When you look at history, there are a lot of sad cautionary tales about films that spent way too much. Here are 13 movies that went disastrously over budget.
1) Cutthroat Island (1995)
What film was passed over by Tom Cruise, Daniel Day-Lewis, Gabriel Byrne, Keanu Reeves, Jeff Bridges, Liam Neeson, Michael Keaton, Tim Robbins, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Douglas AND Charlie Sheen before finally landing on Matthew Modine? 1995’s staggering money-toilet, Cutthroat Island, of course. While production delays caused the budget to balloon astronomically before principal photography even began, the film also featured some truly costly set pieces, including the complete demolition of a life size, functioning galleon. This, coupled with director Renny Harlin’s insistence the actors perform their own stunts, meant the production ate through miles of film stock, and even members of the crew itself — more than two-dozen crewmen left the film after its chief camera operator was fired following a dispute with Harlin.
While promoting the film, Harlin’s then-wife, Geena Davis screened footage of her own botched stunts, including her falling out a window, rolling down a roof and finally landing under a moving carriage.
Cutthroat Island additionally suffered many hilarious setbacks, including a broken pipe on set, causing raw sewage to leak into a tank the actors were supposed to swim in. Things became so dire, Renny Harlin ended up putting $US1 ($1) million of his own money on the line to keep the production afloat.
Still, the film lost $US105 ($138) million after making less than ten per cent of its budget back at the box office, and debuted at number 13, functionally bankrupting its production company, Carolco Pictures, in the fallout. To underline what an ignominious death knell this was, consider the other new releases for December 22nd, 1995: Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Sudden Death, Grumpier Old Men, Balto, Waiting to Exhale, and Tom and Huck.
2) Horror of Party Beach
Filmed back-to-back with Curse of the Living Corpse, Horror of Party Beach ended up $US20,000 ($26,263) over budget largely due to medical bills incurred by a motorcycle accident during filming, in which members of the Charter Oaks Motorcycle Club found themselves in a pile up. Police were notified — and they, too, got into an accident on the way to the shoot.
Following the incident, Director Del Tenney was strong-armed by the officials of Stamford, Connecticut to ensure he would never film there again.
Adding to things, a few headless, seaweed-encrusted costumes were hastily designed on set while waiting for designer Bob Verberkmoes to complete the bizarre, frogfish-with-hot-dogs-for-teeth creature head meant for close-up shots. These ancillary costumes worked to arguably greater effect.
Tenney was so dismayed with the final project, he decided the only chance to get distribution was to distract people from the actual film. He hired someone to wear the monster costume and hide in the men’s room when the film screened for potential distributors at 20th Century Fox. They were so delighted by the costume — and the film — they decided to buy it.
Together, both films cost $US120,000 ($157,576).
3) Super Mario Bros.
A production that was reviled by nearly everyone involved, this video-game movie had a script that was largely in flux even during filming, with writers and directors (husband/wife team Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel) mainly arguing over what sort of tone they were aiming for. The film’s chaotic shooting schedule went five weeks longer than expected, and with its dwindling funds, the production was forced to jettison its final set piece, in which Mario scales the Brooklyn Bridge, drops a “Bob-omb” down King Koopa’s throat, and kicks him to his doom before he explodes. In the finished project, the character melts into slime.
4) Bride of Frankenstein
From the first day of filming, Bride of Frankenstein was in trouble — multiple cast injuries, an uncompromising director, and the alcoholism of Dr. Frankenstein himself, Colin Clive, were only the beginning of the film’s setbacks and on-set calamities. In the words of Boris Karloff:
“The watery opening of the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, was filmed with me wearing a rubber suit under my costume to ward off chill. But air got into the suit. When I was launched into the pond, my legs flew up in the air, and I floated there like some obscene water lily while I and everyone else hooted with laughter. They finally fished me out with a boat-hook and deflated me!”
Later the day, Karloff broke his hip. Colin Clive also managed to break a leg during filming.
Director James Whale even halted production for ten days until Australian actor O.P. Heggie was available to play the hermit. The final cost was reportedly $US397,023 ($521,343) — adjusted for inflation, that’s almost $US9 ($12) million today.
The infamous production history of Jaws is legendary — the film spent over twice its projected budget to film on the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in wet cameras and salt-damaged props. Steven Spielberg and the producers also had to spend tons of money to repair damages to an uncooperative animatronic shark, and to salvage the sinking Orca with its actors still on board. The film’s screenwriter Carl Gottlieb even claims to have narrowly avoided decapitation by boat propeller during filming. Principal photography was supposed to take 55 days, but ended up spiraling into 159. Spielberg even spent $US3,000 ($3,939) of his own to shoot the scene where Hooper discovers Ben Gardner’s wide-eyed body, after Universal refused to invest any more money in the project for a reshoot.
6) Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
This film based on the video game series ended up costing $US137 ($180) million — nearly twice its $US70 ($92) million planned budget. The fully CG animated movie — at the time still fairly novel — spent a lot of money animating all 60,000 strands of its highly-publicized protagonist, Aki Ross’s, hair individually, which took a render farm of one-thousand computers to process. Aki was voiced by Ming-Na Wen, who also played Chung-li in another disastrously over budgeted video game movie, Street Fighter: The Movie. In that instance, most of the movie’s financing went toward securing Jean-Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia as leads, leaving little left over for the rest of the movie.
Disney’s crack at Rapunzel spent six years in development hell before it was finally unleashed, at a cost of $US260 ($341) million for time invested — by comparison, the more popular Frozen only came to $US150 ($197) million. There were years of retools, rewrites and a litany of directors — “Rapunzel” & “Rapunzel Unbraided” were working titles for previous versions of the film — and everyone who worked on it had to be paid in full. As a result, this Disney Princess cartoon became the second most expensive film ever at the time of its release.
