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The 10 Most Expensive Illumination Movies Ever Made, Ranked

Illumination is a force to be reckoned with in the movie industry. Over the past 13 years, the animation studio has pumped out 13 feature-length films and established strong franchises with their Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets movies. Fans around the world know their films, and those two franchises have even spurned rides at Universal Studios theme parks. With six more movies in development, it’s fair to say that Illumination won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Though Illumination films don’t even come close to the most expensive Disney movies ever made, they still come with a hefty price tag. The priciest ones cost upwards of $75-$100 million, and that’s before marketing costs are factored in. Illumination isn’t afraid to spend money on their movies, especially when they know they’re likely to come with a big payoff at the box office. These are the Illumination movies that cost a pretty penny to produce.



10 Minions – $74 Million


After Despicable Me became a hit for Illumination, the studio decided to go back and tell the story of Gru’s silly henchmen in Minions. The movie came out in 2015 and features three most popular minions – Kevin, Stuart, and Bob – as they trek around the world searching for a new boss. Along the way, they run into Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and her goofy husband Herb (Jon Hamm).

Minions is a fast and fun movie that parodies everything from the ’60s counterculture to the British monarchy to Count Dracula. It came with a price, though, and cost Illumination around $74 million to produce. Not bad considering Minions crushed it at the box office, bringing in over $1.1 billion.

9 The Secret Life of Pets – $75 Million

Secret Life of Pets Super Bowl Commercial Unchains Headbanging Dogs

For The Secret Life of Pets, Illumination pulled in a very impressive voice cast. Louis C.K. voices Max, a Jack Russell terrier who wants nothing more than to please his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). But when Katie brings home a big brown shaggy Newfoundland dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet), the household dynamic is upended and Duke tries to take off. Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Dana Carvey, and more give the movie a healthy injection of comedy.

The Secret Life of Pets was insanely successful when it hit theaters in 2016, breaking a record for the biggest opening day gross ever for an original film with $38.5 million. It’s the ninth most expensive Illumination movie out of the 13 features they’ve made, costing the company about $75 million to make. There’s also a Universal Studios ride based on The Secret Life of Pets.

8 Sing – $75 million

Illumination Entertainment

Sing was released in 2016 and cost about $75 million to produce. It’s about a singing competition similar to American Idol that brings out an interesting cast of competitors. The movie zooms in on Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a struggling theater owner who holds a contest to drum up interest in his industry. After a misprinted flyer accidentally gets out, contestants show up in droves hoping to win $100,000 instead of the original $1,000 that Buster planned on giving out.

Among the hopefuls are Rosalita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig who gave up her dreams of becoming a singer to be a mother, Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a spiky porcupine who sings punk rock, and Mike (Seth McFarlane), a mouse with a swooning voice and a snotty attitude. Sing contains more than 60 pop songs, which is reported to have cost a good chunk of the film’s $75 million budget.

RELATED: The 5 Best Musical Numbers in Illumination’s Sing

7 The Grinch – $75 million

The Grinch 2018 Animated Movie
Universal Pictures

The Grinch tells the classic tale of a furry green creature who hates Christmas. While all the residents of Whoville eagerly prepare for the holiday, The Grinch watches in dismay high above the town because his heart is “two sizes too small”. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, The Grinch decides to ruin Christmas by stealing all the Whos’ presents, decorations, and food but is stopped in his tracks when he meets little Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely).

It’s only one of several movies about The Grinch, but Illumination’s animated version is the most commercially successful. The film grossed over $500 million against a $75 million budget. Subtract the advertising cost for The Grinch – about $121 million – and the math shows Illumination still made a ton of money on the release.

6 Despicable Me 2 – $76 million

A scene from Despicable Me 2
Universal Pictures

After the massive success of Despicable Me, Illumination knew it would be a wise choice to make a sequel. Despicable Me 2 follows Gru as he begins a new life as a retired villain, taking care of three girls. When a mutagen is stolen from the Arctic Circle, Gru is recruited to recover the chemical and find out who is responsible. Kirsten Wiig stars as Lucey Wilde, an Anti-Villain League agent and potential love interest for Gru.

