When making huge, blockbuster films and dealing with millions of dollars, it must become increasingly difficult to budget. When you’re spending a $100,000 here and $100,000 there, it could become understandable for a director to lose track of spending, especially when they’re just trying to recreate the images they have in their heads.
Sometimes the studio doesn’t mind if the director goes over the budget, so long as the director has proven to be a hit-maker. Other times it can result in the director losing their job. Sometimes it ends up being money well spent, and other times it ends up being another money sink in a huge loss to a studio.
For better or for worse, these ten films are noteworthy for surpassing their budgets, and in some cases becoming the most expensive film made in their day.
10. The Lone Ranger (2013)
The film was originally set at $215 million but it quickly blew up to $250 million. It was reported by THR that Depp, director Gore Verbinksi, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer waved their up-front fees and cut action sequences to bring the budget back down. Regardless, the film shot back up to $250 million and some have reported that it may have even gone above that as Verbinksi refused to compromise on his creative vision. He had locomotives constructed specifically for the film, rather than use existing trains.
After all this, to say the film ended up being a box office bomb is an understatement. In the United States the film didn’t sell enough tickets to collect half of its budget back.
9. Titanic (1997)
James Cameron is not only attached to some of the highest grossing films ever made, but at the same time he has made many of the costliest films ever produced.
When Cameron hit big with the films True Lies and Terminator 2, he was pretty much given a go to make Titanic. Heck, he was thrown a few million just to explore the site of the actual shipwreck.
Once the project ballooned to $200 million (at the time the most expensive film ever made), the studio became apprehensive. Cameron offered up his share of the films profits, a deal the studio eventually accepted. It hasn’t been said exactly how much Titanic went over-budget, but Cameron has said it was a lot more than Terminator 2, which exceeded its budget by about 8%.
Between its initial run and a re-release, Titanic became the second film to gross over $2 billion in ticket sales.
8. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
When the Hunger Games sequel experienced a budget boost, it was actually done by the studio rather than over-spending. The films earned back their initial investment almost ten times over.
After the unprecedented success of the first film, Catching Fire‘s projected $78 million dollar budget was increased to $130 million. One of these new cost factors was giving Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence a pay raise to $10 million, which is quite a bit more than the $500,000 she made for the first film.
7. Avatar (2009)
By the time Cameron went over-budget with Avatar, nobody giving him money really cared. Cameron has a long history of going over-budget, but nobody involved with Avatar expected the king of billion dollar movies to do anything less. The film was budgeted at $237 million officially, but actual estimates suggest it took closer to $300 million.
Of course, Avatar went on to become the current highest grossing film of all time, followed by James Cameron’s own Titanic.
6. 47 Ronin (2013)
There is a little bit of drama surrounding why the Keanu Reeves 3D Samurai picture went over budget. In fact, it ended up with the director being pulled from the film.
The studio wanted Reeves’ character to be the main focus of 47 Ronin, something that director Carl Rinsch had decided not to comply with. In an attempt to go back and give Reeves more screen time, Rinsch filmed a number of extra scenes, one that included a special effects heavy battle sequence. This reportedly led to nearly $50 million in extra spending.
Universal denies this to be the case but in spite of their denial Rinsch was pulled from the film and Universal’s co-chairwoman, Donna Langley, oversaw the editing.
The world-wide ticket sales for 47 Ronin were nearly $25 million dollars shy of breaking even with the initial budget.
5. Cleopatra (1963)
Cleopatra going over budget is an interesting case. The film went so far over budget that despite being the highest grossing film of the year it somehow managed to lose money. The film was budgeted at $2 million and ended up costing FOX $44 million. This doesn’t seem like it would have nearly bankrupted the studio, but in today’s dollars it translates to about $339 million.
One of the biggest reasons the film cost so much money to make were constant delays, resulting in increased salaries for some of the cast. Elizabeth Taylor’s already unheard of salary of $1 million eventually ballooned to $7 million. One of these delays was making all the sets costumes and props, and then having to tear it all down and make it again when it was decided to shoot in Rome instead of London.
The film went through two directors. By the time Joseph Mankiewicz was given the film, production was already $5 million over budget without a cell of usable footage.
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
It’s not too much of a surprise that director Stanley Kubrick went over budget with 2001: A Space Odyssey; Kubrick was a known perfectionist who often turned his final films in behind schedule and over budget. The kicker to 2001 is that Kubrick almost doubled the initial budget for the film. The $6 million project ended up costing $10.5 million; a $25 million dollar increase in today’s dollars.
In true Kubrick style, not only did the film go this much over budget, but it was turned in over a year after it was promised. Luckily, the film became an Oscar winner and grossed almost five times its budget.
3. Waterworld (1995)
Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner were a director and actor pairing that seemed to have forged quite a bond. Unfortunately, tensions concerning the budget created a rift between the two that would last almost twenty years. Stories are mixed in regards to whether or not Reynolds was fired or if he walked off the set, but it was Costner who actually finished directing the film.
Waterworld was another one of those films that would be the most expensive film ever made at the date of its release, largely due to the effects budget. It can be assumed that no studio has a business model that says “go out and spend the most money anyone has ever spent!” This designation is usually a sure marker that the film went over budget.
2. World War Z (2013)
World War Z is another film to go over budget and ultimately end up being a bona fide hit, despite some initial fears to the contrary. This didn’t make World War Z the most expensive film made at the time like many of the films on this list, but complications during filming did account for a film that cost around $190 to $220 million with an initial budget of $125 million.
Even so, the film clipped the $540 million mark and sequels were ordered. It would also become Brad Pitt’s highest grossing film to date.
1. Dune (Never)
Before David Lynch’s 1984 Dune film, director Alejandro Jodorowsky had been set up to take on the project in the early 1970’s. Jodorowsky was an interesting choice as he was best known for art house films like El Topo and The Holy Mountain.
Jodorowsky was given $9.5 million for the budget and had signed on huge names: Pink Floyd for the score, artist H.R. Giger for set design, and huge names like Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, and Gloria Swanson to star. Beyond this, the script Jodorowsky produced would have resulted in a 14 hour film, or several installments in a series. After already going over budget in just pre-production and spending $2 million (a big deal in 1973), the film was taken away from Jodorowsky and eventually sold to Dino de Laurentiis.
Despite never being made, a documentary was made about the ‘film-that-never-was”. Based on the pre-production materials seen in the documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been a film like no other.
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