The true cost of movie-making

Among many frequent questions, most film-related FAQs revolve around “how to make a movie” and “how expensive is it to make one?”. And yet, there’s no definite answer to either conundrum.

It’s like asking the average cost for making a meal, which depends on many factors, like who’s making the meal, where the meal is being made, what type of meal you’re making, etc. And so is the case with a movie.

The movie industry is a huge machine and its box office has made a revenue record of $42.5 billion last year. However, this huge amount doesn’t apply to every movie; neither do they all are money makers. To tell the truth, many movies often end up being a flop. Thousands of movies are made each year, but only a few expensive ones become feature films.

On the other hand, if you’re curiously searching to know how to make a movie, you can start with a low budget too. Though, the average expense to produce a good movie is around $100 million ($65million for production and $35 million often requires for marketing and distribution). Still, there are some blockbuster movies, like Napoleon Dynamite, Paranormal Activity, and Super-Size Me, that cost below half a million.

 Big Movie Budgets

The mega movies you see now often have a mega-budget. James Cameron’s Avatar is a prime example of a mega movie with a massive budget of over $236 million. And so, this high cost paid off quite well for them as the movie grossed more than $2 billion worldwide. But there are many other movies too that were not really mega-budget. In fact, they were well below the average movie budget. For instance, The Return of the King made around a billion-dollar globally, while it cost just above $100 million. The same is the case for Shrek 2, which costs even less ($70 million) but made nearly $900 million globally.

Another example of a high-budget movie is the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The feature film holds the record of being the most expensive film with a massive budget of $378.5 million while grossing over a billion-dollar worldwide.

But not every high budget movie is a hit movie. There are tons of examples of expensive movies that couldn’t justify their expense. The Adventures of Pluto Nash is one of them. This film had a budget of nearly $100 million, but could only manage to generate $7 million in return. Another example of such a movie is How Do You Know. This film cost over $120 million, while its return was just over $50 million.

So, whether a movie is a hit or flop, it all comes to the question: “How to make a movie and why does it cost so much?”

Expensive magic potions in making a movie

While making a movie, you must break down the cost into the following categories:

  • Script: The script is a blueprint of the movie. Like any physical construction, if the template fails, the building will collapse sooner or later. The script is highly important in making a movie hit or flop. And so, it eats up around 5% of the budget.
  • Licensing and salaries: This includes the salaries of the director, the producer, the famous stars, and the whole crew.
  • Production costs: The production costs can take 25% of your total budget easily. This major chunk is behind the whole production and ongoing salaries of the team needed to produce the movie.
  • Special effects and music composing: Depending on the movie genre, special effects can take a huge chunk of the budget. Plus, music must be composed according to the scene and should be performed well.
  • Marketing: The most important part of how to make a movie as well as an expensive magic potion that it requires is its marketing. With all the huge investments of more than a hundred million dollars, you don’t want it to go unheard. Thus, either almost 35% of the budget goes to marketing, or an additional budget is assigned to market your new movie.

Expense relation with movie genre

By analyzing the data provided by IMDb and Statista, some genres cost more on average while others cost less. On average, the most expensive genre of movies is adventure films having a budget of around $76 million. Other costly genres consist of sci-fi, animation and fantasy movies, having an average budget of around $60 million. On the other hand, genres such as music-based, horror, and romantic have a very median budget of less than $10 million.

Wrapping up

Despite such a huge amount of investments and greater risk for losses, the movies are coming. There’s a reason though. One hit can make fortunes while a loss can be depressing too. Plus, the average price for buying a movie ticket in the US is shooting up to around $9.11. Still, we all line-up for it, enjoying the movie with popcorn and drinks. So if you know how to make a movie and know how to add all these expensive magic potions (probably by winning a multi-million lottery), you can make a good career too.