8) Evan Almighty
The ill-conceived sequel to Bruce Almighty had an original budget of $US140 ($184) million. But complications with filming multiple animals, building a Biblically accurate ark in a Virginia subdivision, and coordinating the work of multiple visual effects companies bloated the budget to over $US200 ($263) million, making it the most expensive comedy of its time.
The movie ran into trouble with PETA for alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act; and some Muslim groups called for a ban due to its comedic take on religious subject matter. The film also incurred massive — and self-inflicted — costs as director Tom Shadyac pledged to off set the production’s carbon footprint by requiring the crew to ride bikes to the set, plant thousands of trees and reuse sets as building materials for Habitat for Humanity.
9) The Lone Ranger
Disney was sure the Lone Ranger would be its new blockbuster franchise, stepping in to replace the fading Pirates of the Caribbean. The studio budgeted the film as if it were Pirates 6, yet director Gore Verbinski’s vision couldn’t be realised with the projected $US215 ($282) million budget. Supernatural elements of the script, like werewolves and demons, were dropped midway through filming. Also, shooting schedules were extended due to repeated dust storms and action scenes were cut.
Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer cut their own fees. Verbinski, however, refused to budge on the need for custom-made locomotives to traverse a specially created rail line in southern New Mexico (which was ripped up immediately after filming). The meticulously detailed train scenes didn’t help reviews, and The Lone Ranger (ultimate cost: $US250 ($328) million) was a box office disaster. The locomotives did get a nice write up, though, in Trains magazine.
10) John Carter
After losing two directors (Robert Rodriquez and Jon Favreau) while in development hell, this film finally got off the ground with Pixar’s Andrew Stanton directing. Stanton reshot nearly all extant footage for this 2012 Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation starring Taylor Kitsch, which ultimately cost $US250 ($328) million — including 2,000 visual effects from four different companies. Based on Burroughs’ novel, A Princess of Mars, this film’s title was changed to John Carter of Mars to be less threatening to men, and then simply John Carter, to downplay its science-fiction angle — just in case anyone was intimidated by neighbouring planets. This may have been in response to the similarly doomed Mars Needs Mums released the year prior — another $US150 ($197) million dollar animated feature that made less than a quarter of its budget back in theatres.
Universal put up $US100 ($131) million for the fourth pairing between actor Kevin Costner and director Kevin Reynolds — whose previous “joints” included Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Rapa Nui. But the project would end up $US75 ($98) million over budget. Already an expensive endeavour, Waterworld was filmed at sea in an artificial enclosure on the Pacific Ocean, forcing production staff to commute to work via jetskis. Despite this, most of the budget was sunk into maintaining Kevin Costner’s lofty standards. The original score by Mark Isham was thrown out for being too “ethnic and bleak”, according to Costner — and Joss Whedon himself was even jetskied out to the set for seven weeks or rewrites. Costner was even endangered his own life by being tied to the masthead of a triamaran sailboat, as the ship was launched directly into an oncoming sea squall.
12) Green Lantern
What was originally conceived to be a comedy starring Jack Black and written by SNL’s Robert Smigel would eventually become an earnest adaptation of the DC Comics character, directed by Martin Campbell.
With an unlikable protagonist Hal Jordan simply falling into the gig of Green Lantern and fighting against the villainous Hector Hammond — a high school science teacher keeping himself out of the rat race of academics, knowing he has nothing major to contribute — this movie wound up being a “hard sit,” to say the least. Worst of all, Green Lantern is portrayed as a dullard, who makes guns and knives out of green mental energy. Containing an estimated 1,300 visual effects, and a perpetually CG uniform worn by Reynolds, the cost of production went up to $US200 ($263) million.
13) The Adventures of Baron Munchausen:
With a planned budget of $US23.5 ($31) million, Gilliam’s film reportedly rose to $US46.63 ($61) million — though Gilliam himself denies this. Admitting the film did indeed go over budget on the Time Bandits DVD commentary, he said the final number was “nowhere near 40 million.” On the Muchausen 20th anniversary DVD, however, producer Thomas Schuly claims the deal with Columbia was always for $US35 ($46) million, but when confronted with the tab, they were suddenly not prepared to go over $US25 ($33) million. “Everybody knew that cutting out was just a fake”. “The problem was that [former CEO] David Putnam got fired, and all these deals were oral deals.” Dawn Steel, the incoming CEO, reportedly told producers, “Whatever David Puttnam said doesn’t interest me.”
Ultimately, only 117 prints were released in the US, so the prospect of making back that profit was inexistent — and everyone who worked on the film seems to have a different story. Sarah Polley, only nine at the time of shooting, said to AICN in 2007, “it definitely left me with a few scars … It was just so dangerous. There were so many explosions going off so close to me, which is traumatic for a kid whether it’s dangerous or not. Being in freezing cold water for long periods of time and working endless hours. It was physically gruelling and unsafe.”
Which brings us back to Spectre
While it’s mere weeks from release, the 24th official James Bond film has spiraled out of control, costing MGM and Columbia pictures over $US300 ($394) million. And while we only have its theme song to judge it by — ehhh — the number boggles the mind when you consider its source material: the namesake of its villain, Franz Oberhauser, is the son of James Bond’s childhood ski instructor, Hannes Oberhauser, introduced in Ian Fleming’s story “Octopussy.” “The author of all Bond’s pain” is the son of the man who taught him how to ski.