If a movie star truly believes in the project, they will often take less money up front in hopes of striking it rich on the backend. The most recent example is actress, Emma Watson. Emma reportedly took a reduced salary of $3 Million for the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. But her final payday would escalate to $15 Million if the film outperformed Maleficent’s $759 Million worldwide gross.
Beauty and the Beast broke the coveted $1 Billion mark last weekend and Emma Watson is about to open her mailbox and smile big.
Some of the savviest stars, like Bruce Willis, can have their cake and eat it too; earning their full upfront fee as well as negotiating a percentage of the backend. This is called a gross profit point, meaning they get a slice of the film’s total box office gross before production and marketing costs are subtracted. Bruce negotiated just such a deal prior to filming The Sixth Sense.
In addition to his $14 million salary, Willis negotiated 14% of the film’s gross profits. The Sixth Sense was the sleeper hit of 1999 and made $672 million globally. Willis walked away with more than $100 million.
Most of you have heard the story of how Jack Nicholson struck it rich for his role as The Joker in the Batman franchise but it bears repeating. It remains the gold standard of backend deals because it involved a share of the film’s profits as well as a slice of the merchandise sales for the next 4 Batman films – Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin.
Although Jack only appeared in the original, he sat back and collected royalties north of $60 Million from the merchandise sales – Adjusted for inflation that’s over $100 Million today.
When Tom Hanks first read the script for Forrest Gump, he believed the film was going to be an absolute monster – So much so he waived his entire salary and rolled the dice that the film would be a huge hit.
Forrest Gump was every bit the global box office smash Hank’s thought it would be. It’s believed he made $70 Million of the total $677 Million box office take.
In 1996 nobody had any clue that Mission Impossible would be a hit. At the time Cruise was the biggest star in the world which allowed him to both star (for $20 Million) and produce the film. Because of his dual roles, Cruise negotiated a huge chunk of the eventual $465 Million gross and pocketing $70 Million.
*Tom did it again for the sequel, M:I 2, taking home $20 Million upfront in addition to the $45 Million he scored from 12% of the gross.
Actor Sylvester Stallone was offered $300,000 for a script he’d written called Rocky. There was a catch – Stallone couldn’t act in the film. Sly declined the offer and the studio eventually submitted, he went on to act in the film for a paltry $35,000. “That was pretty crazy,” recalled Stallone, “considering I had $106 in my bank account at the time.”
Stallone didn’t get rich on the backend of the original Rocky but he did get something arguably more important, movie stardom. The Rocky franchise has made well over $1 Billion and made Stallone one of the richest actors in Hollywood.
Tom Hanks is the reigning king of backend deals. For the WWII film, Saving Private Ryan, Hanks once again took no upfront compensation and opted to take 20% of the overall domestic gross instead. The film’s domestic total ran just north of $200 Million and Hanks brought home a tidy $40 Million for the effort.
By all accounts Bad Teacher wasn’t a very good film. It was widely panned by critics and audiences alike. But there was winner, Cameron Diaz. Cameron believed that, with enough clever promotion, the film could open big. This was back before social media giants like Facebook and Instagram could stop a film in its tracks on a Friday. Cameron dropped her upfront fee to $1 Million in exchange for the film’s profits.
Bad Teacher opened big before slumping the following weekends. Still, the movie made $216 worldwide and Diaz stashed away a whopping $42 Million.
Johnny Depp has made over $300 Million on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but in 2003 Disney didn’t believe Depp could resurrect the franchise, most people were vaguely familiar with it as a ride in Disney World. Depp was offered $10 Million to act in the film but he also secured a significant percentage of the film’s profits in perpetuity if his conjuring of Captain Jack Sparrow knocked it out of the park. The films’ collective grosses have sailed to multi-billion dollar tailwinds. There are rumors Depp could earn up to $95 Million for Pirates 5.
But if you ask Johnny how much money he’s made on Pirates he responds, “Money doesn’t buy you happiness, mate, but it buys you a big enough yacht to sail right up to it.”
And finally, Sandra Bullock’s check for Gravity was out of this world. Bullock secured $20 Million upfront and negotiated 15% of the film’s profits (after her advance was covered). To date, Bullock has made over $70 Million on the film, or roughly $769,000 for each of the movie’s 91 minutes.