Creating a Hollywood blockbuster is far more complex than one might expect. It’s easy to focus only on the starring actors, but behind the finished product lies months and often years of hard work. A huge production team, hundreds of steps and a number of variable factors go into filming a successful – and even an unsuccessful! – movie.
Blockbuster movies typically have a crew of hundreds including a director, producers, cinematographers, sound editors, production assistants, and location scouts, to name just a few – not to mention the many actors and extras! While it can be incredible how much money a single movie can make in theatres, the expense of making such a movie is almost more extraordinary . Once a screenplay is written – and, probably, rewritten a number of times – and approved, the film itself must be financed before it becomes a legitimate project, and even when it’s complete a distributor must be secured. Hollywood ‘blockbuster’ films have more money for their budgets, while independent films can often struggle in this area. Overall, the budget is absorbed into all stages of the process: pre-production, filming, post-production, and marketing. Not only does a typical film demand millions of dollars just to get made, but the promotion of that film costs an equally staggering amount. The budget for selling the film to the public, via TV ads and exciting trailers, for instance, comes in at around $36M on average.
Unsurprisingly, the movies with the highest budgets tend to be the ones with the most impressive special effects. For instance, the CGI-heavy Spiderman 3 cost a cool $258 million, Transformers 2 ran up a bill of $225 million, while Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince cost $250 million. While it’s easy enough to list the most expensive movies, however, we might be surprised by how expensive – and extensive – single scenes can actually be. The following scenes feature innovative special effects that may have been utterly unheard of in the past, but these individual scenes alone came at eye watering expense.
5. Brooklyn Bridge scene, I Am Legend (2007) – $5M
Overall, I Am Legend cost $150 million to make. The movie is the third feature film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel of the same name, which imagines a future in which one man is immune to a man-made virus originally intended to cure cancer. Will Smith’s character must try and survive in a ruined world while defending against the creatures created by the virus.
The price tag for the whole movie can be attributed to the array of special effects, not to mention paying for the star status of Smith. However, one scene in particular famously ran up the bill. The sequence in question takes place on The Brooklyn Bridge in New York City during a large-scale evacuation. The filmmakers shot this scene on location over the course of six nights, which cost an estimated minimum of $5 million. Not only that, shooting the scene on such an important structure demanded the cooperation of 14 government agencies and a cast of 1,000 extras along with 250 crew members. The National Guard, Coast Guard and the Department of Defense all contributed equipment to the scene, including an enormous lighting system to illuminate the entire set.
4. Explosion Scene, Pearl Harbor (2001) – $5.5M
This iconic scene in Pearl Harbor depicts, of course, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The scene features six major explosions in Battleship Row. The explosions were staged on real Navy ships that director Michael Bay scouted while on location. The sequence called for 12 camera teams, 700 sticks of dynamite, 2000 feet of cord, and 4000 gallons of gasoline. It took a month and a half to rig the ships for explosion, with 500 individual bombs on each boat. There were also over 100 extras to negotiate, plus months of coordination among the film crew, the local government of Hawaii (where the scene was shot), the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and the US Navy. After all of that effort, the explosions comprised only about 12 seconds of on-screen time.
3. Opening Scene, Superman Returns (2006) – $10M
After spending $10 million on its production, this elaborate opener was – incredibly – omitted in the final cut of Superman Returns, making it the most expensive deleted scene in history. (Though it is included in the Superman anthology Blu-Ray release version of the movie). The five-minute scene shows Kal-El (Superman’s name at birth) returning back to his home planet of Krypton in a ship. Overall, the movie cost an impressive $204 million to make even though its allotted budget stood at around $184M. The movie went on to gross $391,081,192 worldwide.
2. Helicopter Scene, Swordfish (2001) – $13M
This film’s potential box office return took a major hit when it was pulled from theaters following the events of September 11th, 2001, due to a scene involving an exploding building. The most costly scene in this ambitious movie involved a bus attached to a helicopter, which flew around downtown Los Angeles. The filming of the scene took some complex editing. In fact, the crew actually had a group of people sit on a school bus in front of a green screen while the vehicle was swung from a crane. According to the stunt coordinators, the same effect could have been portrayed for half the cost. The scene as it was shot is reported to have cost around $13 million.
1. Fight Scene, The Matrix Reloaded (2003) – $40M
The Matrix Reloaded is the second movie in The Matrix trilogy, which was written and directed by The Wachowski Brothers. This particular installation was the highest grossing film in the series, earning in excess of $735M at the worldwide box office; in fact, it is the most successful R-rated movie in history. The priciest scene in the movie – and in the history of Hollywood – shows Neo taking on hundreds of Agent Smiths in a dramatic fight, including lots of CGI action. Its sheer length and the number and variety of special effects required demanded a pretty hefty price tag. The scene is 17 minutes long and cost a reported $40 million dollars – around 40% of the entire movie budget. It also took 27 days to shoot.