10 Most Expensive Movies of All Time

No adverts, trailers, or fancy introductions for this article – that’s how things end up going over budget (and word count). I’ll just note that all figures are either officially reported costs or estimates collated from various web sources. Movies are listed in order of adjusted budget (all adjusted to 2008 costs using this US inflation calculator).

Ladies and gentlemen, for your reading pleasure, here are the most expensive Hollywood movies of all time…
10. Quantum of Solace (2008)

The sequel to the Best Bond Movie Ever™ (discuss) was released last week in the UK, and as yet I haven’t had a chance to see it. The film has been fairly well-received by critics though; and exceptionally well-received at the box-office.
Cost: $230m (£145m)
Why? The usual culprits are to blame for the 22nd Bond film’s budgetary explosion (estimated to have cost almost twice as much as Casino Royale); namely, huge action set-pieces and a variety of exotic shooting locations. It’s a good job that Bond sold out to product placement a long time ago – the innumerable big brands attached to the film will have helped foot the massive marketing bill.
Less expensive than: Bond’s annual Chlamydia prescription.

9. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Director Sam Raimi sufficiently upped the ante for his first sequel to the 2002 blockbuster, with fan-favourite Doctor Octopus proving an excellent nemesis for Spidey’s second cinematic outing.
Cost:$231.6m (£143.9m)
Why? According to The Guardian’s estimated budget breakdown most of the cash went on special effects (which they put at $65m) – and they are certainly an improvement over the first film’s red and blue blur swinging about. Additionally, paying the large cast and renegotiating the licensing rights from Marvel (estimated at $30m and $20m respectively) also made a sizeable dent in Sony’s savings.
Less expensive than: Spider-Man 3…

8. King Kong (2005)

After the huge success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy Peter Jackson could have got a green-light for any project he wanted, even a remake of Showgirls starring Cher and Steven Seagal. However, in a marginally more shrewd choice, he opted to remake a classic movie which had already been remade into a flop 30 years earlier. Still, the film turned out OK. And audiences around the globe were thankfully saved from the disturbing sight of Cher and Seagal shagging in a swimming pool.
Cost: $231.9m (£144m)
Why? Jackson extended the budget by over $30m and the running time by over an hour in order to get his vision to the screen. In trying to live up to the pioneering special effects of the 1933 original Jackson squeezed in over 2,300 costly CGI shots. And though they don’t have the charm of Willis O’Brien’s much-loved stop-motion scenes, they still make for spectacular viewing.
Less expensive than: King Kong’s banana requirements.

7. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

It had a tough job living up to the first two classic instalments; but on the whole, it didn’t turn out too bad. The bad points – Arnie showing his age, the jarring casting of Nick “I resemble a robot-whooping saviour of humanity even less than I resemble Edward Furlong” Stahl, a rather cheap TV-movie feel that belies the huge budget, and an uninspiring baddie – can’t detract from the decent central plot that holds the movie together and makes for a worthy extension to the Terminator mythology. Let’s hope Terminator Salvation will capitalise on it next year.
Cost: $237.8m (£147.7m)
Why? Well, according to an alleged budget breakdown, the large proportion of the budget for what Wikipiedia describes as “the most expensive independently-produced movie in history”, predictably, went on the story and rights ($20m), visual effects ($20m) and “talent” ($34m) which presumably included Arnie’s fat paycheque – rumoured to be $30m.
Less expensive than: John Connor’s life insurance premium.

6. Waterworld (1995)

Kevin Costner as a taciturn manfish coerced into locating the planet’s last remaining dry land and evading Dennis Hopper’s pantomime-villain theatrics in a waterlogged future set after the melting of the polar icecaps. Dubbed “Fishtar” and “Kevin’s Gate” the film received a great deal of criticism over its bloated budget, but some decent, old-school action sequences and an intriguing vision of the future saved it from becoming dead in the water (see what I did there?).
Cost: $251.2m (£156m)
Why? An infamously troubled production, Waterworld’s 18-month shoot took place almost entirely on water (which is vastly more expensive than filming on dry land). The shoot was beset by a range of expensive setbacks and difficulties including cast and crew seasickness, violent storms, transportation problems and the accidental sinking, and subsequent salvaging, of a 180-ton floating set. Apparently, Costner’s £14m contract and rumoured $1,800-a-night seaside bungalow also added to the spiralling costs.
Less expensive than: Actually splicing Kevin Costner’s genes with that of a haddock (actually, someone should look into that).

