Movie making is big business, and while sometimes a studio’s investment in a blockbuster film pays off, other times it doesn’t. The following films are the most expensive movies ever made. Popular franchises and superheroes dominate the list, but there are several one-off films, that also cost big bucks to produce. Keep reading to learn which films (both hits and duds) had record-breaking budgets.
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides — $403 Million
The 2011 film cost $378.5 to make, but when accounting for inflation it’s considered the most expensive film ever made at $410 million. Scenes were shot in various locations including Hawaii, Puerto Rico, California and the United Kingdom. Ten different companies were required to execute the film’s visual effects, and 3D cameras similar to the ones from Avatar were also used during production. The film grossed over $1 billion worldwide and set records for the least amount of time it took to make $500, $600, and $700 million worldwide. On Stranger Tides is the second-most successful installment of the Pirates franchise.
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End — $347 Million
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End earned $963 million worldwide and was the highest-grossing film of 2007. The film was the second most expensive ever made, even when adjusting for inflation. It seems that some money may have gone to frivolous things, such as snacks. Actor Jack Davenport, who played Commodore James Norrington, told the Hollywood Reporter that he had a conversation with the craft services chef about the budget. Davenport recalled: “He looked me square in the eye and said ‘essentially unlimited.’ I was like ‘what does that mean?’ He was like ‘I don’t know, $2 million.’ I was like ‘For snacks?’ And he was like ‘yeah?’”
Cleopatra — $334 Million
The 1963 film Cleopatra starred Elizabeth Taylor as Queen of Egypt Cleopatra VII. The movie became famous for its over-the-top production costs. The film cost $44 million to make (or $334 million when adjusted for inflation). It earned $57.7 million at the box office in the United States (the equivalent of $451 million in 2016). Even though it was the highest-grossing film of 1963, it was a total loss at the box office due to its enormous production budget. The film got mixed reviews from critics but was nominated for nine Academy Awards. It wound up taking home four Oscars.
Titanic — $298 Million
At the time of its release in 1997, Titanic was the most expensive film ever made. James Cameron was originally given an $80 million budget, but it didn’t take long for him to realize that wouldn’t be enough. To finance the film, he dropped his upfront fee, preferring to take a cut of the film’s profits (which would prove to be a good call). Much of the production money went to building a 90-percent-scale Titanic in a large water tank. The ran over schedule and required a lot of post-production work. Fox even teamed up with Paramount to help pay for it. Cameron and the studio’s efforts paid off — Titanic wound up earning $2.18 billion worldwide.
Spider-Man 3 — $298 Million
Spider-Man 3 earned $890.9 million worldwide, making its production budget totally worth it. The film was more successful than the two predecessors in the trilogy. The first film, 2002’s Spider-Man, launched big-budget superhero films. It was so profitable that the studio had no problem injecting more money into the making of the trilogy, paying for things such as CGI, actor’s salaries, and marketing and promotion. Spider-Man 3 was the third highest-grossing film of 2007. It set a single-day record upon its Friday release ($104 million) and broke its record the following day with a $117.6 million take on Saturday.
Tangled — $286 Million
One of the reasons the animated film Tangled cost so much to make is that it was in development for about 10 years. It took film creatives that long to get the story just right. They would come up with an idea and get pretty far along before they scrapped it entirely. In addition, the studio spent money on taking cues from the film Rapunzel, which they attempted to make in 2000 but never completed. Producers also aimed to make Tangled’s characters resemble Disney’s hand-drawn past. The film earned $591 million worldwide, making a profit despite its enormous production budget.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron — $283 Million
In 2015, Avengers: Age Of Ultron became the third-highest grossing film of all time behind Avatar and Titanic. One of the big expenses was the actors’ salaries. They threatened to walk if they weren’t given what they felt was their due (which was reportedly $5 million a piece in addition to a percentage of box office profits). Production money also went towards filming in international locations, drones, and CGI. The movie killed it at the box office, grossing over $1.4 billion worldwide. It was the fourth highest-grossing film of the year. Sequels are set for release in 2018 and 2019.
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince — $279 Million
Out of all of Warner Bros.’s Harry Potter films, the Half-Blood Prince was the most expensive to make. Ironically, fans and critics liked it the least of all the films. Director David Yates reportedly did some experimental things during filming but was forced to make changes during post-production in order to keep hardcore Harry Potter fans happy. In addition, by the time the film was released in 2009, the actors were demanding larger salaries. The studio was wise to make such an investment in the franchise because Half-Blood Prince earned $934 million worldwide. It’s the eighth highest-grossing film of all time.
John Carter — $275 Million
This is a case where a movie studio’s investment definitely did not pay off. John Carter was a huge box office bomb, and its performance forced the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, Rich Ross, to resign just one month after the film was released. Numerous problems during post-production required director Andrew Stanton to re-shoot the majority of the film, causing the budget to skyrocket. And because Disney decided against making any sequels, they lost the rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.’s back catalog. The film grossed $284 million at the worldwide box office, which was not enough to pull it out of its hole.
Waterworld — $270 Million
At the time of its release in 1995, Waterworld was the most expensive film ever made. Lead actor Kevin Costner even invested $20 million of his own money to produce the movie. The film was shot off the coast of Hawaii on an enormous atoll that was specially made for the film. The floating set was 1/4-mile in circumference, and seaplanes and helicopters were used to film various scenes. Weather also played a part in production costs: three large hurricanes were responsible for destroying the set. The film grossed only $88 million domestically, and it made $264 million worldwide.
