Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful is out this Friday, in case you haven’t looked at a magazine or a television or the side of a bus recently, and while we know it’s a big-budget would-be Mouse blockbuster, attempting to replicate the astonishing (and frankly inexplicable) success of Burton’s Alice in Wonderland three years back, we still had to pick our jaws up off the floor when we got a look at its monster budget: $325 million in production and marketing costs. Yes, you read that right: 325. No extra numbers in there.
Look, there’s no question that creating flying CG monkeys and putting expressions on James Franco’s face are expensive propositions, but seriously: 325 million dollars. As big and bright and boisterous as the movie looks, that still seems way out of proportion with what anyone in their right mind should spend on a movie. But we’ve come a long way from the days when movie observers were shocked by the $44 million spent on Heaven’s Gate or $115 million on True Lies; big movies routinely cost in the hundreds of millions, by the time you pay stars, pony up for special effects, and stick ads for them on every vertical surface. But some movies cost so much, we’re not sure where the hell the money went. For example:
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End Cost: $300 million
Oz’s $325 million price tag could end up making it the most expensive movie ever made. The previous record holder is this, the third film in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, released in 2007, and while we know it costs a few bucks to buy Johnny Depp’s eyeliner and animate some pirate ghosts, why did this thing cost $300 million? Don’t they just shoot these movies on the Pirates rides at DisneyWorld? (It’s been a while since I’ve seen any of them.) One thing we can be sure of: they didn’t spend all that money buying an airtight script.
Tangled Cost: $260 million
This one is likewise puzzling — another Disney production whose cost seems way out of proportion with the product onscreen. Tangled is a nice enough throwback to the classic Disney style, an old-school effort to contrast the Pixar present. So why did it cost more than any of Pixar’s fancy, high-tech efforts? Did Snow White and Cinderella cost that kinda bread? Hand-drawn animation is presumably more expensive, but with this movie’s bloated budget and six-year production schedule, they must’ve been averaging a cell a day, followed by a caviar lunch.
Evan Almighty Cost: $175 million
Here’s studio logic at work: if you’re going to insist on making a sequel to a Jim Carrey movie without Jim Carrey, make sure you go ahead and spend a fortune while you’re at it. This 2006 sequel to Carrey’s 2003 hit Bruce Almighty shifted the focus to Steve Carell’s supporting character of Evan, who is here enlisted by Morgan Freeman’s God to build an arc. Lots of long beard and animal mating jokes ensue, as Evan Almighty reminds us what other comedy flops like 1941 and Howard the Duck suggested: expensive production values tend to smother, rather than highlight, comic situations. Director Tom Shadyac was so scarred by the film’s high-profile failure that he ended up (this is not a joke) giving away all of his possessions and dropping off the Hollywood grid for several years.
Town and Country Cost: $80 million
At least Evan had CGI and special effects to pin some of its inflated budget on; no such luck with Town and Country, an $80 million movie that consists entirely of people talking. The 2001 comedy, which nearly sunk New Line Cinema, starred Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Garry Shandling, and Warren Beatty (who hasn’t made a movie since); the high price tag was due to the film going way over schedule, with several postponements and endless reshoots after preview audiences failed to engage with its tale of aging adulterers.
How Do You Know Cost: $120 million
Then again, Town and Country’s studio got a bargain compared with Columbia Pictures, who shelled out $120 million for the 2010 rom-com How Do You Know (they apparently couldn’t afford to buy a question mark, though). Where did that money go, you might ask? Well, presumably a good chunk was carved out to pay stars Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, and Jack Nicholson. And then writer/director James L. Brooks probably got a nice check (even though his last film, Spanglish, didn’t exactly burn up the box office). Beyond that… um… I dunno, maybe they bought some really nice paintings for Nicholson’s office?
Fun with Dick and Jane Cost: $100 million
One more inexplicably expensive comedy to consider: this 2005 remake of the George Segal/Jane Fonda comedy, helmed by Galaxy Quest director Dean Parisot and written by Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller (who went on to direct Forgetting Sarah Marshall). We can probably assume that a healthy slab of the giant $100 million budget went to pay star Jim Carrey, though he was no longer the unassailable box office powerhouse he’d once been (his previous would-be blockbuster, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, had unexpectedly stalled at the box office).
The 13th Warrior Cost: $160 million
In assembling this list, we were mostly willing to give a pass to the big action blockbusters, the Spider-Mans and Dark Knights and Avatars and the like. But its genre aspirations are no reason to give a pass to John McTiernan’s 1999 misfire The 13th Warrior — because the movie is so comically dark that you can’t see any of its action scenes or production design. Seriously, for $160 mil, they couldn’t have bought a couple of damn lights?
The Postman Cost: $80 million
Expectations were high for Kevin Costner’s 1997 post-apocalyptic epic, his first directorial effort since winning the Oscar (over Scorsese and GoodFellas, grrr) back in 1991. And Warner Brothers clearly gave Costner a blank check for the picture, letting him run up an $80 million tab for a film that primarily consisted of unwashed characters milling around in a desert wasteland. What’s so pricy about that? I know they released it, but had Warner Brothers ever seen The Road Warrior?
Stealth Cost: $135 million
If you’ve never had the opportunity to do so, you do owe it to yourself to watch Rob Cohen’s Stealth sometime — purely so whenever someone complains that a movie is dumb, you can shake your head sadly and explain that no, sorry, they don’t know what a dumb movie is. Since Stealth is fronted by JV Matthew McConaughey Josh Lucas, JV Kate Beckinsale Jessica Biel, and a pre-Oscar Jamie Foxx, they clearly didn’t blow all that coin on the cast. No, Stealth’s $135 million budget was in place to pay for its mind-bogglingly terrible visual effects, the kind of aerial fighter action that Top Gun did far more convincingly on a $15 million budget back in 1986.
Cleopatra Cost: $44 million
That pricetag may not seem too extreme, but keep in mind, that’s in 1963 dollars. Adjusted for inflation, Cleopatra cost (steel yourself for this) $323 million big ones — and this was back in the days of the studio system, which (while winding down) still meant that thousands of mid-pay contract employees were on the studio payroll. Cleopatra is a handsome movie, but it’s not like you see most of that money onscreen; the cost overruns (the film was originally budgeted at $2 million) were due to the endless reshoots and production delays. As a result, Cleopatra became the only film in movie history (so far) to come in number one in the yearly box office, yet still end up in the red overall. Yikes.