Shouting Match: Should Actors Stop Whining About Lowball Salaries?


Recently, the news cycle has been dominated by Marvel and their salary offers for upcoming films. Terrance Howard is out. Sam Jackson is out. If Mickey Rourke was coherent enough to read his bank statements, he would be out. Plus, the jury’s out on the subject, but the internet fan(boy)base has been more than vocal about its outrage. Last week, two of our writers got into a fistfight over the subject, and we’ve translated the physical violence into civil debate for this week’s Shouting Match. The contenders: Rob Hunter and Cole Abaius. The question: Should Actor’s Stop Whining About Lowball Salaries?

Opening Statements

ROB HUNTER: There’s been a lot of grumbling lately on blogs and comment boards about Marvel’s apparent “mishandling” of actors for the upcoming Iron Man sequel. First, Terrance Howard was reportedly replaced over money disagreements, then we heard “Sam Jackson” may not reprise his role as Nick Fury again due to pay squabbles. Most recently, the just-announced addition of Mickey Rourke to the cast came under scrutiny as Marvel apparently “low-balled” him with a $250k offer. (My use of quotes is meant to highlight various absurdities in this paragraph.)

Why the outcry? And why the mud-slinging towards Marvel? There’s no shortage of articles or comments in past years criticizing actors like Will Smith and Jim Carrey for pocketing $20 million paychecks for films that turned out to be shit. So shouldn’t Marvel deserve some credit for putting a lid on their actors out-of-control salaries?

Sam Jackson Furious Over LowballingCOLE ABAIUS: This is a touchy subject. Obviously anything involving money should be, especially during these tough economic times. That’s why I’m going to make an outlandish comparison to prove my point.

The outrage over these actors’ salaries is two-fold. Right now, everyone is irritated about anyone getting shortchanged because everyone is being shortchanged. Secondly, even though the amount seems fantastic for a single job to most of us working schmoes, for an actor in such high demand, it’s an insult.

Also, considering that Iron Man 2 is set to be a major blockbuster – the original grossing $318.3 million in the United States alone – it seems absurd that the studio can’t figure out a better salary offer on the front end for the actor’s who will carry the next film on their backs to fill Marvel’s coffers.

Your move, sir.

The Rebuttals

ROB HUNTER: Before I dissect your three points (that failed to prove anything) let me revisit the point of mine that you ignored. Other actors like Smith, Carrey, and Tom Cruise have been criticized for their salaries, but Jackson and Rourke seem to get a pass. Neither of them are better actors, and neither of them are anywhere near the box office draws the other three are (or were), but fans are still in their corner instead of the studio’s. It’s a double standard and it’s due solely to the fact that Jackson and Rourke are currently “cool” right now in the eyes of many film geeks.

Okay, point one… the general public’s irritation over being shortchanged translating into a financial empathy with millionaire actors? A nice thought, but a little too Pollyanna to be believable.

Point two… the actors are in high demand and therefore deserve more? I agree that demand has a definite effect on salary, and it should. But is Jackson really in high demand? Sure he makes tons of movies, but it’s because the mother fucker can’t say “No” to anything, as evidenced by his shit-tastic resume. And Rourke? Do you honestly think there are people that would only watch Iron Man 2 if the ads proclaimed “starring Academy Award Winner Mickey Rourke?” No way. I’ve argued this elsewhere, but the man is not a box office draw, especially for a film like this. He’s a small piece that might make someone go, “Oh, Rourke, nice” but that’s the end of it.

Point three… Marvel’s gigantic grosses for the first film translating into huge salaries for the sequel’s stars? Robert Downey Jr is the only integral actor in the movie as he is Iron Man, and everyone else is window dressing. And they all take a back seat to the screenplay, effects, and action. Iron ManI’d prefer Marvel spend the extra money on those three areas and less to the actors who think $250k for a month or two of work is beneath them. Plus, Marvel has bills and loans to pay, as well as future films to finance, all of which is in jeopardy if they don’t continue to turn a healthy profit.

COLE ABAIUS: It’s great that you think giving me a ton of arguments will deter me from accurately answering all of them, but since I don’t have to spend much time (or mental acuity) destroying them, I should have plenty of time to cover them all and add my own. Thanks for being so considerate.

