Film, Venue

Money for Nothing: Low and Moderate Budgets in the Summer Box Office

If you looked at the summer box office results for this year, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the whole season has been doom and gloom, with many sequels failing to live up to their predecessors and films intending to kick-off franchises fizzling out. However, there were still a number of films that performed well, whilst big budget affairs such as Captain America: Civil War and Finding Dory dominated the season, the true summer heroes were the films that were made for a relatively small amount of money before raking in large profits.

The most prominent example of a film with a smaller budget performing extremely well was The Secret Life of Pets. Chris Meledandri, the producer of hit animated films such as Ice Age and Despicable Me, has proven that his formula of a cost effective animation style that still looks excellent is a winner. Pets had a budget of just $75 million, significantly less than other animated films such as Zootopia and Finding Dory, and barked up $360 million in the US and $767 million worldwide. It’s the highest grossing film for distributor Universal this year, vastly overshadowing bigger budget tent-poles of theirs such as Warcraft and Jason Bourne, and quickly had a sequel greenlit for 2018, proof that a little spending can go a long way.

This method of spending little paid off greatly for horror movies. The Conjuring 2 was a rare summer sequel that financially lived up to its predecessor, grossing $320 million on a budget of $40 million, making it likely that we see more cases from the Warrens in the future. Another major horror franchise, The Purge, also continued to be potent, as Election Year was able to grab $109 million on a $10 million budget. Elsewhere, shark thriller The Shallows bit off $99 million from a $17 million budget, whilst Lights Out illuminated the box office with $137 million on a $4.5 million budget, proving the success of the low budget horror formula.

Comedies similarly proved to gather success from little spending. Central Intelligence shot down $214 million from a $50 million budget, showing the star power of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart can propel an otherwise modest movie. Bad Moms became a sleeper hit, birthing up $142 million on a $20 million budget, whilst Sausage Party gave The Secret Life of Pets a run for its money in terms of low budgets for animation, cooking up $104 million for just $19 million.

The success of these films with smaller budgets over the summer should prove to Hollywood that whilst the aura of a high budget can make your film seem more like an event, people still care about smaller movies, movies that make you laugh and scream, movies that can draw away from the same explosions and battles that occur every weekend at the multiplex. Whilst the big budget tent-pole franchises may start to wilt due to overt expense and audience fatigue, smaller budget affairs can be the cement that holds the walls of a studio together.


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June 2022
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