Even as IRON MAN 3 is a record setting triumph for Marvel, as I hinted the other day, Marvel Studios’ stinginess over signing deals with talent is leading to a titans clash battle over AVENGERS 2. Nikki Finke has the lowdown and it’s yet another takedown on Ike Perlmutter—a man who is so cheap that he wouldn’t allow an Oscar campaign for AVENGERS even when Disney offered to pay for it. Not only is Robert Downey Jr. not signed for any further movies, but Scarlett Johansson and others need to be signed up as well—and Marvel is not budging. In the past they made offers of $500,000 raises to stars of hit movies, so we’re looking at an epic showdown. And Ike is the strongest one there is.

The sad truth is that both Iger and Horn are scared stiff of Perlmutter and want to steer clear of the inevitable nightmare negotiations. Reps predict Ike is “going to create a lot of drama and going to want to prove a point and not look like he’s going to get run over”. Says one out of frustration: “I’m so bent out of shape by this asshole. He now works for a public company so I don’t understand how he can keep hiding behind the curtain.” Easy, because the Israeli-born and reclusive Perlmutter, worth $2.4B, is Disney’s third largest individual shareholder. (He had been the second biggest shareholder but that changed when Disney added Star Wars to its empire and handed George Lucas a ginormous compensation package. Disney’s top shareholder remains the Steve Jobs Trust.) Disney never dared hope that The Avengers would reap $1.5 billion in worldwide box office revenue, the third highest global gross ever. Yet no castmember has ever heard from Ike. True, Kevin Feige phoned the cast that weekend opening, but it was a first. And Iger did pick up the phone to congratulate filmmaker Joss Whedon who recalled to Deadline recently: “He couldn’t have been sweeter. He said ‘This wasn’t about the other movies — you did this’.”

The piece includes an interview with Whedon, who has been signed to a huge $100 million deal that will leave him busy with Disney projects for years.

DEADLINE: Marvel is notoriously cheap and some of the Avengers cast will want more money for the sequel. How could that affect Avengers 2?
WHEDON: I’m not going to comment specifically because I’m not privy to that sort of stuff and I don’t think it’s my place to talk about. In general terms, yes – Marvel can be very cheap, God knows. They can also be sensible and frugal. They have a very small infrastructure and they’re not heaping this money on themselves. I don’t know a producer who’s done more and is paid less than Kevin Feige. I think that it’s an issue but it’s part of a bigger issue, which is there was a time when there was a crisis in the acting community where stars were getting $20 million and character actors were disappearing as a concept. There were no middle class actors. It was suddenly bit players and Jim Carrey, and that was it. Now the studios have gotten to a point where they’re like, “Do we need that star?” With what they’re able to to digitally and the way they create franchises there’s a little bit of a feeling of, maybe we can eliminate the actor – not totally and not totally cynically, but I’ve literally heard people at the agency say, not about Marvel, “This studio is eliminating the middle movie. They’re not making dramas or prestige pics or anything that isn’t either a franchise or a Paranormal-style found footage”. I think that changes the landscape for actors because really good actors are interested in doing a franchise because they need something.


One lone hero has emerged to do battle with Marvel, and that’s RDJ himself, who has become a spokesman for younger cast members. Is he enough to counter Ike Perlmutter? Grab the popcorn.

For some more comment on this, producer Don Murphy’s Facebook page has some choice bits:

1- Ike Perlmutter is way worse than depicted here. I’ve heard he makes underlings account for paper and pens and doesn’t want to pay for mileage charges out to the Valley. He screwed over his partner in crime Avi Arad in favor of David Maisel, who brought the film financing in, and then got rid of him. This guy is so tight he squeaks. Not sure he does any charitable work, seems to think he can take it all with him. How sad.

2- Kevin Feige is “reinventing the movie business” has to be the greatest quote of the new decade. I remember when Kevin was Avi’s number two and his entire vocabulary consisted of “Yes” and “Avi.” He just happened to be the last man standing. I hope he’s getting the big bucks. Once Avi got the chop he hasn’t produced a single film (unless you count BRATZ THE MOVIE!! and ROBOSAPIEN!!!) outside of the contract leftovers from his Marvel days. He sits in his rented office with his Ivy League educated son waiting for the phone to ring. Feige sold his soul and it ain’t coming back anytime soon! A lonely future for sure.

