How much money did the Lord Of The Rings actors get paid?

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by head_unit, Feb 4, 2012.

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  1. head_unit

    head_unit Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Los Angeles CA USA
    ...asks my kid. Good question, since they filmed them all at once, so nobody knew how successful they would be.

    I found:
    - $10.5-5.9 million from big to small roles
    - $250,000 claims Sean Astin (Samwise Gangee)
    - "$3 - one for each film, plus all the cookies and orange juice they could eat. "

    Anyone have a more definitive answer?

    I'm also curious if the Harry Potter kids were contracted to make all the movies, or just the first one initially.
  2. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    These are good questions. What I've generally found out is, actual salary numbers are jealously guarded, and when you do find out the truth, it's either much higher than you suspected or much lower. Rarely what you thought. The actor may have a "quote" -- a minimum starting number for their usual pay, based on past movie performance and reputation -- but this slides up and down depending on the movie budget. You might take $2 million to be in a $50 million film, but then only get $200K to be in a little $5 million indie. And then you might work for scale if it's a no-budget passion project.

    In some cases, actors get several different paychecks:

    1) a signing bonus the day they sign the contract (and bear in mind, many actors' contracts are not literally signed -- it's a handshake deal)

    2) all expenses paid (1st class rooms, meals, transportation, assistants, hangers-on, plus per diem money)

    3) weekly paychecks for X dollars throughout shooting, plus overtime if it goes past a certain schedule

    4) bonuses if certain criteria are met (like if the movie goes over $100 million or is #1 at the box office for X weeks)

    5) additional payments for home video rights (sometimes as a lump sum, sometimes as a residual).

    6) a guaranteed sum of money spent to promote the actor for "award considertion."

    7) in rare cases, money for merchandising, particularly if it uses the actor's face. (Mark Hamill got a deal like this.)

    Very, very, very few actors get a meaningful piece of the profits. In some cases, actors have the ability to choose either a large upfront amount, or a much smaller amount (even scale) in return for X percentage of the "unadjusted rolling gross from dollar one" -- the magic phrase that means, for every dollar the theater takes in, you get X cents. Some actors become co-owners of the film, and share in every penny the movie ever makes, forever and ever; that generally only happens when you see them credited as producers, or owners of the production company.

    I seem to recall on the first Rush Hour movie, Chris Tucker took a lump sum amount (like $3 million), while co-star Jackie Chan was certain the movie would do well, so he took a very small amount but got 5% of the gross, which I think worked out to $15 million. Needless to say, Chris Tucker kicked himself for his bad decision. Some actors demand a "most favored nations" provision so that no one can make more money than they do, so if you have to more or less equal stars, they get paid exactly the same.

    Sometimes, this money can spiral completely out of control. As one famous example, Daniel Radcliffe started off making about $200K as the star of Harry Potter -- an irreplaceable role -- and ended up making $33 million for the final film. But he's one in a million, and he deserved the money, from both a business and a creative standpoint.

    I think Jason Alexander of Seinfeld once mentioned in an interview a few years ago that nobody but Jerry and Larry David were making huge money on that show throughout its run. Only in the last year or two did the other actors get high-six-figure paychecks. And they got no percentage of the home video sales. As a result, the studio placated them by giving each of them a $1 million bonus just to do a couple of days of interviews and promotion for the home video releases, which is kind of a de facto extra payment.

    BTW, a lot of this kind of deal became public during the 1980s Art Buchwald vs. Paramount lawsuit over Eddie Murphy's Coming to America deal. This was the first time I found out that, when a star of Eddie Murphy's magnitude is hired to do a film, the studio really signs a contract with "Eddie Murphy Productions" and pays them for the exclusive services of their employee. That way, the money gets taxed at a corporate rate, not the individual rate. There's also ways of hiding overseas money, provided it never (ahem) comes over to America.

