What is the most profitable movie ever?

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‘Avatar’? ‘Blair Witch Project’? ‘Star Wars’? The Hollywood Reporter crunches the numbers to see which film has earned the most hard cash.

What’s Hollywood’s most profitable movie ever? The answer depends on how you define “profitable.”

If you think of profit purely as a ratio of production cost to box office gross, 1999’s The Blair Witch Project and 2007’s Paranormal Activity run neck and neck.

Blair Witch involved an initial outlay of $35,000 — but that was just for the shoot; once postproduction was completed, the real budget was over $200,000 (and may have been as much as $500,000), including a sound remix and a transfer to 35mm. Artisan Entertainment’s Bill Block bought the picture for just over $1 million and (after a hefty marketing spend of $6 million to $8 million domestically alone) it earned $249 million globally.

Paranormal only cost $15,000 to make. Later, however, its sound was redone for an additional $150,000; and producers Oren Peli and Jason Blum spent an extra $50,000 to reshoot the ending at Steven Spielberg’s request, bringing the total budget to $215,000. As a return on investment (ROI), looking at the initial outlay alone, that beats Blair Witch — unless you also factor in the marketing costs, in which case Blair is in pole position.

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