Adjusted Budget: $266M
Box Office: $264.2M
Waterworld was plagued with production issues, including the destruction of a multimillion-dollar set by a hurricane, rewrites of the script and score, and the inherent difficulties of filming in water.
The budget very publicly ballooned to the point that it was the most expensive movie ever made, and with press like that, it was set up for a fall. It must be said that the novelty of a water apocalypse stands out today in a media landscape choked with apocalypses (and the film is slowly gaining a cult of apologists), but it took a span of home video sales and TV broadcasts for the movie to even break even.
John Carter (2012)
Adjusted Budget: $271M
Box Office: $284.1M
People had been trying to adapt Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter for the screen since 1931. It makes sense—vintage pulp heroes, from Sherlock Holmes to Conan to Burroughs's own Tarzan, go over pretty reliably.
But Carter's fantastical nature had always been trickier to get right. The film was bound to rack up a tab with Pixar genius Andrew Stanton directing his first film and a slew of new, inexperienced executives at Disney. The film underperformed, possibly due to an underwhelming marketing campaign. It barely covered budget and failed to recoup promotion costs. Disney's new chairman Rich Ross resigned amidst internal finger-pointing, and Disney eventually let the rights go back to the Burroughs estate.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2008)
Adjusted Budget: $275M
Box Office: $934.4M
The Harry Potter movies were all expensive. They're heavy on special effects and every single adult character is played by an esteemed British actor with enough Academy Awards and BAFTAs to fill a real-life Hogwarts.
A ton of money also went into making the Inferi work. Half-Blood Prince is the fifth-highest grossing film in the series and was the 8th-highest grossing film in the world upon its release.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Box Office: $1.4B
Avengers had a lot of moving parts—location shooting across the globe, the development of a new motion capture system, and 3,000 visual effects shots. Enough parts for Industrial Light and Magic to open a London facility.
Add to that some extra shooting due to tension between Whedon's vision for the film and Disney/Marvel's, and you've got a pretty hefty budget. The film was the sixth-highest grossing movie of all time, though it slightly underperformed its fourth-highest predecessor.
Adjusted Budget: $281M
Box Office: $591.7M
Tangled spent six years in development, as animators and designers strove to create a perfect blend of CG techniques and Disney's hand-drawn style. They used French Rococo paintings (particularly Jean-Honoré Fragonard's) as a stylistic landmark to keep them from making the animation too "realistic".
Other problems included trying to render Rapunzel's hair. Still, the film was an enormous success, signaling a comeback for Disney's non-Pixar animation studio, and paving the way for other successes like Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Adjusted Budget: $293M
Box Office: $890.9M
Spider-Man 3 was an overstuffed mess of a film, cramming in Sandman, Gwen Stacy, Venom, a second Green Goblin, and more. New computer-effects programs had to be written to accommodate the action scenes, and reshoots arose from trying to fit two or three movies' worth of material into one film.
The film was a financial success, riding on the reputation of the first two, but the convoluted plot baffled audiences and critics alike. Tensions between director and Sam Raimi escalated to the point that he left the franchise, triggering a reboot that lasted two films before a second reboot was announced.
Adjusted Budget: $294M
Box Office: $2.186B
James Cameron doesn't make small movies. Depending on how you crunch the numbers or adjust for inflation, Avatar often shows up on these lists as well, and True Lies was the first movie to crack a $100M budget.
Pitching a three-hour romantic epic was hard for a director known mostly for the Terminator movies and Aliens, and the movie was plagued by dangerous water shoots, the most expensive film set ever built, frequent cast injuries and illnesses, and a crew worked so hard that one disgruntled person (never caught) spiked a lobster chowder with PCP, poisoning 80 people. Still, all of that trauma paid off: Titanic dukes it out with Avatar for the position of the "highest-grossing film of all time."
Box Office: $880.7M
By the time the 24th James Bond film wrapped up its opening weekend in the U.S., it had already made its budget back. A penchant for filming on location along with sci-fi gadgets, expensive cars (and the destruction thereof), and impeccably-tailored suits make any Bond endeavor an expensive one.
This particular film also carried the financial burden of some legal entanglements having to do with the rights to Thunderball and the ability to use SPECTRE in a Bond film.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)
Adjusted Budget: $341M
Box Office: $1.06B
From flooding an air hanger to bringing on stars like Chow-Yun Fat and Keith Richards, the third Pirates film was the most expensive movie ever produced when it was released in 2007—even accounting for inflation.
The long run-time and circuitous, mythology-heavy plot turned a few critics away, but that didn't stop the movie from being the most successful film of a year that also saw a Harry Potter film and the first Michael Bay Transformers movie.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Adjusted Budget: $397M
Box Office: $1.046B
Of course, once you've made the most expensive movie in history, the only place to go is up. The fourth Pirates movie actually chose to adapt an unrelated novel, On Stranger Tides.
(This novel also inspired the video game series Monkey Island, which Disney passed on adapting to film a couple of years before releasing the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Make of that what you will.) Some 1,112 CGI shots by 10 special effects companies, all of which had to be converted to 3D, massively increased the budget. While the movie did make over a billion dollars in the global box office, it didn't quite hit the mark set by its predecessor.