Christopher Nolan Gets Big Money for War Epic Dunkirk

With so many salary negotiations breaking down when the discussion turns to the back end -- and who doesn't like the back end? -- its always a surprise to hear that anybody is paid a significant amount up front. Besides, studios have a lot more fun with their er, "creative" accounting when a payout is on the table. Reminding audiences of the importance of the back-end cut, Tom Cruise allowed the production of the sixth Mission: Impossible installment to go on hiatus in order to negotiate salary. It turned out that Universal Pictures gave the actor a taste of back-end gold with The Mummy franchise and Cruise was hoping the same from Paramount. After a bit of drama, it sounds like he got it.

Whether cast or crew are deserving of the large payouts, at least there has been a transfer a risk. But, as studios know, that transfer of risk can backfire in terms of huge payouts. As confirmed by THR, gone are the big up-front pay days on films that might end up losing a studio money. Instead, the talent now takes their fight to the studios on what they will get on the back end. By transferring the risk to, let's say, 5% on the gross revenue, a big pay day can be in store when factoring tickets sales, merchandise and home entertainment. And, if "gross revenue" is the deal, the talent wins even if the property experiences a lost. So maybe not everybody is deserving of this sort of salary either.

Dunkirk Screenshot

Christopher Nolan Gets His for Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan, on the other hand, has been an incredible asset on the books for Warner Bros. They quickly picked up a first deal with the director after he scored a hit with Memento back in 2000. Since then he has given them a number of golden tickets at the box office including The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception. Nolan is now prepping one of 2017's largest tentpoles, Dunkirk. A refreshing switch from comicbook or superhero movies, the film will re-invigorate the World War II genre with it's telling of Operation Dynamo.


Warner Bros had high expectations for Dunkirk from the get-go. And how can we blame them? The film is written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Putting their confidence on paper, the studio has agreed to pay the director $20 million up front. Pay day, right? Well, as icing on the cake, the studio has agreed to give the director a whopping 20% on gross revenue. Wowza! It's a no-brainer, that is going to amount to a lot of cheddar.

Big Pay Days for Jennifer Lawrence and Keanu Reeves Too

While Nolan received a big up-front payment, he is still one of the rare few in Hollywood to see that payment structure. Tom Cruise's negotiations serve as a good reminder on the importance of back-end deals, and Keanu Reeves makes for another perfect example. The actor got so rich from royalties off The Matrix trilogy that it is fair to say he will never need to work again. But he made a shining return in John Wick, a film that only paid $1-$2 million up front. For the sequel, John Wick: Chapter Two, he's taking slightly more up front, but also now has an ownership stake in the franchise. A bit more risk, but his payout on ticket sales will be, in the words of Trump, HUGE!

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in Passengers

On a final note, don't feel too bad for Jennifer Lawrence. It's hard to take her salary complaints too seriously when she is one of the few to receive a huge salary on both the front and back end. The actress received $20 million up front for her starring role in Passengers. Though Chris Pratt's role is considered the larger of the two in the sci-fi romance, he had to negotiate (hard) to get his price up to $12 million. The pair now represent a significant portion of the film's entire budget.

And here I am hoping to make about $6 reporting on how much they make. Go figure.