The Most Expensive Cinematic Risk of All Time

10 Comments

avatar-movie-image-9It’s become an axiom in Hollywood today that the runaway budgets are making studios more and more risk-averse. Then again, 2009 has been a very strange year. Paramount spent $150 million on Star Trek, which not only was stigmatized as a very uncool show, but was dead in the water as a viable franchise. Warner Bros. spent $100 million turning a short children’s book into a full length film without it becoming a simple children’s story, cute yet forgettable. And now 20th Century Fox is spending what could amount to $500 million on Avatar (once you include robust marketing costs and investments from Cameron and other producers, the reported $230 million film doubles in price). The New York Times has an article about the specifics of the film.

The strange thing is that, besides the technology and the man in the director’s chair, there is very little that’s instantly bankable about the film. It’s sci-fi…with blue aliens. There are no huge stars. And it’s based on no preconceived property. The one hope is that the film will be pure spectacle.

Of course, Avatar may not be as big of a risk as it sounds. With TV deals, DVD sales, and merchandising, there are avenues of profit that may not be seen beyond a simple theatrical run. The studio is also investing in new technology, both behind the camera and in front of the audience. If Avatar mollifies audiences to being more receptive toward the 3D experience, then it will pay for itself over time.

The economics of the situation are kind of fascinating too. With increased globalization and the expectant doubling of the worldwide middle class over the next two decades, having already increased dramatically over the last few decades, there will be a focus on creating a general experience for international audiences with summer blockbuster films (G.I. Joe already went to some lengths to create an international cast with its actors). This is not necessarily new: international sales have kept pace with or exceeded US sales for decades. But the US has still represented a disproportionate part of the global return. Now 20th Century Fox is focusing on burgeoning economies like China. Screen Daily has an article about Avatar’s potential impact in the country:

Gao Jun, deputy general manager of the New Film Association, said: “It is the first time in five years that such a heavyweight Hollywood film released in the year-end season.  Its box office impact will be huge.”

Maybe they are taking a risk, but they are also playing it smart. And since it is an original property, it will most of all probably have to be a good film, which makes you realize why it’s so difficult in the first place to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at a film when the quality isn’t known until after it’s finished. It reminds you of why studios want to play it so safe.

Author: Jacob

Jacob is shy. That's why he hasn't filled out his profile page yet. Hopefully he'll read this and decide to replace it with something else. If not, he'll never know I'm making fun of him in his profile. Heh heh. - Nix
  • http://www.playavatarfree.com/ Dave

    I loved this movie. I think it will snowball into the next Star Wars. They have already sold McDonalds on paying fees to run Avatar campaigns. Even more than a marketable movie, they have done it in 3-D, a relatively unused platform which could have as big an effect as when they started doing talkies. The game is great too, not so much from a gaming point of view but for incredible graphics. The game is available for 7 day free trial at Play Avatar Free . Although it may have been the most expensive movie ever made, I don’t think the risk is all that great for the investors. There are so many different ways to make money on a good, well advertised movie.

  • http://www.playavatarfree.com Dave

    I loved this movie. I think it will snowball into the next Star Wars. They have already sold McDonalds on paying fees to run Avatar campaigns. Even more than a marketable movie, they have done it in 3-D, a relatively unused platform which could have as big an effect as when they started doing talkies. The game is great too, not so much from a gaming point of view but for incredible graphics. The game is available for 7 day free trial at Play Avatar Free . Although it may have been the most expensive movie ever made, I don’t think the risk is all that great for the investors. There are so many different ways to make money on a good, well advertised movie.

  • genny filenne

    This is an interesting way to critique a movie: via economics. And sadly, who stars. These folks make $20 million per movie (there are some economics). True this movie did cost a lot, but this does show in the product (remember Waterworld? Cost about the same)

    Cameron’s movies tend to focus on colonization, and humans being the cause of disaster – Terminator, Aliens, Titanic to name a few. Avatar is not a new concept, to Cameron, or the viewer: it is clear we colonize, and not ethically.

    Cameron also has strong female characters, which is rare and refreshing. Too many movies with the female pining for a male, or screaming for help from one.

    Avatar is an amazing work of art, yes ART. Amazing visuals with imagination and detail. The story and characters may not be original, but there is archetypal representation therein.