Murphy also asks a question that many have raised: If Disney owns Disney why are they so afraid of Ike? He’s the one character in all of this who is truly larger than life.


  1. From a business perspective, playing hardball in negotiations makes sense. With years between films, any Marvel franchise isn’t comparable to a TV series, in which cast changes might hurt ratings. Cast changes in the movies are inevitable, over time.

    There’s also the question of whether the movie watchers will care about changes. Casual moviegoers won’t care; what percentages of the AVENGERS viewers are Scarlett Johansson or Downey fans, as opposed to Iron Man or Black Widow fans?

    There are also the questions as to how important the individual actors and actresses are to the movie’s success, versus the director, screenwriter, and other production people.

    If all the people involved in the films were buddies, there wouldn’t be any problems, but big-budget films are big business, and everyone involved is aware of that.



    These poor people. I don’t know how they can possibly survive as millionaires these days, being famous all over the world and having an entourage of personal assistants, hairstylists and physical trainers.

  3. I love reading an article about how much the Avengers cast is getting screwed on their salaries when the creators who made the characters that enabled them to earn those salaries probably never got anywhere near what they earned for a single movie.

    Not saying they don’t deserve the money, I just wish, to reference your post from the other day, that the actors or RDJ, a man who has “already sent a message that he’s not going to work for a place where they treat his colleagues like shit,” were self-aware enough to think about dropping some cash on the Hero Initiative as they argue over millions.

  4. “How much money can these people possibly need?”

    Are you talking about Disney or the actors? Sure, RDJ doesn’t need another house, but do the Jobs estate, George Lucas, and Ike Perlmutter need to be any richer?

  5. . . . when the creators who made the characters that enabled them to earn those salaries probably never got anywhere near what they earned for a single movie.

    That does raise a point: that characters are just characters, and interpretations of them in any given story will change a lot, depending on the age and sophistication of the audience. Starlin’s “classic” Thanos was a cosmic nihilist and schemer, but Starlin tried to change his motivations, with mixed success. Will Whedon’s Thanos have any connection to Starlin’s Thanos beyond the visuals, or will he be a standard megalomaniacal would-be conqueror?

    Take Marvel’s Vision: Written for children, he’d be an android. In an SF story written for older readers, he’d be a synthetic human. He’d be two different characters, in different types of stories, because the audiences would be different.

    Character creators certainly deserve credit and remuneration when their creations are used in other media, but a person can’t assume that a character will be the same entity in every or even most aspects that he was in the creator’s stories.


  6. What does it matter that he’s ‘Israeli-born’? What possible relevance could that have, in any way, to the story?

    It doesn’t, of course. But anti-Semitics will enjoy rolling around in that, won’t they?

  7. SRS – I would think that for the films, the specific actors are more important because they have essentially established the characters in the minds of most of the audience. Not sure what the actual percentages are, but I would imagine around 90% of the Iron Man 3 audience only knows him from the movies.

  8. From what I’ve read, it seems that Hemsworth has already made more playing Thor than I expect to make in my lifetime. I feel no sympathy [regarding pay] for these stars. The people who work behind the camera on the other hand — especially the vfx artists who are not unionized and seem to have zero job security — I might have some concern for.

    Marvel understandably wants to get the best deal for Disney’s shareholders which may include via various investment instruments many, many people of average income.

  9. sounds like Nikki Finke and a bunch of movie people blowing a lot of smoke to me.

    to start with, Disney has always, since Walt was still in charge, been notoriously cheap. Second, Disney makes all their money with their cable channels and ESPN. according to their last 10K (FY 2012), television was 66% of their profits ($6.5B to their $10B) whereas studio entertainment was only 7% of Disney’s income. Make no mistake, ESPN is driving this ship.

    And finally, Ike may be the 3rd largest individual shareholder, but its not after the Jobs Trust (which is not a person btw) and he doesn’t own more than 2% of the company, since Lucas only has about 2% right now. Ike is also not on the Disney board.

    All of this is not to say that Ike isn’t involved in the negotiations, he may very well have been asked by the board to lead negotiations. he may also be a huge jerk and pointlessly cheap. but he is probably just doing what Disney wants him to, which is what any corporation wants, and that is to return as much value as possible to the shareholders.

    anyway, i have no insider knowledge of how things are getting negotiated. Ike running amok in hollywood makes for a good story but Marvel and Ike are a much smaller piece of the Disney puzzle than these stories would suggest. that said, i enjoy hearing all the gossip, so maybe nevermind what i just wrote, i was just trying to get a little perspective on the whole thing.

