The Ten Most Expensive Action Scenes in Film (So Far)

Explosions = Expensive

Making movies costs a lot of money, especially when you have to blow stuff up and pay people to do dangerous things. This is a look at ten of the most expensive action scenes ever produced.

The famous saying says you have to spend money to make money. For big budget films, this especially rings true. To achieve the level of sophistication, creativity, and believability required to bring memorable blockbusters to life, movie studios have to spend an obscene amount of money. In some cases, significant portions of a films’ budget could be blown on one sequence or scene. This is a look at 10 of the most expensive action scenes/sequences produced in mainstream cinema so far.

Often these scenes are paramount to the entire production. It may be the biggest opportunity for the film to leave a lasting impression on the audience. They are make-or-break scenes. For many of the films on this list, their most expensive scenes are the ones which have made them classics. For others, they have faded off into obscurity because their big moment was not quite big enough.

Not only are these expensive scenes important in the context of plot or entertainment, but their difficulty is compounded by the fact that they often have to be done right on the first try. Due to the complicated or detrimental nature of the scene, the cast and crew often have to spend months in training in order to pull it off just right. At other times, the scene requires the development of new technology in order to adequately express the filmmaker’s vision.

This list is by no means complete. Studios are understandably guarded about how much money they have to spend on a particular part of a movie. Therefore, this list is complete only as far as the information available to me on the internet. I can think of many sequences which certainly cost a pretty penny, but without the details we can’t rightfully include them. Scene budgets are estimates only based on available information, and adjusted for inflation.

10. Pearl Harbor (2002) – Japanese Surprise Attack ($7.5 million)

Image result for pearl harbor movie

Michael Bay has a reputation for going big. Therefore, it is only natural for some of his films to be included on this list. We’ll start with his take on a historical drama. Pearl Harbor was supposed to be a gripping war drama about the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor and the US response. And so of course the actual attack would have to be the big centerpiece of the film.

Despite all of the explosions, model work, and CGI recreations, this sequence’s excitement doesn’t manage to carry over to the rest of the film. There’s also a morality question surrounding whether or not one of the greatest loss-of-life-disasters in US history should be exploited for entertainment purposes in the first place…but that discussion is for another day.

Worth It? No.

9. Saving Private Ryan (1998) – D-Day Landing ($12 million)

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In concept, this scene is a combination of the previous scene on this list and #7. On one hand it is the opening scene of a movie, and is designed to catch the audience’s attention. On the other hand, it is a large-scale recreation of a moment from history. In both regards, this scene is a spectacular success. Not only does it catch the realism and the feel of the moment, but it is shocking and impactful.

This isn’t about relishing in the spectacle of war, it’s about cowering in fear from the power of it. It also works as an introduction to the men who bravely fought on the beach at Normandy. Giving us a glimpse of what the soldiers had to endure and how the characters of the film are reflective of that experience.

Worth it? Yes

8. Matrix: Reloaded (2003) – Highway Chase ($10-15 million)

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The second Matrix film is the only film which appears on this list twice, which, if nothing else, is impressive. Impressive because the studio went along with not one, but two pricey sequences in the same film. Impressive because it shows how far The Wachowskis were willing to go to try and outdo the original film.

‘How far they were willing to go’ includes building a section of highway from scratch for the sole purpose of filming this sequence. Construction cost $2.5 million alone. Factor in the cost of all of the cars they destroyed, the special effects, a semi truck, rigging, pyrotechnics, and of course all of the training for the cast and crew – and this sequence could easily push north of $10 million. What results is one of the best car chase sequences ever made. (Unfortunately, we don’t have an exact number on this one, so our estimate may not be very accurate)

Worth It? Yes

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Managing editor. Fascinated by the history of film. "Film can teach us just as well as it can entertain us, and the things we learn from film can be much more beneficial to our lives than the short-term entertainment we extract from it."