Peter Jackson: Martin Bureau/AFP/NewsCom
Gary Susman
August 12, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

After director Peter Jackson finishes ”The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” he’s preparing the big-screen return of another king, King Kong. And for his services, he’ll receive a king-sized salary. According to Variety, Universal will pay him a monster-sized fee of $20 million, plus 20 percent of the gross. That’s an unheard-of sum for a director; not even Steven Spielberg gets that much money up front (though he also gets a generous back-end cut). That’s more like Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts money.

Of course, Jackson will share the fee with his writing partners, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, who also cowrote the three ”Lord of the Rings” screenplays with him. Walsh will get a slightly larger cut than Boyens, not because she’s Mrs. Jackson, but because she and Jackson are also serving as coproducers. The Jacksons’ share will make them the highest-paid filmmaking couple in history, Variety notes. Given the nearly $2 billion earned worldwide by the first two ”LOTR” installments (the December release of ”Return of the King” will surely bring the franchise past $3 billion), it’s no wonder Universal is willing to be so generous with these three top bananas.

In return, Jackson will be contractually obligated to deliver the picture on time and on budget. He and his cowriters are working on the latest screenplay draft, though Jackson has said he’s been dreaming of making a ”Kong” remake since he was a boy. Like the ”Rings” movies, ”Kong” will shoot in Jackson’s native New Zealand (wait a minute, what’s Kong going to do, climb the tallest building in Wellington?), with a projected release date of Christmas 2005.

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