I realize you have a big rubbery one for Smith and Cruise, but the complaints against their salaries (which I’ve never claimed were valid) stem from an emotional response to how astronomical they are. Haggling over $20 million (Smith’s salary for Hancock (plus 20% of gross)) is far different than haggling over $250,000 for Rourke.

Eighty times different, to be exact.

I know Rourke won’t be the main draw of the film, but he will be a draw, and definitely one stronger than $250,000. We’re used to film actors making millions of dollars – so hearing about one who gets offered 1/4 of that in a major blockbuster is an easy empathy point, especially right now. Welcome to your Pollyanna reality. Rourke will be playing a major villain – a major part of the film. Argue that he doesn’t deserve $1 million, but he definitely deserves more than he was offered.

And now for my formerly promised outlandish comparison. “Actors who think $250k for a month or two of work is beneath them?” Impressive that you could demean an entire career in less than twenty words, but foolish considering that acting (like sports figures) operate in a different salary spectrum, and you know it. Scoffing at an actor getting a low ball offer and not wanting it is tantamount to telling a librarian whose pay is cut to take what she’s offered and stop complaining. If librarian doesn’t work for you, trade it out for “IT Specialist.”

Closing Arguments

ROB HUNTER: Ouch. Nice job bringing the argument home at the end there. I’d do the same to you but you’re still unemployed right? Anyway…

Putting my big, rubbery one aside (which is an effort, believe me) I actually do think a $20 million salary is more than a little excessive for a film, but it’s earned in the sense that they are (or were) box office draws. Like them or not, a large percentage of the general public goes to see movies based on the actors or actresses. AvengersYes, a large percentage of them are idiots with horrendous taste in movies, but the fact remains. Rourke absolutely will not be a draw to Iron Man 2. No one aside from Rourke himself will see the movie due solely to the fact that he’s in it. It’s absurd to think otherwise. And I never scoffed at an actor turning down an offer he felt was too low. That’s no different than anyone passing on a job due to pay. I’m arguing against the tide of anger aimed at Marvel for making that offer in the first place.

One final point. Take a second and look into the future a bit here. Look towards The Avengers movie. That movie has such incredible promise and everyone, including myself, is hoping for and expecting an amazing movie experience when it is released. But the film is designed to be a ensemble of super proportions… multiple heroes, multiple villains, it should be awesome. But now imagine that all of the actors, big and small, in Marvel’s individual hero films, have successfully argued for very large salaries. The production budget for The Avengers would surpass $100 million before the first frame was shot or the first second of CGI was created. What does that leave for the story, effects, and action? Let alone for a quality director, cinematographer, and gaffer?

I say Marvel is being smart in controlling these costs now. They may be erring a bit too much on the side of caution, but it’s preferable to the alternative. I want more kick-ass, fun, action-packed movies like Iron Man and fewer lame star vehicles like Ghost Rider or Daredevil.

COLE ABAIUS: Thanks for putting that aside. Yes, those major stars are superior box office draws, and they’ve earned a certain amount of salary negotiation leeway. Rourke’s or Jackson’s name might not be the big sell (although, yeah, Jackson’s might), but they are going to be playing major roles in a film and should be treated as such. Doubling, even tripling their salary offers isn’t going to break the bank.

I think the most compelling argument is how natural the response has been. Fans and critics are outraged because it just seems lousy en face. I could throw a ton of numbers out, but the natural reaction seems accurate simply because it’s the natural reaction. wrap your mind around that syllogism.

And as for your hyperbole about a post-apacolyptic Avengers world where each actor is paid $15 million a piece, and Marvel goes completely bankrupt at the hands of an angry actor’s coalition – really? Really? Granted, there will be a large slate of known talent coming on board for the film, but unless they are all, every single one of them, pulling down Will Smith numbers, the film’s budget won’t be forced to list $15 for lighting equipment. I think it’ll be alright if actor’s stand up for their fiscal interests on this one.

Final Verdict

As usual, we leave the final word up to you. Are Rourke and Jackson and others justified? Are the fanboys justified in being outraged? Or are they all blowing smoke? Who’s in the right – the producers or the talent?

The FSR Staff is an author similar to Hydra. Its articles have many authors. It has many heads. Please don't cut off any of its heads, we're trying to work here.

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