    And contracts sometimes mean very little, because the studio realizes that if you have an unhappy, volatile actor forced to work on a movie they hate, things can go terribly wrong. They frequently will renegotiate contracts to give actors more money, especially in successful series (like Potter), or throw in percs like a production deal, promise to put them in other pictures, and otherwise give them other work to make them "creatively" happy.
  3. ibis

    ibis Forum Squatter


    Wow, what a comprehensive and intelligible answer!
  4. head_unit

    head_unit Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Los Angeles CA USA
    Interesting comment about Seinfeld. I was kind of amazed to read that the Friends ensemble were taking home $1M per episode-it shocked me to think there was THAT much ad revenue. At least Courteney Cox was justified in telling her then-husband who was having a tough time finding acting work that "we're not going to starve" ha h
  5. jojopuppyfish

    jojopuppyfish Forum Resident

    Going back to Seinfeld......Larry David and Jerry were creators of the show, which gave them co ownership.
    Jerry, at his peak might get a few million per episode, but he has to pay a percentage to an agent and a percentage to SAG (screen actors guild)
    Larry would get a producer's fee, and money if he wrote an episode.

    But the big money is when they sell it into syndication (selling the show to various tv stations)
    They might each get several 100 million each time its sold into syndication (which happened a few times)

    As for Lord of the Rings, no one was a big star, so they might have received a few million as the lead and no profit participation.

    Spielberg pioneereed profit sharing when he would get a few million up front, and demand points.
    Points are where, when the film opens (lets say 10 million), he gets a percentage of each weeks take. So he get a lot of money regardless of how the film performs at the end.
    Actors were given net profits (how a film does at the end) but accounting by major studios can make a film look like it never made money, and thus nobody gets any $$.
    That was the focus of the trial of Coming to America.
  6. goodiesguy

    goodiesguy Boulful Sallad

    New Zealand
    They got paid in sheep. (the kiwi way :D)
  7. tommy-thewho

    tommy-thewho Forum Resident

    detroit, mi
    Didn't Viggo go back to get them more money after the huge success of the movies??
  8. cartologist

    cartologist Not the world's foremost expert

    Boston, MA, USA
    The Potter kids were signed for all of them.

    Sean Astin is a blowhard know-it-all, which he makes obvious in the DVD extras. I assume Ian McKellan and Christopher Lee made the most, followed by Cate Blanchett, Viggo Mortensen, Ian Holm, and John Rhys-Davies, then Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, etc.

    Andy Serkis got a bunch of raw fish. But he likes raw fish. :)
  9. *Zod*

    *Zod* Forum Resident

    Connecticut, USA
    question is, did they get paid in gold pressed latinum or (what was the original series Battlestar Gallactica money called.....I think cubits?)
  10. malcolm reynolds

    malcolm reynolds Forum Resident

    Didn't all of the actors for LOTR get together and demand more money? Something along the lines of pay us more or we won't have anything to do with the supplements for the dvd releases?
  11. daglesj

    daglesj Forum Resident

    Norfolk, UK
    Hmm I know it was one of the few films still being filmed after they were released.
  12. ChrisWiggles

    ChrisWiggles Well-Known Member

    I do believe they pay Michael Bay in cocaine and strippers.
  13. ChrisWiggles

    ChrisWiggles Well-Known Member

    ^Relevance of my post? Questionable.
  14. shoryuken

    shoryuken Member

    Sydney, Australia
    Probably accurate though
  15. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    Not necessarily. A lot depends on the wording of the contract. Technically, Sony Pictures TV and Castle Rock on the show. It doesn't matter if you own the show as long as the contract is very, very specific and iron-clad.

    Jerry reportedly got $3 million per episode in the last couple of seasons -- for the initial network run. But he had four jobs: star, co-creator, writer, and producer.

    I have been told on good authority that Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld each made $400,000,000 within two years of Seinfeld going into syndication. Sony made several times more.

    Nope. Interestingly, the first Hollywood celeb I know of who got a percentage of the gross was Jimmy Stewart. His then-agent, Lew Wasserman, negotiated a certain percentage of the gross on the 1949 western Winchester 73. From Wikipedia:

    Stewart had wished to make Harvey for Universal-International but, when the studio wouldn't pay the $200,000 salary Stewart wanted, studio head William Goetz made an offer that Stewart could make both Harvey and Winchester '73 for a percentage of the profits that would be spread out over a period of time and qualify for a lower tax rate because Stewart would be taxed as a company rather than as an individual. Stewart's then agent Lew Wasserman was able to get his client 50% of the profits, eventually amounting to $600,000 from the film's unexpected success. The money from a percentage deal was taxed as a capital gain attracting a much lower rate of tax than a normal salary would incur. Stewart's deal also gave him control of director and co-stars.

