Talking about film budgets is a tricky thing. Talking about the budget for Avatar is an even trickier thing. I recently mused about how Fox's huge gamble had caused four highly-anticipated films in China to flee from its shadow, poising the film on the precipice of a perfect storm of box office success in China that no previous film had been privy to. In doing so I invoked the ire of a good number of commenters, all of whom felt my budget-returning extrapolation from the news that Avatar is set to dominate in 80% of China's screens during its biggest blockbuster season wasn't just a wrong hypothetical, but downright ignorant.
While I still stand by the point of that post - that the hitherto unseen convergence of all the elements behind Avatar's release is going to see unprecedented box office in China - I'll concede that there is no chance that the film makes its budget back from China alone; not with the New York Times now claiming that the film's price tag is breaching the half-billion mark. As with all things budget, however, this number isn't as simple as it looks.
The $500 million is NYT's combination of the estimated $300 million it cost to actually produce the film, the approximately $150 million Fox plans to spend on global marketing alone, with the remaining $50 million being a cushion for the cumulative costs some of the film's partners have already ponied up (such as Avatar Day, whose bill was footed mostly by IMAX). However, even if their newly estimated number is accurate, that doesn't mean that Fox is on the line for the full half-billion.