Most Expensive Movies That Might Never Get To Theaters

Sarunyu L / Shutterstock.com

Sarunyu L / Shutterstock.com

Studios spend big money to make movies, hoping their investment will result in a box-office win. However, the COVID-19 crisis caused a major change of plans for many films set to debut in 2020 and 2021.

Looking Back: Movies That Made the Most Money in 2020

In 2020, 223.9 million movie tickets were sold domestically, compared with 1.22 billion in 2019, according to The Numbers. This represents an approximate 82% decline in attendance, which forced studios to take swift action by debuting films straight to streaming platforms, in an effort to maximize their audience.

Find Out: Most Expensive Movies Debuting on Streaming in 2021

GOBankingRates conducted a study to determine which films involved in this pivot had the largest budgets. This, of course, doesn’t include every movie released straight to a streaming platform. For example, the Netflix film “Old Guard” — starring Charlize Theron — was never confirmed for a theatrical debut.

Findings largely revealed studios experimented with sending their family films directly to streaming, while still giving those with the biggest budgets a box-office release. For example, Warner Bros. opted to release “Tenet” — which had an estimated $205 million budget, according to IMDb — to theaters in September 2020. Additionally, Universal Studios chose to push the release of “F9” — which had an estimated budget of more than $200 million, according to Variety — back to May 2021.

Without further ado, here’s a look at recent films with the highest budgets that might never be shown in theaters.

Last updated: Jan. 19, 2021

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‘The King of Staten Island’

  • Budget: $35 million
  • Studio: Universal
  • Director: Judd Apatow
  • Genre: Comedy, Drama

Universal insiders claim “The King of Staten Island” was always intended to premiere on-demand, but some executives accidentally booked the film in approximately 100 theaters. When the mistake was realized, the studio asked the theaters not to play it.

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  • Budget: $50.3 million
  • Studio: Sony
  • Director: Aaron Schneider
  • Genre: Action, Drama, History

Originally scheduled for a theater debut, “Greyhound” was sidelined by COVID-19. To mitigate some of its losses, Sony sold the film to Apple TV+ for a rumored $70 million.

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‘The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run’

  • Budget: Estimated $60 million-plus
  • Studio: Paramount
  • Director: Tim Hill
  • Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy

In late June, Paramount announced plans for “Sponge on the Run” to skip theaters and premiere as a paid VOD title in early 2021. Afterwards, it will head to its sister streaming service CBS All Access, as a home entertainment exclusive. The film has yet to debut in the U.S., but it is available on Netflix internationally.

Factor It In: Why Streaming Services Will Still Be Worth the Extra Expense in 2021

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  • Budget: Estimated less than $90,000
  • Studio: Warner Bros.
  • Director: Tony Cervone
  • Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy

It still debuted May 15, but instead of hitting theaters, “Scoob!” appeared on-demand. The big-screen adaptation of the classic “Scooby-Doo” cartoon was available for a 48-hour rental on VOD platforms for $19.99 and to purchase for $24.99.

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‘Trolls World Tour’

  • Budget: $90 million
  • Studio: Universal (Dreamworks)
  • Director: Walt Dohrn, David P. Smith
  • Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy

By the time COVID-19 largely shut the country down, a massive marketing campaign was already underway for the “Trolls World Tour” April 10, 2020, release. The studio decided against postponing the opening of the animated sequel to the 2016 hit but opted to make it available as a digital rental for $19.99. Three weeks later, the film had garnered nearly $100 million in rentals.

Fun Facts: The Biggest Box Office Bombs of the Past Decade

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‘Artemis Fowl’

  • Budget: Estimated $100 million-plus
  • Studio: Disney
  • Director: Kenneth Branagh
  • Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy

It was originally scheduled to premiere in theaters May 29, 2020, but instead, “Artemis Fowl” debuted June 12 exclusively on Disney Plus.

Read: Disney Remakes That Made and Lost the Most Money

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‘The Witches’

  • Budget: Estimated $100 million-plus
  • Studio: Warner Bros.
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family

It was supposed to premiere in theaters on Oct. 9, 2020, but instead, “The Witches” debuted on Oct. 22 on HBO Max. However, the film did hit international cinemas on Oct. 28, where it grossed $26.9 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

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  • Budget: Estimated $150 million-$200 million
  • Studio: Disney (Pixar)
  • Director: Pete Docter, Kemp Powers
  • Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy

The film skipped theaters and went straight to Disney Plus, where it debuted on Christmas Day.

Did You Know: Disney’s 27 Biggest Controversies

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  • Budget: $200 million
  • Studio: Disney
  • Director: Niki Caro
  • Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama

The live-action remake of “Mulan” traded its planned theatrical release for a Disney Plus premiere on Sept. 4, 2020. However, the film was shown in theaters internationally, starting Sept. 3, and grossed a total of $66.8 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

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Methodology: GOBankingRates reviewed news coverage of films originally slated to have a 2020 U.S. theatrical release, but ultimately debuted on a streaming platform. Most budget, director and genre information is from IMDb and is accurate as of Jan. 8, 2021. Do note, some of these films were released in theaters internationally.

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