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Film Frenzy: Episode 6 - Why are Movies so Expensive?

We discuss the ballooning budgets of the modern movie space in the latest episode of Film Frenzy.

Audio transcription

"Hello everyone and welcome back to what I believe is the sixth episode of Film Frenzy, as per usual.
I've got my lovely colleagues Magnus and Alex here, that's above me over here, and yeah, today we're gonna be talking about movies again, as per usual, this is what we talk about in this show."

"There's been a bit of a trend as of late in regards to movie budgets. We've talked about it on various different occasions on Film Frenzy as well. What movies need to achieve to be able to break even? You know, they cost so much money to make, then there's a marketing cost on top of that, and I think that it's come back to the forefront recently because of Dune. There's been various conversations that have been about whether Dune's budget was too big in the first place, but to me, well, we'll get into it, put it that way. So let's talk a little bit about the budgets of movies. Do we think that they are, before we get into the specifics, do we think they are fundamentally too large? Yeah, there's some money laundering going on there, definitely. Someone's getting paid for it. Yeah, there's some money laundering going on there, definitely. Someone's getting paid for it. Yeah, there's some money laundering going on there, definitely. Someone's getting paid for it."

"too much or someone's putting in some money somewhere, because like you said Dune, right, and Dune has 200 million? No, it's actually made, I think it was made for 180, between 180 and 190, which by the way, since we're talking about that movie as sort of the catalyst, that is considered cheap. Yeah. And considered to be very sort of well and sort of frugally made compared to particularly some Marvel budgets, which I think prompted the conversation because I think the original comparison was how can Dune part two look the way that it does when Ant-Man Quantumania is made for around like 70, 80 million dollars more and is consistently criticized for having shoddy CGI. That I think was where a lot of people sort of went off on it because that particularly the Marvel machine has had this overall and seemingly, I think it's been sort of a tendency that's been rising throughout the past five years that their CGI work is subpar and yet they cost so much more and we're constantly being told that post-production is what actually costs the money and not as much just being on set. So it's a really weird conversation because it kind of leads back to the one central question is why? Why do they cost so much money? Yeah."

"Back to the money laundering joke. Is it because that, for instance, a Marvel film contains a lot of returning actors and each time you have actors returning their retention fees like scale at some point? I don't know. I don't know about that. I'm sure they have these contracts on for decades at a time. So why did Quantumania cost 250 million to make? That's really, I don't understand that."

"No, I don't.
Legal fees for Jonathan Majors maybe?
No, I don't understand it either because a part of me was thinking that, you know, yes, both, for example, you know, Dune and Ant-Man both had a lot of special effects, but we also know that generally speaking there's a lot of Marvel films that tend to shoot just like in a, in a, in a set in front of a green screen. That's how that they do their things a lot of the time, I guess. So, but, whereas, well, you know, with Dune, we know that they go out to the desert and do a lot of on-set filming and then accommodate it with special effects and whatnot."

