Did ‘Godzilla Minus One’ Just School Hollywood on Movie Making?


The Big Picture

  • Godzilla Minus One proves that action movies can be made on a low budget, with its reported $15 million cost being a fraction of what Hollywood blockbusters typically spend.
  • The low production budget of Godzilla Minus One is largely due to lower labor costs in Japan, where wages for artists and filmmakers are kept lower compared to North America.
  • While Godzilla Minus One‘s low budget is impressive, it may come at the expense of the livelihoods of the artists involved. However, the film’s success highlights the need for Hollywood to find a balance between cost and creativity in order to produce profitable movies.


And with a mighty roar, Godzilla proclaimed « That’s how it’s done, Hollywood. » History has always shown that no matter how popular certain trends and practices may be, everything is subject to change. With the release of Godzilla Minus One, Toho’s first Godzilla film in seven years, and the struggle that many recent bloated budget blockbusters have faced, something just might be in the water. A sea change, perhaps! Despite being a mega-franchise movie with city-sized explosions and a giant monster, Minus One has a reported budget of a measly $15 million. In a part of the world where these kinds of movies typically track for a ballpark cost of $100-$250 million, how could this possibly have been accomplished? Not only that, it has already more than doubled its reported budget, having grossed $35 million after its first weekend playing in the worldwide market. Did Godzilla Minus One just school Hollywood?

Before everyone gets carried away, we have to take a step back and look at what all of this means. A movie with a $15 million budget typically falls within the confines of dramas, comedies, or horror. You never see a project with this type of story or scope being made on this low of a budget… in North America, at least. In many other parts of the world, Japan included, labor laws are put into place that keep wages much lower, therefore lowering production costs. That makes it so that studios don’t have to spend as much money on movies like Godzilla Minus One. Even with that being the case, $15 million is an impressively low dollar amount. At the very least, this kind of movie should cost around $80 million, and that’s if you’re being really crafty. Usually, when filmmakers are telling gargantuan genre stories, they cost about ten times that of Godzilla’s latest outing. Is the cost of Minus One too low? Are movies nowadays just too expensive? Or is there a middle ground that we can find, one that properly meets the needs of creators while also not over-inflating the situation, and still gives the film a chance to profit in a world that is growing less interested in CGI-infested action filmmaking?

Godzilla Minus One

Post war Japan is at its lowest point when a new crisis emerges in the form of a giant monster, baptized in the horrific power of the atomic bomb.

Release Date
December 1, 2023

Director
Takashi Yamazaki

Cast
Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Minami Hamabe, Yûki Yamada, Sakura Andō

Rating
PG-13


‘Godzilla Minus One’ Is the Rare Example of an Action Movie Made on a Low-Budget

The last North American Godzilla movie, 2021’s Godzilla vs Kong, reportedly cost $160 million to produce. Fast-forward two-and-a-half years later, and we have Godzilla Minus One, which cost just under ten percent of that — somewhere in the $15 million range. This is a Godzilla movie like many others. The titular figure stomps, chomps, and atomic breaths the crap out of cities, all in his typically enormous, glorious fashion. There is a bit more of a focus on the human element than usual, so that could have something to do with part of the budget being lower, but this is largely your meat and potatoes Godzilla movie, and made on a pretty cheap dime. Elsewhere, Hollywood blockbusters are costing $100-250 million regularly, with tons of them bombing recently. What’s the deal?

How Did ‘Godzilla Minus One’ End Up Costing Only $15 Million?

Godzilla wreaking havoc in 2023's Godzilla Minus One
Image via Toho

Let’s start with Godzilla Minus One. Set in Post-War Japan, this movie features decimated cityscapes from the get-go — and no, not at the hands of Godzilla. The civilians that are featured in Minus One are picking up the pieces after their home has been bombed and turned to rubble. So even though Godzilla barges onto land and wrecks havoc, the filmmakers already set out to design a setting that’s barely hanging on. Aside from the giant monster-isms, it’s mind-blowing to consider that they were able to build these sets basically with pocket change.

In a practical sense, the craft behind Minus One can’t be beat. It helps also that a large part of the story revolves around the relationships between human characters, particularly a father and daughter (played wonderfully by Ryunosuke Kamiki and Sae Nagatani), and how both Godzilla and the bomb have affected their lives. Not only is the King of the Monster’s latest outing as thrilling and bombastic as ever it’s deeply emotive as well. Having a heart at the core of your movie is the least expensive special effect that any filmmaker can create. There’s no doubt that Minus One resonates with people because of its focus on story and character. When a director and a studio prioritize the right things, it shows, and the people will come. They have come.

That being said, not everything is being properly prioritized, unfortunately. In certain parts of the world, Japan included, labor laws are put into place so that wages are kept lower as well. This makes the production less expensive to put on, but also means that artists don’t have to be paid as much. Therefore, Godzilla Minus One can make its money back easily, but those making the movie aren’t reaping the same benefits. This is due to there being no proper filmmaking unions in place in Japan. The Japan Times reported a quote from actor Kanji Furutachi explaining the situation by saying:

« There is no functioning actors’ union in Japan, so standards for working conditions don’t exist. The result is a low-quality environment with long hours and low wages. The system here incentivizes exploitation. »

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‘Godzilla Minus One’ delivered the best domestic debut for a non-English live-action film in over two decades.

