15 Paycheck Roles That Huge Hollywood Stars Did for the Money (Photos)
If Anthony Hopkins is joining “Transformers: The Last Knight” just for a fat paycheck, he won’t be the first highly-acclaimed actor to take a role simply for the salary
Jeremy Fuster | June 3, 2016 @ 5:19 PM
Last Updated: June 4, 2016 @ 6:44 PM
The term "paycheck role" is a bit of a touchy one in Hollywood. Sometimes actors, no matter how famous or critically-acclaimed, sign on to roles just for the salary. Whether they end up being iconic or infamous, the history of the paycheck role is a long one.
Hopefully Anthony Hopkins will have a better go with the "Transformers" series than Hugo Weaving did. Weaving told Collider that his performances as Megatron in the first three films were the first in his career that he considered "meaningless." Which, not surprisingly, infuriated director Michael Bay, who blasted complaining actors in his blog.
Fresh off her Oscar win for "The Queen," Helen Mirren took on two maternal paycheck roles. First was the critically panned "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," in which she played a professor who was the mother to Nicolas Cage. After that, she played another fussy woman in the adaptation of the YA novel "Inkheart," taking the role of Brendan Fraser's aunt, Elinor.
Early in her career, Mirren had a minor role in the infamous historical erotica film "Caligula," which starred "A Clockwork Orange" actor Malcolm McDowell as the titular corrupt Roman emperor. The Penthouse-produced film was a paycheck role for everyone involved, but none more so than Peter O'Toole, who played the syphilis-riddled Tiberius.
A decade after winning an Academy Award for "Reversal of Fortune," Jeremy Irons played the villain in the cheap and critically-reviled "Dungeons and Dragons." When asked why he did the role, Irons told The Guardian, "I just bought a castle! I had to pay for it somehow."
Michael Caine has admitted that he's not above playing terrible roles if they are the only ones available. The most infamous is his role as Hoagie in "Jaws: The Revenge." When asked if he had seen the film, Caine said, "I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house it built, and it is terrific.
L.A. Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made his mark on comedy with his cameo in "Airplane!" In an interview with the A.V. Club, co-director Jerry Zucker said that Abdul-Jabber asked for $35,000 to be in the film specifically because it was the price of an oriental rug he wanted to buy.
For the panned crime thriller "Swordfish," Halle Berry appeared topless for the first time ever. As compensation for doing the scene, Berry received a $500,000 bonus on top of the $2 million she received for doing the movie.
After uttering "Hasta la vista, baby" Arnold Schwarzenegger refused for years to star in "Terminator 3" unless James Cameron was in the director's chair. Eventually, he relented, but only after locking down a contract for $29.25 million along with 20 percent of the film's worldwide gross receipts. Hasta la vista, studio profits.
Sigourney Weaver had intended for "Aliens" to be her final film as Ellen Ripley, but returned for a cameo appearance in "Alien 3" and a starring role in "Alien: Resurrection." The payday she got for taking part in the unpopular "Alien" sequels? $11 million.
"Striptease" was named the Worst Picture of 1996, with particular criticism aimed towards Demi Moore's poor performance. But while the film won six Razzies in total, Moore took home a paycheck for $12.5 million, which was slightly more than the film's opening week yield at the box office.
Laurence Olivier was a thespian so beloved that he has an acting award named after him. But maybe even he wasn't immune to a paycheck role, as one of his most wild career moments came in 1981 playing Greek god Zeus in "Clash of the Titans."
Marlon Brando's performance as Jor-El in "Superman: The Movie" is a paycheck performance for the ages. Not only did he take $3.7 million for two weeks' work (approximately $13.5 million in today's money), he didn't even look at the script. His lines were provided to him on cue cards behind the camera.
One of the most beloved paycheck roles of all time is Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars." According to his authorized biography, Alec Guinness considered the lines he had to read "fairytale rubbish" and only did the role because he expected it would give him enough money to last a whole year. "Star Wars" ended up giving him tens of millions in royalties.
Orson Welles will forever be remembered for "Citizen Kane," but the last role of his career was in the 1985 animated "Transformers" movie, which is known for the death of Optimus Prime. Welles played Unicron, a sentient cyberplanet that devours other worlds. No matter what Hopkins does in the latest "Transformers" film it will never be as ridiculous as that.