Ever wondered what is the most expensive movie ever made? Whereas the average Hollywood film costs around $100 million to produce, the expenditures of the Top 10 most expensive movies exceeded a whopping $300 million, adjusted for inflation.
Producing a Hollywood blockbuster is not for the faint of heart – or the shallow of pocket. They can make billions at the box office, but production costs can quickly diminish profits. From Johnny Depp's rumored $55 million salary for his role in the Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides to the $40 million budget spent on special effects like computer-generated water in Titanic, it's no surprise that expenses can rapidly mount up.
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a 2011 American fantasy swashbuckler film, the fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series and a standalone sequel to At World's End (2007). It is the first film in the series not to be directed by Gore Verbinski, replaced by Rob Marshall. Jerry Bruckheimer again served as producer. In the film, which draws its plot loosely from the 1987 novel On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers, the eccentric pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is forced into a shaky alliance with Angelica (Penélope Cruz), a mysterious woman from his past, as they embark on a quest for the Fountain of Youth, confronting the infamous pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and outrunning Jack's old foe Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).
The film was produced by Walt Disney Pictures and released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It was the first film in the series to be released in the Disney Digital 3-D and IMAX 3D formats. Writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio first learned of Powers's novel On Stranger Tides during the back-to-back production of Dead Man's Chest (2006) and At World's End and considered it a good starting point for a new film in the series. Pre-production started after the end of the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike, with Depp collaborating with the writers on the story design. Principal photography lasted for 106 days between June and November 2010, with locations in Hawaii, the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico, and California. Filming employed 3D cameras similar to those used in the production of the 2009 film Avatar, and ten companies were involved with the film's visual effects. Following inflated production costs which ballooned the net budget to $379 million, the film currently ranks as the most expensive film ever made.
2. Water world
Waterworld is a 1995 American post-apocalyptic action film directed by Kevin Reynolds and co-written by Peter Rader and David Twohy. It was based on Rader's original 1986 screenplay and stars Kevin Costner, who also produced it with Charles Gordon and John Davis. It was distributed by Universal Pictures.
The setting of the film is in the distant future. The polar ice cap has completely melted, and the sea level has risen over 7,600 m (25,000 ft), covering nearly all of the land. The plot of the film centers on an otherwise nameless antihero, "The Mariner", a drifter who sails the Earth in his trimaran.
The most expensive film ever made at the time, Waterworld was released to mixed reviews from critics, who praised the futuristic setting and premise but criticized the execution including the characterization and acting performances. The film also was unable to recoup its massive budget at the box office despite being one of the highest-grossing films of 1995; however, the film did later become profitable owing to video and other post-cinema sales. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Sound at the 68th Academy Awards.
Avatar (also marketed as James Cameron's Avatar) is a 2009 American epic science fiction film directed, written, produced, and co-edited by James Cameron and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, and Sigourney Weaver. It is set in the mid-22nd century when humans are colonizing Pandora, a lush habitable moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system, in order to mine the valuable mineral unobtanium. The expansion of the mining colony threatens the continued existence of a local tribe of Navi – a humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. The film's title refers to a genetically engineered Navi body operated from the brain of a remotely located human that is used to interacting with the natives of Pandora.
Development of Avatar began in 1994 when Cameron wrote an 80-page treatment for the film. Filming was supposed to take place after the completion of Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, for a planned release in 1999; however, according to Cameron, the necessary technology was not yet available to achieve his vision of the film. Work on the language of the Navi began in 2005, and Cameron began developing the screenplay and fictional universe in early 2006. Avatar was officially budgeted at $237 million, due to a groundbreaking array of new visual effects Cameron achieved in cooperation with Weta Digital in Wellington. Other estimates put the cost between $280 million and $310 million for production and $150 million for promotion. The film made extensive use of new motion capture filming techniques and was released for traditional viewing, 3D viewing (using the RealD 3D, Dolby 3D, XpanD 3D, and IMAX 3D formats), and "4D" experiences in selected South Korean theaters.
4. John Carter
John Carter is a 2012 American science fiction action film directed by Andrew Stanton, written by Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Michael Chabon, and based on A Princess of Mars (1912), the first book in the Barsoom series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The film was produced by Jim Morris, Colin Wilson, and Lindsey Collins. John Carter stars Taylor Kitsch in the title role, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, and Willem Dafoe. The film chronicles the first interplanetary adventure of John Carter and his attempts to mediate civil unrest amongst the warring kingdoms of Barsoom.
Several attempts to adapt the Barsoom series had been made since the 1930s by various major studios and producers. Most of these efforts, however, ultimately stalled in development hell. In the late-2000s, Walt Disney Pictures began a concentrated effort to adapt Burroughs' works to film, after an abandoned venture by the studio in the 1980s. The project was driven by Stanton, who had pressed Disney to renew the screen rights from the Burroughs estate. Stanton became the new film's director in 2009. It was his live-action debut, as his previous directorial work for Disney was on the Pixar animated films Finding Nemo (2003) and WALL-E (2008). Filming began in November 2009, with principal photography underway in January 2010, wrapping seven months later in July. Michael Giacchino, who scored many Pixar films, composed the film's music. Like Pixar's Brave, the film is dedicated to the memory of Steve Jobs.
5. Thor: Love and Thunder
Thor: Love and Thunder is a 2022 American superhero film based on Marvel Comics featuring the character Thor, produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It is the sequel to Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and the 29th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film is directed by Taika Waititi, who co-wrote the script with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, and stars Chris Hemsworth as Thor alongside Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Jaimie Alexander, Waititi, Russell Crowe, and Natalie Portman. In the film, Thor attempts to find inner peace but must return to action and recruit Valkyrie (Thompson), Korg (Waititi), and Jane Foster (Portman)—who is now the Mighty Thor—to stop Gorr the God Butcher (Bale) from eliminating all gods.