5. Spider-Man 3 (2007)

A turgid piece of blockbuster entertainment, the second Spider-Man sequel fell foul of Hollywood’s Standard Superhero Sequel Success Strategy (SSSSS), which conjectures that the only way to outdo a predecessor is to add more baddies. Unfortunately, it’s a very difficult strategy to pull off because with all those larger-than-life evil characters fighting for screentime they tend to get sidelined, underwritten or lost amongst endless exposition. But whereas some of the Batman films have managed to get away with it (just), Spider-Man 3 didn’t.
Cost: $272.2m (£169.1m)
Why? More supervillains = more special effects = more money.
Less expensive than: Spider-Man 4?

4. Titanic (1997)

It may have an annoyingly trite love story plot, an annoyingly superfluous wraparound tale and an annoyingly annoying Celine Dion warbling over the end credits, but when the ship finally and inevitably hits the iceberg it’s hard not to get absorbed by the unadulterated spectacle of Hollywood’s portrayal of history’s most famous maritime disaster.
Cost: $272.6m (£169.3m)
Why? Fitting the same classic mega-budget Hollywood auteur model as Cleopatra and Heaven’s Gate, Titanic’s massive budget can be put down to James Cameron’s maniacal and uncompromising adherence to a creative vision. What this meant in practicality was that the production spent huge amounts of money on an arduous 160-day shoot featuring meticulous recreations of the doomed ship, including some of the largest and most expensive moving sets ever built, a 17-million-gallon outdoor tank in which to film the exterior ship scenes and a 5-million-gallon indoor tank in which to film the interior sinking scenes.
Less expensive than: The real Titanic - adjusted for inflation, of course.

3. Superman Returns (2006)

Another sequel on this list that doesn’t live up to its predecessors. Here’s a blockbuster which, despite having all the whizzes and bangs in the right places, ended up being rather dull. Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth are no Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder either.
Cost: $294.6m (£183m)
Why? Because that’s what happens when a film gets stuck in that notorious Hollywood netherworld known as “pre-production hell”. With a series of abandoned productions and just about half of Hollywood attached to the project at some point it’s not surprising that pre-production development costs alone have been estimated somewhere between $40m and $65m.
Less expensive than: Kryptonite

2. Cleopatra (1963)

The second most expensive movie ever made is a scrappy, over-long and over-ambitious film, riven with historical inaccuracies and pantomime performances. A commercial and critical flop, the film only generated any interest from Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s tempestuous and highly-publicised off-screen love affair. A bit like the 1960s equivalent of J-Lo and Ben Affleck’s Gigli (2003) , but with swords and sandals. And not quite as shit.
Cost: $314.6m (£195.5m)
Why? A legendary catalogue of production problems resulted in a 22-fold increase of the original $2m budget. Beset by a series of costly delays and re-shoots that were the result of many contributing factors including: lead actors leaving due to other commitments, the first director being sacked after spending $7m with no footage to show for it, the subsequent director being sacked then rehired, transferring the entire shoot from Rome to London and back to Rome again (which in turn resulted in remaking all the movie’s sets and props) as well as a life-threatening illness for the leading lady thrown in for good measure.
Less expensive than: Cleo’s daily milk delivery.

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2006)

There you have it – the most expensive movie of all time. And also one of the worst on the list. A muddled, nonsensical, suspenseless, self-indulgent, overlong, and pointless film. It looks nice though.
Cost: $316.6m (£196.7m)
Why? The biggest movie budget ever (as estimated by both Wikipedia and Box Office Mojo among others) was needed for an ambitious production of an ambitious film. The production notes reflect the movie’s huge logistical and financial scale: filming on the open ocean and in several exotic locations including St. Vincent, Dominica, the Exumas, Grand Bahama Island as well as California and Hawaii; constructing giant water tanks; designing hugely complex action scenes; and, predictably, an extensive use of CGI effects. I’m guessing they also spent a good deal of money reanimating Keith Richards’s leathery corpse and keeping it pumped full of crack.
Less expensive than: Orlando Bloom’s (ineffectual) acting lessons.

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