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest — $267 Million
Dead Man’s Chest, the second installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, was the highest grossing film of 2006. It made a whopping $136 million during its opening weekend, and at the time was the fastest movie to gross $1 billion at the box office worldwide (it was later beaten by Avatar in 2010). Dead Man’s Chest is the third-highest-grossing Pirates film. The film was shot back-to-back with At World’s End, the third film in the franchise. Filming took place on sets in Walt Disney Studios as well as exotic locations such as Palos Verdes, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, and The Bahamas.
Avatar — $265 Million
James Cameron spent a lot of money making Avatar using 3D technology and other special effects. Each frame of the film took 99 hours to produce, and there were 24 frames per second. Naturally, that type of CGI costs some coin. In addition, the film included a made-up language that had to be taught to over 100 actors, some of which were well known and required a good salary. Fortunately, Cameron’s efforts and staggering production cost was well worth it. Avatar became the first film to earn over $2 billion worldwide, eventually making $2.8 billion by the end of 2010.
Spider-Man 2 — $254 Million
Spider-Man 2 was originally given a budget of $200 million. It was a no brainer considering the success of 2002’s Spider-Man, which made $115 million during its opening weekend alone. Spider-Man 2 grossed $40.4 million on its first day of release, breaking a record (previously made by the first film in the franchise, which made $39.4 million on its first day of release). Spider-Man 2 was the second highest-grossing film of 2004 (behind Shrek 2) and grossed $783.7 million worldwide. No doubt a good amount of production costs went to visual effects, and the film won Oscars for both Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Editing.
King Kong — $254 Million
Director Peter Jackson initially had $150 million budget for King Kong, but he easily went over budget, largely spending money on the titular character. The 2005 film took much longer to make than expected, primarily because of the special effects required to make the 25-foot-tall gorilla look real. The film was a risk because of its three-hour running time. Films of that length are showed less often in movie theaters. During opening weekend, it made $50.1 million, and it generated $550 million worldwide. It was a decent profit but less than Universal Pictures expected. It earned an additional $100 million upon its release on DVD.
The Hobbit: The Battle Of Five Armies — $253 Million
Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy costs three times more to make than his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Originally, there were only supposed to be two Hobbit films at an estimated cost of $300 for both. Jackson then changed his mind and wanted to make it into a trilogy — more films equals more money. Much of the cost was due to visual effects, incredible costumes, and cast-member salaries. Warner Bros. also threw a lot of money into marketing and promotion. The 2014 film grossed over $956 million worldwide and was the second highest-grossing film of the year (it was beaten by Transformers: Age of Extinction).
Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice — $250 million
Batman V Superman grossed over $400 million worldwide during its Easter weekend release in 2016. Unfortunately, its box office totals dropped significantly during its second weekend, which was reported as “one of the biggest Friday-to-Friday drops any blockbuster has ever seen.” Word of mouth, apparently, wasn’t too kind (and reviews were mostly negative). The film was expensive to make for several reasons. First, executives had to pay the salaries of Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, and Jesse Eisenberg. The movie was shot in several locations across the United States, and there were tons of visual effects. Ultimately, it made $873 million worldwide.
Captain America: Civil War — $250 Million
Captain America: Civil War was the highest-grossing film of 2016, making over $1.1 billion worldwide. It is the fourth highest-grossing superhero film of all time. It’s likely that a big portion of its budget was allocated to its large, well-known cast, which included Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, and Jeremy Renner. The movie was the first to incorporate IMAX’s digital 2D cameras, which were used to film the movie’s airport fight scenes. Post-production required the use of visual effects, which was provided by almost 20 different companies. It is the final film in the Captain America trilogy.
The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian — $250 Million
Film studios want to make money at the box office, so they usually don’t invest a lot of dough unless they’re pretty confident a film will do well. Prince Caspian did moderately well, making $141 million in the United States and Canada and $278 million worldwide. The 2008 film was the second in The Chronicles of Narnia film series, following 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Disney CEO Robert Iger believed the film didn’t do as well at the box office as it could have because it was released between two huge hits, Iron Man and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
The Fate Of The Furious — $250 Million
Even though the film received mixed reviews, fans showed up in droves, and it grossed $1.2 billion worldwide at the box office in 2017. So far, it’s the second highest-grossing film of the year in the United States. It set a record for the highest-grossing opening weekend of all time, making $532 million worldwide (beating Star Wars: The Force Awakens). The movie is the eighth installment in The Fast and the Furious franchise. Stars include Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Charlize Theron. The ninth film in the franchise is set for release in 2019.
Ben-Hur — $56 Million
The 1925 silent film Ben-Hur cost a whopping $4 million to make, which would be approximately $56 million today. Although $56 million isn’t a huge budget for today’s films, it was an enormous amount of money during that era. MGM films at the time cost just $160,000 on average to produce. Even though the film generated $9 million in ticket sales worldwide, it was so expensive to make that MGM actually lost money making the film—specifically $698,000. The movie was based on General Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Actor Ramon Novarro played the lead character. The Library of Congress included the film in the United States National Film Registry in 1997.