Govt gives $140m worth of subsidies for Avatar sequels so far

The yet-to-be-released Avatar sequels have already received the second most government film...
The yet-to-be-released Avatar sequels have already received the second most government film rebates. Photo: Supplied
Taxpayers have so far paid more than $140 million worth of subsidies to help produce the upcoming sequels to the Avatar movie.

According to figures from the New Zealand Film Commission, the cash rebates for the upcoming movies will be the second largest in the agency's history.

The only production to have received more taxpayers' cash is the Hobbit movies – which received more than $161m between 2012 and 2015.

But, given the last of the four Avatar sequels is not due to be released until 2028, it's likely the government cash it will receive in total will overtake the Lord of the Rings prequels at some point soon.

The Act Party wants the Government to immediately stop providing subsidies to studios producing movies in New Zealand.

"Every dollar that's spent on a subsidy for [the] Hollywood elite is a dollar that's not spent somewhere else in our economy," deputy leader Brooke Van Velden said.

She said production companies receiving millions through the rebates is a slap in the face to the likes of the Breast Cancer Foundation – which wanted just $15m in funding to catch up on screenings missed due to the Covid lockdown.

"Instead – they're giving it to Hollywood elite. I think their priorities are wrong and we need to have more respect for New Zealand taxpayers."

The Screen Production Grant scheme has been around for years and is designed to attract production companies to film or produce content in New Zealand.

Film Commission acting chief executive Mladen Ivancic said the grants support thousands of jobs every year, whilst also creating economic benefits across industries including accommodation, tourism and technology.

"We are incredibly fortunate to have productions like the four Avatar sequels made in New Zealand," Ivancic said.

"Productions like Avatar also shine the spotlight on New Zealand, raising the capability and experience of the New Zealand crews working on them, exposing them to leading technology and innovation from around the world."

Eligible international productions where part of the project is filmed or produced in New Zealand can apply for a 20 per cent rebate on the money they've spent within the country on the project.

After a thorough audit process is completed, the production company receives a cash payment from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The first season of the "Untitled Amazon Project" – almost certainly the upcoming Lord of the Rings TV show – for example, received a $30m rebate late last year.

According to the Film Commission's figures, Amazon spent $150m in New Zealand and was eligible for a 20 per cent rebate on that.

So far, roughly $740m worth of spending on the production of all five Avatar films is eligible for the 20 per cent production grant.

The first movie in the series received an $8m grant – so far the other four have received $140m in total.

But Van Velden has predicted the amount spent – and therefore the rebate the production company's eligible for when it wraps up its production – will be much higher.

The second Avatar movie is set to be released later this year.

A third comes out in 2024, a fourth in 2026, and a fifth is scheduled to be released in 2028.

The later movies are still in production and are likely to be worked on in New Zealand for the coming years.

Van Velden said she wouldn't be surprised if the total rebate for all four sequel movies came out to a quarter of a billion dollars.

"This is a company that's making about $3 billion worth of profit from their movie – they don't need this money, Kiwis need it in their back pockets."

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