September 11, 2013

The List: Eight Examples of Paycheck Performances by Actors

Seriously ... who gives a shit?
Ben Affleck said it best in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back: "What do I keep telling you? You gotta do the safe picture, then you do the art picture ... and sometimes you gotta do the payback picture because your friend says you owe him".

While on the set of Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season, Damon and Affleck, ignoring their director Gus Van Sant, who is too busy counting his money, simply pump each other up for the ridiculousness of their new movie project; Damon says, "Think about the paycheck".

Sometimes the gap between 'art' and 'paycheck' or 'effort' and 'favor' is pretty thin. But then, as is the case with the below ten films, the gap is pretty frickin' wide. Here are 10 of my favorite 'Who Gives A Fuck, Give Me My Paycheck' type of performances.

1. Ralph Fiennes, Maid in Manhattan (The 'No Challenge, Lots of Exposure' Paycheck film)

Before he rode the Harry Potter train to Bank Account Land, Fiennes had a reputation as an indie darling. However, in between Oscar bait like Quiz Show and The English Patient, experiments like Sunshine and Spider and expected dramas-to-be-taken seriously like The Constant Gardener and The End of the Affair, Fiennes realized he needed to pay the mortgage.

So he starred in a Jennifer Lopez movie. At the time, this seemed like the biggest outlier in what was a mostly non-mainstream career. Also bizarre is that Jennifer Lopez movies actually made money back in the day, so Fiennes was truly selling out.

It's not that he is necessarily bad in the movie but ... its a generic rags-to-riches love story and the by-the numbers trailer alone probably had Fiennes gripping a bottle a bit tighter than normal in his trailer as he read scripts for real movies with real depth. However, not only did it pay the rent, it also gave him some exposure to a new audience.

Maid in Manhattan grossed almost $200 million worldwide and beat out Star Trek: Nemesis in its opening week, the first time a Star Trek film was beat at the box office in its debut week (it had a streak of 9 for 9).

2. Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black II and III (The 'Guaranteed Hit' Paycheck film)

There is a scene in MIB II where Tommy Lee Jones tells his partner, played by Will Smith, to run for cover while he provides covering fire against an alien of some sort. Will Smith runs with gusto while Tommy Lee simply points his gun, kinda does a little sigh, and shoots about as enthusiastically as one does when clipping their finger nails. He really couldn't be bothered with this film ... and who can blame him? Was anyone really looking for a Men in Black 2?

And then MIB III came out??? No wonder Josh Brolin played a better Tommy Lee Jones than Tommy Lee Jones did in that movie. But these films guaranteed another hit to TLJ's resume and allowed him the financial flexibility to pursue his directorial efforts and do box-office-poison political films like In the Valley of Elah.

3. Robert De Niro, Showtime (The 'Ride the Current Wave of Popularity' Paycheck film)

There was a time when Robert De Niro wanted to reinvent himself as a comedian. And though Meet the Parents isn't exactly a comedic masterpiece, it was pretty funny and showed De Niro in a new light hardly seen in the past (he did do films like Analyze This and Flawless but with far less box office success). So the best thing to do after a massive success like that is to go right to the next paycheck.

De Niro decided to try more 'comedy' knowing that his success with Meet the Parents brought him a new audience and high (or low) expectations. So he teamed up with the 'desperate for a hit' Eddie Murphy and was soundly out acted by William Shatner. But while Showtime brought a whole new era of success for Shatner, it put De Niro in creative purgatory as he continued to pump out meager dramas and lousy comedies one after the other.

4. Marlon Brando, Superman (The 'I'm So Huge I Can Just Ask for this Paycheck' Paycheck film)

I'm going to ask you two questions.

1)If you were playing Superman, where should you be billed as an actor in a Superman film?
2)If you acted for 12 days and appeared in 10 minutes of footage, how much should you be paid?

The answer to #1 is third and the answer to #2 is $14 million dollars.

Yes, Marlon Brando was such a huge mega-star that he commanded $3.7 million for his ten minute role (stretched to $14 thanks to legal disputes and box office percentage cuts) and got top billing over Superman himself ... in a film called Superman.

