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 11 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.
But, to win big, you gotta spend big, right? For Captain Jack Sparrow to travel to the world’s end to find the legendary fountain of youth, for young wizard Harry Potter to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort, or for Jack to paint Rose like one of his French girls, for Avatar’s long awaited sequel, producers just couldn’t make do with any less than $300 million.
So, what is the highest-budget movie in Hollywood? Conducting this list, we adjusted the costs to inflation to get the most accurate picture of not only the most expensive movies but the most expensive movies ever made as of 2022.
Here are the most expensive Hollywood movies ever made
11. Avatar (2009)
Cost of production: $237 million
Cost adjusted to inflation: $327 million
Box office: $2.847 billion
After a directorial run-up lasting 12 years, James Cameron took the risk with his digitally-created new world. Hiring WETA for special effects and using super-sleek 3D took the medium of cinema to the next level; it isn’t surprising this movie didn’t come cheap. Ninety hours went into the production of every single frame for the movie, of which there were a whopping 24 per second, creating cutting-edge CGI like never before.
Let’s not forget that creating a new language and teaching it to over 100 actors, hiring big names and fantastic, well-established scriptwriters, and producing the technology for 3D glasses added to the already huge production costs. And to think that we once hyperventilated with astonishment at the realness of Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs. But at least in Avatar’s case, it all paid off, raking in a mighty $2.847 billion at the box office.
What else could you buy for that: 21,814,543 gallons of blue body paint at $14.99 a pot.
10. Waterworld (1995)
Cost of production: $175 million
Cost adjusted to inflation: $340 million
Box office: $264.2 million
Kevin Costner lived on a trimaran in the middle of the ocean that was once Earth before all the ice caps melted, and dry land became a distant memory…Much like Hollywood blockbusters that cost less than $200 million. At the time, the Costner-starring flick of 1995 would have been at the top of the most expensive movie ever produced list.
Costner invested over $20 million of his personal funds into the film, for which shooting took place aboard a gigantic 400-foot diameter atoll. That was specifically built for production somewhere off the coast of Hawaii. Unfortunately, the spectacular 1000-ton floating set also swallowed much of the movie’s budget – given that it required aerial filming via seaplanes and helicopters. Not to mention three huge hurricanes that sank the entire set. Whoever was on the weather lookout duty at the time failed spectacularly at their job.
What else could you buy for that: 2,615,384 inflatable four-person dinghies at $130 each.
9. John Carter (2012)
Cost of production: $263.7million (+ $42.9 million on tax)
Cost adjusted to inflation: $339 million
Box office: $284.1 million
The cost of John Carter was – with no better way to say it – ridiculous. It left Disney around $200 million out of pocket, making it the company’s biggest flop. Rich Ross – the former chairman of Walt Disney Studios – resigned just a month after the movie was released. At the same time, Disney lost the rights to produce the rest of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.’s back catalog.
Furthermore, director Stanton began shooting the movie with Taylor Kitsch as the eponymous lead. But, thanks to various problems in post-production, Stanton was forced to shoot much of the movie twice – which soon made the budget spiral out of control. In fact, John Carter would’ve had to make around $600 million just to break even. It didn’t even come close.
What else could you buy for that: 19,941,176 leather loincloths at $17 a shred.
8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2015)
Cost of production: $250 million
Cost adjusted to inflation: $345 million
Box office: $934.5 million
It isn’t surprising that Warner Bros. was willing to put up as many millions as needed to bring the Harry Potter series to the big screen. What is surprising, however, is that The Half-Blood Prince was the most expensive Harry Potter sequel. First, it was the least favored film by fans and critics alike (yep, money doesn’t always make a film better). Rumor has it that director Yates initially tried some pretty experimental stuff before being forced to scale it back post-production.
Moreover, by 2009, the franchise’s stars had already become huge names in Hollywood, and their salaries reflected just that. Still, $275 million for a Harry Potter film is probably one of the safest investments Warner Bros. could have made. And the results prove it: $302 million domestically and $632 million overseas worldwide totaled $934 million at the box office.
What else could you buy for that: 9,857,143 Harry Potter magic wands at $35 each.
7. Tangled (2010)
Cost of production: $260 million
Cost adjusted to inflation: $353 million
Box office: $592.4 million
To be honest, I wouldn’t have guessed Tangled to appear on this list of the most expensive movies ever made. And here’s why – it took about ten years of multiple aborted attempts at the movie, each of which got pretty far in before they scrapped everything and started again.
First, much of the budget included redesigning versions of previously-attempted flick Rapunzel, dating back to 2000, that were never produced. Secondly, extensive research was done to develop the animation process that allowed the CGI to evoke some of the qualities of traditional hand-drawn Disney characters. Animating all of that blonde hair must’ve been quite the ordeal. Entertaining but rather forgettable Disney animation that in no way earned its colossal budget. Despite this, Tangled eventually bagged a profit when it was released, but it’s still pretty mind-boggling how much cash they spent on this one.
What else could you buy for that: 23,533,333 hair brushes for $15 each.
6. Justice League (2017)
Cost of production: $300 million
Cost adjusted to inflation: $362 million
Box office: $657.9 million
Justice League was an attempt by Warner Bros. to create their own version of The Avengers. Unfortunately, the production of the superhero genre demands a lot of cash, and for Justice League, production costs didn’t outweigh the profits, partially as its production suffered several hiccups during filming.
