In what is believed to be the biggest deal ever made with an actor, Savoy Pictures has agreed to pay Sylvester Stallone $20 million, or potentially an unprecedented percentage of total revenues, to star in a yet-to-be-determined movie in 1996.
According to informed sources, the deal guarantees Stallone $20 million, or 20% of total receipts collected by Savoy from all media worldwide--including theatrical, video, network and cable TV--if those revenues exceed $100 million.
Industry insiders say the agreement is staggering and could cause a domino effect in Hollywood, where today’s biggest stars--including Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas and Bruce Willis--command $12 million-$15 million a picture against 15% of the distributor’s receipts. Stallone is represented by the same company, the powerful Creative Artists Agency, that also handles such high-ticket talent as Costner, Cruise, Hanks and Douglas.
“It is the biggest deal I’ve ever heard of,” says Joe Roth, chairman of the Walt Disney motion pictures group. “Sure, this will have a ripple effect on the highest level,” adds the executive, “because this is the competitive environment that the agencies live in. Now agents will feel a need to go after this figure for their big clients.”
Mark Canton, chairman of Columbia TriStar Motion Pictures, says: “I’m a big fan of Sly’s, but I’ve never heard of such a big deal--it’s shocking.” He notes, “It not only puts more pressure on agents to deliver big numbers for their clients, it puts pressure on the studios to (determine) how high is high and when is enough enough.”
Agents insist that their big clients in the right movies guarantee a certain amount of revenues and that they are thus entitled to a bigger piece of the total revenue pie, which has grown dramatically, primarily due to the demand in foreign markets. However, studio executives say they don’t buy that argument.
“It’s not about revenues, it’s about margins and the margins are getting more narrow because the cost of making and marketing movies has gone up so much,” contends Roth, who is certainly not alone in his assessment. Its detractors in Hollywood criticize the 3-year-old New York-based Savoy--a publicly held production and distribution company that has been plagued by such box-office flops as “Exit to Eden” and “Serial Mom"--for spending too much on talent and material. Eyebrows were raised earlier this year when the company made an unprecedented “first-dollar gross” deal with screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and a $2-million-plus deal for Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.”
“I think Savoy is desperate and has not been able to deliver to stockholders or (theater owners),” says one movie executive. “By saying they have Stallone for a movie, essentially they’re buying time. This will give the appearance, if not the reality, of delivering.”
Other observers, however, insist that the company--which only released its first batch of films over the last 15 months, including the critically acclaimed “Shadowlands"--has hardly had time to prove itself. “Last year was only their first year in business,” says one Savoy supporter.
Savoy Chairman Victor A. Kaufman and President Lewis J. Korman, who formed the company in 1992 with $100 million of investor seed money and just last month had to recapitalize after reporting major losses for the year, declined to comment for this story. The two have a longstanding relationship with Stallone going back to their days at TriStar Pictures when the studio released “Rambo: First Blood, Part II” and “Rambo III,” and the actor’s less successful prison movie, “Lock Up.”
Stallone, who reportedly received $12 million and $15 million, respectively, for his last two movies, Warner Bros.’ “The Specialist” and Cinergi/Hollywood Pictures’ upcoming summer’s release “Judge Dredd,” collected a flat fee of $25 million for the 1990 sequel “Rocky V.”
Because U.S. distributors like Savoy typically split a film’s box-office gross with theater owners 50-50, Stallone’s forthcoming movie for Savoy would have to gross more than $200 million at the box office before his percentage would kick in. The actor would then get 20 cents on every dollar thereafter, regardless of what Savoy’s costs for making and distributing the movie are.
The “play-or-pay deal,” which guarantees the actor his fee even if for some reason Savoy does not go forward with the project, is not tied to a specific movie, but to a “slot” that the star has committed to in 1996.
Stallone’s representatives--agent Ron Meyer, president of Creative Artists Agency, and attorney Jake Bloom--always negotiate two slots a year for Stallone rather than specific movies. Both refused comment for this story.
The actor will not be able to make a movie for Savoy until 1996 because of prior movie commitments next year, first to Warner Bros., then to Cinergi. He still has an open slot for another movie in 1996.
Stallone, whose movies have generally performed better in foreign markets, is a much bigger star overseas. “Cliffhanger,” for example, grossed $171 million overseas and $84 million domestically. He has proven to be a strong box-office draw only in action movies. The Savoy deal stipulates he must star in an action/thriller movie both parties agree upon.
His movie career was launched with the two successful action movie series “Rocky” and “Rambo"--which collectively have brought in more than $1 billion. But any time Stallone has deviated from action roles, with such movies as “Rhinestone,” “Lock Up,” “Oscar” and “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot,” those titles have flopped at the box office and his career has suffered. The success of his 1993 movie “Cliffhanger” made him realize that action films were his niche. He followed “Cliffhanger” with the $100-million hit “Demolition Man,” and the current action movie, “The Specialist,” which has grossed about $80 million to date.
“Now, he’s back on a roll doing films audiences love to see him in,” says one executive who’s a big fan of the star.