Making movies is expensive business. Everything’s about the cash, from paying screenwriters to creating a script, hiring a crew, getting the right equipment and of course, paying the star actors. We, however, pay the tickets for other reasons: the special effects. They are created and added to the picture, moving it from raw footage into the final finished product.
Over time, creating large detailed sets is becoming less and less problematic – although, it is getting increasingly costly. There are times when using computer generated images and green screens isn’t enough; sometimes they have to rely on building sets in meticulous detail in order to give the illusion of the movie taking place in exotic or fantastic environments and locations. That’s right, movie sets; and here’s a list with the 10 most expensive ones ever made.
10. Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix trilogy actually spent quite a lot on physical sets, especially when you consider the vast amounts of special effects and computer generated images used. A large part of the budget for the movies went on creating large and detailed sets. By far the biggest and most complex came in Matrix Reloaded. Because of the complex shoot and the need to film over a long period of time, the freeway scene could not be completed on a real road, so the crew built their own at a cost of $2.5 million.
9. Full Metal Jacket
While exact details about the cost of the various sets that were constructed for Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket have never been fully revealed, it is not much of a stretch to estimate that at least some of them were incredibly expensive. The biggest and most complex set constructed specifically for the production was the ruined Vietnamese town of Hue.
Waterworld is arguably one of the most famous movies ever made. One of the biggest expenses for the film came in the form of a multi-million dollar set that had to be built to shoot many of the scenes from. The giant atoll, with a circumference of a quarter of a mile, was created during the production and floated in the ocean off the coast of Hawaii.
Fedor Bondarchuk’s intense war drama Stalingrad released in 2013 to mixed reviews from critics. One of the most highly praised aspects of the film though, was the astonishing visuals and ultra-realistic depiction of the scenery shown throughout. It should come as no surprise then that almost one sixth of the budget of the film, something approaching $5 million, was spent on creating a huge set filled with buildings, equipment and vehicles.
6. The General
This silent black and white film was directed by and starred the legendary Buster Keaton, and despite being a comedy, had a rather large budget. Much of it went on one scene in particular, in which a train crashes through a collapsing bridge. This involved using an antique train and an actual bridge that was blown up; the set had cost $42,000 for that one scene, a figure that would translate to around $6 million today.
The biggest set included a 40-acre facility that contained two huge tanks that could contain more than 20 million gallons of water and a 90% scale replica of the starboard side of the ship. The model of the Titanic was needed for hundreds of different shots, while the tanks were necessary so that the director could film the replica in water and to allow it to sink at the end. The total cost when adjusted for inflation of this elaborate set alone exceeded $30 million.
4. Hello, Dolly!
This Barbra Streisand film was a musical that took inspiration from the Broadway show of the same name. Released in 1969, it had an overall budget, including marketing and distribution costs, of $25 million; the elaborate sets were extrordinary, with the most prominent of these was the Harmonia Gardens set at Stage 14 at Fox Studios. The extravagant construction features four different levels, including a foyer, a restaurant, a dance floor and a bar fitted with a variety of expensive fixtures: $375,000, a figure that would equate to more than $2 million in today’s money.
The silent era masterpiece Intolerance was written, directed and produced by D.W. Griffith, in 1916. The biggest individual set, and the most expensive, was the to scale model of the Great Wall of Babylon that was over 300-feet tall. While exact figures for each set have never been released, it did take up a large proportion of the overall production budget that rose to more than $45 million when adjusted for inflation.
2. Ben Hur
The 1959 version of Ben Hur is something of a masterpiece. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever made and is infamous for its hugely exciting chariot race section. Understanding that part of the film to be arguably the most important of the feature, the director and producers spent more than $1 million of the $15 budget for the film on building a huge chariot arena.
WarGames, a 1983 movie featuring an incredibly powerful supercomputer that controls the US nuclear missile silos, was a fairly low budget film. However, a significant percentage of that funding went on building one set in particular. Out of a budget of just $12 million for the entire production, as well as marketing and distribution, $1 million of it was spent on recreating the famous NORAD command center.