The cost of a modern genre blockbuster

If you were around in the 1970’s, you may recall there was a lot of anger near the close of the decade when a lot of movies were going over budget.

By today’s standards, a movie costing $30 to $40 million would be peanuts, but people were seriously outraged that a movie like The Blues Brothers could cost $30 million, or that Heaven’s Gate could cost over $40 million and actually put a studio, United Artists, out of business.

These days, movies routinely cost hundreds of millions of dollars to the point where it doesn’t register shock or surprise with anyone.

Indeed, the L.A. Times recently reported that five major summer films cost over a cool $200 million: The Avengers, Battleship, Men in Black 3, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises and if their rumored budgets are correct, they’ll cost a total of $1.1 billion.


With the recent failure of John Carter, which has basically become the Heaven’s Gate of science fiction, you wonder if another movie could actually put a studio out of business, or if another catastrophic flop would make the studios stop spending like there’s no tomorrow.


Of course, as writer Ben Fritz points out, people are getting laid off in the movie business, and there are cut-backs, but certainly not where the movies cost. Fritz also reports in the Times that this is the most expensive summer at the movies yet, costing the major studios $2.7 billion dollars for all season releases, which is a 29% jump from just two years ago.


While you’ll probably roll your eyes at a lot of garbage Hollywood is spending money on, you should always remember if it makes sense to the business people on paper, it will get the greenlight. Somehow it was presented to somebody that making a movie based on Battleship was a good business decision, and as long as the graphs, lines, charts, and sales pitch looks okay to the business affairs people, it gets made.


And this is where there will always be a disparity in Hollywood. Artists are often notoriously bad businessmen, and the beancounters in charge wouldn’t know art if they tripped over it, and couldn’t care less. The old saying in Hollywood goes, if it made money it’s a good movie, if it didn’t it’s a bad movie.


Trying to cut costs wherever you can probably won’t work because there’s tremendous competition among the major studios to have the bigger hit, and if the other guy won’t spend $200 million to deliver the goods, someone else will. Where the movie business was a in a lot of trouble during the recession, as was everything else, now the foreign market is bringing in a ton of money, probably proving an even better salvation than 3D, for now of course. 

Overspending may be a vicious cycle in Hollywood that will probably never right itself. Looking towards next summer with Star Trek 2, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, and the Superman reboot Man of Steel, the Times speculates 2013 summer movies could easily hit the $3 billion mark.