One of the most expensive industries in the world, the movie biz has been steadily increasing its income as well as its production costs to keep up with the new tech and content demands of viewers and filmmakers alike. Due to this, most of the movies on this list are from the past few years. With big-budget Hollywood movie companies like Disney, Amazon, and Universal buying up and utilizing all the smaller names in film, it’s easy to see how the movies on this list got here–most notably all the movies owned by Disney.
To clarify: the movies on this list are all movies that are finished and released to the public, not including films that aren’t. The numbers in this article reflect the costs of filming, not including costs such as promotions, advertisements, commercials, posters, etc. Since most production companies do not release actual production costs, this data has been estimated–more than likely underestimated–by movie industry professionals and writers tasked with doing so.
12. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
In a three-way tie for 10th on this list, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is by far the most impressive as the oldest by 4 years. Unfortunately, the returns on that investment didn’t go quite as planned as the $300 million movie grossed just $309 million in domestic box offices. As the third installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, the quality was a bit lacking from the previous two and shows in financial records as well as reviews.
11. Justice League (2017)
DC’s response to the wildly successful Marvel movie franchise, Justice League shoots for the stars with their first ensemble cast film. Not well received by audiences and critics alike, the huge $300 million budget returned a lifetime domestic gross of $229 million: ultimately a box-office failure. This prompted the Zack Snyder cut to be released years later, which only somewhat increased overall revenue but still cost the studio millions.
Read our review of Justice League.
10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
The last movie tied for 10th on this list, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the first of the new Star Wars trilogy movies to be mentioned. Grossing an impressive $620 million at the domestic box office, this addition to the canon had a lot to offer general audiences. As it is still the lowest budget out of the three, the visual effects in the movie are still extremely entertaining and exciting to behold.
Read our review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
9. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The first of the big-time ensemble cast Marvel movies on this list, Avengers: Infinity War was and continues to be a smashing success in the new era of superhero movies. While the market is definitely over-saturated and overdone, this particular sequel will likely go down in history as one of the best, most action-packed superhero movies of all time. Raking in almost double its budget from its gross domestic box office earnings, the cost and the effort was most certainly worth it.
Read our review of Avengers: Infinity War.
8. Fast X (2023)
In the 10th installment of this absolutely over-the-top film franchise, Fast X carries on the 22-year tradition with glorious, shameless gusto. Undoubtedly boosted by its international following after all these years, the film barely surpasses its giant budget, only earning $146 million domestically. Despite this, Fast X is part of a super film franchise chock-full of recognizable names and faces that has shown zero signs of slowing. Who knows how many more Fast and Furious movies there will be.
Read our review of Fast X.
7. Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)
The highly-anticipated sequel to the visual masterpiece that preceded it, Avatar: The Way of Water is surprisingly low on this list due to the amount of special effects and CGI it required. With James Cameron’s revolutionary camera technology developed by him and his company, this is the first of many sequels to come that will break budget and box office records for years to come. As it stands, Avatar is third highest grossing movie of all time.
Read our review of Avatar: The Way of Water.
6. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
One of the most impressive cost/income spreads on this list is Avengers: Endgame: the incredibly successful final installment to the Avengers ensemble cast films. Due to the rippling success from Avengers: Infinity War, the Avengers’ creative team for this film had few financial concerns. Showing returns of $858 million in domestic box offices, any and every cost for this film was well worth it.
Read our review of Avengers: Endgame.
5. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Higher on this list than one might expect: Avengers: Age of Ultron places with the highest budget of all the Avengers ensemble films. Though it was not as successful as the following two installments, the cost of CGI and added visual effects can be clearly seen in the third act of the film.
Read our review of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
One of the less-successful contributions to the film franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides continues the saga but ultimately falls short of its financial goal. Costing $379 million and returning $241 million domestic, it seems that Johnny Depp was the only one to gain from this considering he made $55 million for this role and $265 million for all 5 films combined.
Read our review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
One of the three financial Star Wars giants on this list, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker didn’t perform quite as well as the studio must have expected. As the third and final installment of the new Star Wars trilogy, expectations from audiences were high and pressure on the studio was even higher. Overall, the film performed well but just barely gained a net profit.
Read our review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
2. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
One of the more ridiculous films on this list, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is what happens when a huge CGI budget is handed to dino-nerds: two hours of big explosions, big dinos, and a paper-thin plot. While the visual effects and CGI were all on point for this film, the lackluster writing appeared to be an afterthought for the studio. Thankfully, audiences will always want to watch more dino action, so the Jurassic Park film franchise retains a promising future.
Read our review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
With the highest budget and highest domestic box office earnings on this list, Star Wars: The Force Awakens steals the show and deepens the already crater-deep pockets of Lucasfilm i.e. Disney. As the first of the newest Star Wars trilogy, audience anticipation was extremely high. Knowing this, the studio went for the safe route and made the plot quite similar to Star Wars: A New Hope. Despite viewers seeing through this, audiences came back again and again to watch it in theaters, taking in the solid visual effects and giving the film $936 million in domestic box office earnings.
Read our review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Connor Sheppard is an Oregon-grown culture writer for IGN with previous work on The Manual. Intrigued from a young age by pop culture and movies, he has developed into an experienced critic and consumer of all things media. From his time earning a bachelor’s degree in digital communications at Oregon State University, he found a love for writing and appreciating specific actors and directors in the many films he watches.
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