As Marvel enters Phase Two of their cinematic universe, their business universe is also getting a bit of a shake up. No one could have really predicted that Phase One would end with the billion-dollar-earning-“The Avengers,” and that really changed the game. Wisely, Robert Downey Jr. had negotiated a deal for a cut of the profits which saw him pocket a cool $50 million. Not bad, right? Well, now imagine you’re one of the actors that only got $200,000 for the movie. As you might guess, that is causing some serious friction as Marvel tries to lock everyone in for “The Avengers 2.”
Deadline reports that Marvel has some serious work cut out for them to get all the heroes in line for the supersized sequel, already dated for 2015. Not only does RDJ have to be signed up, so do most of the rest of the cast — Scarlett Johannsen, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner and Samuel L. Jackson — all of whom are apparently looking for $5 million upfront and a cut of the profitable cheese on the back end. (As for Chris Evans, he may have already signed at the time of dealing for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier“). Okay, so maybe Marvel makes good on their threats and recasts the holdouts? Guess again.
Word is that RDJ himself is getting in the mix, more or less trying to strong-arm Marvel into giving better deals to his castmates, before he signs on for “The Avengers 2.” “He’s the only guy with real power in this situation. And balls of steel, too. He’s already sent a message that he’s not going to work for a place where they treat his colleagues like shit,” one source told the site. But the bigger question moving forward is — can Marvel continue to lowball the talent they sign up?
In the beginning, Marvel’s movie gamble was a big risk, banking on success to drive what they hoped would be a profitable and connected series of movies, aimed right at their core audience. And again, could anyone have expected a second-tier Marvel character like Iron Man to become so mainstream that “Iron Man 3” is on track to bank a billion dollars? So at that time, longterm contracts made sense, because no one knew how it would shake out, or if they’d get a shot at a sequel. But with the brand now established, unless Marvel fucks up the formula big time, the expectations from the studio (and Disney shareholders, more importantly) will be that they keep delivering hit after hit after hit, with hundreds of million of dollars pocketed at the box office for each movie. And we’re not even talking home video revenue, and the other streams of income these things generate.
Granted, landing a key role in a Marvel movie is major exposure unlike what you would get anywhere else, and Marvel has never been shy about their miserly ways, as it’s well known throughout Hollywood. But isn’t the smart play to keep the cast that made you successful happy? Word is that Hemsworth and Evans only got $500,000 increases for their respective sequels, and will only get $500,000 more once the movies hit a staggering $500 million at the box office. And wouldn’t you want to put out the message to your potential Phase Three and Phase Four actors, that in addition to exposure, you’ll be decently rewarded to helping to make Marvel movies a hit?
It’s a complicated issue — no one is forcing any actor to take on these movies — and Joss Whedon sees both sides of the coin. “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,” he tells Deadline, adding that he hopes the strength of the material and the chance to work on something special can help overcome any disputes.
“I feel good about ‘The Avengers’ because I feel everyone who took it got something to sink their teeth into. They weren’t hung out to dry. It’s not a soulless piece of work. It may be inept in some places but I meant every word. Marvel distinguished themselves by going after good actors, writers, and directors who were unexpected choices. One side to that is they don’t have to pay them as much. Me, [Jon] Favreau, [Kenneth] Branagh, James Gunn – we don’t have giant action quotes, but we’re all filmmakers who want to do something with a giant action movie instead of just accomplish it. And the actors, from Downey straight on through, they only went after the people who could get it done,” he muses. “So how come they’re not getting giant quotes on this movie? There’s the element of the opportunity here for something that is both popular and very human, and usually you have to choose as an actor.”
Can Marvel continue to play cheap, or are they setting up themselves up to have a reputation as misers who don’t share the financial success with the creatives who made it happen? You tell us below.