Peter Oberth's picture
By Peter Oberth

The death of big stars and bigger budgets

On the eve of another big budget summer which will see a slew of sure-fire blockbusters (Iron Man 3, Fast & Furious 6, Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel), sure-fire misses (G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Oblivion, World War Z, The Lone Ranger) and possible hits (After Earth, Pacific Rim, Monsters University), Shakefire takes a look into why the movie industry has been teetering on self-destruction this year and should be worried for its future should they continue on this path.

There are no more big stars, no more guaranteed blockbusters simply because who is behind the camera or in front of it.  The only way to guarantee a blockbuster now is if it is a sequel to an already hit franchise (such is the case with The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, even The Avengers and the upcoming Iron Man 3).  Gone are the days of quarter billion dollar budgets for rookie films like Jack the Giant Slayer, John Carter and Battleship.  There are now 4 proven methods; one will almost guarantee a profit another will lower the risk that studios put in while also potentially saving budding stars reputations (just ask Taylor Kitsch, star of Battleship and John Carter).  Keep in mind when viewing these numbers that a blockbuster caliber movie isn't considered a success unless it makes it's money back domestically and generally twice its budget worldwide.  The reason for this is that most movies will have individualy distributors in different markets that take different percentages, if not the entire gross and the massive marketing money is not included in the budget shown.

WHAT ISN'T WORKING: The "Crazy Money Method & A-Lister Method"
This method calls for spending big budgets on unproven vehicles and mediocre budgets on big names with little to no success.

JOHN CARTER (2012)
Budget: $250 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $73,078,100
Worldwide Gross: $282,778,100
 
Budget: $209 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $65,422,625
Worldwide Gross: $303,025,485
 
Budget: $195 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $30,956,833
Worldwide Gross: $44,656,833
*Still in theatres
 
TOTAL RECALL (2012)
Budget: $125 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $58,877,969
Worldwide Gross: $198,467,168
 
DARK SHADOWS (2012)
Budget: $150 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $79,727,149
Worldwide Gross: $239,127,149
 
Budget: $150 million
Proven Predecessors: Clash of the Titans proved nothing
Domestic Gross: $83,670,083
Worldwide Gross: $301,970,083
 
Budget: $145 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $102,418,576
Worldwide Gross: $302,718,576
 
Budget: $55 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $9,463,404
Worldwide Gross: $9,463,404
 
Budget: $45 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $12,050,299
Worldwide Gross: $31,327,294
 
WHAT IS WORKING: The "Tyler Perry Method"
Now, this is a practice that has been common overseas for decades.  This method is to produce a film with an extremely low budget in the range of $8-15 million with the intention of capturing a large portion of a certain demographic with no intention of spending the extra money just to fail overseas.  Tyler Perry has built an empire around this and I don't see him changing it any time soon.
 
Budget: $20 million
Proven Predecessors: Tyler Perry Movies
Domestic Gross: $66,653,242
Worldwide Gross: $66,653,242
 
Budget: $12 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $91,547,205
Worldwide Gross: $96,070,507
 
WHAT IS WORKING: The "Geek Method"
Sure, it would have been easy for Warner Bros. to throw $200 million at a Batman reboot but Christopher Nolan didn't need it.  He did it for $100 million.  Knowing that audiences would go in with caution, Batman wouldn't necessarily be a hit out of the gate.  Nolan took a small-ish budget, stripped the Bat down and focused on making a quality film to re-engage the audience.  He didn't try to trick fans with big CGI effects, huge stars and a crappy story.  With that first relatively low budget, he proved his franchise and earned higher budgets for the subsequent releases.  Warner Bros. hedged their bets, did it right and it paid off, same goes for their ventures into Lord of the Rings and even Harry Potter.  Lionsgate had a similar method for The Hunger Games as did Summit for the Twilight franchise.
 
Budget: $250 million
Proven Predecessors: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight
Domestic Gross: $448,139,099
Worldwide Gross: $1,081,041,287
 
THE AVENGERS (2012)/
Budget: $220 million
Domestic Gross: $623,357,910
Worldwide Gross: $1,511,757,910
 
Budget: $215 million
Proven Predecessors: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Domestic Gross: $301,451,679
Worldwide Gross: $1,001,451,679
*Still in theatres
 
SKYFALL (2012)
Budget: $200 million
Proven Predecessors: Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace
Domestic Gross: $304,295,238
Worldwide: $1,108,283,816
 
Budget: $230 million
Proven Predecessors: Original Spider-Man Trilogy
Domestic Gross: $262,030,663
Worldwide Gross: $752,216,557
 
Budget: $120 million
Proven Predecessors: The Twilight Franchise
Domestic Gross: $292,312,252
Worldwide Gross: $829,212,252
 
Budget: $175 million
Proven Predecessors: Harry Potter Franchise
Domestic Gross: $381,011,219
Worldwide Gross: $1,328,111,219
 
Budget: $78 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $408,010,692
Worldwide Gross: $686,533,290
 
Budget: $125 million
Proven Predecessors: The Hunger Games
Domestic Gross: ??
Worldwide Gross: ??
 
