Jack Nicholson’s Decision to Reduce His ‘Batman’ Salary Earned Him Over $60 Million

Throughout his career, Jack Nicholson has won three Academy Awards and set a record for male actors with 12 Oscar nominations. Known for dramatic roles in films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Terms of Endearment, and Chinatown, Nicholson chose to play The Joker in Warner Bros’ 1989 blockbuster Batman. This proved to be smart and lucrative for his career. 

While not the first, Nicholson’s Joker portrayal in the Batman films remains one of the most iconic in cinematic history. The closest The Joker character got to a big screen appearance before Nicholson’s portrayal was Cesar Romero’s silly purple incarnation in the 1966 series.

Although Nicholson was only guaranteed $6 million for playing The Joker, he made substantially more than that because of a formula often employed by A-list actors.

Jack Nicholson wasn’t Tim Burton’s first pick to play The Joker in 1989’s ‘Batman’ 

Fans were outraged when Tim Burton picked Michael Keaton as Batman. At the time, Keaton was better known for his humorous roles. However, it felt like a dream cast when Warner Bros. revealed Nicholson would portray The Joker alongside Keaton in the film.

Burton initially planned to cast someone other than Chinatown star as The Joker, but Warner Bros. declined. Nicholson made sure he got paid handsomely for giving his star power to the unpopular superhero genre at the time.

Nicholson’s decision to reduce his ‘Batman’ salary earned him over $60 million

Actor Jack Nicholson wears a hat on the set of Batman
Jack Nicholson on the set of Batman | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

When Tim Burton proposed Nicholson for The Joker role, The Shining star was in a solid bargaining position, landing a lucrative contract. Nicholson’s scenes were to be shot within a particular portion of production, allowing him to attend all home games of his famously beloved NBA team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

The deal also allowed The Departed star’s a certain amount of free time per filming day. Nicholson’s most brilliant move, however, was negotiating his pay.

According to Far Out, his standard fee for starring in a film in the late ’80s was $10 million. He only asked for $6 million to play The Joker. However, if the movie was successful, he would receive a percentage of the profits. His earnings included not only cash from the film but also merchandise based on his character. 

The amount of money the now-retired actor made from his role as The Joker is unknown but is estimated to be well over $60 million, according to BuzzFeed. Nicholson’s biographer, Marc Eliot, estimates the actor made nearly $90 million — the equivalent to a whopping $194 million in today’s dollars.

Nicholson’s pay from playing The Joker is still one of the highest in Hollywood

Nicholson and his representatives made a forward-thinking deal that massively paid off, considering superhero movies weren’t guaranteed blockbusters back in 1989. Even without the massive sales of The Joker toys and other merchandise, the global total for Batman was $411 million on a budget of just $35 million, as Forbes reports.

Even without adjusting for inflation, Nicholson’s $60 million payment is still among the top 10 highest actor paychecks ever. The Something’s Gotta Give star’s success is all the more remarkable given that he earned $60 million in a single film. Other actors with high-paying roles are franchise stars, so they made their largest incomes on multiple films cumulatively.

Nicholson cashed in big time when other A-list actors were reluctant to wear the clown makeup required to play The Joker. After considering all the perks, Nicholson’s Batman contract may be the best one an actor has ever signed.

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