To date, David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has grossed about $76 million domestic and $100 worldwide. An impressive number until you compare it to the movie’s mind-blowing $90 million budget. Or the previous Swedish version that earned nearly the same in total global sales (about $104 million) with a mere $13 million budget.
How much did Fincher spend on that dragon tattoo? Movieline and other so-inspired film blogs shopped around and priced an inked dragon at about $500 to $1200. Perhaps the spectacular CGI, stunts and special effects racked up his filmmaking bill… except there really weren’t any other than a few trippy out-of-body perspectives. Unless the spellbinding, snow-shrouded, Nordic noir cinematography came at a high cost? What about Trent Reznor and Karen O? How much did they charge for their "Immigrant Song" theme? What was the on-set catering bill? Reportedly Rooney Mara took home a paltry (for Hollywood) $4 million paycheck, so do we blame Daniel Craig’s salary? Was his set trailer the gold-plated model? Or ultimately, as they say in real estate, did the majority of the studio’s dollars go to “location, location, location”?
In an interview posted on the Fincher Fanatic fan blog, the director explains “...we shot 78 days in Sweden, and I believe by the end of it the Swedish crew saw the difference... At the beginning they were definitely rolling their eyes. They were like, 'Hey, we made the first Dragon Tattoo for 15 million bucks', and I said, 'I realize that. But we're doing something different. It's going to be handled in a different way.' So at the beginning the Swedes were very much like, 'How could you possibly take this long to make a movie?' And by the middle of the shoot they were like, 'I get what the difference is. I get what it is to have these choices.'"
Fincher also adds that "the American film industry is like the American auto industry: You got people who do one thing, and they do it great, and you don't have to tell them how to do that one thing ... I mean: We will wait for Michael Brennan. We want to start shooting at the beginning of January. Brennan is not available until February? So we'll start in February!”
So, $90 million for location plus extended shooting time? Or perhaps the bigger picture and reason is David Fincher’s drive for perfectionism, at any price, without cutting any corners. Though even so the figure still baffles in light of the result – a riveting drama fueled more by taut acting and an ominous landscape then the bells and whistles that usually account for a nearly $100 million budget. Unless Fincher or some studio number cruncher shows us the money (and where it went) we'll always wonder.