Movie star salaries: $20 million from Joaquin for Joker 2, $100 million from Tom Cruise

Agent Ethan Hunt bets on himself. Tom Cruise is taking lower fees up front to star in the next two “Mission: Impossible” films, which sources say leads to a meager paycheck in the range of $12-14 million, but he commands a significant percentage of early films. gross dollar. This means Cruise is getting box office bonuses before the studio even breaks even. In the case of ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ still at nearly $1.2 billion at the worldwide box office, sources estimate that Cruise will bring in $100 million or more from ticket sales, salary and to its eventual reduction in home entertainment rentals and streaming. revenue.

“I would never bet against Tom Cruise,” says one studio executive, noting that Cruise is superhuman when it comes to traveling the world to promote his movies (although he doesn’t do print interviews). “Most actors aren’t worth what you pay them, but Cruise and maybe Dwayne Johnson justify their salaries.”

Cruise’s deal is unique, however. Most A-listers still command big paydays, and many get a slice of the profits, but they can’t access the wealth pool until after a movie goes black. For decades, the biggest actors in the world have commanded $20 million. That figure dated back to Jim Carrey’s payoff for “The Cable Guy” in 1996, and it was a figure that seemed immune to inflationary pressures.

Cruise’s pact is a holdover from a time when stars, not superheroes, were the reason audiences flocked to movie theaters to see a new release. But things have changed since Marvel hijacked the box office earlier in the year, putting an interchangeable lineup of Chrises in spandex and face masks. The problem is that while these actors are sure to draw any time the Avengers get together, they can’t always draw a crowd when trying to build on their success in other genres.

That doesn’t mean movie stars need a bailout. The streaming wars have been very good for their results. Apple will pay Leonardo DiCaprio $30 million to rework with Martin Scorsese on historical drama ‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’ as well as $30 million to Brad Pitt for getting behind the wheel of a currently untitled Formula 1 drama from “Top Gun”. : Maverick” director Joseph Kosinski and $35 million to Will Smith for his appearance in the runaway slave thriller “Emancipation”. Not to be outdone, Netflix will pay Chris Hemsworth $20 million and $10 million to Millie Bobby Brown to reprise their roles in upcoming sequels to “Extraction” and “Enola Holmes.”

Studio executives admit payouts from Netflix, Apple and the like caused some players to raise their quotes. Johnson, for example, requested and received $22.5 million to play the lead role in DC’s superhero film “Black Adam.” In addition, he will receive millions more for the production of the film and will receive additional fees for promoting the film on his social networks.

But these showy paydays come with caveats. Apple has included clauses in some contracts that make bonuses dependent on movies arriving on time and on budget. And all the streamers basically pay for the backends of the actors. This eliminates the risk of their films collapsing at the box office, which would theoretically rob them of all those bonuses. Yet it also caps their potential earnings if, say, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is a world-straddling phenomenon.

If successful, stars reap rewards in other ways. Jason Momoa had the option of appearing in an ‘Aquaman’ sequel as part of his original contract, but after the first film surpassed $1 billion, he renegotiated his pact to essentially double his salary to bring it back to life. the trident. Now Momoa will get $15 million for his second trip to Atlantis. The same goes for Joaquin Phoenix. When he first portrayed Gotham’s most infamous villain in 2019’s “Joker,” Phoenix earned $4.5 million. The film went on to gross over $1 billion and earn the actor an Oscar. If Warner Bros. going to put Phoenix back in clown makeup, it’ll cost the studio $20 million.

The good times may not last. There’s a nagging feeling that as the country braces for recession and media companies see their stock prices plunge, the stars may be starting to feel the pinch. After years of free spending, Netflix signaled to investors that it was serious about keeping its operating margins between 19% and 20%. This has made the streamer much more selective about writing huge checks for trending projects. At the same time, companies like Warner Bros. Discovery are struggling with heavy debt and have pledged to cut costs. To be fair, Apple, with a market capitalization of $2.4 trillion, seems unlikely to be forced to tighten its belt, but at some point all those savings will have a ripple effect on the salaries of stars.

For actors, it’s not always a question of money. Take the cast of “Oppenheimer,” a historical drama about J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the driving forces behind the creation of the atomic bomb. The $100 million production is a tough business proposition given its subject matter, but Universal is betting on it because it comes from the mind of Christopher Nolan. And while “Oppenheimer” has actor Cillian Murphy in the title role, the set includes the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in supporting roles. Any of these actors could command between $10 million and $20 million on the open market, but for the privilege of working with Nolan, they give the studio a big discount, bringing in $4 million apiece. Yet, like Cruise, all have backend participation built into their offerings. So if “Oppenheimer” beats the odds of being the rare serious drama to achieve blockbuster status, they could profit handsomely.


Matt Donnelly and Rebecca Rubin contributed to this report.

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