Friday, January 04, 2008

Big Grosses, Smaller Production Costs

Jeffrey Katzenberg was famous back at Disney for telling the animation staff, "Do it faster, better, and cheaper." Fine sentiment, but often hard to do. However, it appears that some studios in the year just past managed to accomplish a pretty good approximation of that philosophy...

... Twentieth Century Fox may have come in last in marketshare among the majors for the year, but Fox, along with Disney, saw strong gains in meeting specific business-plan goals and turning out consistently strong film slates ...

While other studios spent upward of $200 million on various 2007 tentpoles, Fox didn't. "The Simpsons Movie," the studio's highest-grossing 2007 title, cost $75 million to make, and grossed $183.1 million ...

...[W]hat makes Disney's 2007 slate interesting is the fact that it wasn't just the big-budget event pics that did brisk biz. "Wild Hogs," a Touchstone release, came out of nowhere to do $168.3 million domestically, while innovative princess tale "Enchanted" did $110.6 million. Family sports comedy "The Game Plan" was the hit of the fall, grossing $88.8 million ...

I've always found it amazing what movies cost, especially after factoring in the fees for above-the-line talent. A few years ago, Kenneth Branagh filmed an uncut version of Hamlet, with cameos by lots of higher-level and mid-level stars who wanted to be in it (all working for scale). Total cost: $15 million. And the sets were big and sumptuous and it didn't remotely look "cheap."

Gives you an idea of the actual costs of features once you strip out studi overhead and above-scale deals. In retrospect, I marvel at Woolie Reitherman's lament to the Disney animation story crew in 1977: "Cripes. The Rescuers cost $7 1/2 million! $7 1/2 million! We gotta find a way to rein in costs. We just can't keep spending so much money!"

Addendum:The Rescuers, over-budget though it might have been, went on to gross $48,775,599 during its domestic run. (In those far-off days, it had a weird release pattern. A few hundred prints, flipping from the eastern half of the U.S. to the western half with a "Love Bug" picture.)

The feature made as much or more overseas. So Disney got a nice return on its $7 1/2 million.


Unknown said...

To be fair, $7.5 in '77 is worth about $26 today.

Still, the economies involved in film production are incredible.

Anonymous said...

"To be fair, $7.5[million] in '77 is worth about $26 [million] today."


The initial domestic box-office gross for The Rescuer's in 1977 was $29 million (according to Box Office Mojo )

Adjusted for inflation $29 million in 1977 dollars is equal to approx. $100.6 million in 2007 dollars.

So , adjusted for inflation the "$26 million" production budget for "The Rescuer's" returned what would be equal to "$100.6 million" in today's dollars at the domestic box-office. Pretty good numbers. But of course, that leaves out the overseas box-office where The Rescuer's actually did better in 1977 than the domestic box-office .

Subsequent theatrical re-releases have "The Rescuer's" total domestic box-office gross at $71,215,869 (but the $71,215.869 cumulative number from Box Office Mojo is not necessarily adjusted for inflation , since that number is cumulative from the 1977 , 1983 , and 1989 releases ) . Someone can double-check my numbers , but I think the math more or less works out to an inflation-adjusted domestic box-office gross of between $166 - to - $190 million for "The Rescuer's" over it's theatrical release lifetime . ( starting from an adjusted-for-inflation production budget of $26 million in 1977) .

If someone could make an animated feature in 2007 for $26 million and make back an initial $100.6 million at the domestic box-office (those tricky adjusted-for-inflation Rescuer's numbers) they'd be doing pretty well , I'd say. Whether or not the old way of re-releasing the pictures theatrically will ever factor in to the game again is questionable . It's all about subsequent DVD sales and rentals now. I'm sure that "The Rescuer's" VHS and DVD sales/rentals have been solid over the long run.

Anonymous said...

I recall an article in the 70's where industry types complained it "just wasn't possible" to make a movie for less than $1 million anymore. So $7.5 million was probably a scary number.

Does anyone know what a typical movie budget was back then?

Steve Hulett said...

By way of reference, Gone With The Wind cost $4,085,790 in 1939 (per Ron Haver in David O. Selznick's Hollywwod.) At the time, it was probably the most costly film made.

But here's the thing. Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia were probably more expensive on a cost-per-minute basis.

More check-points: Ben Hur (1959 edition) cost $11.5 million. It was shot in Italy. Spartacus (1960) cost $12 million. It was mostly shot in California.

101 Dalmations (1961) cost $2.5 million, I think.

Anonymous said...

But here's the thing. Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia were probably more expensive on a cost-per-minute basis.

More check-points: Ben Hur (1959 edition) cost $11.5 million. It was shot in Italy. Spartacus (1960) cost $12 million. It was mostly shot in California.

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David said...


I know this is an old post , but I have a question that you can probably answer:

You mention that the budget on The Rescuers was $7.5 million. Do you remember what the budget was on The Fox and the Hound ? I've seen some websites list the budget of Fox and the Hound as $12 million . Does that sound right to you ?

There's a project going to document the history of Animation budgets :

Animation Budget History . The project is ongoing . (and frankly some of the information on the chart at that link is inaccurate and needs to be updated) .

The $7.5 million figure for The Rescuers sounds right , as does the $12 million figure for The Fox and the Hound , but I thought you would probably be able to confirm that figure .

Also, I've read that The Black Cauldron was made for the then unheard of sum of $25 million , but after Cauldron flopped the budget on The Great Mouse Detective came down to a more reasonable $14 million. Do those numbers also sound accurate to you ?

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