These days, it’s standard practice for any major Hollywood blockbuster to reward the cast with financial incentives based on the box office performance, and that’s how the stars tend to make most of their money.
For instance, Robert Downey Jr. was paid an upfront fee of $20 million for Avengers: Endgame, but as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s marquee name, he wound up pocketing $55 million in bonuses once it became the highest-grossing movie ever made.
When you see the annual lists of the biggest earning talent in Hollywood, it largely tends to be made up of actors and actresses that have recently starred in serious commercial success stories, with the industry leaning more towards profit participation and back-end deals as opposed to forking over a huge salary right out of the gate, which helps negate losses should the project in question end up bombing.
However, when Jack Nicholson negotiated his contract for Tim Burton’s Batman, the idea of making money based on a movie’s theatrical run and merchandise performance was virtually unheard of. But as the biggest name in the cast and focal point of the marketing, Warner Bros. bowed to the screen legend’s demands, which saw him lower his asking price from the usual $10 million to $6 million in exchange for a cut of the profits.
When Batman went on to earn $411 million on a $35 million budget and generated over $750 million in merchandise revenue, Nicholson landed the single largest payday in the history of cinema. Indeed, he’s estimated to have walked away somewhere between $60 million and $90 million richer, and even 32 years later, it still ranks as one of the largest amounts of money any actor has earned for a single performance.