'Spider-Man 3': Why So Expensive?

The movie Spider-Man 3, set for release this Friday, cost $350 million to make. It is the most expensive film in history, but will it pay off for Hollywood?

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY and Kim Masters, who covers entertainment and Hollywood and movies for NPR. She's based here at NPR West. Kim, welcome to the show.

KIM MASTERS: Hello, Alex.

CHADWICK: So we've asked you to come in and speak with us because this Friday, there opens - what you have told me - is the most expensive movie ever made anywhere in the world. It is…

MASTERS: "Spider-Man 3." And yes, I believe - although Sony Pictures denies it very vehemently - that it is the movie that has passed the $350 million mark. Now they're saying it is a mere $270 million.

CHADWICK: A mere 200 - tell me, what is "Spider-Man 3" passing? What film cost more than $270 million? Do you know?

MASTERS: Well, I did ask the Sony executive, Bob Osher - who is a high-level guy there and deals with money - what he thought was the most expensive movie ever made, and he went back to everybody's favorite, "Cleopatra."

(Soundbite of movie, "Cleopatra")

Ms. ELIZABETH TAYLOR (Actor): (As Cleopatra) Marc Antony. How prompt you are.

Mr. RICHARD BURTON (Actor): (As Marc Antony) If I had not been, it would be unforgivable of me.

CHADWICK: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton…

MASTERS: Yes.

CHADWICK: …in 63, 64?

MASTERS: Yes, yes. Or whenever it was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: Yeah?

MASTERS: When you adjust those dollars - according to the research we did - it comes out to 290.

CHADWICK: But you think $350 million - your sources tell you that's about what Sony spent on "Spider-Man 3." How do you spend $350 million on a movie?

MASTERS: Well, you start out with the talent, which demands a very large percentage of the movie. You have Sam Raimi, the director. You have Tobey Maguire. You have the producer, Laura Ziskin and others, all lined up for a piece of the profit. Now Sony tells me they have controlled that, and it is less than 25 percent.

Now that at least is a sort of predictable number. Where you really get killed on these movies is effects.

(Soundbite of movie, "Spider-Man 3")

(Soundbite of train engine, man screaming)

MASTERS: And that is a number - you can guess at it, okay. You cannot really know.

CHADWICK: The computer-generated stuff - that's the cars crashing and the buildings turning over that - ooh - like this one.

(Soundbite of movie, "Spider-Man 3")

(Soundbite of train whistle)

MASTERS: Any movie like "Spider-Man" or "Pirates of the Caribbean," these movies are - it's kind of, can you top this? The studios go into them, the directors go into them feeling they must exceed the spectacle of the last one. Otherwise, why are you going to the theater and paying your money? So they commit to a budget, and, you know, the technology has - which enables you to do anything turns out to be sort of a very mixed blessing because then the directors - these are not shrinking violets, these guys - these guys are going to ask for and fight for absolutely everything.

CHADWICK: I am going to have - in my movie - I'm going to have this thing that could be even more spectacular than anything else you're going to see this summer and…

MASTERS: It's got to look like this. It didn't really work that time. Go back. Do it again.

(Soundbite of movie, "Spider-Man 3")

(Soundbite of screaming, clanking sound)

CHADWICK: If I made the most expensive movie ever in the history of movies, wouldn't I want to brag about that? Wouldn't I want to tell movie fans, this movie's got everything that you - we spent a fortune on it, go see it. That will tickets.

MASTERS: You know, that kind of thing doesn't play real well in the Hollywood clubhouse, because, well, first of all, the guy across the street is, like, I can't believe you did that. Now I am being harassed by the agent who made your deal or the agent who didn't make your deal because I have to match it.

And, you know, the effect of it is clear. Somebody said to me recently, I know definitively that "Transformers" - which is coming out over the July 4th weekend - "Transformers" has passed 200 million. And I said, so what? Because we know that "Pirates" is over three and "Spider-Man" is well over three. So as an executive said to me very astutely, it's not even so much that we're all going to make $300 million movies, it's that it - it makes the $200 million movie seem not so bad. And those will kill you.

CHADWICK: NPR's Kim Masters. "Spider-Man 3" opens on Friday. Kim, thank you again.

MASTERS: Thank you.

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