Hemsworth and Waititi had discussed plans for a sequel to Ragnarok by January 2018. Love and Thunder were announced in July 2019, with Hemsworth, Waititi, and Thompson all set to return, as well as Portman who did not appear in Ragnarok. Waititi wanted to differentiate Love and Thunder from Ragnarok, seeking to make a romance film and 1980s-inspired adventure. He adapted elements from Jason Aaron's run on the Mighty Thor comic book, which sees Foster take on the mantle and powers of Thor whilst under treatment for cancer.
6. Black Panther
Black Panther is a 2018 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film was directed by Ryan Coogler, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, and it stars Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa / Black Panther alongside Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. In Black Panther, T'Challa is crowned king of Wakanda following his father's death, but he is challenged by Killmonger (Jordan), who plans to abandon the country's isolationist policies and begin a global revolution.
Wesley Snipes planned to make a Black Panther film in 1992, but the project did not come to fruition. In September 2005, Marvel Studios listed a Black Panther film as one of ten films based on Marvel characters intended to be distributed by Paramount Pictures. Mark Bailey was hired to write a script in January 2011. Black Panther was officially announced in October 2014, and Boseman made his first appearance as the character in Captain America: Civil War (2016). Cole and Coogler had joined by then, with additional casting in May. Black Panther is the first Marvel Studios film with a Black director and a predominantly Black cast. Principal photography took place from January to April 2017 at EUE/Screen Gems Studios in the Atlanta metropolitan area, and in Busan, South Korea.
Titanic is a 1997 American epic romance and disaster film directed, written, produced, and co-edited by James Cameron. Incorporating both historical and fictionalized aspects, it is based on accounts of the sinking of the RMS Titanic and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as members of different social classes who fall in love aboard the ship during its ill-fated maiden voyage. Also starring are Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Hyde, Victor Garber, and Bill Paxton.
Cameron's inspiration for the film came from his fascination with shipwrecks; he felt a love story interspersed with the human loss would be essential to convey the emotional impact of the disaster. Production began in 1995 when Cameron shot footage of the actual Titanic wreck. The modern scenes on the research vessel were shot on board the Akademik Mstislav Keldysh, which Cameron had used as a base when filming the wreck. Scale models, computer-generated imagery, and a reconstruction of the Titanic built at Baja Studios were used to re-create the sinking. The film was co-financed by Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox; the former handled distribution in North America while the latter released the film internationally. It was the most expensive film ever made at the time, with a production budget of $200 million.
Tangled is a 2010 American 3D computer-animated musical adventure fantasy comedy film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. Loosely based on the German fairy tale Rapunzel in the collection of folk tales published by the Brothers Grimm, it is the 50th Disney animated feature film. The film was directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard (in the former’s feature directorial debut), and produced by Roy Conli, with a screenplay written by Dan Fogelman. The film stars the voices of Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, and Donna Murphy. Tangled tells the story of Rapunzel, a lost young princess with magical long blonde hair who yearns to leave her secluded tower. She accepts the aid of an intruder to take her out into a world that she has never seen.
Before the film's release, its title was changed from Rapunzel to Tangled, reportedly to market the film gender-neutrally. Tangled spent six years in production at a cost that has been estimated at $260 million, which, if accurate, would make it the most expensive animated film ever made and one of the most expensive films of all time. The film employed a unique artistic style by blending together features of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and traditional animation while using non-photorealistic rendering to create the impression of a painting. Composer Alan Menken, who had worked on prior Disney animated features, returned to score Tangled and also wrote the film’s songs with Glenn Slater.
9. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is a 2007 American epic fantasy swashbuckler film directed by Gore Verbinski, the third installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series and the sequel to Dead Man's Chest (2006). It follows Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, Hector Barbossa, and the crew of the Black Pearl as they seek to rescue Captain Jack Sparrow from Davy Jones' Locker. They then prepare to fight the East India Trading Company, led by Cutler Beckett, who controls Davy Jones and plans to extinguish piracy forever.
Two sequels to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl were conceived in 2004, with Elliott and Rossio developing a story arc that would span both films. The film was shot in two shoots during 2005 and 2006, the former of which was released as Dead Man's Chest. This also marks the final film of the series to be directed by Verbinski. With a production budget of nearly US$300 million, it was, at the time of production, the most expensive film ever made.
10. The Avengers
Marvel's The Avengers (classified under the name Marvel Avengers Assemble in the United Kingdom and Ireland), or simply The Avengers, is a 2012 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the sixth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Written and directed by Joss Whedon, the film features an ensemble cast including Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner as the Avengers, alongside Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, and Samuel L. Jackson. In the film, Nick Fury and the spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, Thor, Natasha Romanoff, and Clint Barton to form a team capable of stopping Thor's brother Loki from subjugating Earth.
The film's development began when Marvel Studios received a loan from Merrill Lynch in April 2005. After the success of the film Iron Man in May 2008, Marvel announced that The Avengers would be released in July 2011 and would bring together Tony Stark (Downey), Steve Rogers (Evans), Bruce Banner (Ruffalo), and Thor (Hemsworth) from Marvel's previous films. With the signing of Johansson as Natasha Romanoff in March 2009 and Renner as Clint Barton in June 2010, the film was pushed back for a 2012 release. Whedon was brought on board in April 2010 and rewrote the original screenplay by Zak Penn. Production began in April 2011 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, before moving to Cleveland, Ohio in August and New York City in September. The film has more than 2,200 visual effects shots.