Throughout Hollywood, history, there have only been a handful of actors who most people would agree are among the all-time greats. Of course, there certainly is room to debate which actors belong on that list and whether it is acting skill or box office receipts that matter most. Fortunately, actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Harrison Ford are among the highest-grossing actors of all time and they are both wonderful actors. Similarly, Denzel Washington has more than enough fans to fill movie theaters and he is an amazing actor.
Unlike some movie stars who seem to spend a lot of their time accumulating power behind the scenes, like Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington doesn’t appear to play the game. For example, Washington’s son has become a highly successful and famous actor and from the outside looking in, it doesn’t appear like Denzel pulled any strings for him.
Since Denzel Washington seems to let his outstanding acting skills do all the work advancing his career, it would only make sense if his biggest paycheque came from one of his best movies. However, in reality, Washington reportedly made more money from a film of his that flopped than any of his many beloved movies.
Washington’s Highest-Paid Role
By the time Denzel Washington signed up to star in 2021’s The Little Things, Warner Brothers knew that he was a big enough star that hiring him wouldn’t come cheaply. However, that doesn’t mean that Warner Brothers didn’t want to protect itself from handing Washington over too much money when they initially hired him to headline the film.
Over the last couple of decades, it has become increasingly common for the studios to offer movie stars a piece of their film’s backend profits in addition to their base pay. That way the star has the opportunity to make a fortune if their film becomes a hit but the studio won’t have to hand over a ridiculous amount of money to the star of a film that flopped. Unfortunately for Warner Brothers, in 2021 they wound paying Denzel Washington loads of cash for a film that utterly failed.
When Denzel Washington agreed to star in The Little Things, his contract called for him to be paid a percentage of the money the movie made on the backend. As a result, Warner Brothers was put in a bind when they decided to release their 2021 slate of films in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day. After all, that plan totally screwed over actors like Washington who were promised a part of the money their films made in theaters.
Of course, it would be a huge mistake for Warner Brothers to burn their bridge to a star like Denzel Washington. As a result, the company handed Washington a huge cheque to make up for the money he wouldn’t make from The Little Things’ theater profits. Between Washington’s base pay and that cheque, Washington made $40 million from his starring role in The Little Things. Unfortunately for Warner Brothers, The Little Things got mixed reviews and brought in just under $30 million at the box office.
Denzel’s Other Major Paydays
In 2015, celebritynetworth.com put together a list of Denzel Washinton’s biggest paydays to that point. As that list makes clear, the quality of Washington’s films doesn’t necessarily have any connection to how much money he was paid for the project. For example, many people consider Training Day to be among the 2000s best movies and think it features Washington at his best but he only made $12 million from it. On the other hand, Out of Time isn’t going to top any list of Washington’s top films but he was paid $20 million for it.
Some of Denzel Washington’s other highest paying films include Man on Fire from which he netted $20 million, The Siege and Fallen which he was paid $12 million for, and the $10 million he got for The Hurricane. According to celebritynetworth.com, Washington also was paid $40 million for American Gangster. However, while it is true that Washington took home that much money due to American Gangster’s existence, the article doesn’t tell the full story.
In 2004, Denzel Washington agreed to star in American Gangster for $20 million. Unfortunately for Universal Pictures, things eventually went awry for them. While there are different versions of how things played out, Universal and American Gangster’s original director Antoine Fuqua couldn’t make things work and the film was canceled. Fortunately for Washington, his salary was guaranteed in his contract so Denzel was paid $20 million when American Gangster shut down.
Amazingly enough, Universal Pictures then decided to make American Gangster after all and they still knew that they wanted Denzel Washington in the lead role. Since Washington’s initial contract was null and void once the project was canceled and he was paid, they signed him to a second $20 million contract. With that in mind, it is still easy to argue that Warner Brothers paid Washington more to star in The Little Things even though he took home the same amount for American Gangster. After all, Washington’s original The Little Things contract called for him to potentially be paid more than $40 million but that is the number he and the Warner Brothers agreed to once things changed. On the other hand, Washington was only paid $20 million to star in American Gangster but he got his salary twice.