Bruce Willis. The guy who started it all with his epic 5 million payday for Die Hard back in 1988, even though the best paid actors then were getting 1 maybe 2 million max (cause, I mean, if you only offer him 3 million he just says “fuck no, I have a family to feed”, right?). Then the escalation really began and clowns like Jim Carrey were getting 20 million for his silly-putty schtick, Arnold Schwarzenegger got into the 20-25 million per picture club (before he became Governor of California – which really happened, you can google it), and everybody was living it up. No matter how good the movie was or if it made money (many of them didn’t).
So by now the top actors must be getting like 30-40 million, right? Not so much. Sure, some may snag that kind of cash for a specific pre-sold role – oh, for say Robert Downey Jr to be Iron Man (not quite as much for his role in The Judge though, huh?) The smart ones take less up front in exchange for a piece of the profits (unless they know the movie is dog shit) – and that can actually net them those kind of big numbers if the movies do well. Word is Sandra Bullock made a killing that way for The Blind Side.
Yes they are still overpaid, even at the 10-15 million the big stars typically make. But the system that Bruce Willis sent spiraling out of control has somewhat corrected itself. If they want a shot at the crazy big payday then the movie should have to be very successful, no? That makes sense. Yay capitalism.
But the real story is that a lot of big-name actors will do almost any crap project for even halfway decent money. They like to work and, well, they like money. Also in many cases, it’s not a lot of work. Remember when Jack Nicholson got 10 million for like 10 days of work on A Few Good Men? That was a good movie but you get the point. And all he had to do was sit in a chair and channel himself from The Shining. Sweet gig.
So now, with the streamers all desperate for content, and willing to pay to for saturation regardless of quality – we start to see more and more names show up in things that make you do a double-take.
Take our pal Bruce Willis. His latest starring role is in some action-thriller called Trauma Center. Never heard of it? It’s on PPV (the modern equivalent of direct-to-video – something that used to be the domain of the B-list crowd, but now has plenty of A-list company). Bruce isn’t even the main star – he’s second billed under someone named Nicky Whelan, who has a respectable if underwhelming resume – but who the hell ever even heard of her? See:
It must be fantastic. When great movies are made they often bypass theatrical releases. Just ask Netflix. Trauma Center is 3 percent on Rotten Tomatoes by the way (but there’s no consensus yet so I’m sure things will turn around any day now).
Bruce isn’t the only one. How about Gary Oldman in some shlock horror drivel called Mary (4 percent on RT)? He’s a freaking Oscar-caliber actor! Oh Sirius Black, was this done on a dare? Was it “I dare you to do the next script that shows up on your desk and you’re not even allowed to read it first”? That could at least explain it – in fact, I think I’d respect that.
Will Smith in Bright (sorry Netflix, but you asked for it by pretending it was so great)? Then there’s Jim Carrey in something called Dark Crimes – one of which said crimes was obviously making the movie. It’s at zero percent on RT. Zero. They couldn’t even pay one critic to pretend to like it, like most studios do. And the list goes on…
The game has changed. By the way, I’m not judging them (okay fine, I’m judging them) – if someone offered me real money (not Bitcoin) to star in Serial Apeist 3 with Penny from The Big Bang Theory, fuck it – when do I go for my ape suit fitting? And there are so few quality projects these days that holding out for them means not acting for long periods of time, so I get it. You can’t all be Leonardo DiCaprio.
So that’s where we are. But do you think old Bruce got 5 million to be in Trauma Center?
But he shouldn’t hold his breath for the profit-sharing on the backend…