The Avengers cast are locked in a nasty battle with Marvel over salaries

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Individually, the Avengers have battled and overcome everything from jealous demigod siblings to crazy Nazis with the worst sunburn ever, and together they helped save the Earth from weird aliens and their master, a California Raisin on steroids who’s hiding in outer space.

But now it seems that this band of heroes may just face their toughest and most gruelling battle yet: Getting paid by Marvel.

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It’s been known for a long time that Marvel has a habit of lowballing their actors. They tend to find up and coming young actors who don’t really have any major Hollywood clout yet, signing them to multi-picture deals that will net the actors okay-ish money, despite the fact that these films inevitably almost always bring in some major bank. The payoff for these actors is that the Marvel movies tend to skyrocket their profiles like few other roles ever would.

But that all sort of changed with Robert Downey Jr. While he got paid well enough on Iron Man, it was his payday on The Avengers that really turned heads. Due to negotiating a deal where he gets a small fee upfront but takes a percentage of the film’s first dollar gross, he ended up raking in an estimated $50 million (now thought to be closer to $80 million after the film is all in) when The Avengers went on to become the 3rd highest grossing film of all time with a $1.5 billion box office haul.

He apparently has a similar (but clearly even better) deal setup for Iron Man 3, the last film on his contract , as Deadline is reporting that he may be getting an even bigger paycheck for the threequel (current estimates already put his earnings at $35 million).

But as RDJ is swimming Scrooge McDuck style through all his Avengers money, his co-stars are downright destitute by comparison, according to the publication’s sources.

“Some received only $200,000 for Avengers and Downey got paid $50M. On what planet is that OK?”

Apparently the negotiations for Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier was already quite heated as Chris Hemsworth (Thor) was not looking forward to the extreme physical regime he would have to go through to prepare for the role only to get paid a pittance. The same applied for Scarlett Johannson (Black Widow), who has a massive 8 film deal with Marvel and has been asked to pop up in just about every movie, including co-starring in the Captain America sequel, without getting sufficient compensation. Some sources say Marvel offered them a mere $500 000 increase, as well as an additional $500 000 bonus if their respective film bring in $500 million each.

When Hemsworth’s rep remarked that he had already been paid $5 million by Universal for Snow White and the Huntsmen, Marvel apparently scathingly responded by saying that at least their movies were always hits. Ooh burn!

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In the end, Hemsworth and a few others like Captain America‘s Chris Evans, were able to secure much better deals that are weighted more in the backend, and have far better bonus targets in place. But now that it’s time for talk of The Avengers 2, these actors have have begun playing hardball again in their contract renegotiations. They’re not quite setting up deals for RDJ money, but “are counting on at least $5 million upfront and better back ends for Avengers 2.”

But even that comparatively tiny amount may be asking for too much, as some of Deadline’s sources indicate that Marvel may have already threatened to sue or recast actors/actresses in the past when deals were challenged. But the cast are not backing down, daring the Disney owned studio to follow through on their threats.

They are all reportedly rallying behind RDJ, who has apparently become the de facto leader of the group, and as the biggest box office draw and most recognisable star in the franchise is using his bargaining power to leverage better deals for his co-stars. Here’s how one source describes it:

“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.”

Or as another rep put it more/less eloquently:

“I have four words for Marvel – ‘[email protected]#$ you, call Robert.’”

RDJ has of course been spouting the dreaded “R” word – retirement – for a while now, but that may all have been a ploy to make Marvel more desperate to lock him into a new picture deal. And it may just be working. While there’s still no talk of another solo jaunt a la Iron Man 4, he is definitely in talks for The Avengers 2 & 3.

So what would happen should Marvel not give in? Would these actors walk out on possibly the biggest roles of their careers? At this point, despite what Marvel may have been saying about how some of these franchises could take on a James Bond styled approach, these actor/actresses are these characters and it would take a hell of a lot to convince audiences otherwise.

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Also, Joss Whedon, the fan favourite writer-director who not only pulled off what many thought impossible with The Avengers but is currently also serving as a major architect of the entire Marvel universe, has already begun writing The Avengers 2. Suddenly not having Robert Downey Jr. would throw a serious spanner in his works.

So what does Whedon, who reportedly has a “really rich deal”  for $100 million for providing a number of projects/services including writing/directing The Avengers 2, creating their S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series and consulting exclusively on all their projects for the next couple of years, have to say about Marvel’s lowballing tactics?

“I’m not going to comment specifically because I’m not privy to that sort of stuff and I don’t think it’s my place to talk about. 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. I think that it’s an issue but it’s part of a bigger issue, which is there was a time when there was a crisis in the acting community where stars were getting $20 million and character actors were disappearing as a concept. There were no middle class actors. It was suddenly bit players and Jim Carrey, and that was it. Now the studios have gotten to a point where they’re like, “Do we need that star?” With what they’re able to to digitally and the way they create franchises there’s a little bit of a feeling of, maybe we can eliminate the actor – not totally and not totally cynically, but I’ve literally heard people at the agency say, not about Marvel, “This studio is eliminating the middle movie. They’re not making dramas or prestige pics or anything that isn’t either a franchise or a Paranormal-style found footage”. I think that changes the landscape for actors because really good actors are interested in doing a franchise because they need something.”

“I feel good about 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. 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.”

“I don’t [think this could conceivably create any problems for Avengers 2], because that would make me sad and I tend to be a bit Pollyanna. I tend to think these roles can alter the course of a career. Not that Mark Ruffalo needs this or is in pursuit of this. That man will always work. But it doesn’t suck. We had an amazing time making the movie and that kind of recognition doesn’t hurt, if it’s not with Marvel or the next guy. It’s useful.”

In the end, I personally think that Marvel will cave on these negotiations. They simply have too much to lose, and honestly cannot say that they can’t afford it. They’ve managed to procure amazing casts across the board for all their films thus far, but their recruitment drives could become a whole more difficult due to their “uncompromising”, “frugal” and “stingy” approach. Pretty soon  they’re going to be left with nothing but nobody actors who would do anything for a buck, and I don’t know about you guys but I’d rather not watch The Avengers 3 starring Nicolas Cage, Cuba Gooding Jr and that girl that once had a guest role on Baywatch.

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Last Updated: May 9, 2013

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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