Kim Masters at The Daily Beast has a story on how movie studios are cutting movie star salaries and perks, and, unsurprisingly, Marvel Studios is used as an example:

You’re Scarlett Johansson. You’re pretty and you’re pretty famous, too. And you’ve just been offered the part of the Black Widow in Iron Man 2! That’s got to be some payday, right?

How about $250,000, which is what Marvel Studios offered Johansson and Mickey Rourke to be in the film?

The stars negotiated the number up to something over $400,000. Still, it’s not hard to imagine that even a year ago Johansson could have expected to break seven figures for a role in a big franchise film. It’s a pretty thrifty deal for such a recognizable name.

The article goes on beyond this with a quote from an actual Marvel exec:

Tim Connors, COO of Marvel Studios, doesn’t put it exactly that way. “We don’t like to be portrayed as being disrespectful to talent, notwithstanding the fact that we are very budget-conscious and can’t always meet an actor’s initial asking price,” he says. “We say, `We wouldn’t normally ask an actor at this level to do this but we’d be thrilled to have them.” (And if they say yes, they can not only buff up their images but also look forward to possible future roles in films featuring their characters.)

Hm. Is this the movie star equivalent of the common comics practice of historically lowballing creators because they would do ANYTHING to draw Spider-Bat?

“Vin, we know you always wanted to play Doctor Doom. This would be the chance of a lifetime. We can’t give you what Disney would pay for another babysitting movie, but think of how fulfilling it will be to play your favorite character.”

Comics really ARE taking over the world.

BTW, it really breaks our heart to hear that ScarJo (above) is making a measly $250k for playing The Black Widow. It’s barely enough to get a tax increase. Think about it.


  1. In the comics, we “need to keep the talent on the books”, so Marvel puts up price of their comics.

    Movies? Yes, let’s cut the cost of movie production.

    What about the CGI budgets? Drop the special effects budgets to something comparable?
    Maybe half a mill, tops for a 2 hour Superhero epic. Should do it.

    Or are the reductions just to the “talent” ( as they are called) side of movie making? hmm.

  2. These days, I tend to wonder how much better off the comics industry would be if the trend shifted to lower salaries and less well-known creators. Yeah, it’s cool to see an X-Men book by Joss Whedon or a Thor book by J. Michael Straczynski, but raising the cover prices by an entire dollar to cover the cost of such high-profile talent is close to driving the standard periodical comic book (no, not a bloody “pamphlet”) to extinction.

    Personally, I’d save high-profile creators for special “event” mini-series and keep them off the monthlies. This would help keep the prices of the monthlies down and, quite possibly, might keep them to an actual monthly schedule instead of whenever there happens to be a gap between film script and novel deadlines.

  3. Speaking of lowballing creators, did Marvel ever figure out a way of paying the writers and artists for their digital comics thingy? I seem to remember someone asking about that when it first premiered, but I didn’t hear anything about it since.

  4. As one of those high page rate artists, I’ll say that a low cost talent strategy could work.

    It’d work for KIDS comics. It will not work selling comics to 30 something connoisseurs, which is what the US market specializes in.

    It also works pretty well for SLG, Oni, etc, but don’t expect it to be monthly. But you weren’t expecting that anyway ….. :)

  5. “Speaking of lowballing creators, did Marvel ever figure out a way of paying the writers and artists for their digital comics thingy?”

    A Web search didn’t turn up anything beyond what Marvel’s stated publicly: They’re waiting to see how profitable digital comics are.


  6. I can’t get too worked up over low-ball salaries for movie stars, they have many other projects that’ll over pay them for their work. I know comics has a messy history with its creators, but a contract negotiation between some big star with big representation…eh, hardly the same thing. And you know what? I think it’s been said before elsewhere, but Robert Downey Jr. gets to ask go after the biggest bucks if he wants, other stars are nice and all but they don’t have the negotiating power because they really don’t matter to the success of the movie that much.

  7. Frankly, Scarlett ….

    After the “success” of THE SPIRIT, several actors are probably settling for lower salaries. If WATCHMEN’s 150 Million budget had been trimmed to 100 mil, then everyone would probably be more satisfied with its performance.

    Sounds like Marvel might have the right idea.

  8. Hard to work up sympathy for Scarlett´s plight considering that most us have to work years before even coming into the range of that paycheck.

    This isn´t the same than the comic-creators of old who were regulary screwed by their publishers.

    But the nice statement of Connors is of course just the usual hypocritical BS you would expect from such guys. To think that a role in a comic movie will “buff up” a actors image is laughable, and the promise of further roles isn´t worth the air needed to articulate it.

  9. “If WATCHMEN’s 150 Million budget had been trimmed to 100 mil, then everyone would probably be more satisfied with its performance.”

    Nope. If Watchmen had been made for $50 million, you’d still hear the same complaints.

  10. “If Watchmen had been made for $50 million, you’d still hear the same complaints.”

    Probably a different set of complaints, about the “cheapness” of the sets and what not.

  11. Jamesmith: I don’t think people are commenting here about Scarlett Johansson wanting her to make less–we just can’t get worked up over her not making more. Maybe if her livelihood was at stake I might get my dander up, but this hardly some sort of screw-the-little guy, yeah corporate overlords complaint.

  12. Watchmen’s costs were hardly due to the cast — it was hardly the all-star cast fans wished for for years.

  13. Well, the actors could pull a Nicholson, and trade salary for points and/or merchandising royalties. Jack Nicholson reportedly made $50 Million from the movie merchandise related to Batman: The Motion Picture.

