Call it the summer of the redwood forest -- too many giants planted closely together. The result? Very little sunlight in between. Now, after a season of major would-be franchises falling short -- including Disney's The Lone Ranger, Universal's R.I.P.D. and Sony's After Earth and White House Down -- several industry players say the studios are debating whether to alter their summer strategies.
A source at Warner Bros., for example, says a topic at the studio's annual review meetings is "a sense of budgets creeping up." And producer Joe Roth says in his dealings with the studios, he is encountering new attempts to tighten coffers. "A year ago it was, 'You can do it for $150 million, right?' Today it's, 'You can do it for $125 million, right?' [Everyone is] trying to get it down about 20 percent," he says. ...
Of course, this $200 million budget thing has always been a wee bit nuts. Ben Hur and Spartacus cost $11-$12 million each back in '59-'60. HUGE money at the time. (And this was for huge sets, big stars, huge casts not computer generated, and all the other trimmings.)
Yet adjusted for inflation, the big budget flicks of 55 years ago would cost $99 million today. (Apparently more is going on than the CPI Calculator indicates, yes?)
So what, exactly, gives? I'd say it's exorbitant studio overhead, exorbitant star and executive salaries, and a general inability to control costs. Spielberg seems able to do it with his pictures, but everybody else seems hopeless.
The same holds true for animation. Lion King, even with all the labor-intensive, unionized work, didn't cost a fraction what animated features cost today. And then the flapdoodle about high-quality cartoons having to cost north of $100 million gets shown up for the nonsense that it is when Chris Meledandri and Illumination Entertainment came out of the ether and created Despicable Me for $69 million and Despicable Me 2 for $74 million. How the hell could that happen?
Of course, there is always the strong possibility that the high budgets hide a plethora of charges from other movies and a wide assortment of kickbacks. Or am I being too cynical?