Imagine you're 21 years old and your father finally thinks you're responsible enough for the keys—not to the family car, but to the family movie studio. You mess this one up, and you're not just out some touch-up paint and repair shop fee. People's jobs and millions of dollars are on the line.
Kind of puts that fender-bender your dad won't stop griping about in perspective, doesn't it?
That's exactly what happened to Carl Laemmle Jr. when his father, Laemmle Sr., made him head of production of Universal Studios in 1929. At the time the studio was known for "low-budget family fare," but Laemmle Jr. announced his intentions to shift the studio's focus to "prestige films" (source).
Today, we take it for granted that Universal works with big, epic pictures. It's the film studio that distributed Jaws (1975), E.T. (1982), Back to the Future (1985), and Jurassic Park (1993).
It was also the first studio to have three films gross more than $1 billion dollars worldwide box office in a single year—Minions, Furious 7, and Jurassic World in 2015 if you're curious (source).
To get the one-day billion dollar ball rolling, Laemmle Jr. decided to purchase the rights to Erich Maria Remarque's worldwide bestseller All Quiet on the Western Front (1929).
According to Leonard Maltin, Laemmle Jr. "spared no expense" and "wanted [All Quiet] to be his signature film and one of the great films." He would give the film a budget of $1.5 million, which was a huge investment back in 1929 (source).
The down payment paid off. All Quiet would earn back roughly $3 million and become the first picture to win the Academy Award for best film and best direction (source).