  10. Actually, Scar Jo has an option for 8 films at Marvel, of which she only fulfilled 3 so far. So she is not going anywhere. Neither is Sam Jackson or Mark Ruffalo, who also signed long-termed deals. It’s the Chris’ we need to worry about. It’s believed Evans signed for Avengers 2 when he signed for Winter Soldier, but after that he is not locked up. Hemsworth did not sign up for Avenger 2, and with the Snow White and the Huntsman franchise in his back pocket, he’s definitely going to want a bigger payday. However, I’m sure ALL of the cast are interested in RDJ’s negotiations because eventually they could benefit from it.

  11. Going back to SRS: “Casual moviegoers won’t care; what percentages of the AVENGERS viewers are Scarlett Johansson or Downey fans, as opposed to Iron Man or Black Widow fans?”

    This is staggeringly wrong-headed. The reality is in fact precisely backwards of this. “Iron Man fans” and “Black Widow fans” only exist within the confines of Team Comics, which comprises only a tiny percentage of the moviegoing public. Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson are HUGE GADDAM MOVIE STARS, who carry their audience with them from film to film. Downey’s name, in particular, puts more asses in the seats than the name “Iron Man,” by vast orders of magnitude.

    The notion that there are sufficient numbers of “Black Widow fans” out there to support a movie even if the part were played by a no-name actress — it’s an adorable idea, but also delusional.

  12. >>>sounds like Nikki Finke and a bunch of movie people blowing a lot of smoke to me.

    Hm, since this piece went up the stories I’ve heard from people with good connections have suggested it barely goes far enough on some matters.

  13. The notion that there are sufficient numbers of “Black Widow fans” out there to support a movie even if the part were played by a no-name actress — it’s an adorable idea, but also delusional.

    Take a look at Alyssa Rosenberg’s piece on IRON MAN 3, in which she writes glowingly about the parts of Pepper Potts and Maya Hansen. Not so much about the actresses.

    People will go see films without caring much about who the performers are for the same reason they see Bond films without caring much about who Bond and the villain are, or see action, comedy, or horror films without caring much about the casts. They’re there to kill a couple of hours and have good times. They’re not aesthetes.

    If many people went to films just to see the stars, star vehicles would generally succeed, instead of often bombing because a star is miscast.


  14. @the beat – please by all means share any additional info. its all very interesting.

    and i didnt mean that Finke et al are making up Perlmutter’s stinginess, just that they have a vested interest in being dramatic and using the press to put pressure on disney to pay their actors more. as a fan, all i want is a good movie, and even then i dont care that much. beyond that, its either more money for rich and famous actors or more money for the mutual funds and institutions that own DIS. so whatevs. same principals as any other business deal.

  15. “Not only is Robert Downey Jr. not signed for any further movies, but Scarlett Johansson and others need to be signed up as well—and Marvel is not budging. ”

    They will, Ike Perlmutter or not, if there’s enough public pressure to be made to bear on the matter. Disney and Pixar just backed off on some hair-brained scheme to trademark “Dia de los Muertos” after Hispanic and religious groups freaked out over it. There’s still plenty of time for a lot of public hand-wringing before deals are eventually made.

  16. @ Pink – it’s pretty common to mention if someone is foreign born in an article. Wouldn’t assume bigotry.

  17. Also, there are a lot of reasons people go see a movie. It’s a combo of any/all of the following: Movie being good, movie being well-promoted, well-liked star in it, dead star in it, movie being a sequel, movie being based on something beloved, etc. Is Downey a giant part of IM/Avengers success? Absolutely. The Bond analogy doesn’t necessarily hold water. People certainly don’t react the same way to each Bond actor.

  18. Well, Marvel is going to lose the main actors sooner or later, so even if they resolve the immediate dispute it’s an issue they will have to deal with at some point: recast and/or reboot? They’re certainly not going to let the individual franchises die. Not only Bond, but Superman, Batman, Spider-Man have all been recast and are seemingly no worse for wear.

    I also get a kick out of these articles saying how cheap Marvel/Disney are and then in practically the same sentence talk about how RDJ has earned $100 million + for two films. Insanity. And while it’s all very interesting, the truth is there are no good guys/bad guys in this scenario, just millionaires fighting with billionaires. Talk about First World Problems.