"Yeah.
but the thing is is that surely that the cost would even out right you know if you're doing on-set filming it's going to cost more money to get the actors out there you know to scout the locations and do all that and then surely you're going to save money by filming on a set using a green screen but then you're going to accrue more special effects costs it's it's bizarre but either way it's something's clearly going on with the way these movies are are structured um for sure for sure but like dude had a lot of big actors like a lot of really big actors and also and also since my guess is that all of the actors this wasn't publicly verified but they were all signed on for subsequent like uh for subsequent sort of shooting gigs on the first contract because otherwise the the the budget would be markedly higher that's just the way that returning fees work but that that is why i think the original one was made for like part two is made for only a fraction more than part one and that was attributed partly you know in an interview i think with hollywood reporter to most of the production being covet 19 like regulated but that it was harder to do those kinds of things but it's it it brings me back to one of my favorite movies of all time which probably my favorite movie of all time which is mad max fury road which is made for i think 150 160 ish million yeah where almost every single thing you see on screen had to be physically manufactured and that is also taking into account that when they set off to film i think it was in australia but i could be wrong maybe it was algeria like it was somewhere remote where they could do most of the desert scene stuff that that a week or so before it rained for the first time in a couple of hundred years so the ground became all fertile again and green and they couldn't use that so they had to cancel the shoot and put everyone back in their respective countries erase the film from the calendar and then redo the shoot at a later time so the point is that it we're talking about inflation here but it's it's it's i i still find it very hard to sort of wrap my head around how even using a cgi set having these special effects studios how do you get to the 250 mil particularly like for instance of going back to ant-man and the lion king and the lion king and the lion king and the lion king and the lion king and the lion king quantumania there are big name actors in there but it's not raining down like it is in dune part two i think we can both agree that there are some central cast members which obviously are well compensated for their work but it's not like a cavalcade is it i mean so it's it it's still something and i mean this isn't the only thing like the marvels is exactly the same that was made for what 220 going on 250 if not more so how the hell is this is this like producers and direct because i also find it hard to believe that marvel films are inherently differently made than other big like hollywood blockbusters so what the is going on you know it all comes back to me with ridley scott because we you know we're pointing fingers at dune and uh and the marvel films and stuff like that but ridley still manages to to make gladiator 2 for 250 million which in what what 30 days right 50 days or something it was yeah like that one's a really unusual one to me because i can't imagine they're using really any special effects for that film like compared to dune and compared to right you know the marvel movies to me it's probably going to be like the majority of it's going to be physical right and you look at the cast for gladiator as well and you know there are a few big stars but again it's not like it's not like dune right who's who do we know is in gladiator 2 it's denzel washington pedro pedro's pascal oh well no gladiator two no that's paul it's paul mescal isn't it yeah we're both in it is pedro pascal yeah pedro pascal's in it as well well he's not he's not cheap now is he no no no he's the opposite of cheap now he's not cheap but he's not as expensive as bringing in you know timothy chalmers florence pew zendaya bringing christopher working at a retirement like yeah it's just brolin is not it's not a cheap actor as well it's bizarre i i wish that one day like you know in 10 years time we get a documentary about the making of gladiator 2 and we just go mad maybe they brought live baboons or something yeah and they had to train them to fight but ridley doesn't he doesn't always do this he's done it the past couple of times because he also did it with napoleon which also had an incredibly in like inflated production budget but for instance alien covenant was made for around i think which is also like very special effects heavy movie you know sci-fi shot like supposed to look like different planets all of that stuff and various technically advanced set i would think uh and also a pretty a very pretty movie not a particularly good one but a pretty movie nonetheless um and that was made for i think around 100 million so he even he obviously knows how to make a more limited sort of set up for even an effects heavy film so it still begs the question that over the past let's say between alien covenant and now so the past decade or so so still what happened and it kind of even though that i just said that disney probably doesn't make movies differently to anyone else it also it seems like a lot of people are pointing to indiana jones as being an example of this tendency to over budget because indiana jones is made for something like 100 million yeah it was said that um which is like that is just that is absolutely insane to even consider the fact that it could ever make that money back again even being a cinematic event unlike the world had never seen it would have to be close to like what avengers infinity war to make that money back well just as a point on that the the production budget for avatar the way of water was supposedly 250 million or around 250 million so yeah you know i think that's a the indiana jones film the production budget effectively eclipsed that which is remarkable and i mean and if you if you if you recall a lot of the early reviews for indiana jones really pinpointed shoddy cgi work in a couple of seats i don't think it mattered all that much in the final it's sort of the final but again that movie has many problems but bad effects and sort of bad like visual aesthetics isn't really one of them but it's it's hard to look at a movie like that that has cost that much to make and then not think that every single shot is just perfectly orchestrated and like brought to life which it isn't so i mean i would love more so than a documentary i would love to like just to get a fucking excel spreadsheet like who took who took what home yeah because is is this just top is this just top brass um like taking home like fatter paychecks i found that hard to believe but i don't know i i can't explain it any other way i mean he's died in on lobster morning evening i was just going to say though because it's not just the production budget that's expensive though that you have to take into account it's the way the films are marketed afterwards and we we usually throw around a number saying that we'll have much money it costs the film to be made it's it's going to cost twice as much to market it when you put them together around that or something like that especially for these big movies like you know your disney films and even your blockbusters like dude um it costs money to to create adverts and commercials and to put billboards up and all these different things so um you know like yeah so for a film like dude what 180 million or whatever the the margin they were said for production if you said that it has to sort of crack 350 million to break even with marketing on top i think that would be a fairly you know plausible estimate right my family uh works in professional cinema uh my dad's a composer and one of his friends and this is obviously sort of anecdotal evidence but he once said that for major hollywood blockbusters you have to take the production budget and then you double it to get the full budget for marketing as well and for most studio executives at least at that time you had to double that in order to get the full budget for marketing as well and for most studio executives at least at that time you had to double that in order to get the full budget for marketing so if a movie costs 200 million to make it cracks 800 million in order to be considered a success now that does not mean that it doesn't break even yeah but in order again for for sequels to be pursued for bonuses to kick in all of that stuff all of that extra gravy that means that these studios get hungry to pursue more or to sign on larger contracts with the directors or whatever but it's a double double double so that means that doom part two is is facing 800 million and it also means that indiana jones faced 1.2 billion dollars to get to that point which it was which was like a lot of and a lot of the movies that are made now for that 250 plus will have to be one of the most like lucrative movies ever made in order to be considered successes which some of them granted are way of the two avengers movies but something like justice league i i seem to recall that justice league was was initially made for close to if not exceeding 300 million dollars and it it got around 650 mil back that had to have been like a massive blow for the studio i mean that has to have been like awful they surely must have a like a margin of the of the expected sort of earnings a sign though to to streaming these days right they must look at like for indiana jones they must say you know we'll be happy if it makes 800 million because we'll accrue another 400 million from disney plus earnings or something like that you know you think that that's something that they they take into account but either way it doesn't change the fact indiana jones did not earn enough money in the cinema for its budget no one can take that away from it but it also it also makes me think about like dune part two is considered right now we're talking about it it's considered a massive success and it's considered it's considered one of those movies like you know it's considered one of those movies like you know it's considered one of those movies like that sort of reach into sort of the mainstream people are talking about it is creating buzz it is on the verge of cracking 400 million but it also has been in cinemas for a little while now like coming up on two weeks so are we confident that even a movie which has such critical buzz behind it and is so mainstreamable that it's going to double its current take i find that hard to believe as well so it also it's just people are talking about dune part two as if it's been made cheaply and that we should look to it for advice but it seems to me that the movies that are made for a hundred million have so much better chance for instance the super mario brothers movie which i believe is made for around a hundred million and it's going to double its current take i find that hard to believe as well so it's just people are talking about dune part two as if it's been made cheaply and that we should look to it for advice but it seems to me that the movies that are made for a hundred million and made 1.36 bill so the point is even at the 200 million dollar mark it just feels like that it's it's you're like it's it's it's the same as with games we have that it seems like that a lot of games don't really actually perform as greatly as the publishers intended or wanted but they're all looking to sort of to get into that sort of tiktok going viral state like power world Everyone wants to be Power World or Helldivers 2 where it all of a sudden just blows up and you have more people going to the cinema to watch something than ever before almost and then it dies down."

