Directors go to extremes when it comes to transposing their thoughts on camera and when the budget they get is immense they always find ways of putting it to use. Sadly the amount of money thrown at a movie doesn’t determine its final quality. A film like John Carter had a budget of over $300 million, it only made $284 at the box office without the inclusion of costs for the production and marketing.
Since the films on this list date from very different periods (starting in 1926 and ending in 2010) the sum of money spent for the scene isn’t a good determinant of the expenses, so we rated them according to the scale and outrageous extents to which the developers went for a single scene that sometimes only took a few seconds in the actual movie.
Even if these might seem highly eccentric, the films on this list brought in more money than they spent, so in the end we have to agree that the directors knew what they were doing, so hats off to them. Let’s find out how difficult it is to make even a few minutes of quality entertainment.
10 Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix trilogy is one of the most appreciated sci-fi sagas of all time. After the success of the first film, the Wachowski siblings used everything in their arsenal to make the next one spectacular. One of the best car chases ever is the one in Reloaded where they had to build a road on a naval base in California spanning over a length of 2.4 km with off-ramps and a 5.8 meter wall. The cars were donated by General Motors and there were over 100 in the scene, all of them ending up destroyed afterwards. The chase scene took 48 days of filming and is certainly impressive, but also extremely wasteful.
The train scene, where a huge train smashes Leonardo DiCaprio’s car, was actually real, since Christopher Nolan is all about realism. A freight train was welded onto a semi-truck so a person could actually drive it and then it was put on a real street to film the whole chaotic scene. The only CGI appearing in that scene is for the street which is damaged by the wheels of the train, but everything else is authentic, so you might watch this scene with different eyes next time. With a budget of $160 million, it is no wonder Nolan could spend money on such extravagant ideas, but the film was a huge success, so it was worth it in the end.
8 The Dark Knight
The performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker made this film really memorable and the scene at the hospital is renowned for the comic delay of one of the explosions. Christopher Nolan took an old parking lot and built an entire hospital around it. Apparently the structure raised was so complex that it took two weeks only to make sure the charges set would destroy it in a sequence, because you wouldn’t want to go wrong and start building a new hospital. In the end everything worked out perfectly and this became one of the most impressive scenes. The idea of using the parking structure reduced the costs of the entire scene by a lot and in the end the movie made a lot more money than its budget.
7 The General
The oldest film on our list is the silent masterpiece The General which starred Buster Keaton to tell the story of an engineer and his attempt to get back his stolen locomotive. The entire film is about stunts and slapstick humor. When the train passes over a bridge the weight is too much and the bridge collapses, making that particular scene seem even more extreme. The thing is this scene is actually real and it led to the destruction of a bridge as well as of an antique train, with the costs reaching $42,000 which was an enormous sum for that period.
6 Raiders of the Lost Ark
“Snakes… why did it have to be snakes?” This is one of the most famous lines in the Indiana Jones films and Steven Spielberg certainly went to extremes to make us feel uncomfortable. When Indy goes in the ancient Egyptian tomb, he reached a place filled with over 6,000 real snakes and the crew had to learn which of them were dangerous and which were harmless. Among the many snakes, some were highly poisonous. When Harrison Ford stands face to face with a king cobra, a plexiglass was used to make sure he was at a safe distance.
5 2001: A Space Odyssey
This film remains to this day a landmark of the sci-fi genre. As with each of his movies, Stanley Kubrick had to make sure everything was perfect. The scene where Frank Poole runs around the room in zero gravity is really impressive and, to make it appear as authentic as possible, an enormous centrifuge set was built that rotated while the camera remained fixed in a single place, giving the illusion in the film. For this effect to function, the actor actually ran on a single spot; but for two minutes of film, it is a bit eccentric to say the least.
This film actually was really appreciated by the media for its biographic description as well as for the great performance of Ben Kingsley. Richard Attenborough wanted to recreate the events as accurately as possible and since the real funeral of Gandhi had over one million attendants, the director had over 300,000 extras just for this scene. In fact, no one really knows exactly how many were there; the speculation estimates as far as 400,000, but it is quite obvious that this set the record for the film with the largest number of extras.
3 Full Metal Jacket
An enormous centrifuge was certainly impressive, but in 1987 Kubrick decided to go one step further in his depiction of the Vietnam War. He created an apocalyptic setting which wanted to represent a destroyed town in Vietnam. The scene was filmed in Beckton Gasworks, London which was due for demolition and had an architectural style similar to the one in Southeast Asia, so only a few palm trees were needed. Of course, the nearby buildings were destroyed a bit further to look more authentic and Kubrick still wasn’t pleased. He wanted to use dynamite to cause more destruction, but the British army thought that would be too much, so fireworks were placed on the building to look like bullet marks.
2 Apocalypse Now
When Francis Ford Coppola started shooting Apocalypse Now, a film that would bring him a second Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, he had no idea how many difficulties he would encounter. The main actor suffered a heart attack, Marlon Brando had a really chaotic behavior and a typhoon destroyed a lot of the set for the film. To compensate for such disasters, he wanted to pay Mother Nature back and burned an entire forest to the ground. This is the opening scene of the film with The Doors singing - it was all real. The Philippine army gave Coppola helicopters and gasoline was dropped on the palm trees. It is difficult to estimate the total worth of the jungle, but we are certain that CGI is friendlier to the environment.
1 Ben Hur
This film was one of the most colossal projects up to its date in 1959, with a budget of over $15 million. The nine-minute chariot race it features became one of the most famous sequences in cinema and no expense was saved to make it possible. The arena where it took place was the largest movie set ever built with a surface of 18 acres along with statues of 9 meters. It cost $1 million and it took 1,000 men working for a whole year to complete it. The white sand was imported from Mexico and it weighed 36,000 tons. Over 80 horses were brought for the scene and the audience had 8,000 extras cheering.