Robert Downey Jr. made headlines when he revealed he made a whopping $50 million off the back of ‘Avengers Assemble’, thanks to a contract that saw him paid a percentage of the movie’s $1.5bn box office total (“Isn’t that crazy?”, Downey Jr. joked). That’s an eye-watering 32 million pounds or 38 million euro.
Unbelievably though, RDJ’s payday isn’t the biggest received by an actor for a single superhero movie. We trawled through Hollywood’s accounting receipts (using reported salaries) to find the top five highest-paid superhero movie actors – and once you adjust them for inflation, there are a few surprisingly flush heroes and villains out there.
5. Hugh Jackman – ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ (2009)
Payday: $20 million
Adjusted for inflation: $21.3 million (£13.8m / €16.3m)
Hugh Jackman is synonymous with the modern superhero movie – if it wasn’t for him, there’s every chance the first ‘X-Men’ film would have flopped and the entire genre with it. Possibly. While his earnings for the first three X-Men movies went unreported, Jackman is thought to have earned a big fat $20 million cheque for his work on underwhelming prequel ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’. Considering the movie itself made $373 million worldwide, he was worth every penny.
4. Christian Bale – ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)
Payday: $30 million
Adjusted for inflation: $31.8 million (£20.6m / €24.3m)
Bale was actually paid less for ‘Batman Begins’ than George Clooney was for ‘Batman & Robin’, although the critical reception was considerably cooler on the former than the latter. For the sequel, Bale’s pay was bumped up to $10 million, but a crafty contract saw him make money for every dollar ‘The Dark Knight’ made – and it made 1,004,558,444 of them. Imagine Christian Bale’s face when he totted up the numbers and realised he’d made a cool $30 million dollars in total. Bale was reportedly paid $15 million up front for ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, but we’re yet to find out how much he made from the movie’s box office success. We’re going to stick our necks out and guess ‘a lot’.
3. Robert Downey Jr – ‘Avengers Assemble’ (2012)
Payday: $50 million
Adjusted for inflation: $50 million (£32.4m / €38.3m)
Robert Downey Jr must have one dynamite agent, because he went from an alleged payday of $500,000 for the first ‘Iron Man’ in 2008 to one hundred times that amount for ‘Avengers Assemble’ four years later. “They were so pissed,” quipped Downey on his Marvel paymasters. “I’m what’s known as ‘a strategic cost’.” Once again, Downey Jr made the majority of his millions by agreeing on a percentage of the movie’s total gross, and ‘Avengers Assemble’ out-performed even the most optimistic predictions to become the third most successful movie ever. RDJ’s contribution to that total cannot be over-estimated; whatever Marvel are paying him for ‘Iron Man 3’ still isn’t enough.
2. Marlon Brando – ‘Superman: The Movie’ (1978)
Payday: $16 million
Adjusted for inflation: $55.5 million (£35.7m / €42.1m)
The story of Marlon Brando’s involvement with Superman is the stuff of legend. Brando agreed to play the role of Jor-El but only if he received the sum of $3.7 million, for what amounted to two weeks’ work. He had his lines written on props, and in one scene, the nappy worn by the infant Kal-El. He even suggested his role should be voiceover only, with Jor-El’s physical state taking the form of a glowing green bagel (unsurprisingly, this idea was vetoed). But crucially, Brando had the foresight to agree to percentage points as well as his upfront sum, and ‘Superman: The Movie’ went on to become the highest-grossing film in Warner Bros history. That led to a payday tastier than any bagel.
1. Jack Nicholson – Batman (1989)
Payday: $60 million
Adjusted for inflation: $109.4 million (£71m / €83.9m)
Until Tom Cruise’s mega-deals on the likes of ‘Mission: Impossible’ and ‘War Of The Worlds’ (which aren’t superhero films and thus not in this list), Jack Nicholson’s unforgettable turn as The Joker in Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ held the record for the highest ever single movie payday. In order to secure Nicholson as the grinning nemesis of Batman, Warner had to agree to give him top billing – above even Michael Keaton – as well as percentage points on the movie’s gross plus a special deal that gave him royalties on all merchandise. After his evil was defeated and his manic laughter had faded, Nicholson walked away with $60 million all in – and people think Batman won that movie.
Image credits: Warner Bros./Marvel/20th Century Fox