"So, I mean, Dune Part 2, 400 million.
I'm sure that they're expecting more, hoping for more.
I mean, it's weird with a lot of the budgets now because last year I think we saw major successes were like smaller, like Godzilla minus one being done for reportedly 15 million."

"I don't really believe it, but if I do, no one got paid to do it.
People were paid to be part of that team.
Yeah.
Was it really made for 15 million?
That's apparently the story, but whenever the director's been asked, he's been very sort of not going to comment on that."

"Like he just said, oh, I wish it was that much or which some people...
People think, oh, he wishes it was that little or, oh, he wishes he had more, which is if it's less than 15."

"But either way, I just looked up while I was...
Because obviously, you know, Ape Out is coming and I looked at the Godzilla Kong new budget, the new Empire budget, and it's apparently, again, around another 200 million bomb, which is like, you're not going to get there with Godzilla."

"I love Ape Out, but I don't think...
Well, unless, like, you really cater to...
Because the old thing...
I say the old thing, like, five years ago, it used to be cater to China because China's going to give you real money."

"It's like Dwayne Johnson in Skyscraper or whatever.
Great film.
And you see...
I watched recently the Escape...
Is it Escape Plan 3?
You know this Escape Plan with..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Yeah, yeah.
And then they did the second one.
Then they did a third one, which made, I think, 1.7 million at the box office."

