In Hollywood, nothing is ever as it seems. Reading the year-end reports, one could be forgiven for concluding that 2002 was a very good year. Overall box office was at a record high, and it seemed like just about every weekend brought another blockbuster to a rabid audience. The only problem with this assessment, however, is that it is dead wrong. Sure, there were a number of extremely profitable films released this year. But with costs completely out of control, the studios have backed themselves into a very dark corner-one in which middling films can create astronomical losses, and the true disasters are mind-boggling. The average cost of a Hollywood film is now over $50 million, plus an additional $32 million to market it. So on average (I repeat, on average), a studio is out $82 million before a film is released. It’s enough to make one nostalgic for the $44 million scandal of Heaven’s Gate.
You can read the complete version of this article in the March/April 2003 print edition of Film Comment.