- Expensive budgets in movie franchises can sometimes lead to unnecessary use of CGI, resulting in an overload of visual effects and distraction from the story.
- While some movies require big budgets for advanced technology, others could have benefited from a simpler approach with practical effects and a focus on core story elements.
- The success of a movie doesn’t solely rely on a large budget, as demonstrated by failed blockbusters that could have been improved with a better balance between modern and older techniques and more thoughtful storytelling.
In the last 20 years, movie franchises have broken records for the most expensive movies ever made, but sometimes, movies could have been improved by having a lower budget. Part of this is due to inflation, but also because new technologies have become available to the film and television industry. Moviemakers are eager to take advantage of the latest advancements, even if it means racking up millions of dollars, in addition to the expensive salaries of their leading casts.
In some cases, there is no way around an expensive budget. James Cameron’s Avatar simply could not be created without the latest cinematography equipment and Weta’s groundbreaking water CGI software, for example. Yet sometimes, viewers wish the director had taken a simpler approach. The movie is so bogged down with cloying CGI, unnecessary characters, and other bells and whistles that they think it would have been better if someone hadn’t been such a spendthrift.
10 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Budget: $185 million
Steven Spielberg and his team were clearly excited by the prospect of an Indiana Jones movie with modern CGI and developed a plot with everything from nuclear bombs to actual aliens. It is generally recognized that the nuclear bomb scene and Crystal Skull‘s aliens were a mistake. Ultimately, the movie would have been better if the writers were working within the same confines as the originals, only achievable with practical effects. The alien storyline might have even worked if they had been forced to be more subtle about it. As it is, the over-the-top aspect of a flying saucer emerging from the ruins was too much.
9 John Carter (2012)
Budget: $250 million
Disney was hoping for a successful blockbuster and lost $200 million when John Carter bombed. It is actually a straightforward story, about a man from Earth who finds himself on a distant, desert planet, in this case Mars. It should not have been a terribly expensive movie. CGI was required to create some of the Martians, but there are many other computer-generated creatures that were gratuitous. Disney was not afraid to spend the extra dollars on all the effects when they thought this was going to be a huge success. Yet they could have made a better movie if they had concentrated on the story’s core elements.
8 Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
Budget: $300 million
The beginning of the movie shows the events happening in Kansas in monochrome, with color appearing upon arrival in Oz. This was an obvious, but effective choice since this is what they did for Judy Garland’s cinematic adventure. The new take on The Wizard of Oz did not need to do away with all of its special effects, but it would have benefited from more design elements reminiscent of the classic movie. The remarkable cast and dazzling costumes were worth the money, but the movie could have struck a better balance between modern and older techniques and minimized some of the decadent sets.
7 The Haunted Mansion (2023)
Budget: $150 million
In 2003, Disney surprised everyone with an amazing movie inspired by a theme park ride, and they have been trying to recreate that success ever since. The first Haunted Mansion movie came out just months after Curse of the Black Pearl, and this year, Disney took another shot at it, without success. The movie was overloaded with tacky CGI ghosts and forced connections to the ride. It would have been a fascinating experiment to make this movie with only practical effects. The movie would still have a macabre quality, but it would not have been overpowered by the visuals, leaving the astounding cast to do their best work.
6 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
Budget: $300 million
Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer wasted time and money on characters who served no purpose. They could have streamlined the story if they had been limited by a budget, both for the cast and the days spent filming. This was always going to be an expensive film: The Oscar-winning special effects and show-stopping whirlpool battle sequence was worth the dollars for sheer spectacle. The addition of one more famous cast member could even be justified for the final film in a trilogy. However, there were a lot of irrelevant details in the story that might not have made it if they were working with less money.
5 Matilda the Musical (2022)
While a Matilda film came out in 1996, the massive success of Matilda on Broadway justified a remake following the plot of the musical. But the new movie could have learned from the previous adaptation’s simplicity. Some CGI-fueled sequences weren’t necessary and musical numbers could have been toned down, including the opening sequence. The are some amazing songs, and they should just have let the music speak for itself.
4 The Phantom Menace (1999)
Budget: $115 million
George Lucas was always limited in his vision of the Star Wars world, evidenced by the various and largely redundant additions to the originals. Yet when fans were introduced to his shiny, CGI setting in The Phantom Menace, they came away disappointed. If he had managed to find a balance between CGI and practical effects, the movie would have been fresh while maintaining an authentic quality. The unpopular pod racing sequence could have been fascinating to watch if it were achieved with nothing but models and cockpit sets, as was the scene of Luke blowing up the Death Star in A New Hope (1977).
3 Jurassic World (2015)
Budget: $150 million
Jurassic World is also a modern continuation of a classic that had far less to work with in the way of computer graphics. And while the dinosaurs were definitely sleeker in the latter installment, there were far too many of them. The Jurassic World trilogy failed because it abandoned the core premise of the original Jurassic Park, which was a meditation on the consequences of altering nature with just enough effects to highlight the presence of dinosaurs. However, with so many of them, they lost their awe. It is clear in Jurassic World that people are no longer impressed by them.
2 Les Miserables (2012)
Budget: $61 million
Compared to the big-budget action films of the past 20 years, the latest adaption of Les Miserables has a relatively small budget. No small portion of that likely went to the cast of A-listers, with Hugh Jackman being paid $5 million dollars for starring. It is understandable that they wanted to raise interest in the movie by having a cast of famous names. In some cases, this paid off, since Anne Hathaway would win Best Supporting Actress for her performance. However, it would have been interesting (and cheaper) to see some lesser-known talent in this movie.
1 The Hobbit (2012)
Budget: $250 million
Originally, Guillermo del Toro was going to direct The Hobbit, and it would have been a very different movie if Warner Bros. and Peter Jackson had gone through with this plan. Del Toro planned to make two Hobbit movies with a more whimsical tone than the epic saga they turned out to be. His vision of a simpler story would also have cost significantly less money. Remembering Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), it is impossible not to think that The Hobbit would have been gorgeous with practical effects and limited, strategic use of CGI. Instead, an army of computer orcs dominated both the visuals and the plot.