Setting a film’s budget is tough business. There are so many moving parts that trying to nail down an accurate price tag ahead of time is a bit of a crapshoot. Now, in saying that, some films come in right around where they were budgeted. It happens. Things also go the other way. Movies are budgeted long before things go wrong. You can account for some issues but not everything, and on some movies, everything does go wrong. Scenes need to be reshot, the cast needs more money, the time-frame needs to be extended and locations need to be changed; any number of things can impact the cost of a film, which is why it’s so hard to predict.
But we’re not looking at the films that went a little over budget. We’re looking at the ones who destroyed their budgets. We want the films that make the person who recorded the initial budget look like a complete failure. It’s failure we’re celebrating here. For some of these movies, going over budget led to a better movie being made, and because of that, more people watched and appreciated the film. Some, sadly, were of the other kind. The films that went insanely over budget and still flopped. Even though these types of films are rare, we still have a number of them to discuss. You’ve got to wonder how these go for the filmmakers responsible. You know what? If we have the information, we’ll even take a quick look at how the careers of those involved were affected by their failures in those specific cases. Here are 15 Films That Went Massively Over Budget.
You look at Jaws today, more than 40 years after it was released in theaters, and it looks great. How did they do it? Well, it wasn’t without its problems. The planned shoot was going to be simple. It would take 55 days to complete and cost about $3.5 million. That was the plan. Steven Spielberg will be the first to admit that he was young and little cocksure at the time and that led to some huge problems. For one, rather than shoot the film in a Hollywood studio water tank, they decided to do it in the Atlantic Ocean to make it appear more realistic. Well, it certainly looked more realistic, but it led to issues. Take the shark, affectionately named “Bruce,” which deteriorated in the salt water of the ocean. Many of the boats, including the Orca and the crew’s boat even began to sink. Spielberg also demanded that every shot be exactly as he envisioned it, which led to the 55-day shoot becoming a 159-day shoot. Ah well. All’s well that end’s well. The film cost about $9 million but made almost $500 million, so no one was crying about it.
14. Evan Almighty
When the Bruce Almighty sequel, Evan Almighty, was being pitched, the studios were all gung-ho. The early projections said that this was a movie that could get done with a budget of $140 million, a very high price to pay for a comedy. In the past, massive budget comedies had not done particularly well, so it didn’t look good for the studios and film team backing this one. Even early on, when costs were clearly ballooning out of control, Universal Studios were quick to support the film (even though their partners for the film, Sony Studios, already said screw this and abandoned ship). “This movie is a great bet,” said Universal Chairman, Marc Shmuger. “It’s a spectacle fantasy and also a comedy. And a sequel to one of the most successful hits in the studio’s history.” Yep, it’s also now going to cost over $200 million to make. You better hope this is the most successful hit in your studio’s history if you want to make any money. But we’re just playing around. We already know what happened. It made less than $175 million and was a major heartache for everyone involved. If you’re wondering, the director Tom Shadyac, hasn’t made a feature film since this flop in 2007.
13. The Lone Ranger
By all accounts, The Lone Ranger was a disaster. The initial plans for the film were ambitious to say the least. The team planned on a $250 million budget and expected to make money back hand over fist. Then Cowboys & Aliens fell on its face and Disney got worried. The Lone Ranger team was asked to cutback on the budget substantially, from $250 million to $215 million, which they did. One of the producers, Jerry Bruckheimer, even took on some personal responsibility should the film go over budget. Well, it did go over budget. It actually got back to about $250 million, though some people have denied that number. There were weather delays, technology issues and the shoot went over schedule, so many problems. Then the film came out and got bad reviews and barely made back enough to cover the budget (not including marketing costs).
