How Hollywood Killed the Mid-Budget Movie

Studios turn to blockbusters for enormous profits
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 14, 2014 5:15 PM CST
How Hollywood Killed the Mid-Budget Movie
Rosanna Arquette and Madonna in "Desperately Seeking Susan" (1985), which cost $4.5 million to make.   (YouTube)

Wonder what happened to iconic film directors like David Lynch, John Waters, and Francis Ford Coppola? Well, Hollywood checked the balance sheet and decided to stop making their kind of mid-budget films, Flavorwire reports. It's all dollars and cents: Thoughtful or offbeat films costing $5 million to $60 million can make moderate profits at best, while blockbusters with international appeal are able to bring in sick money. Paramount's Titanic made that point in 1997 by costing $200 million and earning nearly $2.2 billion worldwide. At that time, mid-budget films like Kiss the Girls and In & Out dominated the Paramount slate and drew modest profits; this year, mega-flicks like Transformers: Age of Extinction, Hercules, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rule Paramount's roost and earn the big bucks.

"You could make movies in the ten-to-twenty-million-dollar budget range" at one time, says Susan Seidelman, director of Desperately Seeking Susan. Now, she says, studios "have to appeal to every demographic in every part of the world." And few seasoned directors want to test the indie market, where tons of under-$2 million films are vying for attention. So Spike Lee has funded a film via Kickstarter, Steven Soderbergh publicly quit feature filmmaking last year, and other directors are turning to TV for creative freedom. This sea-change has been coming for years now, as an old Forbes piece shows, but some—including Steven Spielberg—believe Hollywood will over-invest in blockbusters: "There’s going to be an implosion" where several "mega-budgeted movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm again," he says. (More movies stories.)

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