How Much Does It Cost To Make A Hit Movie? - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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How Much Does It Cost To Make A Hit Movie?

Thanks to advances in technology we all have access to hi-definition cameras on our smartphones, many of which are capable of recording film that would rival a Hollywood blockbuster. Video editing software, once reserved exclusively for filmmakers, is now easily available online. So it would seem that the cost's behind producing a hit movie should be coming down, right? But that's definitely not the case as over the last 30 years production costs have skyrocketed as filmmaker after filmmaker compete to make the most profitable movies in history.

No one filmmaker is more guilty of that than James Cameron. He clearly has a thing about making the most expensive films, as this feature will attest. Throughout the 1990's he directed just three motion pictures. Upon their respective releases all three of them held the title of the most expensive film of all time.

First up in Cameron's expensive back catalog is 1991's Terminator 2: Judgement Day which had a filming budget of $94 million ($32 million more than the previous year's Die Hard 2: Die Harder, which was, at the time, the holder of most expensive picture). Then, Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron would team up again three years later for the first $100 million movie, True Lies.

There's a saying that everything costs more on water. Sure was true for Kevin Costner who saw Waterworld's $100 million budget spiral out of control thanks to a series of water related cost overruns and production setbacks. Coming in at $172 million, the 1995 release held the title of the most expensive film for two years, and on release would prove that the most expensive films are not always the most profitable.

Unless, of course, you're James Cameron.

He took to the seas for Titanic and hit the $200 million threshold in production costs. Unlike Waterworld (which did actually make money, just not that much money), Titanic was a massive success. It was the first film to reach the billion-dollar mark in ticket sales, with an initial worldwide gross of over $1.84 billion, and it remained the highest-grossing film of all time until James Cameron's 2009 film Avatar surpassed it in 2010. (Surprisingly, given Cameron's track record, Avatar didn't trouble the then current holder of the title of most expensive film, as Avatar cost $237 million, a figure that has already been surpassed in 2007 by Spider-Man 3's $257 million budget.)

A 3D version of Titanic, released on April 4th 2012 to commemorate the centennial of the sinking, earned the film an additional $343.6 million worldwide, pushing it's worldwide total to $2.18 billion, and giving Titanic the honor of becoming the second film to gross more than $2 billion worldwide (after Avatar, naturally).

Of course, you're likely very aware that Avatar held the title of the highest grossing film of all time until 2019's Avengers: Endgame knocked it off it's perch. Endgame had a massive production budget of $356 million, but you may be surprised to know that it's not the current holder of the most expensive movie of all time. That would be Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides which arrived in 2011 with a record breaking budget of $378.5 million. Adjusted for inflation, that's approximately $422 million.

With James Cameron's upcoming Avatar 2 said to be looking at a budget in excess of $1 billion (admittedly that figure includes work on two other sequels), the price of producing a hit movie is, seemingly, always on the increase. Can a film that expensive turn a profit? Only time will tell.

But given his past history, I wouldn't bet against James Cameron!

Note: When compiling this feature we solely used the known net negative cost, which is the costs of the actual filming, not including promotional costs (i.e. advertisements, commercials, posters, etc.) and after factoring in any tax rebates or credits. 

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