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The Most Expensive Movies Ever Made (And Why)

Ever had one of those months where you look back at your finances and wonder, “How the heck did I spend that much?” Whether or not we like to admit it, it can be all too easy to dish out money on necessities, life’s pleasures, or just those small purchases that add up. Well, no matter how bad of a month finance-wise you’ve had in the past, those numbers are about to be dwarfed by millions. Enter: Hollywood. 

The silver screen has sparkled, dazzling millions of people worldwide with the love, intrigue, excitement, and emotion of 50-foot-tall stories. But the money behind these films sparkles even more. They say the camera adds ten pounds? Well, it also adds about that many millions of dollars. 

Although it’s tricky to get the exact cost of movies (studios can be tight-lipped when it comes to finances) we did our best to scour the web for information. Today, we’re taking a look at the most expensive movies ever made and why they turned out to be so pricey. 

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Photo by erlich is licensed under CC-BY-SA

The fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise brought fans another swashbuckling adventure following Captain Jack Sparrow and his search for the fountain of youth. It also brought Disney a windfall of over one billion dollars. But that didn’t come without some hefty spending first. 

The final costs for this film rang in at around $410 million, before a generous tax credit of $34.1 million. This high price tag came as somewhat of a surprise to everyone, including Disney. The movie had a tighter time frame to shoot, the absence of big name cast members like Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, supposedly cheaper visual effects compared to the previous films due to less climactic sea battles, and production taking place in the UK and Hawaii to take advantage of the big tax credits those locations offered. 

So why the steep price? One of the biggest reasons was cast and personnel cost. Most notably, Johnny Depp seized a massive payday of USD 55 million for reprising his role in the film. Next to him, Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane drove the price up as well with their salaries. In total, the film hired 895 workers paying them USD 17.8 million in total. 

Another cause for the hefty cost was shooting and location. Even though Disney tried to plan a smaller budget production site, shooting on sea is always expensive… and unavoidable for a pirate movie subtitled On Stranger Tides. The crew also used 3D cameras to shoot this movie. When compared to converting the film to 3D in post-production, this process proves more complex and costly. 

When all was said and done, the USD 410 million budget was a wonderful investment on Disney’s part. With over a billion dollars in gross income and half a million in profit, they more than made their money back. And even if it’s not the best Pirates of the Caribbean movie you’ve heard of, well, you’ve still heard of it. 

2. Avengers: Endgame

Avengers-endgame by neil pato is licensed under CC-BY-NC

The appearance of this film on this list will probably come as no surprise to anyone. If you were alive in 2018 and 2019, it was virtually impossible to not see some form of advertising for this film.

Anyone who has watched Endgame will know that the movie has no shortage of stars in it. The cast is a veritable who’s who of Hollywood stardom: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlet Johannsen just to name a few. Paying a cast like this is no small feat. Each of the previously mentioned actors took in USD 15 million for the film; all except Robert Downey Jr., who earned USD 75 million. Seems like that hefty sum was more than enough to give Iron Man the mettle to reprise his role one last time. 

The last reason for Endgame’s high price tag is the production costs. A film partially set in space, involving superheroes with all sorts of powers, and featuring some epic battle scenes is bound to require a, well, super amount of special effects. And those effects don’t come cheap. The writers’, producers’, directors’, and other staff’s salaries were also included in the production cost. 

Avengers: Endgame, like On Stranger Tides, earned back their spending, though. When all was said and done, the total budget for the film was $350 million. The worldwide gross was around USD 3 billion. Looks like in Hollywood, you have to spend money to make money. 

3. Avengers: Infinity War

The first installment of the epic finale to the 18-year MCU buildup is, unsurprisingly, on this list as well, following the movie that followed it in theaters. The lack of surprise comes both from the fact that Marvel does nothing small when it comes to the Avengers, and from the fact that many scenes from Endgame and Infinity War were shot at the same time. This means that many of the reasons that made Endgame so expensive apply equally to Infinity War.

