ByMeghann Elisa, writer at
'Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'
Meghann Elisa

It's that time of year again when Star Wars fans everywhere raise their hands in an Imperial salute. It can only be May the 4th! I have to confess that I haven't really celebrated May the 4th before now; it's not long since I saw A New Hope for the very first time. Whenever I watch a new movie, one of my favorite things to do afterward is give its IMDb and Wikipedia pages a good read. Where did the idea come from? Where did filming take place? What special effects were used? And most importantly: How much did it all cost?!

I always find the budgets for major movie franchises like Star Wars and Harry Potter particularly fascinating because of their sheer magnitude. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, for example, cost $250 million to make, and Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens had an equally impressive budget of $245 million. I've always wondered what really goes into these colossal spending sprees and on one of my post-movie searching sessions last weekend I finally found out.

The original Star Wars movie, A New Hope, cost a mere $11 million in comparison ($40 million if adjusted for inflation) but brought in more than 50 times that at the box office. So who received the largest slice of that seriously profitable pie? Well, you can see for yourself in the truly fascinating breakdown of the budget below.

The original budget sheet for "A New Hope."
The original budget sheet for "A New Hope."

The breakdown was found in David Pirie's 1981 book Anatomy of Movies and was presumably sourced from a 20th Century Fox or Lucasfilm financial statement. It's worth noting, of course, that these figures are from a time before the revenue from home video and merchandising really began to flood in, but there are a few things that really stand out.

The Initial Salaries

George Lucas took home just $100,000 to start with, while $750,000 covered wages for the entire cast.

The Transport Fee

Taking the whole cast and crew to Tunisia to film those iconic desert scenes made a sizeable $700,000 dent in the budget.

The Cost Of Visual Effects

Star Wars was seen by many as the birth of the modern visual effects industry, and that's demonstrated clearly here by the unusually high (for the time) spend of $3.9 million.

The Enormous Box Office Receipt

Takings of $510 million were pretty spectacular for the 1970s; the figure held the box office crown for five years until it was overtaken by Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in 1982.

The Exhibitor/Studio Split

Traditionally, global profits are split 50/50 between the studio and film exhibitors, but in this case the exhibitors were given a slight edge of $260 million over the studio's $250 million. A total of $16.5 million was deducted for prints and advertising alone.

The Profit Percentage Points

Sixty percent of the studio's profits went straight into Fox's pocket, with the remaining $59 million divided up between Lucas, producer Gary Kurtz and the remaining personnel. Behind the producers, Alec Guinness earned the most thanks to his 2.25 percent share, with Carrie Fisher and a young Mark Hamill taking home 0.25 percent each and office workers receiving just 0.005 percent.

Almost 40 years later, the Star Wars films have raked in more than $6.4 billion and make up the fourth highest-grossing franchise of all time (behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Harry Potter and James Bond respectively). Now, it really would be fascinating to compare this breakdown to one of the $250 million spent on The Force Awakens. Princess Leia was right all long...

What surprised you most about the breakdown?


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