First of all, Zack Snyder, with the primary vision for Justice League, had to step down due to the death of his daughter, August Snyder, which meant several reshoots followed. Taken over by Joss Whedon, the color temperature had to be adjusted, leading to high post-production costs. Moreover, as the studio didn’t want to delay the production, everything had to be done at speed. Once released, box office earnings were disappointing, and reviews were poor.
The question of whether the original version would have been less costly or not remains unanswered, however, as a great deal of people were interested in Synder’s original version, Warner Bros. announced its re-release. So, some more editing and an extra $70 mil later, the improved Zack Snyder’s Justice League, also referred to as the “Snyder Cut,” was released on HBO Max in 2021, becoming 4th most watched show on the platform.
What else could you buy for that: 11,312,500 Superman Costumes for $32 each
5. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Cost of production: $258 million
Cost adjusted to inflation: $368 million
Box office: $894.9 million
When the original Spider-Man movie was released in 2002, it cost “only” $139 million to produce. After which, they just started throwing money at the franchise…with its third sequel Spiderman 3, costing nearly double that. Unfortunately, making expensive flagship superhero sequels is no small or simple feat. Production for the movie dragged on into late summer, whereas it had been scheduled to conclude in June. On top of that, there were the considerable CGI costs, web-slinging set pieces, A-lister salaries, and – of course – marketing and promotion expenses.
Spidey 2 had difficulty convincing fans that an aging superhero was still living in a single bedsit, popping round to his Aunt May’s house for some home-cooking before climbing into the old red-blue Spandex. After which, the studio presumably didn’t have much choice on the whopping marketing budget. And unfortunately, despite the allocation of over $250 million at the time, the critical reception just didn’t pay off.
What else could you buy for that: 3,680,000 bungee jumps at $100 a go.
4. Titanic (1997)
Cost of production: $200 million
Cost adjusted to inflation: $369 million
Box office: $2.202 billion
The cost to construct the Titanic set was somewhere between $120 to $150 million alone (in 1997 dollars), adding the $40 million for visual effects. You might feel ripped off for that amount of money with anything less than the “ship of dreams.”
First of all, remember that grand staircase scene, where the water comes crashing in as Rose and Jack try to escape? It only had one shot. Because the set and furnishings were hugely expensive to produce, there was no room for error. Then, there were the convincing special effects – in one shot, we saw the ship from bow to stern, with flags flying and smoke coiling from its stacks. On the deck were hundreds of passengers strolling, children running, servants serving, and so on.
And it paid off. The Titanic movie was monumental. It made its colossal production costs part of its marketing campaign, promoting the rich value of the movie like none other. As a result, Titanic went down swimmingly at the box office (pun intended), and is one of the
What else could you buy for that: 8,200,000 life jackets at $45 each.
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015); Avengers: Endgame (2019); Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Cost of production: $365 million
Cost adjusted to inflation: $456 million
Box office: $1.403 billion
The American superhero film Avengers, based on the Marvel Comics by
The costs of Age Of Ultron ballooned after the cast threatened to quit if their contractual demands (read: money) weren’t met. So, if they wanted all the big names back on board for the Avengers sequel, Marvel had some serious work to do. All starring A-listers were reportedly looking for at least $5 million on the table and a cut of the post-release profits.
On top, there were the far-flung international locations, drone cameras, and the CGI to make the titular villain with all the nuances that Whedon wanted to capture. Everyone knows that increased CGI is never a substitute for clean writing. But, given that Age Of Ultron brought in almost $1.3 billion at the worldwide box office,
What else could you buy for that: 456,000 drone cameras at $1000 each.
2. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011); Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
Cost of production: $379 million
Cost adjusted to inflation: $499 million
Cost of production: $1.046 billion
Pirates of the Caribbean film series tops the list of the most expensive Hollywood movies ever produced. Despite the very agreeable box office returns, its fourth sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), was no cheap date. Its second sequel, directed by Gore Verbinski, Dead Man’s Chest (2006), and the third film, At World’s End (2007), cost an estimated $225 million and $300 million, respectively. On Stranger Tides landed a slot as the most expensive long shot and the highest-budget movie in Hollywood – with Jack Sparrow and Barbossa’s quest costing nearly $400 million.
Regardless of the considerable production costs (and Depp’s Estimated $55 million payout…), the box office-busting franchise has been an extraordinary cash cow, pulling in more than $4.5 billion. And since the first time we saw Johnny Depp parading around with beaded dreads in 2003, the Disney execs have been wading around in gold up to their armpits. So let’s see what happens with its sixth,
What else could you buy for that amount: 31,187,500 Kohl eye pencils at $16 a pop.
1. Avatar: The Way of Water (2023)
Cost of production: $460 million
Cost adjusted to inflation: $520 million
Box office: $1.9 billion (running)
All hail James Cameron. With the long awaited sequel Avatar 2: The Way of Water, the Hollywood director now has 3 of some of the most expensive movies ever made. And another thing is certain, he definitely knows how to deliver a great product capable of earning back an extraordinary amount of money. Forget breaking even, Cameron’s new movie hasn’t even been released in China yet and with a theatrical release set in the first part of 2023, a worldwide gross close to $2 billion is within reach.
Topping the list as the highest budget movie and one of the highest grossing movies of all time doesn’t come with its fair share of subjective criticisms. With a storyline created as a continuation of the first movie and with the idea in mind for a 3rd and 4th sequel, and its XXL duration, Avatar 2: The Way of Water is being labelled as “without a beginning nor an end”. However, the movie is a joy to behold, thanks to visual effects that have never been so special and technically advanced.