For 90s kids, ‘Blank Check’ was the movie dreams are made of. Like its contemporaries, ‘Richie Rich’ and ‘First Kid,’ ‘Blank Check’ demonstrated what life could be like if you were a young, white boy with money, freedom and an older, male confidante.
One could argue that the entire plot of the 1994 movie is unrealistic (seriously, what kind of career criminal gives a precocious kid a signed, blank check?) But how much of the stuff that Preston Waters buys in the film could he actually afford today? We’re going to drill down and ruin a childhood fantasy through the power of math.
In the film, 12-year-old Preston cashes in his blank check for one million dollars. Here’s a list of everything he purchased during his six-day spending spree:
Preston purchases a home over the phone using the Microsoft Sam feature on his computer. Located at 1400 Blk Ward & Maple in Hillsdale, Indiana, the house looks like a castle and is conveniently located next door to his parents’ home.
According to the fictional listing, the home contains three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a pool and a yard (no square footage is listed). The home is valued at $220,000, plus closing fees, but Preston purchases it for $300,000.
Like any respectable kid millionaire, Preston rents a limo. In the film, he appears to hand his driver $2,000 (presumably for the entire evening). In hindsight, it’s clear he overpaid: according to this chart, present-day, fourteen-passenger limos run $150/hour (plus gratuity).
The shopping spree
During Preston’s shopping spree montage, he drops money on clothing, sporting goods, electronics and items from The Sharper Image. There’s no way to know for sure, but we’ll estimate he spent $4,000 across these four stores.
After the spree, Preston purchases a Rolex for Henry, his limo driver. In 1994, a Rolex would set Preston back about $2,500. The two unlikely friends cap off their night with a bucket of Haagen-Daas ice cream and a can of whipped cream, which would cost about $20.00.
After moving into his Indiana castle, Preston orders pallets of both Coke and Chips Ahoy. He receives shipments from Integrated Security Control Systems Inc (which I’m assuming is an alarm or security company), Modern Toys and Right Brain Left Brain (I’m going to guess these are fake toy and brain game companies).
Henry pays for an enormous water slide (with installation), a Go-Kart and track, one bouncy boxing ring, one bouncy bungee jump contraption, one two-player boxing arcade game and one bouncy Velcro wall (kid loves to bounce).
He also buys a wall of televisions, at least one custom-made suit, luxury home office furniture and electronics, various pool floaties, a custom-made robe, a gumball machine, a neon sign and a spinning hamster-wheel-thing that is eventually used to apprehend one of the criminals.
Henry’s next purchases include an array of Nerf guns, an inflatable lawn bowling set and sumo suits. Not to mention the batting cage (complete with balls and bats), a virtual reality arcade game, a remote control car and boat and a new bike.
There is truly no way of knowing how much all of this nonsense costs, so we’ll come back to this later.
The checking account
Preston presents Shay — an undercover FBI agent who works at the bank — with $200 to open a checking account. He then proceeds to woo her (a woman 21-years his senior) by treating her to a fancy dinner for two and presenting her with a diamond-encrusted gold heart necklace (valued at approximately $212.75).
After receiving their seafood appetizer (approximately $12.00), the two ditch that meal in favor of a couple of cheeseburgers, complete with fries and Cokes (approximately $16.00).
All told, Preston blows about $428.00 on love.
The lost money
At one point during the film, the bad guys chase Preston through a park. As he attempts to escape on his new bike, money flies out of his backpack. It appears that he drops two wads of $2,000, costing him $4,000.
Preston decides to throw a party with the help of an event planner who requires a deposit of $10,000, plus $100,000 for the event itself. When the event planner requests her check, we see that Preston has spent $999,667.83. He finds himself unable to pay the remaining $100,000, so the party is shut down.
All told, Preston’s final total is $999,667.83. Working backwards (and assuming Preston didn’t spend over one million dollars) he spent $677,039.25 on that delivery of toys and games.
$1,000,0000 in 1994 is equivalent to $1,642,292 today. In order for Preston to stay under his million dollar budget in today’s economy, he would need to downgrade to a smaller house (or condo), cut back significantly on his shopping spree and pass on a couple of his bouncier purchases.
This (amateur) economic analysis is not intended to take away from the fun of the film or the fantasy of being a kid with unlimited cash flow. It is, however, a nice reminder of how important it is not to live outside your means (and also that, sadly, a million dollars isn’t much to write home about anymore).