Since Titanic made so much money and won so many awards, people often forget that it went majorly over budget. James Cameron initially approached the studios with a number close to $100 million. Also, keep in mind that this film was made almost entirely because James Cameron wanted the studios to fund his personal diving expedition to see the Titanic wreckage. As the shoot went over by about three weeks and the budget got out of control nearing $200 million, the studios asked Cameron to cut the final film down to two hours (about an hour less than the three-hour final cut). This would bring in more theater viewers but less Academy recognition. At this request, Cameron threw a hissy fit and held his ground, getting his way in the end. It was a good decision to stand pat, though, as the film got both, huge theater audiences and huge Academy recognition.
11. Apocalypse Now
There are so many crazy stories about the making of Apocalypse Now that we couldn’t come close to even listing a fraction of the tales. We can sum it up like this. The film’s budget was at first proposed to be $12 to $14 million. That was before Marlon Brando’s salary came in at about $3.5 million on its own. The first month of shooting was ruined by a typhoon, the sets were destroyed, Martin Sheen had a heart attack, things were stolen and expensive sequences were shot and not even used. There were delays that were caused by the cast and crew (such as Marlon Brando coming into photography extremely overweight). And, to top it all off, Francis Ford Coppola wasn’t sure how he was going to end the film because Brando was too fat to film the original plan.
10. 47 Ronin
Even the plan that the minds behind 47 Ronin started with was crazy. The goal was to make a film with a $175 million budget about samurai, have it star Keanu Reeves (who is great but is not really all that marketable anymore) and have it directed by a virtual unknown. What could go wrong? Well, yeah, as expected, everything went wrong. The film went over budget by about $50 million, though some dispute that number. It made about $150 million back in the box-office, meaning it lost a boatload of money. The studios swooped in to try and salvage what they could and took over editing responsibilities. There were talks about removing the director, Rinsch, but they were unable to do that because of how much of the film was completed.
9. Hunger Games: Catching Fire
After the success of the first Hunger Games, we all expected the budget for the sequel, Catching Fire, to be increased, we just didn’t expect it to increase the way it did. Originally slated to come in around $80 million, the final tally was closer to $140 million. That’s a pretty drastic increase, but most of it is due to salary increases and shot locations. The first order of business was taking care of Jennifer Lawrence’s increasing salary demands. She was a much different actress the second time around, so her pay jumped up significantly. Some reports have her first salary at about $500,000 and her second salary at $10,000,000. It wasn’t just JLaw either. Many of the other stars got a hefty raise as well. The shooting locations also needed to bounce around a bit as well, moving from North Carolina to Georgia and Hawaii. These films were wildly successful though, so no one except the accountant was upset.
Originally, the team behind Waterworld approached Universal Studios with their plan for the film and had it green lit with production costs around $100 million. It was expensive but it wasn’t otherworldly. They wouldn’t come anywhere close to that number. In the end, Waterworld turned into the most expensive movie ever made at the time. A hurricane dismantled a multi-million dollar set, Costner turned down the score that was about 25% completed and had it done again, and the desired shooting time was greatly expanded. The director, Kevin Reynolds, and Kevin Costner were good friends and had worked together before, but Waterworld really dampened their friendship. Reynolds actually walked off the set and Costner was forced to finish the film. Though they’ve rekindled their friendship since, at the time, Reynolds said, “Kevin should only star in movies he directs. That way he can work with his favorite actor and director.” After everything, the film went about $75 million over budget.
7. John Carter
We don’t know exactly what the original budget for John Carter was meant to be, but we do know it wasn’t anywhere near what it ended up as. The film was a disaster from start to finish. Essentially, the entire movie needed to be filmed twice. Why was this needed? Well, the director, Andrew Stanton, only directs animated films, Finding Nemo/Dory and WALL-E for example. When it came time to film a live-action film, Stanton struggled. There was a particular difficulty that they had with the animated backgrounds. Stanton said, “The thing I had to explain to Disney was, ‘You’re asking a guy who’s only known how to do it this way to suddenly do it with one reshoot… I said, ‘I’m not gonna get it right the first time, I’ll tell you that right now.'” So, were the overages expected? Not at all. Even if the film came in at $250 million, as it was first reported, that would have been too much. Yet, when it was discovered that the film actually cost closer to $305 million in production costs, it was a shock for everyone.
