Breaking the Bank: Six of Hollywood’s Lost Old-School Epics
For moviegoers growing up in the last 20-30 years, big is the new normal. I’m talking about those big-budget, over-produced, effects/action-packed extravaganzas that are as expected and routine an arrival as a commuter bus, and never more so than during the summer months. Come a rise in temperatures, there’s an almost ceaseless parade of these megabuck behemoths through multiplexes starting in May and continuing until the kids go back to school, one rolling out almost every week.
Consider these May-August releases and their eye-popping price tags:
5/4: Marvel’s The Avengers — $220 million
5/11: Dark Shadows — $150 million
5/18: Battleship — $209 million
5/25: Men in Black 3 — $250 million
6/8: Prometheus — $120-130 million
7/3: The Amazing Spider-Man — $220 million
7/20: The Dark Knight Rises — $250 million
7/31: Total Recall — $200 million
8/5: The Expendables 2 — $100 million
For those of you who haven’t been keeping count, that’s a little over $1.7 billion in productions costs for just these nine flicks. And that doesn’t include money spent on marketing. Press buzz around the time of its release was that worldwide marketing expenses for MIB3 pushed the movie’s total tab to $375 million. Based on that, it’s a reasonable guess, then, that the real cost for the above nine releases is probably – and easily — somewhere over $2 billion.
What makes these gargantuas physically possible and financially affordable are technological advances in special effects, particularly CGI; and a swelling overseas audience as well as broad and deep ancillary markets.
The amount of bigness in today’s movies may be particular to the last few decades, but bigness itself goes back to the earliest days of commercial moviemaking.
D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) is not only the film which turned a nickelodeon diversion into a major form of serious entertainment, but with its sprawling, episodic story and its scenes of grand scale, screen-filling action, it also qualifies as the first epic.
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