There’s a saying that you can’t put a price on greatness, but if you could, it might be around $165 million, or about much as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s upcoming revenge drama “The Revenant” is now believed to cost. The ambitious drama has had its original budget soar from $95 million, multiple individuals with knowledge of the production have told TheWrap.
The final bill, once tax credits are counted, is estimated to be $135 million, multiple individuals told TheWrap.
“It was very difficult production,” said one of the individuals. “We were really biting off a lot more than we could chew. The movie just kept getting bigger and bigger, more complicated, the weather — waiting for the light to be a certain way.”
Leonardo DiCaprio stars in “The Revenant” as 19th-century fur trader Hugh Glass, who is brutally attacked by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. In a quest to survive, Glass endures unimaginable hardship as well as the betrayal of his confidant John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Guided by sheer will and the love of his family, Glass must survive a vicious winter in pursuit of redemption.
Twentieth Century Fox is set to give “The Revenant” an awards-qualifying run in select theaters on Christmas Day before going wide on January 8. History has also shown that the holiday season may not be ideal for such a dark, violent movie, as proven by underperforming R-rated releases like “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” — though Quentin Tarantino‘s similarly violent and R-rated “Django Unchained” succeeded with a late-December launch in 2012.
Fortunately for its distributor, “The Revenant” wasn’t financed by 20th Century Fox. Instead, Arnon Milchan‘s New Regency will foot the majority of the bill along with Brett Ratner‘s RatPac, Chinese company Alpha Pictures and Empyre, which is a film fund based in Abu Dhabi and Brazil.
New Regency will also have to swallow most of the budget overages because of budget caps that protected Milchan’s partners. Originally Milchan’s company, which produced Gonzalez Inarritu’s 2014 Oscar winner “Birdman” as well as 2013’s “12 Years a Slave,” envisioned a $60 million cost based simply on the involvement of Gonzalez Inarritu and DiCaprio. By the time the film actually went before cameras, the budget was pegged at $95 million — a high price tag for a dark period drama starring men with heavy beards.
“New Regency stands by the decisions we made. The work speaks for itself,” said a spokesperson for New Regency.
The initial cost continued to climb at every turn, according to insiders close to the production. The decision to shoot the movie sequentially to capture the seasons in order led to a significant budget commitment, as did the choice to shoot with only natural light by award-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.
But the production then went into an unplanned six-week hiatus because of a crushing lack of snow in Canada.
“We had tremendous weather problems,” said one insider close to the movie. “It was freezing and snowing when it wasn’t meant to be. And when it wasn’t meant to be, it was. It wouldn’t snow. Our movie was really reliant on snow. That was a huge hit.”
The entire production had to move to Argentina from Calgary, Canada in search of snow. The six-day shoot in Patagonia in August cost an unplanned $10 million, according to one production insider. “That was an extremely big hit financially,” the insider said.
During the hiatus, veteran producer Mary Parent was asked to join the production to get the project back on schedule.
Another insider said that Milchan declined to rein in his star director.
“I don’t think the studio put in stopgaps to keep the costs down,” the individual said, such as declining to reshoot scenes multiple times. “There were a lot of indulgences he got that could’ve been a ‘no.’ Alejandro is a little bit like a child. He tests the parameters all the time. When you don’t say ‘no,’ he takes advantage.”
At stake is a likely Oscar run. If the film were to win Best Picture, it would secure Milchan his first Academy Award statuette.
Though New Regency is technically in pursuit of its third-straight Best Picture win following “12 Years a Slave” and “Birdman,” Milchan wasn’t named as a qualifying producer on the last two victors.
One knowledgeable insider claimed that New Regency has hired “every awards consultant known to man” to strategize an Oscar campaign for “The Revenant” — evidence of the studio’s emphasis on awards prestige which have also been known to boost a film’s box office prospects.
20th Century Fox passed on the opportunity to finance the film for several reasons, according to knowledgeable executives. Not only was the studio worried about the commercial prospects of a bleak, violent movie starring two handsome actors whose famous faces would be obscured by grimy beards, but the original screenplay neglected its female characters. The film’s most recent trailer emphasized the presence of DiCaprio’s family in an effort to nod in the direction of female audiences.
Insiders allege that New Regency isn’t worried about going over-budget if the film wins Academy Awards. While New Regency insiders insist that “The Revenant” is a commercial play, others suggest the company was more invested in backing a brilliant work of art.