I've been looking at a movie budgets table published by The Numbers. It lists over 3600 (mainly US and British) movies and estimations of their budgets and grosses. It includes some unreleased and recently-released films for which the grosses are unavailable or unreliable. For the purposes of this discussion, I've excluded films before 1946 and after 2011, and those that have no income information whatsoever. That left me with 3512 movies.
I bucketed the films by logarithmic budget:
Up to $9,999
$10,000 to $99,999
$100,000 to $999,999
$1,000,000 to $9,999,999
$10,000,000 to $99,999,999
$100,000,000 and over
Even from such a simple table, there are a number of interesting observations:
- Very few low-budget films make it to the cinema. Those that do generally make huge profits (speaking relatively).
- Only two-thirds of cinema releases recoup their budgets (modulo Hollywood accounting).
- The vast majority of releases are in the $10M to $100M bracket; but this has the lowest return on investment (ROI, calculated here as [Budget+Profit]÷Budget).
- Nine-figure budget movies are much less likely to lose money.
This produces some interesting outliers:
- "A" is Paranormal Activity (2007) which supposedly cost $15,000 but grossed $200M worldwide. That's over one million percent ROI.
- "B" is My Date with Drew (2004) which supposedly cost $1,100 to make, but grossed over $180,000. It's the cheapest movie I could find with a successful cinema release.
- "C" is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007), the most expensive film on the list at $300M. It grossed over $660M.
- "D" is Evan Almighty (2007), the most expensive film ($175M) on the list that failed to make a profit, but only just.
- "E" is Nomad (2005), a film in which the Kazakh government invested $40M. It only made $79,123 at the US box office. [Actually, these figures are slightly out-of-date: the film made $3M in international releases]
- "F" is Ed and His Dead Mother (1993) which cost $1,800,000 but only made $673 (or $1097 depending on your sources) at the box office.
- Mars Needs Moms (2011) which only recouped $40M of its estimated $150M costs, making it the greatest absolute dollar loser on the list.
- Avatar (2009) made a profit of $2547M on its costs of $237M.
- Rocky (1976) which made $225M off of its $1M costs. This the best ROI for a movie costing at least $1M.