5. Donald Pleasence, any Halloween film from 4 to 6 (the 'My Legacy is Complete so Screw It' Paycheck film)

Halloween is a horror classic and its obvious sequel is also pretty damn good. But an actor like Donald Pleasence, a B-movie master and someone who made a living as an actor long before his Halloween sequel days, knew the Halloween sequels from Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers on to Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (the sixth one) was guaranteed money in the bank and that his presence would give some dignity to whatever mockery of the original was being thrown up on the screen.

One of Pleasence's oft-quoted jokes was that he would stop making Halloween movies after the 22nd one. This quote, I believe, sums up his end-of-career acting-is-work philosophy: "At this point in my career, it doesn't bother me much that I'm probably hopelessly typecast. I like to work, and horror films definitely keep me working". He was also quoted as saying that 'Halloween 5 is a bit stupid'.

Speaking of Halloween ... 

6. Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (the 'Saying Thanks to My Beginnings' While Getting a Guaranteed Hit Paycheck film)

No one blames Jamie Lee for saying 'piss off' to Halloweens 4 ... and 5 ... and 6. They are, for the most part, rather dumb things. But getting to star as the lead in a big summer movie that both celebrates the role that made you famous (as well as the franchise) and rides the current wave of new generation horror (which worshiped, as well as rewrote, older horror) is a pretty good move.

During the height of the Scream revolution of the teenage horror film, Jamie Lee Curtis went back to the source and rode headfirst into making Halloween, a heralded and seminal classic, into a reunion event with a seventh (but, story-wise, third) sequel! And while the results are a bit underwhelming (and completely shit on with the next ridiculous installment, Halloween: Resurrection), H20 felt like a prestige picture in the horror world.

And if it failed (which it didn't), Jamie Lee at least got the publicity and, most importantly, the good money you get for headlining a major motion picture, to sleep better at night. (personal note: Adam Arkin is pretty fucking genius in this movie, in a very small role. Watch it, if anything, for him. Oh, and Michelle Williams in a school girl outfit.)

7. Vin Diesel, The Fast and the Furious films (The 'Milk It While It Still Pumps' Paycheck Film)

Diesel made $15 million on Fast Five and I can assume he made just as much on Fast 6 ... and will again on Fast 7. Why? Because while those movies are still making lots of greenbacks, so will Diesel. Now, Diesel is a passionate guy who knows to Affleck/Good Will Hunting 2 his way through life.

It has recently been reported that Diesel made his cameo in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift so he could acquire the rights to the Riddick franchise. He also provided a lot of the budget for the most recent Riddick film with those hard earned (okay, it was a cameo, but still ... he has to put Tokyo Drift on his resume) rights. So he puts in the work. But there will be Fast and Furious movies every year until that well runs dry because he knows where the money is.

8. Ben Kingsley, Thunderbirds (The 'Uncategorizable' or 'I Think He Might Have Killed Someone and Needs Some Protection Money' Paycheck Film)

I love Jonathan Frakes so I can't necessarily complain about the film and how it looks technically. Frakes is a wonderful visual and technical director but when it came to the script for this live-action version of Thunderbirds well ... he didn't have a lot to work with. Plus, Bill Paxton.

He DID have Ben Kingsley, for some reason, though. And that should have translated into something. Instead, Kingsley is pretty much phoning it in as a generic bad guy in a reeeeaaaalllly bad kid's movie. But why? I dunno. Kingsley was coming off some of his best performances in years with Sexy Beast and House of Sand and Fog. Why the sam hell was this film on his radar? I'm assuming it has to have been a crack habit or something.

Okay, maybe that crack habit is worth continuing ... 


  1. Very good article, that I'm sure could have included another 50 entires.

    Still not sure if Vin Deisel belongs here since unlike the tohers he was never known for his big-brow "thespian" movies.

    For De Niro, "Rocky and Bullwinkle" could have been another choice.

    1. Sorry, meant "high-brow" not "big brow".


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