Movies are big business — very big business. Every year, and particularly in the summer, studios release what are called tentpoles — movies that are expensive to make but that are expected to make a lot of money in return. And they expect them to open big, too. If tentpoles don’t do well in the opening weeks, the studios are very disappointed.
24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of the 50 most expensive movies ever made, based on production budgets. (We should note that spending doesn’t end with production — studios also invest in marketing.)
There’s a rule of thumb that a movie has to have a worldwide box office of at least twice its production budget to be profitable. Most of the movies on our list got there comfortably. And some did a whole lot better.
“Avatar,” the biggest grossing movie ever, made an incredible $2.8 billion at the box office, more than 10 times its production budget of $237 million. “Avengers: Infinity War,” the No. 1 movie on our list, had a production budget of $300 million and made almost seven times that. (For contrast, here are the movies that made the most money with the fewest dollars.)
Our list includes some movies that were regarded as duds, although they at least made more than their production budgets. These include 2012’s “John Carter,” starring Taylor Kitsch, which had a budget of $264 million and worldwide box office of $283 million. This was followed in 2013 by “The Lone Ranger,” which starred Johnny Depp. It cost $225 million and made $260 million.
In fact, there’s only one movie on our list that made less than its production budget — “Onward.” It had a strong cast, including Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, and received generally positive reviews. However, it had the misfortune to open in March 2020, just as the COVID pandemic was closing movie theaters around the world.
To determine the 50 most expensive movies ever made, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from movie business information database The Numbers on the films with the highest production budgets of all time. Supplemental data also came from IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.