1. Cleopatra (1963)
Reported Budget: $31 million ($248 million adjusted for inflation)
One of the most notorious productions in Hollywood history, this epic
endured director changes, reshoots, and star illnesses. Adjusted for
inflation, it is still one of the most expensive movies ever made.
Imagine spending the equivalent of almost $300 million on a four-hour
2. Heaven’s Gate (1980)
Reported Budget: $44 million ($130 million adjusted for inflation)
Apparently no one could say no to Michael Cimino after The Deer Hunter
became a critical and commercial smash. The budget for his follow-up, an
ambitious Western starring Kris Kristofferson and Isabelle Huppert, kept
ballooning higher and higher, until the film essentially destroyed its
studio, United Artists. The costs were high, but the movie isn’t nearly
as bad as you’ve heard.
3. The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000)
Reported Budget: $76 million ($110 million adjusted for inflation)
With respect to Rocky and Bullwinkle fans, the series was largely
forgotten by the time Universal shelled over $110 million (at least in
2017 dollars) for an ambitious meta blend of live-action and animation
featuring Robert De Niro, Jason Alexander, and Rene Russo schticking it
up as flesh-and-blood versions of the old cartoon characters. It wasn’t
surprising when the film tank; the surprising part was that the thing
got made in the first place.
4. The Nutcracker: The Untold Story (2009)
Reported Budget: $90 million
If you were going to spend $90 million on an adaptation of The
Nutcracker would you remove the thing that everyone associates with The
Nutcracker (i.e. ballet)? Probably not, but that’s exactly what director
Andrei Konchalovsky did in this truly bizarre film, which replaced the
beloved dance sequences with a plot involving rat people who dress like
Nazis. No, seriously.
5. Cutthroat Island (1995)
Reported Budget: $98 million ($157 million adjusted for inflation)
This massive mess helped sink Carolco Pictures, which was already
teetering on the verge of collapse as this pirate adventure went into
production. The film tanked at the box office, and “won” a Guinness
world record for the biggest bomb in history. A few years later, though,
the rabid success of Pirates of the Caribbean made this movie look like
less of a crazy risk.
6. The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002)
Reported Budget: $100 million
$100 million for a weird Eddie Murphy space comedy? It happened. Fun
fact: No one on Earth has ever sat through this movie in its entirety
without passing out.
7. Battlefield Earth (2000)
Reported Budget: $103 million ($146 million adjusted for inflation)
Let’s concede that this film has nothing to do with Scientology, the
religion founded by Battlefield Earth author L. Ron Hubbard. (Everyone
involved always claimed it did not.) Putting that aside, giving the
equivalent of $150 million to John Travolta to make a movie where he
looked like THAT was just unbelievable.
8. Mars Needs Moms (2011)
Reported Budget: $150 million
Did it, though? Did Mars really need moms? Viewers didn’t think so; this
very expensive animated feature about mothers being abducted by Martians
has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the biggest flops in the
history of Disney.
9. Pan (2015)
Reported Budget: $150 million
Have you ever wondered how Peter Pan became Peter Pan? No, me neither.
Also, this was not Hugh Jackman’s best onscreen look.
10. Waterworld (1995)
Reported Budget: $172 million ($276 million adjusted for inflation)
Movies set primarily on water are notoriously expensive and prone to
out-of-control budgets. The ultimate example might be Waterworld, which
was the most expensive movie ever made to date in 1995, and featured
Kevin Costner on a oceanic quest in a post-apocalyptic future. The movie
did reasonably well in theaters, but given its cost, it was almost
impossible for it to become profitable. Universal may have slightly
overestimated America’s interest in soggy Kevin Costner.
11. Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Reported Budget: $176 million
The Wachowskis had a track record turning unknown sci-fi properties into
mega-hits. But they already had made a pair of expensive duds (Speed
Racer and Cloud Atlas) by the time Jupiter Ascending hit theaters.
Warner Bros. actually gave the siblings almost $200 million for this
movie about space werewolves and rollerblade jet shoes and cleaning
12. Tomorrowland (2015)
Reported Budget: $180 million
This is one of those movies that makes absolutely no sense on paper.
Almost $200 million on a preachy treatise on how pop sci-fi has grown
too dark and bleak? The message was well-intentioned, and made with
absolute sincerity by director Brad Bird. Maybe that was the problem.
13. Titanic (1997)
Reported Budget: $200 million
Young people who only know Titanic as an iconic ’90s romance might be
shocked to learn the movie was ridiculed throughout its production,
which was delayed as the budget balloon to a then-record $200 million.
There was no way this disaster movie with a predictable ending, with two
relatively unknown leads, could earn back its money, right? Wrong.
14. The Lone Ranger (2013)
Reported Budget: $225 million
$225 million. For Johnny Depp with a dead bird on his head. (HOT TAKE:
It was worth it. This movie is kind of awesome. Don’t @ us.)
15. Avatar (2009)
Reported Budget: $237 million
Sometimes absurdly expensive boondoggles pan out. (It helps when they’re
directed by James Cameron.) Avatar became the biggest movie in history,
replacing Cameron’s own Titanic. Now four more Avatars are headed our
16. John Carter (2012)
Reported Budget: $260 million
The Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp novel that became the basis of the costly
bomb inspired decades of pop culture, including the original Star Wars.
But Disney was so concerned about the film’s box-office prospects that
they lopped “Of Mars” off the end of the title in an attempt to ensure
women would buy tickets. It didn’t work, but we’ll always have Taylor
Kitsch in those space pants.