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Discuss: Can Marvel Keep Lowballing Their Actors? 'The Avengers 2' Negotiations Get Heated

by Kevin Jagernauth
May 7, 2013 6:36 PM
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The Avengers

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.

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  • Washington | May 8, 2013 7:09 PMReply

    The owner class trying to fuck over the working class, never fails

  • ms | May 8, 2013 9:25 AMReply

    This isn't just a hackjob - it's literally plagiarizing without attributing. You guys need to be careful about this shit. The line "He's the only guy with real power in this situation. And balls of steel" seems, above, to be written by Kevin, but it's actually a quote attributed to an anonymous source in the Nikki Finke piece. I know borrowing and rewriting is your stock and trade, but be careful it doesn't slip into actual plagiarizing.

  • Kevin | May 8, 2013 10:03 AM

    Calm down bro, that "Balls of steel" line just had a misplaced quotation mark, since corrected.

  • Rob | May 8, 2013 8:53 AMReply

    Marvel should give the actors the money. They obviously have it. End of story.

  • deadline? | May 7, 2013 9:46 PMReply


    This is a hack job. Sure, you referenced your source. But why even bother if you're just going to regurgitate an excellent article by Nikki.

  • TheoC | May 7, 2013 8:07 PMReply

    Oh for Avengers 2 they can pay them, it's a guaranteed billion as things stand, just pay them what they want. Except Renner.

  • Dan | May 7, 2013 7:20 PMReply

    "Only $500,000?" Granted, this is piddly relative to the entire 'Avengers' money train, but don't expect me to shed many tears for the tragic plights of millionaires.

    How much money do *you* make for several months of work?

  • Dan | May 7, 2013 11:56 PM

    In quick response to John:

    -I never claimed that the actors are complaining publicly. My criticism was directed more at the tone of this article.
    -I don't blame anybody for trying to get as big a slice they can from this ludicrous cash cow (no doubt anybody in these actors' situations would if they could). I just don't understand why the article focuses on the "lowballing" of a small body of (already quite prominent) performers relative to everyone else working on this franchise.
    -Your vaguely ad hominem attack on my being "outside of Hollywood" is pretty knee-jerk. Surely you can do better. Your comment doesn't even need it to get its points across.

    All of this said, I still clicked on this article headline and read all the way through it, so I suppose this whole thing was successful in driving more traffic to the site...

  • John | May 7, 2013 10:08 PM

    Who is expecting you to shed tears? This is a private negotiation actors to studio. They're not out there going boo-hoo. And your comment indicates you're another guy who doesn't work in or understand Hollywood. Thankful, to who? Management? Don't make me laugh. Those actors should be trying to get all that they can get -- which is the only rule in Hollywood and in America.

    And btw, does everybody on the Net just copy others' reporting? Or is that just here?

  • gabriel | May 7, 2013 9:10 PM

    I agree Dan. Before giving a raise to the stars they should divvy more for the people barely scraping by who toil on a film set, crafty, wardrobe, props, grips... even background.

  • RNL | May 7, 2013 8:40 PM

    Well said.

  • Dan | May 7, 2013 7:23 PM

    It's also worth remembering that nobody is advocating on behalf of the BTL craftspeople who also work on these films . . . and probably make substantially less than Samuel L. Jackson (plus don't receive the exposure or fame).

  • xmasevebaby | May 7, 2013 7:17 PMReply

    Let's be clear here...EVERYONE is replaceable. Robert Downey, Jr. is the "Sean Connery" of the Marvel Studios franchise, but the Bond franchise thrived in his absence.

    No one held a gun to their collective heads to sign the contracts originally. They knew these films weren't going to be unsuccessful. Honor your contract and hope for a big payday on another franchise down the road, but honor your contract nonetheless.

    Or, Chris Hemsworth and any other actor not under contract with Marvel Studios could take a phone call with Warner Bros. about becoming the next DC Comic Book franchise. He would make a good Aquaman to Jeremy Renner's Green Arrow or ScarJo's Black Canary...I'm just saying.

  • caro | May 7, 2013 6:59 PMReply

    is there not a news last year like what Scarlet Johanson would pay 20 millions $ for THE AVENGERS 2?

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