In the mid-1990s, when Anthony Minghella's $27-million epic, "The English Patient," exceeded the mandated cap, the Weinsteins got approval from then-Disney Studios chief Joe Roth to press ahead. After the film grossed around $80 million domestically and landed an Oscar, Disney raised Miramax's budget limit to $20 million.
On a tangent: That project, based on a 1992 bestseller, was dumped by Fox who was toying with the idea of Demi Moore as the lead actress and Danny DeVito or John Goodman as supporting actors (the name game) and was picked up by Miramax.
Since all major studios now have a "specialty film" division, competition grew fierce & Miramax had both huge hits (Chicago, Kill Bill v. 1 & 2) and financial flops (Cold Mountain, Duplex, All the Pretty Horses, Gangs of New York). The formula of leveraging creative risks and limiting financial ones is good on paper but it's not always cut-and-dried. Some say Disney dropped the ball reigning in the financial risks of some of the bigger budget flops, which isn't surprising given Disney's hit & miss record of late.
Tangent 2: Miramax sat on a marginal film, Prozac Nation (2001), for years, since it was likely to be a box-office flop, despite its relatively low $9M pricetag. Starring cult-fave Christina Ricci (below) and based on a bestselling memoir by Elizabeth Wurtzel (in my opinion, think of a whiny, untalented, and narcissistic Plath), the Skjoldbjærg (directed the original 1997 Insomnia) project was shelved and will be going on pay cable in March 2005. There were probably better ways to deal with this but fear of failure can stifle creative solutions.
I'm awaiting my copy of DisneyWars from Amazon to get more insight into the Eisner-Weinstein battles, alluded to on Charlie Rose last week.
Update (4/4/2009):: Link to Michael Eisner & George Clooney on Charlie Rose 3/30/06.