Jon Favreau, the Director of Iron Man and the brains behind Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian, is as much of a household name these days as The Lion King: The Animated Real Live Action CGI Reboot or whatever they ended up calling the Live. Die. Repeat. of Disney film re-imaginings.
But if you know how things work in Hollywood with respect to Intellectual Property and you know that by introducing the look and feel of a new property to the entertainment landscape you’re basically setting up your own movie-based 401k for the future, then you’re a super smart, strategically-focused creative mind of epic proportions.
Of which Jon Favreau clearly is.
But in order to understand where the financial fortunes of Mr. Favreau are these days, you have to understand where they came from. So we consulted with a variety of industry experts and forensic accountants with Netflix-like algorithms to break out every opportunity he has nailed from his early acting days to present, and attached a salary to each of those items assuming inflation and the Gone with the Wind factor. In doing so, we’ve recreated (like a Sherlock Holmes of movie money) the path from where the bucks were small and insignificant and grew to become the Favreau Fort Knox as we’ve come to call it around the SNTS offices.
Because behind all his movie making success is more moolah than you could ever imagine. So we’re going to help you, you know, imagine it.*
Close your eyes. Are you with us now on this fantastical journey of finance?
Favreau started his acting career playing bit parts. The dude wanted into Hollywood, so he took whatever he could get in order to secure that SAG card. There was the “Chicago Taxi Driver” role he scored in Folks! that didn’t net him much more than the $100-150 per day that an Extra gets. This was also the case on his uncredited Extra role in 1992’s Hoffa as well.
Jon Favreau’s 1992 Salary: $200
But 1993 was a good bump for Favreau, who nailed a co-starring role as Dennis “D-Bob” McGowan in the awesome Sean Astin’ football flick Rudy. As a day player or a co-star during that year, Favreau cleared easily $2,000-3,000 per week of work, and as the film was rumored to have taken at least 8 production weeks to shoot with the elaborate crowd sequences that were pre-CGI, that meant Favreau had a pretty nice jump in 1993 from his days of playing an Extra. No more moolah from momma, you feel us?
Jon Favreau’s 1993 Salary: $24,000 (approx)
Thanks to Rudy, things were looking up for Mr. Favreau. He booked three movies in 1994 including PCU, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, and the uncredited role of the “Debate Room Controller/Operator” in Speechless. Since his roles in PCU and Mrs. Parker represented solid gets, and because of the Rudy love, Favreau’s quote (which is what agents and managers use to ensure you never get paid less than your highest salary on a project) started to increase.
Jon Favreau’s 1994 Salary: $125,000
But things as just an actor weren’t necessarily working for Favreau. 1995 and 1996 were spotty years with an Assistant role on Batman Forever ($100 per day if he was lucky), and a few small roles in the films Notes from Underground, Persons Unknown and the miniscule Just Your Luck. But Favreau wasn’t so concerned with the small roles. He had realized one very smart thing. If you can create your own content…if you can own your own content… If you can write a movie where you are guaranteed a co-starring role because you wrote it that way, and the studio can’t make it without you, then your longevity in the industry can be extended ten-fold.
Jon Favreau’s 1995/1996 Acting Salary: $75,000
So let’s talk about 1996’s Swingers. Favreau wrote the film in just about two weeks on a screenwriting program his father had given him. He wanted to see if he could do it “just as an exercise.” He wrote characters that he loosely based on friends, and targeted fellow actors for the key parts. He had met Vince Vaughn on Rudy, known Ron Livingston from Chicago improv and for the role of Mike, Favreau slotted in himself. Eventually, Favreau raised the small budget of $200,000, shot the film, and sold the film to Miramax for $5 million. As the screenwriter, co-star, and Co-Producer of the film, Favreau walked away with a pretty penny that was 10x his previous year’s income.
Jon Favreau’s 1996 Swingers Take: $750,000
Favreau was now known. He was an indie darling. A great “story” for people to tell. The struggling actor, who wrote a movie in two weeks, then sold it for quite a profit. But writing a successful movie would elude Favreau as he booked more acting jobs that were more significant because of his co-starring role in Swingers.
Over the course of 1998-2002 he would book solid roles in Dogtown, Deep Impact, Very Bad Things, Love & Sex, The Replacements and Made. Over those years, each of those roles would generate a solid $350,000 aggregate paycheck for him, driving a solid five year take.