First off, production costs. Since scenes from both movies were shot at the same time, the filming schedule turned out to be quite a bear. Director Joe Russo revealed that the cast and crew filmed for a year straight, from January to January, with only a two-week break. During that time, the production costs racked up to $350,000; $400,000; and even $450,000 per day. To put that in perspective, that’s like spending the equivalent of six times the median annual salary in the U.S. every single day. 

To add to the hefty production costs, Infinity War, just like Endgame, boasted an A-list cast. Besides the core group of Avengers mentioned before, the film also starred Paul Rudd, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, and Josh Brolin, among others. Paying a cast that famous is bound to add up. Oh, and Robert Downey Jr.’s hefty salary, as well. 

Finally, just like Endgame, Infinity War showcased some breathtaking special effects. Who knew making superheroes come alive could be so expensive? 

When production was finally wrapped up, the best estimates put the movie’s cost at upwards of $316 million. But, like the previous two movies, Marvel more than made their money back, grossing $2 billion worldwide. 

And if those figures weren’t staggering enough, consider this: Marvel Studios spent $150 and $200 million solely on marketing for Infinity War and Endgame, respectively. 

4. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Photo by Ngo Quang Minh is licensed under CC-BY-NC

Another Pirates of the Caribbean movie? What, is this list all repeats? Well, maybe. But that’s because the priciest films match certain trends, patterns you may have noticed by now. All these movies have been star-studded, larger-than-life stories that require money to pay for the celebrities and locations to make the movies happen. 

At World’s End is no different. Johnny Depp, by this point synonymous with his character Captain Jack Sparrow, was paid another handsome sum to reprise his role. Alongside him, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, and Geoffrey Rush also raked in the cash.

Filming locations drove the costs up as well. This movie was filmed in fourteen different places. Many scenes in the movie had to be filmed at sea, which made the production costs steeper. All in all, the cost of At World’s End rang in at over $300 million, making it one of the first movies ever to break the $300 million barrier. 

The movie grossed $961 million, earning the studio its money back, then some. But it came up just short of the $1 billion mark that its predecessor, Dead Man’s Chest, pulled in. There’s another trend: these pricey movies have always earned Disney their money back. Oh, did I forget to mention that Disney was behind all the priciest movies so far? Well, it’s not like they don’t have the financial muscle to flex. 

5. Justice League

Photo by AntMan3001 is licensed under CC-BY-SA

Finally, a movie that breaks some trends. No Marvel or Disney involved in this one; DC and Warner Bros. all the way. Unfortunately, one of the other trends it broke was the high grossing figures of the previous four films. Although the $657.9 million income was enough to cover the $300 million costs, the number pales in comparison to the near- and over-one-billion-dollars numbers mentioned before. 

Sticking with its atypical nature, Justice League went through three different phases in its release to the public. Production started off normal enough until Zack Snyder had to drop out of the project for personal reasons. Snyder was initially given around $270 million to make the film, already putting it among pricy, but not the priciest, films ever. But that was just phase one.  

After Snyder’s departure, Joss Whedon took the helm as director and quickly insisted on doing things more his way, which involved many reshoots. The scenario of a director changeover is not uncommon, but the price tag attached to this transition was. Typically, reshoots cap out at $10 million. However, Whedon requested about $25 million for his reshoots, putting the costs at around $300 million, enough to land it on our list. 

But the story does not stop there. This is when phase three starts. There was such a buzz about Snyder’s version of the film that fans went online and created a tidal wave of posts, discussion boards, and internet-related requests, all under #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, that Warner Bros. finally relented and streamed it on HBO Max. But not before having to go back and finish off the rumored-to-be 90% done Snyder version. Estimates put these costs anywhere between $40 and $70 million dollars. That would be enough to propel Justice League to the top of our list, right next to On Stranger Tides. But for the sake of uniformity, we just stuck with the pre-theater costs and eschewed any streaming-related spending. One last trend to follow or break: will Justice League’s earnings finally justify its hefty price tag? We can only hope the film’s second life on HBO Max will help it do so.

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