What Is the Most Expensive Movie?

(Last Updated On: December 18, 2022)

Everyone kind of has this general idea that movies are pretty expensive to make, which is generally true—especially when you think about all the special effects and how rich famous actors are for about five seconds. Just as a benchmark, the average movie budget is probably somewhere between $100 and $150 million dollars. The range is pretty wide thanks to this great thing called “Hollywood accounting,” also known as “creatively accounting for expenses so studios don’t have to pay taxes.” We’ll do our best. But of all the expensive movies, what is the most expensive movie?

Hollywood Accounting Is Hard

Because Hollywood accounting is opaque by design, the answer to “what is the most expensive movie ever” is not that clear cut. Broadly thanks to Hollywood accounting we actually just don’t know where the money… changes hands. Well that’s a little untrue, since we know the money isn’t changing into the workers’ hands

Further Reading: What Is Hollywood Accounting? | The Forrest Gump Sequel

Anyway, the cost of making movies has changed over time as well. The advent of color, sound, and the television raised the cost-floor of making movies as you could probably guess. It also depends on the genre of film, horror movies are broadly considered one of the more cost-effective genres. It’s something you probably can intuit yourself, considering how often you might hear about a low-budget horror movie unexpectedly crushing the box office. You wouldn’t be surprised, then, to find that horror movie budgets have been on the decline since the 2000s. 

On average, though, movies are just getting more expensive to make. This is due in part to the rising costs of raw materials thanks to inflation. Supply chain interruptions due to the Covid-19 pandemic also aren’t helping movie costs. 

It’s not all market forces, though. Hollywood has also increasingly valued movies that are simply more expensive to make. Almost all the movies generally held to be the most expensive were released after 2000, even when adjusted for inflation. Of the top 10, seven of them were released after 2010. 

The Official Record Holder

Officially, the most expensive movie ever is Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011). Adjusted for inflation, that movie came in around $456 million in costs. Following On Stranger Tides is just… More Disney stuff. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) at $417 million, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) at $392 million, Avengers: Endgame (2019) at $377 million and Avengers: Infinity War (2018) at $351 million round out the next four entries.

You might be wondering why this stuff is so expensive. The answer is probably about as eye roll-inducing as it is obvious. It’s all marketing. When putting a movie’s budget together, it’s traditional to take half the amount the movie cost, and then add that to the budget for marketing. So if your movie before marketing is projected to cost $200 million, you’re going to slap another $100 million down just for marketing—bringing your total to $300 million. 

Right now, for the most expensive movie, there’s a big blue elephant in the room named Avatar: The Way of Water. Reportedly, that movie cost around $350 million, though it could be as high as $400 million. It does need to make like… $2 billion to even turn a profit

Speaking of profit, all of these expensive movies did end up making money. So, when you think about it, they weren’t the most expensive movies to the people who made them. After all, if they weren’t making money, the movies wouldn’t be made. So who’s the sucker that just… Lost a ton of money?

That dishonor goes to John Carter (2012). It comes in at the 12th most expensive movie adjusted for inflation—at $311 million. It ended up losing anywhere between $133 and $236 million adjusted for inflation, though. Ouch. 


See if you know your movies based on expensive memorabilia here

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.

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