‘Godzilla Minus One’s Low Budget Comes at the Cost of Artist’s Livelihoods

Godzilla causing chaos in 2023's Godzilla Minus One
Image via Toho

So, while Godzilla Minus One’s admirably low production budget is impressive, it’s devastating to note that this comes at the expense of the artists’ livelihoods. Not only that, but despite being a thrilling and uniquely sinister kaiju movie, Minus One doesn’t always look as great as many people say. It’s incredible for $15 million, but that praise is primarily in response to the sets and some of the shots that I’m still having a hard time figuring out. This might be nitpicking, but there are times when Godzilla, explosions, billowing towers of smoke, and more general disaster-based side effects look incredibly computer-generated. That said, it’s hard to complain about that when you know this big of a movie only cost $15 million. There’s a chance that Minus One had a fast post-production process, or maybe the artists were stretched too thin, but that’s just speculation. For the budget, the movie is kind of a visual game changer, but it does make you wonder how much better it could have looked if it just had a little more money put into it.

Hollywood Continues To Produce Expensive Box Office Bombs

Still, Godzilla Minus One has already more than doubled its budget, sitting comfortably at about $35 million after its first worldwide weekend. Considering the recent state of things in Hollywood, executives have to be taking notes. I’m not trying to beat a dead horse here, but The Marvels has officially been rewarded the title of the lowest-grossing MCU movie in history, landing around $197 million on a reported $250 million budget. The criminally underrated Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (you read that right) somehow had a production budget of $300 million and ended up finishing its run at $383 million. Hollywood spent the 2010s writing budgetary checks for an infinite dollar amount but regularly found themselves nearing or crossing the $1 billion mark. Those days might not be completely over, but the tide is changing. Studios desperately need to find ways to make these movies cheaper, and with the creative and financial success of Minus One, executives are probably scribbling their notepads faster than Godzilla can decimate a cityscape.

Gareth Edwards Found a Sweet Spot With ‘The Creator’

gareth-edwards-social-featured
Image via Lucasfilm

How do we solve this problem? North American film worker wages are higher than in many parts of the world, so $15 million isn’t exactly doable. Still, unless you’re making an Avatar movie or maybe a big-ticket, ensemble Avengers movie, movies don’t always have to be $100-$250 million, right? Well, in the fall, a big-little movie called The Creator came and went with hardly a sound. Film lovers rambled on about this immensely scaled science fiction epic, lovingly blabbering about its inventive world-building, incredible visuals, and the seamless line between its practical and CG effects. This was all done on a budget of $80 million, a wallet that gave The Creator the air of a maverick indie film. It only ended up amassing $104 million at the box office, but I think we’d all rather make that against $80 million, as opposed to $250 million.

How did Gareth Edwards pull this off exactly? Well, his solution was easy. The Creator was shot on a Sony FX-3 (a camera you can purchase at Best Buy), filmed on location as often as possible, and utilized the smallest crew possible. There weren’t as many artists that had to be paid, and less CGI was utilized to create locations. So, essentially, Edwards brought his indie filmmaking sensibilities to a project that would normally attract a budget of over $150 million. Think smarter, Hollywood, not harder.

In an interview with Drumpe’s Perri Nemiroff, Edwards created an analogy for how Hollywood justifies their inflated budgets by saying:

« …if you had a dollar bill, the way filmmaking works is they buy a $5 case to protect that dollar bill because they don’t want to lose the dollar, right? And now they look at it and go, ‘Oh, hang on, that’s $6. We need to buy a $10 cabinet to put this in to protect our $6 investment. Oh, wait a minute. That’s $16.’ And they basically spend more and more and more to protect it and protect it and protect it. If you just say at the very beginning, ‘You know what? We’re gonna spend one dollar. We’re not gonna protect it. If we lose it, we’ve lost a dollar and we’ll just spend another dollar doing it again.’ And that kind of was the philosophy of, let’s spend as little as possible. Let’s go out on a limb. If something fails, doesn’t work, we’ll just do it again. We’ll figure out a way around it. »

Maybe in the end, there’s no one way to solve all of this. There is, however, a lesson to be learned in each example. Godzilla Minus One profited quickly because its budget was so low, but it cost as much as it did because artists’ wages are so low in Japan. We can’t not pay artists! That said, we cannot continue this trend of blowing oceans of money on movies like The Marvels and Indiana Jones, just for them to bomb over and over. Maybe we need to find a balance, taking aspects of the resourceful nature of Godzilla Minus One’s creativity, while also avoiding the over-spending of most mega-franchise fare. The Creator wasn’t a box office sensation, but Gareth Edwards’ head was in the right place. Finding a middle ground and giving these flashy genre pictures their proper dollar amount is key, and sticking with that dollar amount is imperative. Having limitations makes an artist’s creative intuition kick in, a part of the brain that is left inactive every time a check is written. Think smarter, Hollywood. Maybe you’ll start seeing minus one bomb here, minus one bomb there, movies will be more creative, audiences will be happy, and who knows, you might turn a profit. Thank you for all that you teach us, Godzilla.

Godzilla Minus One is now playing in theaters.

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