Movie Article

What's the Big Deal?

The biggest movie payoffs--Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise raked in earnings well beyond their salaries

Everybody and his agent seem to be getting $20 million a picture these days, but which actor got the biggest payday ever? It comes down to a battle between a joker, a man with an impossible mission, and a friendly Southerner with an IQ of 75.

Although Jack Nicholson was guaranteed a paltry $6 million to play the Joker in 1989's Batman, he wound up with much more, thanks to a formula that's standard practice among A-list stars. He cut his normal fee, then around $10 million, in exchange for a piece of Batman's earnings — notably the toys that bore his likeness. All told, Nicholson was said to have made more than $50 million after the movie earned in excess of $411 million worldwide.

That's a box of choc'lates compared with what Tom Hanks got on Forrest Gump. Playing a simpleton — and shrewdly taking a cut of the box office gross — was one of the smartest business moves in Hollywood history. After Gump took in nearly $680 million worldwide, Hanks walked away with an estimated $60 million. A similar deal on Saving Private Ryan (which grossed $479 million worldwide) is said to have earned Hanks upwards of $30-40 million. The act-now, get-paid-later setup is likely to make The Green Mile that much greener for Hanks. The Oscar-nominated film has made $128 million domestically and is still in theaters.

But the king of back-end deal makers seems to be Tom Cruise. Viacom honcho Sumner Redstone recently disclosed that Cruise had pocketed $70 million for 1996's Mission: Impossible. Reason: As both star and — more important, producer — of the film, Cruise negotiated a chunk of Mission's overall $465 million gross. With the same deal reportedly pending for the Mission sequel, scheduled to open later this year, Cruise could soon be officially considered his own country.

Originally posted Mar 03, 2000 Published in issue #528 Mar 03, 2000 Order article reprints
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