    If the star is also a producer (and many of them own their own production companies)… that’s just another slice of the pie.

    Also… according to the Screen Actors Guild website,
    the daily minimum for an actor in 2007 was $759. How many actors make a living wage?

    I view those salaries the same way I view professional sports salaries… if the corporations are making huge sums of money, then the people who are the driving force behind those huge sums should also share in the wealth.

    Also, look what she gets… mention on numerous message boards, lots of interviews when the sequel screens (and you betcha everyone will be anticipating its release), possible participation in the Avengers movie or a solo female spin-off, glamor as a “movie star” and not just as an actor, and another well-known movie added to her resume (which is all over the place… she’s a younger Kevin Bacon). Iron Man II solidifies her geek cred. (Robot Chicken, Spongebob, Spirit, Ghost World)

    Of course, regarding future involvement… well, just ask Terrence Howard about his experience with Marvel Studios.

  14. Yeah, what Al said. It’s odd, it seems like Marvel movies are doing the opposite of what Marvel comics are doing.

    The reason why the comics are so expensive is because they say they need to keep the talent, for their movies, they are not paying the talent as much because of the amount of money needed for the FX.

    But, that said, even though these are widely known, licensed roles and such, being made to be blockbuster movies, there are movies where actors could get a LOT less pay, and if the movie is successful, the actor’s still end up with next to nothing. Slumdog Millionaire, Brokeback Mountain, etc…

  15. I am confident these cost-cutting measures, like those occasionally applied to comics talent, will be enacted across the board and at all levels of involvement.

  16. @hcduvall: It was a general observation– though maybe I misinterpreted Charles Skaggs’ comment.

    I’m not quite sure how anyone’s being asked to be “worked up” about Ms Johansson’s paycut, though.

  17. Torsten Adair asks:

    “How many actors make a living wage? ”

    The answer is not many. And that’s because many actors never work at acting in any given year. The stars make big bucks, though.

    I don’t feel bad for any actor being offered $250,000 to be in a movie. If their going rate is higher, more power to them. They should hold out for that amount, or just refuse to work on a Marvel film.

    And if Marvel wants to make the films on the cheap, more power to them, too.

  18. Say what you want, but if it wasn’t enough money, she could have passed on the part. So could Mickey Rourke. These are supporting parts in a major special effects driven film. The part pays what it pays, and somewhere there’s an actress who will do the part for that amount of money. I would have preferred Emily Blunt, anyway. I don’t really care who gets paid what for the part. All I care about is that they do a good job.

    It’s also worth pointing out that it all depends on who has the upper hand in these negotiations. If the studio knows an actor really wants a part, they can offer them less money. If the actor knows the studio wants to hang a picture on their marketability, then they can demand more money. It’s not a big mystery, folks.

  19. No offense to SJ, but I am pretty sure there are plenty of competent, gorgeous, and well-trained actresses on their list who will be happy to do the job for that figure. She isn’t even their first pick, as I recall.

    I’m sure Marvel is thinking her rate is based on her BO draw added to how much work she actually has to do– a week of work? A month? Three days? Twenty lines? Seven minutes screen time? Twenty minutes? How many close-ups she has specified in the contract? It’s likely her role is fairly small and, if the entire budget is interconnected, they are already paying a ton for Downey and Jackson. SJ– assuming she has any real feeling for the subject matter and isn’t just another jerk trying to milk the cow of comics– would need to see this as a loss-leader toward future franchise work, where she can milk the cow the way Downey– who actually took a risk that paid off– can milk it.

    This is the sort of delicate teeter-tottering which the agents and the producers need to work out privately with the studio execs. How did this even become public information?

  20. Torsten– before you can play the “points” payment game as Nicholson did, you need to kick ass in your past acting career. Few actors have that kind of pedigree, SJ included.

  21. I can say with near certainty that both Rourke and Johansson will get a decent chunk of the back end in exchange for their low up front salary. In both cases, they could almost certainly get more to do other movies, so they either LOVE Ironman or they think it’s going to be a huge moneymaker and they’ll profit in the long run.

    Or both.

  22. 250 – 400,000 for 3 months of work? If it was any other profession, it’d be a wind fall. No I dont feel sorry for her, and neither should anyone else. Actors are overpaid. They get MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to make a movie. It just blows my mind (and always has). Especially when everyday joes get 50,000 or less a year. Yeah boo hoo for those actors ONLY getting 1/4 to 1/2 a million for a movie.

  23. “250 – 400,000 for 3 months of work? If it was any other profession, it’d be a wind fall. No I dont feel sorry for her, and neither should anyone else. Actors are overpaid. They get MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to make a movie. It just blows my mind (and always has).”

    If you chose to look at these sorts of salaries in terms of an hourly wage–by some sort of amount-of-payment-per-time-spent-working measure–then sure, these salaries gonna look insane.

    But that’s not the only way to look at these sorts of salaries.

    The IRON MAN movie grossed more than half a billion dollars worldwide. (And there are revenues from DVD sales, and cable & network TV airing, and who knows what else, but those figures are harder to find.)

    Suppose an actor for a movie like this is paid $1,000,000. That’d be something like two-tenths of one percent of the amount of the movie’s total box office revenue–an infinitesimal percentage. Might it be fair to say that, even if there are plenty of other factors going into the movie’s appeal, that actor is responsible for 0.2% of the film’s success? And if that’s fair to say, then shouldn’t that actor be paid accordingly?

    If one can bring onesself to look at things that way, then celebrity salaries like this become easier to understand and tolerate. Yeah, it’s a lot of money. But it’s a tiny amount of an even greater amount of money.