Jon Favreau’s 1998-2002 Salary: $2.1M, or $400,000 annually
By 2003, Favreau had been around Hollywood long enough to know that his biggest paydays and his best opportunities to have an impact on the final product was getting involved creatively and behind the camera. He had struggled to secure that next directing gig and writing another screenplay had been tough for him to finish. But it was the 2003 film Elf that changed everything for the actor, finally taking him out of the Indie world and putting him behind the camera for what would turn out to be a $220 million dollar international box office gross. He would smartly negotiate a salary as Director, a small fee in a bit part as “Doctor” and net points on the back-end of the film when and if it reached profitability. (Note: Net points are 1-2 percentage points off the profits, once all expenses have been recouped. Gross points, which is what big stars can negotiate for, give them a percentage of the box office before any costs have been recouped.) You want gross points. But for his first big studio film, net would be what he’d have to deal with. But because Elf was a New Line Cinema release, often considered scrappy when it came to budgets and spending, Favreau lucked out. A $33 million dollar budget and a $40 million dollar marketing spend still left over $100 million in profits. Favreau’s rumored $400k salary to direct, plus points off the profit, netted him a nice little 2003 financial package. And that doesn’t even count the residuals that have continued to come in from the movie over all these holidays.
Jon Favreau’s 2003 Elf Money: $750,000
Favreau was now a studio director. While he still pulled the random role in major studio films, he was focused on the bigger opportunities. Directing gave him cache. It also gave him bigger salaries and even bigger back-end upside. He’d follow up Elf by directing Zathura for Sony in 2005, revise a few major studio scripts like Zathura and I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. He’d also pull a few roles in The Break-Up, play Leo in Something’s Gotta Give and provide the voice for Reilly in Open Season. The years 2004 to 2007 would be the last time he’d so actively play roles in films just to act. Because 2008 would be the beginning of the big bucks.
Jon Favreau’s 2004-2007 Salary: $3.5M or $875,000 annually
Then came Iron Man. The beginning of the MCU. At the time, Marvel wasn’t owned by Disney and sourced their own Director in Favreau, which they followed up by securing distribution by Paramount at the time. Favreau would sign on as the Director, the Executive Producer and play the role of Hogan.
But Favreau did something extremely smart. Not only did he step up and help define the origin story of Tony Stark and Iron Man, but he would work with Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios to define a roadmap for the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a part of that, Favreau would be entitled to Executive Producer credits on future movies that came out of the story he created in Iron Man…which meant any Avengers title at all. It would net him revenue off films like The Avengers, Iron Man 2 (for Directing, Acting and Executive Producing), Iron Man 3 (for Acting and Executive Producing), Avengers: Age of Ultron (for Executive Producing), Avengers: Infinity War (for Executive Producing), and Avengers: Endgame (for Executive Producing).
In TV, when a Director handles the Pilot episode of said show, he or she is paid a fee off every single episode that comes after it. This is because the Director is setting the stage; the visual identity and style, for that show. This is why you see Feature Film Directors helming TV pilots often. It’s a money making scheme that can really pay off.
Favreau did that with the MCU. By setting the stage with Iron Man, he’d secure fees and credits on every Avengers movie that came out of his creation. It would be the MCU 401k that Favreau would have access to from that day forward.
Jon Favreau’s MCU Salary: $30 million
Favreau, whose total net worth these days is approaching $60 million, has a lot to thank the MCU for. But it’s Favreau’s additional producing, writing and directing duties that have helped him to come a long way from his 1992, two-hundred dollar year.
Between 2008 and 2018, Favreau would write Couples Retreat, produce Cowboys & Aliens, direct/produce and write Chef. He’d direct Disney’s live-action Jungle Book, direct Disney’s live-action The Lion King, and write all eight episodes, create and direct Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian.
These days, a Directing fee for Favreau can be in the seven figure range. A screenwriting gig can net him mid-to-high six figures. As a creator and producer, like on The Mandalorian, you’re talking millions. Favreau has dozens of projects in development and has a steady stream of residuals and bonuses coming his way from the various hats he continues to wear on film projects. As our trusty SNTS forensic accountants have determined, he’s easily pulling close to $5-10 million a year.
He’s come a long way from that bare 1992 year, just four years before he tried his hand at writing, and just a decade before his intelligence, creative mojo and directing skills pulled an Elf and a clear pathway to the MCU money machine. These days, Favreau is everywhere. Movies, TV, streaming and more. And it’s nice to see a good dude like him get rewarded for his tireless work and his can-do attitude. Ask anyone about working with the F-man and they’ll say nothing but amazingly-nice things. He’s supportive, encourages new voices, and has been one of the major reasons why this World has been graced with so many entertaining “amusement park” movies over the last decade.
Is all that a justification of a net worth of $60 million?
Maybe it is.
*The salary numbers in this article are a combination of industry estimations, established minimums from the DGA and WGA, overheard conversations, publicly-available information, Wikipedia pages, Box Office reporting and pure common sense.