What Were the Most Financially-Savvy Films of 2008?

The American Film Institute just announced their top ten movies of 2008 — a year that in spite of the economic apocalypse that plagued certain industries (can we get a “Big 3”?) seemed recession-proof for Hollywood, proving that it is in fact a magical place. After the jump we decided to break down AFI’s list by the numbers (production budgets vs. award nods) in an effort to uncover the most wallet-friendly critical successes for producers this year. What did we discover? Spending $200 million is definitely the way to go if you’re interested in scoring an MTV Movie Award.

1. Iron Man
The investment:
There were reports that Jon Favreau’s F/X heavy film cost nearly $190 million to make; lucky for him it turned out to be one of the summer’s biggest hits.
The payoff: 1 Grammy Award, 1 MTV Movie Award

2. The Dark Knight
The investment:
Christopher Nolan spent an estimated $185 million on the Batman sequel, which made nearly the entire thing back in its opening weekend.
The payoff:
1 Golden Globe nomination, 1 Grammy Award, 1 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award

3. WALL-E
The investment: This high-concept Pixar flick broke their record for highest production budget at an estimated $180 million.
The payoff: 2 Golden Globes, 1 Grammy Award, 1 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, 1 National Board of Review Award, 1 New York Film Critics Circle Award

4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The investment: David Fincher spent an estimated $150 million thanks to the expensive technology that makes Benjamin look like a 70-year-old baby.
The payoff: 5 Golden Globe nominations, 8 Critics’ Choice Award Nominations, Winner National Board of Review Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay

5. Gran Torino
The investment: A cool $35 million, thanks to lots of unknown acting and writing talent involved with the project, and the fact that Clint Eastwood was playing double duty. Bonus points: They scored a big tax rebate for shooting in Michigan.
The payoff: 1 Golden Globe nomination, 2 National Board of Review Awards

6. Frost/Nixon
The investment: Ron Howard (who’s used to having deeper pockets) was working with a reported $30 million to bring the pedigreed play to the big screen. He allegedly came in both under budget and schedule.
The payoff: 5 Golden Globe nominations

7. Milk
The investment: Indie darling Gus Van Sant was working with a big studio-sounding budget — $20 million.
The payoff: 1 Golden Globe Nomination, 4 Independent Spirit Awards, 1 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, 1 National Board of Review Award, 3 New York Film Critics Circle Awards

8. The Wrestler
The investment: Darren Aronofsky had to shave $3 million off the project in order to get the reported $6 million he needed to make the film with Mickey Rourke as his lead.
The payoff: 3 Golden Globe Nominations, 3 Independent Spirit Awards, 1 Golden Lion

9. Frozen River
The investment: Courtney Hunt only had 24 days and “well under a million dollars” to shoot this indie drama; she only received funding after a short version of the film gathered some buzz at the New York Film Festival.
The payoff: 1 Gotham Award, 6 Independent Spirit Awards, 2 National Board of Review Awards, 1 New York Film Critic’s Circle Award, 1 Sundance Film Festival Award

10. Wendy and Lucy
The investment: Kelly Reichardt told us she was working with 18 days and $300,000.
The payoff: 2 Independent Spirit Awards