"The box office budget was about 35 mil.
And it was the most, like, we're trying to...
So you have Sylvester Stallone and Dave Bautista, and they're going to save this Chinese billionaire's heiress daughter and her, like, gang who've been kidnapped and placed in just, like, what looks to be just..."

"Because the whole point of the first one is they're on a boat, right?
Yeah.
Because the second one, they're on a boat.
Either way."

"The third one, they're just somewhere that's pretty escapable.
Like, it seems like...
And they have this other Chinese guy who's with them who's, like, like a superman."

"Like, he's, like, cannot be killed.
But he also looks like he's, like, 50.
And the heiress, who is his girlfriend, is, like, 20.
So I was a bit, you know, by the end, when they were, like, kissing, I thought there was some sort of mental dynamic there."

"But, you know...
This feels like a fever dream as you're explaining this.
It just gets weirder.
It really was.
It really was."

"But anyway, I'm going to hijack your thought there, though, Alex.
Go for it.
Go for it.
Go for it.
So you were talking about cheap films."

"I wonder why we don't see cheap films made more, right?
Like, I'm looking at things like Poor Things and Anyone But You, right?
They supposedly had a budget of $35 million and $25 million, respectively.
And yet they're, you know, they're well past what they were made for."

"So I wonder why we don't see these sort of...
These budgets or these production companies take a bet on these smaller films.
Like last year's No Hard Feelings, right?
With Jennifer Lawrence."

"Comedy film.
Only made, like, $180.
But it was cheap to make.
So it makes me wonder why we don't see them taking more of a risk on these smaller budget things every so often."

"Why the box office is expected to just hit the billion mark every time.
Like, nobody has the time to go and see all these movies.
So, like, let's be, you know.
Also, a brilliant, I think, template as such is horror movies."

"Which really, sort of in a post-paranormal activity world, came up to just...
To cost maybe, like, a high budget.
Even effects-driven horror movie rarely exceed the $20 million budget.
And if you sort of hit your stride and you are marketed as being, like, people talk about how scary the movie are."

"How good the movie are.
They tend to do very well.
And no, none of them ever crack, like, $200 million in revenue.
But they don't need to."

"They obviously really don't.
Like, for instance, something like Hereditary.
Made, I think, around $90 million full sale.
And created a lot of buzz online for A24."

"So, obviously, a big success.
But it was made for $10 million.
So, you're way past.
Like, again, if we use the double-double, that's $40 million."

"And then it doubles that.
So, by all metric and all accounts.
And that movie looks more expensive than it probably was.
And the same with the Midsommar."

"The other Ari Aster flick.
But then, the funny thing is that, going back to your original thing.
Then he makes Bo is Afraid.
Which costs $35 million to make."

"So, three and a half Hereditarys went into Bo is Afraid.
And it just seems like sort of a natural end point of the Hollywood, like, thinking machine.
That in order to express or to telegraph to a potential customer.
You have to up the budget in order to, because Bo is Afraid, by the way, I don't hate that movie."

"I think Ari Aster is a very talented director.
But it doesn't, you can't see the three and a half Hereditarys on screen.
No.
You just can't."

"It gets worse as well with A24.
Because they've got that Civil War film coming out, right?
Like, next month.
Right."

"And that film looks, and if I'm right in saying, is an expensive film for A24 standards.
So, you know.
I.
I don't know whether that film is necessarily going to perform well."

"It seems to me that if it doesn't succeed the domestic box office.
It might, you know, it might struggle elsewhere around the world.
And I can see A24 facing a bit of an issue with that one.
Which makes me wonder why they decide to go for what works for them."

"And try to go big with such a weird sort of risque project as well.
Not like even.
Yeah.
Not like a surefire hit either."

"Particularly because that Garland, like the film that he made.
The film that he made before Civil War was Men.
Which was, for him even, a lower budget, small scale horror project.
Which just seemed like completely perfect for a guy like him."

"He does very well with those things.
And the other, like the last time he had a major cinematic sort of performer was Ex Machina.
Because Annihilation, as far as I remember.
It, because of a couple of different things, went to Netflix."

