Dustin Hoffman Netted a Mere $4,000 for His Role in ‘The Graduate’ and Had to File for Unemployment Benefits Afterward

The Graduate is a 1967 film that had a big influence not only on the world of movie-making but on pop culture as well. Directed by the acclaimed filmmaker Mike Nichols, The Graduate received critical praise, and to this day, it is still a fan favorite.

The Graduate is probably best known as the film that launched Dustin Hoffman to fame. Although Hoffman is now known as one of the all-time great character actors, when he was cast in The Graduate, it was a real leap of faith on the part of Nichols. 

‘The Graduate’ is the movie that made Dustin Hoffman a star

The Graduate tells the story of a young college graduate named Benjamin Braddock, who has no real aim or direction in life. Braddock is seduced by an attractive older woman named Mrs. Robinson but ends up falling in love with her daughter, Elaine. Mike Nichols, who was already an established filmmaker when he started production on The Graduate, had a very specific actor in mind for the central role of Benjamin Braddock. 

According to Entertainment Weekly, big-name actors such as Robert Redford and Warren Beatty were considered for the part of Benjamin, but Nichols passed on them because he thought both actors were too handsome and confident for the role of nervous, uncertain Benjamin. Jack Nicholson was also considered, but in the end, Nichols pushed for the young actor, Hoffman, to portray the character. At the time, Hoffman was best known for his work in various stage shows, so casting him in a major motion picture was a real gamble for Nichols—and for Hoffman, who had to prove himself to the production team along the way. 

How much money did Dustin Hoffman make for ‘The Graduate’?

Anne Bancroft pulling on stocking in front of Dustin Hoffman in a scene from 'The Graduate'
Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman in ‘The Graduate’ | Embassy Pictures/Getty Images

Hoffman was terrified of striking out in his first major movie opportunity. As he revealed in a 2008 feature with Vanity Fair, “I couldn’t sleep, I was so nervous. I’m immediately feeling miserable. I just have bad feelings about the whole thing. This is not the part for me. I’m not supposed to be in movies.”

After he was officially cast in the movie, Hoffman’s troubles continued. He admitted to Vanity Fair that he was “terrified that I was going to get fired,” and struggled with insecurity all throughout filming. Hoffman’s co-star and former roommate Gene Hackman, was fired three weeks into filming, which scared Hoffman further.

In the end, The Graduate became the highest-grossing movie of the year, earning $35 million in the first six months. The feature notes, however, that Hoffman was only paid $17,000 for his work in the movie, and after taxes and living expenses were taken out, he only had $4,000. He even had to collect unemployment for some time after the movie was released. 

‘The Graduate’ is now considered to be a cult classic

Hoffman didn’t struggle for long, and by the ’70s, he was one of the biggest names in Hollywood. A few of his hits that decade include Midnight Cowboy, Little Big Man, and Papillon. He maintained career momentum throughout the ’80s, ’90s, and into the 2000s, acting in a wide variety of movies and proving his range.

As for The Graduate, it earned multiple award nominations, including for Best Picture, according to IMDb. Mike Nichols ended up winning Best Director for the film – and these days, The Graduate is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. 

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