A 1921 article predicted that the era of large movie budgets was over. Let’s just say that didn’t turn out to be the case.
The final hour of profligate spending draws near — of million-dollar salaries and two-hundred-thousand-dollar sets. For the motion-picture-producing companies are putting their houses in order for the inspection of the bankers. These companies have incorporated and have issued stock, and now they are trying to interest the bankers in underwriting that stock. The banker is a conservative. Profligate spending does not look good to him on the payroll.
Thus enters the giant baby industry on the second lap of its journey — a journey suddenly grown staidly practical. The romance of the industry passed with 1920.
About that. Even adjusting for inflation, the list of most expensive movies of all time are all — not just “mostly,” but all — from the 21st century. (#1, if you’re wondering, is 2011’s Disney sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.)
And rather than production costs being curbed by stock, as was apparently occuring in 1921, if anything it’s the opposite today: production costs are soaring precisely because of stock. Entertainment companies’ fortunes are increasingly tied to their nascent streaming platforms of the past few years. Production costs have soared for original programming on those services, to entice new customers and subscribers, which in turn helps the parent company’s share price.
Forbes box office analyst Scott Mendelson put it best in a recent column: “A Wall Street mindset…values $1 in profits earned from streaming more than $5 in profits earned from [theatrical] exhibition.”
Wall Street’s Heel on the Prodigal Movies
Published: Sunday, July 24, 1921
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