Jonathan Demme Says Movies Today Are Too Expensive


The celebrated Jonathan Demme voiced that “movies are too expensive” while presenting at the 2nd Aruba Film Festival in the Southern Caribbean. His last big budget film was “The Manchurian Candidate” (2004) with a budget of $85 million dollars. “That movie cost a fortune. It was just so much money,” he said. “I’m not comfortable spending a lot of money on a movie anymore. The money is needed in so many other places.” His last critical success was “Rachel Getting Married” (2008) which had a reported budget of $12 million and grossed… about $12 million. Granted, it contained severely polarizing subject matter so indeed to get that kind of return was some kind of triumph.

He is damn right that movies cost too much money. Maybe it’s Kraft services. Or maybe you can blame the studio heads in the mid-90’s, looking specifically at how Columbia Pictures spoiled Jim Carrey, when they dished him a $20 million dollar paycheck for “The Cable Guy” (1996). This paved the way for other actors commanding the same zenith number.

I remember specifically when I was much younger when I learned that “Home Alone” (1990) cost $18 million to make, and I thought that was too much money. I can’t imagine how much it would cost today. At the time, it was the third highest grossing film of all time domestically pulling in $285 million. If you had been around in 1990, what would you have guessed the cost? I would have guessed $12 million.

Going back to around that time period, Demme made his Oscar-winning masterpiece “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) for a budget of $19 million. His biggest success, it captured five Oscars all in the biggest categories and grossed $130 million domestically. Demme’s “Philadelphia” (1993) cost $26 million and grossed $77 million domestically, an unlikely box office winner considering the difficult subject matter. The latter one would have a hard time getting made today, especially with all the inflated salaries.

The first taste of failure for Demme had to be “Beloved” which cost $80 million to make in 1998 and grossed a paltry $22 million. I wish I knew which part of the production most of the money went into. Demme’s biggest career stinker was “The Truth About Charlie” (2002) with the chemistry challenged Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton which pulled in just over $5 million. I could not find the production budget figure anywhere on the web. Really, I looked with dedication. Demme mentioned at his recent forum, however, that he was proud that he has always finished his films under budget.

Today’s $40 to $60 million dollar productions seem meek in comparison. When redundant pirate and lethal machine movies cost $120 to $160 million but net three times that in a worldwide market then it becomes Hollywood’s business recipe. Too much emphasis on weekend winners are made in today’s times. “The Green Lantern” had been declared the weekend’s box office winner I had learned from the radio… this past Sunday morning. When did the end of Saturday night become the end of the box office weekend?

You know what I like? Movies like “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004), “Super Size Me” (2004), “Once” (2007) and the original “Paranormal” (2009) screamfest were all made for under $500,000 and grossed tens of millions. The coolest movie I ever saw was the brainy sci-fi movie “Primer” (2004) which cost only $7,000 dollars and grossed nearly a half a million. If you like challenging and complex films then check it out.


Of course I still am lovin’ many movies that are made at $60, $80, $100 million dollars. But when it comes to Hollywood, these budget figures places unreasonable stakes on movies coming out ahead at #1 weekend box office returns.

Demme avowed, “I want to make Hollywood-like movies but with imagination. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune.” He cited “Napoleon Dynamite” as a movie he admired (I’m not sure how Hannibal Lecter would have treated Napoleon). Demme announced that his next film is “Zeitoun” based on a Dave Eggers book. I’m no fan of that ungodly title, but I look forward in seeing how that turns out.

Parting thought. Let’s be real here. $18 million is a lot of money.

Holy Cow! I never have to work again!

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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