It used to be that movies cost no more than a few million to make. In 1939, Gone with the Wind, which is considered to be the most financially successful film of all time when adjusted for inflation, cost less than $4 million to make, and that was considered a lot at the time. And it was only twenty years ago that the first $100 million budget movie was made with James Cameron’s True Lies. Yet it now seems like every other movie comes with a nine-digit price tag. For the most part, the high production costs are evident in the film: state of the art graphics, 3-D, set design, etc. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to tell where all the money went. On several occasions, millions of dollars have been wasted to create poor films that look like they could have been produced on a fraction of the budget. And in some cases, the studios failed to see a return on their investments, losing millions of dollars.
This isn’t a list of the movies with the biggest budgets; it’s a list of movies with surprisingly big budgets—movies that either wasted their budgets or simply don’t look like they cost as much as they did.
Troy is an epic film, and it earned nearly half a billion dollars, so it should really come as no surprise that it was made on a huge budget. But $175 million? At the time, Troy was one of the most expense films in history. Yet for all the money that was put into it, you would think that the end result would be a little better. It received mixed reviews from critics and has become all but forgotten in a little over ten years, receiving only one Academy Award nomination—and for Best Achievement in Costume Design, of all things (so maybe that’s where all the money went).
9 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Considering it’s part of a highly successful film franchise and it stars one of the biggest names in Hollywood, it’s no wonder that Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the most recent of the Pirates films, had such a big budget. But the biggest budget in the history of cinema? It cost nearly $400 million to produce, making Troy look like a micro-budget indie film in comparison.
The movie, however, did make a huge profit, earning over a billion dollars at the box office, making it the 14th highest grossing film of all time. But for roughly $400 million, can you really expect any less? Disney’s being a little thriftier with their next Pirates installment and only shelling out $250 million.
8 John Carter
Disney had high expectations for John Carter, the Taylor Kitsch vehicle about a soldier from the American Civil War who finds himself on the planet of Barsoom surrounded by aliens. The studio invested over $250 million into the film, yet it was met with a fizzle both at the box office and with critics, barely managing to recover the cost of production. In order to actually break even, however, the film would have had to earn over $600 million, which it didn’t even come close to doing, making it one of the biggest box office bombs of all time, leading to the resignation of Disney’s chairman, Rich Ross.
7 Evan Almighty
Most of the movies on this list are epics or sci-fi films. Yet for some reason Evan Almighty, a comedy starring Steve Carrell, managed to rack up a giant budget of $175 million, about as much as that of Troy. But Troy had elaborate sets, costumes, and effects, whereas Evan Almighty is a goofy comedy about a guy who builds an Ark. The high cost just doesn’t seem worth it. And it wasn’t. Despite being the most expensive comedy ever made at the time, the film failed to make a splash and bombed at the box office, not even earning enough to cover the budget.
6 The Adventures of Pluto Nash
The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Remember this movie? That’s okay, most people don’t. It’s widely considered to be one of the worst films of all time. And earning just $7 million on a $100 million budget, it’s also one of the biggest box office bombs of all time.
It stars Eddie Murphy and Rosario Dawson, and it was nominated for five Golden Raspberry (or Razzie) Awards, including Worst Picture of the Year. Somehow, however, it managed to lose out to another film. You might be asking yourself, “What film can possibly be worse than The Adventures of Pluto Nash?” The answer is another film on this list: Gigli.
Waterworld is an example of a film having too much money for its own good. With a $170-plus million budget, the Kevin Costner film was praised for its effects and set design, yet most critics agreed that the acting and storytelling were out of proportion with the then-record budget.
Initially, the film was only supposed to cost $100 million, but production, which took place entirely out on the water, continued to balloon. You’ve heard of too big to fail, well this film was too big to succeed. Even with the number one spot at the box office opening weekend, Waterworld failed to make any money until home video sales were factored in.
4 How Do You Know
How Do You Know is another one of those movies that makes you ask, “Where did all that money go?” Despite being a romantic comedy without expensive CGI or special effects, somehow this film cost $120 million. The explanation in this case is simple. The money went to the director (James L. Brooks) and the actors (Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson), who all had big paydays despite making a film that failed to earn even half the amount of the budget.
It just goes to show that sometimes the old adage, “You have to spend money to make money,” isn’t always true. Sometimes more is less. (All that money and they couldn’t afford a question mark for the title?)
3 Jack and Jill
In recent years, Adam Sandler has made some of the most perplexingly bad movies in the history of cinema, but perhaps nothing is quite as bad (and downright bizarre) as Jack and Jill, a film in which Sandler plays the two lead characters. You’d think having the same actor play two characters would help to save on costs, yet somehow this film cost $79 million to make. Where did all that money go? Surely it wasn’t put towards writing the screenplay, unless Sandler hires the most expensive fart joke writer in the history of fart joke writers (wait, doesn’t he write his own films?).
2 47 Ronin
47 Ronin, which stars Keanu Reeves and a cast of Japanese actors, was one of the most expensive films of 2013, yet very few people seemed to know about it. It brought it in a little over $150 million on a $175 million budget and was the second worst box office bomb in the history of cinema.
Despite this being director Carl Rinsch’s first feature film, Universal Studios threw their support behind him with a huge budget, which apparently he was unable to handle, as it resulted in one of the worst reviewed films of the year. It’s not just Rinsch’s fault, however. Part of the reason why the film cost so much was that the studio forced the director to add scenes in order to play up Keanu Reeves’s involvement in the film.
Just about everyone knows about the immense crappiness of Gigli, starring the short-lived couple of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. It was a running joke at the time of its release. It’s the kind of movie that’s so bad that you watch it just to see how bad it is. “It can’t be that bad, can it?” It is.
It has a 2.4 rating on IMDB and a 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. On top of all that, the film cost a mind-boggling $75 million! Far from the most expensive film on this list, but one still can’t help but wonder where all that money went. After all, it’s just a romantic comedy.