6. World War Z
After several delays, reshoots and script rewrites, the original budget of $125 for World War Z blew up to close to $200 million. There were some legitimate concerns that this film would be disastrous for the production companies involved but it turned out to be a very successful film, earning over $500 million and receiving some decent critical praise. Now with a sequel on the horizon, the over-budget World War Z looks to become even more popular as people gear up for a franchise. There was a bidding war to acquire the rights for the film, so this turned out to be a very good bet for the Pitt’s production company and all the people involved.
A lot of the financial issues that Tangled had were due to the development hell that it was stuck in. It took close to six years for the film to be made and the final budget was around $260 million, making it the most expensive animated film ever at that time and the fifth most expensive movie ever. Then there were some issues with presenting the film in the way they wanted with existing technology. Much of it wasn’t up to par, so the team was forced to invent new ways of animating. It was a long and thorough process, one that was very, very expensive but the end results were astounding. Plus, it’s a Disney animated film, so you know they’re going to make their money back by the bushel. Though we don’t know what the initial budget was, we can say with confidence that it had to have been under $200 million.
Hugo is one of those films that, if you never knew any better, you would think it was successful. The truth is, it wasn’t. Not at all. It barely made its production costs back. When all was said and done, the film cost about $180 million to make and that’s pretty much exactly what it earned back at the box office. Those production costs are a far cry from the proposed budget, a mere $100 million. We can’t speak to the production costs because outside of running over their desired timeframe, it’s not really clear why they went over the budget by so much. The film was incredibly boring though. Maybe that had something to do with it?
3. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is one of those movies that makes all sorts of lists for both the good and the bad. In this case, there isn’t a whole lot of good. We know how amazing and innovative the computer graphics in the film were. That’s a big part of the reason why it went so wildly over budget. The team behind the film pitched it as a $70 million film. It ended up being far from that. It took a team of 200 people about four years to complete. Each frame in the film took about 90 minutes to render and there were 141,964 frames. That’s a lot of minutes. In total, there was about 120 years of work put in. Crazy talk. At the end of the day, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within made back about $85 million, so if the initial budget was accurate, the film would have made a little money. But it wasn’t accurate. The final budget came in closer to $140 million.
The last few James Bond movies were very expensive to make, so it was to be expected that Spectre would as well. The team planned the budget to fall in around $150 million, but they set $200 as the ceiling just in case costs creeped up. In short, they crept. They crept like nothing had ever crept before. The ceiling of $200 million came and went. Next came $250 million, then $300 million. The film team got worried so they came up with the plan to shift shooting to Mexico and get some serious concessions and incentives. This isn’t exactly new, but the Spectre team had to change the film, incorporating in new Mexican plotlines in order to get what they wanted. They obliged and got some tax breaks. Still, the film ended up costing about $350 million, making it one of the most expensive ever made. It even set the Guinness World Record for largest film explosion. The box office made back $900 million, so it was a good investment, but it was a big risk to take nevertheless.
In 1963, Cleopatra was the highest-grossing film of the year, and yet it still lost money. That’s pretty difficult to do. The plan was simple in the beginning. They were going to make a $2 million film but the filmmakers wanted to make it bigger so they asked for $7 million. That was before everything started to fall apart. Elizabeth Taylor’s salary alone started at $1 million, which was the largest of its kind at the time. However, after all the incredible delays (and her almost dying), Taylor would make close to $7 million (about $55 million today). The film started shooting in London under director Rouben Mamoulian. He ballooned the budget up to about $12 million before he departed from the film entirely. Joseph L. Mankiewicz came on to fix the film, but he found that nothing that was shot could be used, mainly because some of the actors had left when the shoot ran over schedule. This meant that $12 million in production costs had been wasted. The shoot was moved to Rome and many of the sets and costumes had to be recreated. In the end, it cost about $44 million to make the film. That, our dearest friends, is 22 times over what the initial budget was.
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