Only One 2023 Movie with a Budget Over $200 Million Has Made a Profit (So Far) This Year

With animated tale “Wish” (Disney) and Amazon’s historical epic “Napoleon” (Sony) both opening last week on November 22, we now have 13 releases in 2023 that cost $200 million or more; when “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” arrives next month, that number will hit 14. And it isn’t just the budgets they have in common: Nearly every one of these films will struggle to turn a profit.

Of all 14 titles, seven are from Disney, nine are sequels or remakes, and five are MCU or DC Comics. The notion that a film has to be expensive to compete in the marketplace is hardly new, but 2023 (aided by inflation and COVID delays) has taken this to new extremes. Of this current listing, just one has turned a profit so far this year: “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3.”

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Most of these films saw above-average theatrical results, so exhibitors received some benefit: They may represent around $2.5 billion out of a projected $9 billion for the year. For studios, this strategy isn’t working as well.

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marvel Enterprises/20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock (5883731f)Ryan ReynoldsDeadpool - 2016Director: Tim MillerMarvel Enterprises/20th Century FoxUSAScene StillScifi
“Deadpool”Marvel Enterprises/20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

As recently as 2016, “Deadpool” (Marvel, then a 20th Century Fox release) cost only $58 million. Its worldwide box office was $782 million. “Barbie” cost $135 million — hardly cheap, still well below $200 million — and its $1.44 billion box office was more than 10 times that. This year, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” cost $20 million and has grossed $272 million.

Those results aren’t unique among studio films, but they’re rare. (Dishonorable mention goes to Disney’s “Haunted Mansion,” which cost around $150 million and grossed less than $120 million worldwide.) Studios pursue movies with massive budgets because their potential lifetime profits can reach in the hundreds of millions; this is also becoming rare.

Below is a ranking of the estimated production budgets of the year’s 11 already-opened films budgeted over $200 million, their worldwide gross, and their position among all domestic openers this year. This includes a projection for “The Marvels” that the film that will turn a profit this year.

Caveats: Budget estimates are inexact and do not include marketing and other release costs, which usually account for over $100 million. Film rentals (what the studios recoup) vary, but for these titles usually take at least 50 percent, often higher. Unreported estimates of post-theatrical revenues from VOD, streaming, physical media, et al., are included in outcome assessments.

Already Released in 2023

“Fast X” (Universal)
Budget: $340 million
Worldwide gross: $714 million
Domestic rank: #17

A big drop from pre-COVID “Fast” results as expense rises. This franchise is committed being to bigger each time, but these at-best breakeven results make its future risky. Foreign was much better than domestic, but not enough.

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” (Disney)
Budget: $295 million-$300 million
Worldwide gross: $384 million
Domestic rank: #11

This represents a substantial loss — and more than any other title this year, a miscalculation of franchise interest.

THE LITTLE MERMAID, from left: Halle Bailey as Ariel, Scuttle (voice: Awkwafina), 2023. © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures /Courtesy Everett Collection
“The Little Mermaid”©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

“The Little Mermaid” (Disney)
Budget: $297 million
Worldwide gross: $570 million
Domestic rank: #6

At $100 million less, it would have done well; at $300 million, it will struggle to break even.

“Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One” (Paramount)
Budget: $291 million
Worldwide gross: $568 million
Domestic rank: #12

After years of delays, this sequel was anticipated as a guaranteed hit. Even with Tom Cruise jumping his motorcycle off a cliff, this late-franchise film drew an audience who will provide breakeven at best.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (Disney)
Budget: $250 million
Worldwide gross: $845 million
Domestic rank: #4

The movie was budgeted at over $200 million, and is the only MCU release that will make a profit this year. Disney released it in Marvel’s prime early May slot, but pre-COVID these titles often grossed over $1 billion worldwide.

“The Marvels” (Disney)
Budget: $220 million
Worldwide gross (projected): $220 million
Domestic rank (projected): #26

This one will leave a big loss as well as a big mark. Budgets are established years in advance, and Disney didn’t anticipate anything like this kind of downturn in MCU interest.

“The Flash” (Warner Bros.)
Budget: $200 million-$220 million
Worldwide gross: $271 million
Domestic rank: #20

With “The Marvels,” DC’s pre-reboot “The Flash” is no longer the year’s top big budget flop.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania” (Disney)
Budget: $200 million
Worldwide gross: $476 million
Domestic rank: #7

The Paul Rudd-starring superhero franchise has a shot at breakeven, but this early-year Marvel release served as foreshadowing for the MCU problems to come.

“Elemental” (Disney)
Budget: $200 million
Worldwide gross: $496 million
Domestic rank: #15

Pixar deserves credit for improvement: It played much better over the long term than its opening suggested. Still, it’s a breakeven title for the once-surefire animation unit.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple/Paramount)
Budget: $200 million
Worldwide gross (projected): $160 million
Domestic rank (projected): #29

Paramount handled theatrical in advance of its Apple streaming debut, where it’s meant to sustain subscribers and add new ones. How can its value be calculated, and can a massive theatrical loss make sense?

“Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” (Paramount)
Budget: $195 million-$200 million
Worldwide gross: $439 million
Domestic rank: #13

A decline for the franchise, but the budget was lower than some prior entries. Another possible breakeven.

THIS WISH – In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish,” Asha is invited to see where King Magnfico keeps all of the wishes given to him by those in his kingdom. Featuring the voices of Academy Award®-winning actress Ariana DeBose as Asha and Chris Pine as King Magnifico, the epic animated musical “Wish” hits the big screen on Nov. 22, 2023. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Just Opened

“Wish” (Disney)
Budget: $200 million
Outlook: The Disney Animation film granted the pre-Covid once lucrative Thanksgiving slot managed only $49 million worldwide initially (though many foreign dates are still ahead.) Domestically this might not reach $100 million, though substantial Christmas holdovers would help. For years, most successful cartoon features from other studios manage to attract viewers for substantially smaller budgets.

“Napoleon” (Sony/Apple)
Budget: $200 million (some estimates lower)
Outlook: Initial worldwide grosses reached nearly $80 million, above expectations. That’s not enough to suggest theatrical earnings can cover the bulk of its expense. However, like “Killers,” Apple’s goals here include elevating the pull of their streaming channel, as well as holding on to subscribers.

Still to Open

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” (Warner Bros.)
Budget: $205 million
Outlook: WB is betting everything on this DC Comics film dominating Christmas, including premium screens, to replicate the holiday 2018 success of its predecessor. The first film grossed $1.15 billion worldwide and the reported budget isn’t much higher this time. Of these three titles yet to be released, this one is best positioned to succeed.

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