    And while that’s great RDJ is looking out for his poor friends like Hemsworth and Evans who have to make do with mere single digit millions, I wholeheartedly agree that the real shame is the fact these filthy rich people are fighting over bigger pieces of a billion dollar pie while many of the creators of these characters that are generating so much money are in dire financial straits.

  19. “to return as much value as possible to the shareholders”
    “Marvel understandably wants to get the best deal for Disney’s shareholders”
    Oh, you people are adorable! Anyone who has worked in corporate America knows that the “best deal” that senior executives want is the one that a) puts the largest bonus into their pockets and b) guarantees the greatest chance for their own continued employment. Any concern for shareholder value is filtered through the lenses of “a” and “b” — and shareholder value would be sacrificed in a microsecond if it negatively affected an executive’s bonus or jeopardized his position. That aside, the amount of money being paid to the top 1% of creative talent is beyond absurd — but designing a more equitable sharing of the pot is unlikely, even fantastical, given the egos.

  20. GSetter – have you ever been on a corporate earnings call? investors put tremendous pressure on the executives to justify their decisions. publicly traded companies also have enormous disclosure regulations. board compensation is constantly scrutinized.

    if senior execs and managers ever start trying to milk a company for their own personal gain, activist investors (eg Carl Icahn, or perhaps Gordon Gekko) step in and make their lives miserable.

    There is no way Iger and his board are making decisions just to line their pocket. most of their compensation is tied to the stock value anyway, to mitigate the conflict of interest.

    also what do you think gets executives “b) guarantees the greatest chance for their own continued employment.”?

    and if you know of any companies where management is taking the shareholders for a ride, please share. there will be private equity shop waiting to take over and turn the company around if the claims are true.

  21. Jaroslav,

    I’ve been on many corporate earnings calls and I’m still of the opinion every decision at the executive level is only made to ensure higher bonuses. I’ve seen the inner workings of a regulatory board at a very large international corporation and the lying and hiding of things is just staggering. Most of the compensation is tied to stock price because most of the compensation is stock options. This creates an enormous conflict of interest.

  22. chris – fair enough, youre entitled to your opinion. it begs the question of why those executives get hired and remain employed if they are so obviously committing felonies, but i guess that opens the door to a much longer conversation.

    regarding specifically Iger and Disney’s executives, from my cursory review, it doesn’t appear that investors and shareholders are concerned that they are working solely for personal again and ignoring their fiduciary responsibility. in fact, people seem thrilled with his performance the returns he has helped generate. but if people have evidence to the contrary or even negative speculation from analysts i’d be more than happy to read it!

  23. Joss Whedon stopped by the fan site Whedonesque to comment that he’s not getting anywhere close to $100 million. That he is doing really well but says: “I’m not making Downey money. ” So definitely take these kind of articles with a grain of salt.

  24. Ever wonder why no one has put out Darkwing Duck since BOOM!’s license ended? The way I hear it, Ike has demanded complete control of Disney comics, while at the same time refusing to let Marvel publish them, because cartoon animals are too unprofitable.
    Ike wants the control only to ensure no other publisher can succeed with the brand and embarrass Marvel.
    Disney loses far, far more than they gain here.

  25. 1. Ike is the bad cop. Or Disney is letting Marvel handle financing until Marvel makes some mistakes? Ain’t broke? Don’t fix it. Of course, if it does get broken, it might be hard to keep the franchise(s) on track.

    2. Marvel might decide that the bold-face names are not necessary to profit. Kinda like what they did with the Image guys a few decades ago. “Thor” and “Captain America” (using the “Superman” formula) prove that an unknown can work as a star in a movie.

    3. If a franchise goes off the rails, then Marvel starts a new one. Produce trilogies (easy to sign an actor to three films), which will become evergreen movies, then move on if the actors get too expensive. Establish the characters with a blockbuster, then spin the character off into cartoons and other merchandise.

    4. If the franchise falters, wait ten years, and pull a “Batman” with a fresh reboot. Fans will remember the first series, and anticipate the “new look” by a great director with interesting actors.

    5. Is Ike the new Harvey Weinstein? Is Marvel the new Miramax?

  26. I don’t undersand the references to how this will affect “Avengers 2”. Avengers Age Of Ulton was Avengers 2.

Comments are closed.