Despicable Me 2 continued the hot streak spared by the franchise. Fans loved seeing Gru on screen again and flocked to the theaters to see another adventure featuring their favorite anti-hero. The movie wasn’t cheap, though, and cost Illumination about $76 million to make. It paid off in the end as Despicable Me 2 was the third-highest-grossing film of 2013.

5 Despicable Me 3 – $80 million

Despicable Me 3 Final Trailer Locks the Minions in Prison

The next film in the Despicable Me franchise, Despicable Me 3, is built on a fun and hilarious premise. Gru (Steve Carrell) finds out he has a long-lost twin brother, Dru (also Carrell), who is rich and lives in a mansion in a far-off land called Freedonia. Dru admits to Gru that he’s wealthy because of an inheritance from their father, who makes his fortune doing evil deeds.

When Dru tries to convince Gru to teach him how to be a villain, Gru is resistant. Meanwhile, a former child star named Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) is trying to take over the world, and it’s up to Gru to stop him. Despicable Me 3 cost $80 million to make but was insanely profitable for Illumination. The film brought in over $1 billion at the box office and ensured the Despicable Me franchise would endure for years to come.

4 The Secret Life of Pets 2 – $80 million

Secret Life of Pets 2 Trailer Takes Max to the Dreaded Vet

The Secret Life of Pets 2 was another huge gamble for Illumination that paid off. The film brought back Max (Patton Oswalt) and his animal friends for another summer adventure in 2019. This time, Max is dealing with neurosis and ventures out to the countryside. He soon meets Rooster (Harrison Ford), a ragtag farm dog who tries to help him with his problems.

Reviews for The Secret Life of Pets 2 were mildly positive, with many critics praising Kevin Hart’s performance as Snowball being a highlight. Although it didn’t fare as well as the first film, the movie still made over $430 million against an $80 million budget. It opened against Dark Phoenix and came out as the number-one film that weekend, taking in $47.1 million.

RELATED: The Funniest Movies Starring Kevin Hart

3 Sing 2 – $85 million

Sing-2-2021 (1)

Released in 2021, Sing 2 takes the franchise to a new level. When Buster (Matthew McConaughey) and his crew fail to impress a talent scout, they set out to Redshore City to prove they can make it in the big city. They track down Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale) and manage to convince him to fund an original production. Rehearsals don’t go as planned, and Buster has to make changes on the fly. He also has trouble convincing former star Clay Calloway (Bono) to be in the show, since it’s supposed to revolve around him.

With a voice cast that also includes Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, and Halsey, it’s no wonder that Sing 2 is a great ensemble movie. The film cost $85 million but was the highest-grossing animated film of 2021. Not surprisingly, there’s another sequel currently in development at Illumination.

2 Minions: The Rise of Gru – $100 million

Minions The Rise of Gru
Illumination Entertainment

Minions: The Rise of Gru is the latest movie in the Despicable Me franchise. The film tells the origin story of Gru (Steve Carrell), going back to 1976 when he was a kid. Gru tries to convince the Vicious 6 to let him into their evil organization, but he’s denying entry. In retaliation, Gru steals the Zodiac Stone, a source of great power, but the minions subsequently trade it for a pet rock by accident.

Minions: The Rise of Gru was Illumination’s most expensive movie up until 2023. The film cost about $100 million to make, with Carrell reportedly paid $12.5 million for once again voicing Gru. Production of Minions: The Rise of Gru was significantly hampered by the effects of COVID-19, with the movie finally hitting theaters in 2022, two years after its originally planned release date.

1 The Super Mario Bros. Movie – $100 million

Mario and Luigi from The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Universal Pictures

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is Illumination’s most expensive movie, as well as its most profitable. Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are brothers who leave their jobs to start their own plumbing company. While trying to fix a leak in the city’s bustling downtown district, the duo is sucked into mysterious pipes and transported to a fantasy world. Once there, it’s up to Mario to help the Princess (Anya Taylor-Joy) from the evil (but hilarious) Bowser (Jack Black).

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is filled with colorful visuals and interesting characters. Fans of the Nintendo video games flocked to theaters to check it out when it was released in April 2023. At the time of writing, the film had already crossed the $1 billion mark at the box office, making it another huge hit for Illumination.

This story originally appeared on Movieweb

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