250 million – Made $956 million
Battle of the Five Armies is the third and final instalment of The Hobbit movies and one that people flocked to see. Considering it cost the same as Dawn of Justice to make, I think they did quite well, there are still sprawling scenes of wonderful countryside, great CGI and lots of action. The three latter movies created from Tolkien’s world have not been as critically acclaimed as the original LOTR movies but they still made a hell of a lot of money. This is a franchise that studios will have no qualms with financing as they are sure to return a whole heap of profit, and when you consider that this does figure does not take into account any of the merchandise that is sold. You can buy hobbit capes, hobbit feet (!) hell, you can even be a cheap skate and grow your own Gandalf beard! When all of this is totted up you know they are rolling in it.
7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Released 2009) Cost $250 million – Made $934 million
The behemoth that is the wizarding world of Harry Potter will never cease to amaze, whether it is the unbelievable storytelling of JK Rowling or the even more unbelievable characters thought up in this wizarding world, it just continues to give on giving. The opening music sequence is now synonymous with the Christmas holidays and will live long in the memory of those who grew up watching these movies. There is also more to come, with the newest instalment Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, set to drop in November of this year. The Harry Potter films have one of, if not the biggest following of any movie franchise and funding one of these films was never going to be an issue. The crowds were sure to gather, and it showed! This movie made just shy of $1 billion and, like The Hobbit and LOTR franchises, the merchandising potential is astronomical.
6. Spider-Man 3 (Released 2007) Cost $258 million – Made $890 million
The final instalment of the original Spider-Man films proved to be as crowd inducing as the first two films. It introduced a darker side to Peter Parker after he was taken over by Venom for a short period of time. This was a good thing (for the most part) as it gave the viewers a more edgy Toby Maguire and he didn’t do such a bad job. The part that wasn’t so great (stop reading if you cringe easily)? There is a part of this film where he is strutting down the street, wearing a pair of sunglasses and wearing increasingly darker/leather-type clothes and winking at women as he passes them. It makes me shudder just thinking about it.
Mostly though, it was filled with action-fuelled sequences and great CGI effects. Sandman was introduced to the story line and brought something extra. Spidey’s face off with Venom and with Sandman was fantastic and it looked like it’d be the end for him. Either way, people liked the movie and, overall, they stumped up around $890 million to see it play out.
5. Tangled (Released 2010) Cost $260 million – Made $591 million
Tangled is a retelling of the Rapunzel story. You know, the girl who was abducted as a child and now has to live in a tower. Her hair grows super long and can make the witch that abducted her youthful again. This isn’t any old rehashing however, it is a retelling by Disney studios, and that is significant. Disney is one of the most trusted studios around and is sure to bring in an audience in its millions, especially those who still carry themed lunchboxes. The effects and animation in the film are so crisp and there is a scene where Rapunzel and her soon-to-be-romantic-interest are on a lake and are surrounded by Chinese lanterns and it is just superb. There is humour aplenty (delivered mainly through the horse, Maximus, and his altercations with Flynn) and a fantastic bar fight that will split your sides. All-in-all this is a wonderful movie and it made hella money.
4. John Carter (Released 2012) Cost $306 million – Made $284 million
It is safe to say that this film did not do overly well, despite the fact that it was backed by Disney studios tut tut. It may be the premise that caused this movie to fail so significantly; a civil war veteran turned prospector is transported onto Mars where he must join a race of beings in a war against another alien species. Sounds crazy, right? Well it is, a bit. Taylor Kitsch plays John Carter and does so quite well I thought. Yes, fair enough, he hasn’t got the star power of a true A-list celebrity, but he is well-known and is a good enough actor. The failings of this film may also be down to the unfavourable reviews it received form major outlets, described as “cheesy”, and “derivative”. It may be both of these things, but it’s also action-packed and provides bucket-loads of fun. The CGI isn’t great, but Mars itself is fantastic.
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron (Released 2015) Cost $316 million – Made $1.4 billion
The Avengers have taken the cinema by storm ever since they first appeared together in 2012. Joss Whedon returned to the helm after his overwhelming success with the first Avengers movie and did a great job with this one too. The humour that Whedon manages to imbue between the characters is great and provides some levity to the seriousness of the villain’s actions (remember when Hulk randomly punched Thor?). The effects in the movie are great and skyscrapers tumble like dominoes amidst the action. The one real gem in this movie is Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Bruce Banner AKA The Hulk, I thought it was an inspired piece of casting and he works so well with the other heroes. In the weeks leading up to the release of this movie, and for the months following its release, children could be seen running around with Hulk fists and Captain America’s shield. It really took the world by storm, and the revenue reflected that – it made nearly $1.5 billion!
2. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Released 2007) Cost $300 million – Made $963 million
Johnny Depp’s drunken Keith Richards impression took the world by storm when the first and second instalments in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise was released, and it made enough money to warrant a blockbuster budget by Disney Studios (yep, them again). The third instalment of the film went down a treat and brought in audiences en masse. It cost $300 million, mainly because of the sets that they had to use. For example, they had to build multiple pirate ships and create a water set where a lot of the action would take place. Also take into account the costuming and the luxurious locations and you have yourself a sure-fire expensive movie.
This franchise has captured the minds of a wide range of people, from children to the older generation – and to think that it was based on theme park ride built in 1967! Merchandise potential was off the charts and Disney milked it for all it was worth. I can only imagine the amount of money they made from selling Jack Sparrow hat replicas.
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Released 2011) Cost $378 million – Made $1.046 billion
Let’s face it. This film was never going to flop was it? The previous instalment made $963 million so this was always going to come close to that total. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has an overall cost of around $1 billion and with a total income of around $3.7 billion, you can see why Disney were so keen to carry on funding these movies. Johnny Depp reinvented himself as Jack Sparrow and Geoffrey Rush was great throughout.
The action in the films is stunning and there is swashbuckling for the duration. Piracy isn’t to be laughed at unless it’s in one of these movies, and laugh you will. Overall I think it’s the world that people really bought into, it has something for everyone. There are fantasy elements and creatures from the sea, a literal skeleton crew and Davy Jones is embodied brilliantly. The quest is one that takes the band of pirates to the far reaches of the earth/sea and under it as well. These movies are brilliant.