Pinewood Atlanta Studios co-owner claims the next two ‘Avengers’ films have a budget of $1 billion

Source: Marvel Studios

Source: Marvel Studios

By now, you’ve likely read that Avengers: Infinity War has a “reported” budget of $1 billion. The source of this news is Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A. Cathy is also the co-owner of Pinewood Atlanta Studios, where Avengers: Infinity War will complete the bulk of its principal photography.

According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Cathy told attendees at a recent business luncheon that Pinewood Atlanta is playing host to a historic production.

“We now have on the lot down there now the largest film production ever with a $1 billion budget.”

Cathy did not actually mention Avengers: Infinity War by name, but most assume that’s the production he was talking about. Of course, that $1 billion would presumably be a combined budget since both Avengers: Infinity War and its untitled Avengers follow-up are being produced at the same time. Still, that would be good for a record-setting budget of $500 million per film.

This is not the first time we’ve heard massive numbers being tossed around with regard to the next two Avengers films. Bleeding Cool also had the combined budget at a rumored $1 billion. Rumors should always be taken with a grain of salt and a healthy dose of skepticism is also recommended for Cathy’s comments.

Given the size of the cast, there is little doubt that the next two Avengers films will be the most expensive movies Marvel Studios has ever produced. Currently, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War are tied for the Marvel spending record with each having a reported production budget of $250 million. If these remarks about the Infinity War budget are correct, that would mean Marvel is prepared to spend twice as much as it ever has on each of the next two Avengers movies.

Time may prove me wrong, but I’m highly skeptical of these estimates. Spending this much money would mean each film would have to topple Marvel’s highest grossing film, The Avengers ($1.52 billion), just to turn a relatively minimal profit (at best) once the multi-hundred-million-dollar marketing campaigns are added in. That’s possible, but far from a guarantee given that both Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War failed to match The Avengers‘ staggering success.

Then there are the sources of this information. Bleeding Cool picked up its rumor via “comic book movie insiders” tossing the $1 billion number out during conversations in bars at New York Comic Con. If you will recall, Marvel Studios didn’t actually attend NYCC, so these insiders may not exactly have direct knowledge of the studio’s budgets.

Cathy actually has some affiliation with the production, so his information could be accurate, but it’s not a lock. By day, I am a mild-mannered production professional and I have booked studio sound stages for several productions. The number of times myself and anyone else from the productions I’ve worked on have disclosed our full production budget to a studio lot like Pinewood remains at zero.

I’m not bragging. None of the productions I’ve worked on are anywhere near the size of a Marvel Studios movie. Marvel has been filming at Pinewood Atlanta Studios for almost three years now, beginning with Ant-Man in 2014. It’s entirely possible that Marvel has shared its full budget with Pinewood. It’s also possible that Pinewood Atlanta only knows, as all lots do, how much Marvel is going to spend with them over the course of the production and they’re using that to estimate the total budget.

Then there’s the elephant in the room who’s insanely curious as to how he hasn’t been spotted by anyone reporting on this. Marvel Studios films in Atlanta for the same reason most productions do—the Georgia tax incentive. Marvel Studios stands to get 30% of almost every dollar it spends in Georgia back via a tax credit. I’m familiar with this credit and how it works because I’ve helped a production successfully apply for it. You don’t need production experience, though, so long as you take a quick look on Georgia’s website.

Does this mean that Marvel Studios is really only spending $700 million on Avengers: Infinity War? No, because the 30% credit only applies to qualifying expenditures in Georgia. It doesn’t cover any filming that happens outside of Georgia and it won’t cover any postproduction costs outside the state. Marvel Studios usually edits its films on the Disney lot in Burbank, CA. Visual effects are often farmed out to several companies, not all (or any) of which are guaranteed to have an office in Georgia.

Even so, Marvel Studios stands to get a lot of money back since the vast majority of the next two Avengers movies will be filmed in Atlanta, GA. The tax credit will take a big bite out of that “$1 billion budget,” assuming the production budget is actually that high, which is not an assumption I’m prepared to make just yet. Studio accounting is notoriously fuzzy with actual spending often exceeding reported budgets, but whenever Disney and Marvel Studios let out a reported figure, I expect to see a combined budget well shy of $1 billion, especially after the tax credit is factored in.