    All deals in Hollywood changed from this moment onward. Many, many studio chiefs were irate that Wasserman come up with this idea. Today, very few people get this kind of a deal. (Lew Wasserman eventually wound up merging his talent agency MCA with Universal, and for a time, was the most powerful man in Hollywood.) Even Spielberg has talked about certain deals he tried to make that fell apart over money. Famously, Paramount got rid of Dreamworks when they realized that Dreamworks (and Spielberg) made the lion's share of the money. That was also a huge problem for Tom Cruise and Mission Impossible 3, because (according to Sumner Redstone), Cruise wound up netting more money than Paramount, due to the wording of the contract. Studios don't like when that happens.

    The accounting practices in Hollywood are pretty awful -- but legal. If they bury in a contract a line that says, "all studio expenses for all films made in France shall be added to the budget," and you don't catch it, the film will never make a "profit." I can recall a time in the early 1980s when Gene Roddenberry sued Paramount because the studio claimed that the original Star Trek TV show was not only not profitable, it was still millions of dollars in the red. He eventually got some money out of them, but with the proviso that he could never sue them again or see the books.

    It all defines on the definition of the word "is." (As in, "is profit" or "is not profit.")
  16. pdenny

    pdenny Blow up your TV

    One does not simply talk about LORD OF THE RINGS salaries. Apparently.
  17. benjaminhuf

    benjaminhuf Forum Resident

    Great info Vidiot. James Stewart was expensive--but worth it!

    LW also negotiated some of Alfred Hitchcock's contracts, iirc. And they were similar to Stewart's. Hitch owned his own negatives, for goshsakes. That's why Vertigo and some other movies--made for Paramount--are now owned by Universal. When Hitch moved to U he just moved some of his old movies too...Bet Paramount has regretted that over the years....

    LW got Hitch a great sweetheart deal on his TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Iirc, Hitch got $129k per episode--and all he had to do was lend his name and do a brief intro. Of the hundreds of shows made over 10 years, he only directed about a dozen. Adjusting for inflation, Hitch was earning about 1 million an episode back in 1955. Of course the tax rate back then was much higher. Eventually he traded his share of the ownership of the show for Universal stock.

    But that didn't save him from downgrades when he had a string of flops starting with Marnie in 1964. By c.1970 when Hitch's former collaborator Bernard Herrmann (who did the iconic scores for Vertigo, NNW, Psycho, etc.) saw the much reduced size of Hitchcock's office on the Universal lot he was shocked. Herrmann couldn't believe that Hitch had fallen so far so fast....But he certainly had a lot of moolah in the bank.
  18. His Masters Vice

    His Masters Vice W.C. Fields Forever

    Sydney, Australia
    Keep it secret. Keep it safe.
  19. benjaminhuf

    benjaminhuf Forum Resident

  20. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    If you guys wanna know what actors really make, read this story on the recent lawsuit by Chris Pine's former agents:

    Pine fired them right after he made the J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movie, and they're fightin' mad. All the details about every dime the guy has been making are part of the lawsuit, and you'll get a good idea of what leading men make at this level of show business. It's very revealing, particularly in terms of how paychecks go up if more movies are made, how things get renegotiated, merchandising, bonuses, and stuff like that.

    I feel bad for the guy, because all his dirty laundry gets aired in public, but this is what happens when lawyers get involved in disputes. I don't doubt there's more to the story than what's here.

    On a related note: what I always find hilarious are when an actor makes a deal, and then the studio discovers they had to pay much, much more than they expected. Famously, this happened with Walt Disney when Fess Parker agreed to play Davy Crocket in a series of 1950s TV shows for a low price (like $50,000), but asked for a share of the merchandising. Walt gave it to him, not realizing that Parker would wind up making millions of dollars on the coonskin caps! Disney was livid, and vowed never again to give any actor a share of the profits.

    According to legend, ten years later, after Mary Poppins was an enormous hit, Disney called up Julie Andrews and asked her to consider a sequel. She reportedly said, "certainly, as long as I can have a million dollars and a percentage of the profits." According to legend, Walt hung the phone up on her and never spoke to her again.

    Another good one: Jack Nicholson reportedly made a couple of million dollars as The Joker in the original 1980s Batman, but then wound up making (reportedly) $40 million on the merchandising. I think at the time, he this was the biggest deal in movie history -- but Warner's didn't mind paying it, because Nicholson owned the role and made the movie what it was.
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