Last week, Cinematical reported that two 3-D movies both intend to open on Memorial Day weekend, 2009: the James Cameron film Avatar and the Dreamworks movie Monsters vs. Aliens. I was reading a Chicago Tribune article about the dueling blockbusters when a sentence caught my eye: "With an initial budget of $195 million, Avatar ..." Whoa, back up there! An initial budget of $195 million? My initial reaction was, "How many films could John Sayles make for that kind of money?" (Probably all his films so far.) I realize that Cameron's last feature film, Titanic, was a huge moneymaker -- but that was 10 years ago, and he's made no blockbusters since then. Avatar is about an alien-human conflict on an alien planet, so you can imagine where the big budget will go: making that alien planet look realistic. The studio behind Avatar is Twentieth-Century Fox, which as an Austinite I remember as the studio that fought with Mike Judge on Idiocracy, but somehow I suspect they'll be a little more forthcoming if Cameron asks for more money to finish his special effects.

On her Thompson on Hollywood blog, Anne Thompson of Variety recently noted that Spider-Man 3 may have set new records for budget: possibly as much as $350 million, although Sony execs are denying those numbers. She points out that it's difficult if not impossible to gauge exactly how much money a "tentpole" film costs, and that we should be skeptical of the numbers being thrown around. However, she also observed, "The whole idea of a tentpole is to pay your other bills with its profits -- not to barely break even." Bear in mind that even if Avatar never exceeds its production budget of $195 million, Fox will still have to pay distribution and marketing costs, and it's expensive to release a movie both in 2-D and 3-D formats. Does Fox truly believe that Avatar will do so well worldwide that it will bring in lavish profits over and above its costs? No pressure there, Mr. Cameron ...