    I predict it will supersede Cameron’s Titanic (which I found pandering garbage). Avatar actually has a message of decent will. Indeed there is a distasteful after-school special moral of the story, which is hammered home and not subtle, at all, however, it is one I agree with. And done so beautifully.

    • Helios

      genny, I agree with most of what you said. I expect Avatar to top Titanic. I watched Titanic when i was in high school, and in hindsight it was absolutely rubbish! But kudos to Cameron for creating Pandora… I watched this in 3D and I was blown away. The plot was indeed predictable but I actually dont mind. Pandora’s world more than made up for it. and the message it leaves in the end? well yes its not subtle but its one that i feel strongly for.

      I will watch this again, and this time in IMAX… truly a very very IMAXable movie…

  • genny filenne

    This is an interesting way to critique a movie: via economics. And sadly, who stars. These folks make $20 million per movie (there are some economics). True this movie did cost a lot, but this does show in the product (remember Waterworld? Cost about the same)

    Cameron’s movies tend to focus on colonization, and humans being the cause of disaster – Terminator, Aliens, Titanic to name a few. Avatar is not a new concept, to Cameron, or the viewer: it is clear we colonize, and not ethically.

    Cameron also has strong female characters, which is rare and refreshing. Too many movies with the female pining for a male, or screaming for help from one.

    Avatar is an amazing work of art, yes ART. Amazing visuals with imagination and detail. The story and characters may not be original, but there is archetypal representation therein.

    I predict it will supersede Cameron’s Titanic (which I found pandering garbage). Avatar actually has a message of decent will. Indeed there is a distasteful after-school special moral of the story, which is hammered home and not subtle, at all, however, it is one I agree with. And done so beautifully.

    • Helios

      genny, I agree with most of what you said. I expect Avatar to top Titanic. I watched Titanic when i was in high school, and in hindsight it was absolutely rubbish! But kudos to Cameron for creating Pandora… I watched this in 3D and I was blown away. The plot was indeed predictable but I actually dont mind. Pandora’s world more than made up for it. and the message it leaves in the end? well yes its not subtle but its one that i feel strongly for.

      I will watch this again, and this time in IMAX… truly a very very IMAXable movie…

  • http://alexmaxim.ca/ Alex

    The movie is absolutely stunning. One of the best I’ve ever seen. I think of it as a cross between Star Wars and The Last Samurai and they got the story just right, not a single boring second. And it’s surely the best 3D movie out there so far. I’d watch it again and again.
    Love it.

  • http://alexmaxim.ca Alex

    The movie is absolutely stunning. One of the best I’ve ever seen. I think of it as a cross between Star Wars and The Last Samurai and they got the story just right, not a single boring second. And it’s surely the best 3D movie out there so far. I’d watch it again and again.
    Love it.

  • http://www.youtube.com/xin0 xino

    finally watched the movie.

    It is indeed stunning.
    I do think 3D Movies go well with 3D animations, it’s good on movies but not that impressive:/

    also the movie was racist, it had a hidden racism. If people were smart enough, they’ll know about the racism.

    Story was 4/10, same thing we’ve all encountered before and nothing new!
    No purpose of the human tasks!

    But 2 things I love about the movie that I feel are very important and unique:
    Bonding and Avatar.
    It’s just awesome to create your own avatar and jump into the mind and be an avatar. But not as in blue type avatar, but creating any cool looking avatar and controlling it:)
    Also Bonding, is so awesome! It’s like going into the matrix and using this special key to access anything!

  • http://www.youtube.com/xin0 xino

    finally watched the movie.

    It is indeed stunning.
    I do think 3D Movies go well with 3D animations, it’s good on movies but not that impressive:/

    also the movie was racist, it had a hidden racism. If people were smart enough, they’ll know about the racism.

    Story was 4/10, same thing we’ve all encountered before and nothing new!
    No purpose of the human tasks!

    But 2 things I love about the movie that I feel are very important and unique:
    Bonding and Avatar.
    It’s just awesome to create your own avatar and jump into the mind and be an avatar. But not as in blue type avatar, but creating any cool looking avatar and controlling it:)
    Also Bonding, is so awesome! It’s like going into the matrix and using this special key to access anything!