This week, Neil Calloway argues that a $25 million salary for a movie might not be as ridiculous as it first seems…
This week the latest salaries of Hollywood stars were revealed; the top earner recently was Leonardo DiCaprio, who earned $25 million up front for The Wolf of Wall Street.
Your first thought might be to say is that this is ridiculous; like the salaries of sports stars, that sort of money is impossible to comprehend for mere mortals; I’m not badly paid in my day job, but DiCaprio’s fee is hundreds of times what I might earn in a year.
Then again, the more I think about it, the more I see that fee is justified. DiCaprio was not only the star of The Wolf of Wall Street, he was the producer; he bought the rights to the book in 2007, the film didn’t come out until the end of 2013; that’s a long time, and even though he’d be working on other projects, he DiCaprio was the major force behind the film being made. The film has made close to $400 million at the box office, and will continue to make money for years to come through Blu-ray and DVD sales and TV rights. Put like that, $25 million doesn’t seem too bad for the man responsible for the film, even if he will get a percentage of the gross on top that the fee.
The fact is, salaries in Hollywood have gone down from their 1990s peak where a star could demand $20 million plus a big chunk of the gross (Jack Nicholson earned more for playing the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 than Robert Downey Jr. did for playing Tony Stark in the first Avengers film) and a salary like DiCaprio’s doesn’t come along very often, and will more often than not contain the star’s producing fee.
The move from big budget, star led action films that dominated the box office in the 1980s and 1990s to comic book adaptations with predominately younger, less established casts can either be seen as a deliberate move to lower star salaries, or the reason salaries for films are no longer in the stratosphere; the Marvel Universe films simply could not be made if everyone who starred in them was on $20 million plus 20% of the gross (if you have more than five stars, it would be mathematically impossible for a film to make money with those figures, obviously).
Women are almost, but not quite reaching parity with men when it comes to salaries; Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence and Melissa McCarthy can command $15 million up front for the right picture, with Bullock, through percentages and up front money, getting $70 million for Gravity. A surprising figure, perhaps, but then there are only two people in the film, and the film has made more than $700 million around the world, so 10% of the box office going to one of the major talents doesn’t seem too ridiculous. The Sony Hack showed us, however, that women still have a way to go before they are considered equal to men in Hollywood salary terms.
The people who work in Hollywood are not fools; stars would not get this money if they were not worth it, and while there are sometimes missteps and mistakes when it comes to doling out suitcases of cash to actors for films do happen, they are rare, and becoming rarer; a studio is more likely to guarantee a star a smaller up front fee, with the promise of a slice of the gross profits if they come, protecting themselves against huge losses.
Here’s the thing; if a Hollywood studio offered you $25 million dollars to spend three months or so playing a coked up banker who drives Ferraris and has sex with a beautiful blonde in a Martin Scorsese film, or offered you $70 million to pretend to be an astronaut with George Clooney, you wouldn’t say no, would you? The salaries stars are paid are both completely ridiculous and completely understandable.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future installments.