WHAT IS WORKING: "The Paycut Method"
Recently, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots actually took a wage cut in order to stay under the NFL salary cap.  In short, he took one for the team.  Hopefully it will be the start of a trend that will reverberate into other industries and find its way into Hollywood.  
 
A-Listers working on a lower budget, maybe with a little backend should the movie be successful.  This method would guarantee the actor doesn't just choose a paycheck, they would actually choose quality with the hope that it would make more money, thereby lining their pocket.  This method can be seen in recent movies like Looper, Flight, Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Magic Mike and Ted.
 
TED (2012)
Budget: $50 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $218,815,487
Worldwide Gross: $543,315,487
 
MAGIC MIKE (2012)
Budget: $7 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $113,721,571
Worldwide Gross: $167,221,571
 
ARGO (2012)
Budget: $44.5 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $132,975,211
Worldwide Gross: $218,175,211
 
Budget: $21 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $116,166,712
Worldwide Gross: $187,454,603
 
FLIGHT (2012)
Budget: $31 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $93,772,375
Worldwide Gross: $154,172,375
 
LOOPER (2012)
Budget: $30 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $66,486,205
Worldwide Gross: $166,521,158
 
WHAT IS WORKING: The "No star, no problem Method"
Sure Jessica Chastain is someone now but when she signed on for her two big 2013 movies, she wasn't.  She had an Oscar nomination under her belt for The Help, but that wasn't enough to boost her star power so producers got her on the cheap.  Jason Bateman is a mid-level star so he is cheap enough and Melissa McCarthy is a minor TV star, always a cheap bet.  If stars like Tom Cruise, Will Smith and even Jim Carrey don't realize that they don't bring the same profitability as they used to and start taking cuts for the better of the team, their days will undoubtedly be numbered.  Who needs them when a studio can spend much less for non A-list stars and directors and still hit it out of the park with tentpoles like The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man?  Or better yet, turn their profit over hundreds of times on filler movies like Chronicle, The Vow, Magic Mike and Identity Thief?
 
Budget: $35 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $108,870,435
Worldwide Gross: $110,529,450**
*Still in theatres
**Has not opened in most markets
 
WARM BODIES (2013)*
Budget: $35 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $62,270,039
Worldwide Gross: $89,589,359
*Still in theatres
 
MAMA (2013)*
Budget: $15 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $70,921,840
Worldwide Gross: $104,821,840
*Still in theatres
 
THE VOW (2012)
Budget: $30 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $125,014,030
Worldwide Gross: $196,114,570
 
Budget: $40 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $93,764,400
Worldwide Gross: $106,764,400
 
ACT OF VALOR (2012)
Budget: $12 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $70,012,847
Worldwide Gross: $81,272,766
 
CHRONICLE (2012)
Budget: $12 million
Proven Predecessors: NONE
Domestic Gross: $64,575,175
Worldwide Gross: $126,636,097
 
So, despite it's massive failure, Jack the Giant Slayer may have done something good.  Gone are the days of automatic $125 million budgets without a proven model.  Gone are the days of big money for big names regardless of what the film actually is.  Perhaps this will bring quality back to movies over quantity.  Perhaps...but I doubt it.

EDITOR'S NOTE:

It is now being reported that Oz, The Great and Powerful has a budget north of $300 million after all the massive advertising budgets are factored in.  Will this be another failure in Hollywood's pocket or another Alice in Wonderland-like success story for Disney?  Though the word of mouth is great, it's still tracking around $80 million.  With that kind of opening, it will almost certainly make it's budget back worldwide and, with good reviews and almost nothing competing with it before Iron Man 3 opens in May, it certainly has room to grow.  My guess is that this will be a rare exception where a big budget rookie film (no, The Wizard of Oz doesn't count as a predecessor seeing that it's over 70 years old) is a massive success but Hollywood shouldn't fool itself into thinking that this can happen more than once every few years.

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Comments

Matt Rodriguez's picture

I think Hollywood definitely needs to rethink how they budget films. As more and more films rely heavily on CGI, it's only going to become more and more expensive as the technology improves.