"Yes.
And they did it outright.
So Civil War is like a, is a massive gamble for the studio.
And a 50 million production budget."

"I mean, that means that they, they're going to have to crack that 200 million.
Which I don't think, I think that's very rare that A24 does that.
So again, it just, it seems like, it seems like that they probably know that there's a bigger risk factor.
But they just can't help themselves."

"That it's just a natural way for them to go about their business.
But I just, I'm not sure that it's the right, that's the right call.
By the way, it looks lovely.
I love Jesse Plemons."

"I think Wagner Moore is a good actor.
Yeah.
I think Kirsten Dunst is in it as well.
They're all talented individuals."

"Yeah.
But I don't think any of those three are going to drive you a box office behemoth.
No.
So I'm a little bit concerned about it."

"But again.
But aren't you guessing, like, I'm guessing that it's because it's fuel to the domestic fire that's going to push people to the cinema, isn't it?
I would just, yeah.
That this has become a likely scenario."

"Not likely, but more likely as the years have gone by.
Yeah.
I assume that it's made for the domestic market.
And if it doesn't succeed in the domestic market, which we've seen, I think we know that the box office earnings are lower than they ever have been at the moment."

"Or have been as of late, should we say.
You know, we're not seeing as many billion dollar films every year.
So I'm just assuming that this film is going to earn less than we would expect it to, say, back in 2018 anyway.
Yeah, I don't know."

"I think that there's been, back before the pandemic, films that would come out, even films that you probably wouldn't expect to come out and nearly make a billion dollars in the domestic market alone.
So I think that this film, you know, if it makes 200 million in the Americas, then I think it's done well.
But I think we're seeing the same."

"Sean Layton, former PlayStation boss, had an interesting quote on game development, which is also seeing rising costs and, let's say, a smaller market that these people that make these things would have.
Would actually like.
And he called for sort of a renaissance of the double A game.
I think very much what we are calling for here is the same for movies, which is like revive."

"Like, no, it's perfectly fine to be in that, depending on what movie it is, that 40 to 100 million dollar budget.
Because it doesn't take as much success for at least to get to the threshold where you can say, well, this was this was good.
This was success.
We can continue on from here."

"But.
It's it's the 200 million thing where it's just it's so rare that they get to to even shoot for the seven, eight, nine hundred million dollar range.
And it just it feels futile.
And so many movies that deserve so much more gets the shaft for places like going back to Mission Impossible, the Dead Reckoning one."

"I think by all accounts, by all accounts, like I don't I can't remember how much it makes.
But it's made good money.
It's because it's it's made for such a massive inflated budget that it is then considered like a failure.
Like it makes."

"I have the number.
It makes five hundred and sixty ish million.
It's just it looks good.
Half a billion dollars.
But it just doesn't work when the budget is almost three hundred million dollars."

"Then it doesn't work.
But look, I think.
Look, this is going to be an interesting year.
And I think we're going to see the box office saved come this summer when Horizon and American Saga launches."

"And with that, with that, I'm going to with that, I'm going to round out this episode of Film Frenzy just to leave you something to think about.
If you go as you prepare for the next.
Of course, you know.
Oh, yeah."

"All our hopes and prayers are on Kevin Costner's big Western epic.
So let's let's all go and see the cinemas and support Kevin Costner.
All right.
Let's help him along his way."

"It's nice that we've all got our favorite franchises.
You've got Horizon.
Magnus has Mission Impossible.
I've got Escape Plan."

"Yeah.
Yeah.
You're going to.
You're just aping out multiple for the next couple of months.
Yeah."

"Yeah.
Escape and Apes.
That's my.
Yeah, of course.
Apescape."

"Oh, my God.
Oh, maybe there'll be a movie adaptation of that.
Who knows?
But anyway, let's round this up.
We've been going for ages."

"So this has been episode six of Film Frenzy.
We'll be back next week with another one.
I don't know what we're talking about.
We had plans to do a Netflix thing this week, but we talked about movie budgets instead."

"But anyway, thanks for watching.
So I'm not going to even think about what next week's episode will be.
Either way, you can tune in next week for that.
And yeah, Magnus, Alex, once again, pleasure as always."

"And we'll see you all in the next one.
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