Why do blockbuster movies cost so much to make?
Hollywood wasn’t always a high-rollers club. In 1913, Universal produced "Traffic In Souls" for $5,700. But as the industry expanded, so did costs.
If you’re going to make a blockbuster — you need some deep pockets. But how did we get to today’s multi-million-dollar movie budgets?
Hollywood wasn’t always a high-rollers club. In 1913, Universal produced "Traffic In Souls" for $5,700. But as the industry expanded, so did costs. In Joel Finler’s book "The Hollywood Story" he charts the rise. By 1920, a feature film cost an average of $60,000 to produce. That swelled to $375,000 by 1930. Part of the reason for rising costs was demand for high quality content, according to former TV network executive Tom Nunan.
Nunan is the former president of NBC studios and UPN, professor at UCLA school of theater, film and television and producer of Oscar-winning film "Crash."
"The American standard of filmmaking and creating content is the gold standard still around the world. So, when our budgets are going up, the money is generally going on the screen," he said.
MGM paid more than $2.7 million to make "The Wizard of Oz" in 1939 — its most expensive production at the time.
And that was more than a decade before the average cost for a feature film topped one million dollars. By the 1970s, multi-million-dollar productions were commonplace, sparked by inflation and a new group of producers and directors looking to take Hollywood to new heights.
Steven Spielberg’s "Jaws" and George Lucas' "Star Wars" cost $7 and $11 million, respectively, and set the stage for studios to push the envelope with special effects.
"Studios are having to go overboard coming up with ideas and directors and technology that will pay off to make these movie-going experiences worth the hassle of going out to movie theater," Nunan said.
And that effort is because it’s getting harder to attract viewers. Movie theater attendance is dropping, a trend which actually started before the pandemic. To win over audiences, Nunan says studios are changing the way they think about productions.
"In the 20th century, where we basically were watching movies that were character driven, that were based on movie stars and what their character was going through," he said. "And when we moved into the late 20th century, into the 21st century, the concept of the movie became the movie star. And the way that concept was executed in ways that no one could have ever imagined. The biggest change has been the introduction of the superhero tent-pole movie, where audiences expect spectacular special effects and action sequences."
More recent movies like "Spider-man 3,""Justice League," and "Avengers: Endgame" each cost hundreds of millions of dollars due to hefty checks for stars and money for special effects.
"The talent costs are the largest what we would call line item on a budget. And right below that would be on a kind of a graduated basis, special effects, visual effects, action sequences," Nunan said.
And even though some big-budget movies don’t pay off, it remains to be seen if the industry will tighten its belt.
"The only evidence we have is that movies are getting bigger and more expensive. And I don't see that going away anytime soon," Nunan continued.
Meaning that blockbuster movies could continue to have blockbuster price tags.
Source: The Verge