I can’t read a balance sheet. The only thing I know about sines is that I am a Capricorn. Cosines? My parents cosigned my first car loan. Anything with the word “multivariable” scares me more than Russell Crowe singing. I’ve always had a knack for quickly figuring out tips, but otherwise, math is not my friend.
However, even someone as challenged as I can see this. Movie producers waste a ton of money on crap.
I realise, of course, that they are in it to make a profit and artistic considerations don’t matter much, beyond the impact a positive critical review might have on the bottom line. But, as a film fan, that’s not exactly my concern. So, here’s a little discussion – a cost-benefit analysis if you will – of some pretty serious misappropriations of artistic capital.
It would have been easy to pick the most expensive movie out there and compare it to all the moderately interesting micro-budgets we’ve seen this past year. But that ain’t my style. I looked for a very run-of-the-mill, average-budgeted piece of idiocy. I think I found the ideal candidate in Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed. A cash-in on a video game and Aaron Paul’s momentary celebrity. The movie had a ludicrously bad screenplay and modest action scenes that were surpassed as soon as they appeared.
And though I chose a few worthy micro-budgets, I looked through my 2014 rankings for movies that I didn’t think cost too many arms and legs. They weren’t all perfect, but they were all worthy. I enjoyed watching them. I’m glad they were made. These are the kinds of movies that I wish the American film industry would truly foster.
Here, then is a balance sheet. Need for Speed’s budget was reported to be an approximate $66 million USD. For that amount of cash, the following ten movies were produced in 2014.
Under the Skin ($13.3 million)
Jonathan Glazer’s eerie sci-fi isn’t for everyone. But even if you don’t like it, I dare you to try and forget it. Can’t be done, and that says something right there.
The Rover ($12.25 million)
This brutal, post-apocalyptic action story is in my own top 20 for the year, and features an award-worthy performance by Robert Pattinson.
Top Five ($12 million)
Chris Rock was able to film a few action scenes. He was able to get pretty much everyone in Hollywood to appear. And he was able to say something. All for what it costs to buy one medium-priced backup quarterback in the NFL.
Begin Again ($8 million)
A feel good, musical love story with Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, and James Corden at their adorable best? Count me smiling.
Only Lovers Left Alive ($7 million)
Jim Jarmusch. See his movies. No matter what they cost.
Kill the Messenger ($5 million)
See it in a double-feature with Citizenfour, the Edward Snowden documentary. Then go home and start planning your civil disobedience.
Boyhood ($4 million)
And on a cost-per-year basis, significantly less. If you need any further proof that Richard Linklater is a freaking genius, just consider how he spent 4 mill to virtually sweep 2014’s Best Movie awards.
The Skeleton Twins ($1 million)
Good story. Strong acting. Bit of a weak ending, but I preferred it to, oh, let’s say Unbroken, which cost about 60 times more.
Land Ho! and It Felt Like Love (half a million each?)
My two favourite micro-budgets of the year. I actually have no idea how much they cost, and I’m guessing directors Aaron Katz, Martha Stevens, and Eliza Hittman would have killed for half a million dollar budgets. These small stories, one about two elderly men and the other about a young girl, have more genuine humanity, warmth, humour, and drama, than anything you will find in most movies that cost 100 times as much.
Those ten movies cost about $63.5 million. So, even if Land Ho!’s Paul Eenhoorn demanded an extra million in jelly beans, or It Felt Like Love’s bikini budget went into six figures, they still cost less than one Need for Speed.
And by the way, had I chosen Michael Bay’s latest Transformers excrescence, budgeted at $210 million, as my benchmark, I could have named at least fifteen more quality movies. But sadly, there’s no need to look for such extreme cases. There are plenty of Need for Speeds out there, draining away precious time, talent, and money from what might be good movies.
It’s enough to make me consider studying multivariable calculus.