With The Avengers making more money than even the most optimistic Marvel employee could have imagined, and Iron Man 3 making even more since its release, one would think that when The Avengers join up again on screen for their sequel in 2015, it will be an even bigger licence for Marvel to print money.
Except there may be a large dollar sign-shaped problem looming overhead.
According to a report on Deadline, there are some serious doubts right now over whether the original cast of the first film will all still be in place come 2015. Robert Downey Jr, arguably Marvel’s biggest star, is no longer under contract to the studio, with Iron Man 3 his last contracted role. Of course, negotiations are ongoing for him to suit up at least once more, but that deal is far from being signed. And to make matters worse for the Disney-owned studio, Downey Jr’s co-stars will be readying themselves for the negotiating table as well.
“Some received only $200,000 for Avengers and Downey got paid $50M. On what planet is that OK?”
In the wake of the reports that RDJ walked away from The Avengers at least $50 million better off – after upfront fees, box office bonuses and a hell of a negotiation ability – and the other cast members making allegedly as little as $200,000 from the film, there are going to be some strong talks when it comes to deals being signed for the sequel. In the case of Scarlett Johannsen (Black Widow), she is reported to have told Marvel that she is “not going to cut her quote” to return for the second film, while Chris Hemsworth (Thor) is arguably a bigger star now than he was when he first signed for Thor. This could make agreeing new deals with the actors difficult, especially with Marvel’s reputation of being stingy and difficult to work with on a financial level. When it comes to Chris Evans (Captain America) and Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/The Hulk), they are already signed to multi-picture deals and therefore their involvement is not in any doubt. Marvel also need to be aware of Downey Jr’s role in any contract negotiations. As well as being suitably adept at getting himself a satisfying agreement, he is also reported to have become somewhat of a leader of the Avengers stars, and with the leverage that he has gotten himself following the success of the Iron Man series, not to mention The Avengers – keeping him onside not only increases Marvel’s chances of him returning as Tony Stark/Iron Man, but also the remaining cast members putting pen to paper as well.
The Avengers director Joss Whedon has previously commented on Marvel’s well-known negotiation stance;
“In general terms, yes – Marvel can be very cheap, God knows. They can also be sensible and frugal. They have a very small infrastructure and they’re not heaping this money on themselves. I don’t know a producer who’s done more and is paid less than Kevin Feige. I think that it’s an issue but it’s part of a bigger issue, which is there was a time when there was a crisis in the acting community where stars were getting $20 million and character actors were disappearing as a concept. There were no middle class actors. It was suddenly bit players and Jim Carrey, and that was it. Now the studios have gotten to a point where they’re like, “Do we need that star?” With what they’re able to to digitally and the way they create franchises there’s a little bit of a feeling of, maybe we can eliminate the actor – not totally and not totally cynically, but I’ve literally heard people at the agency say, not about Marvel, “This studio is eliminating the middle movie. They’re not making dramas or prestige pics or anything that isn’t either a franchise or a Paranormal-style found footage”. I think that changes the landscape for actors because really good actors are interested in doing a franchise because they need something.
I feel good about Avengers because I feel everyone who took it got something to sink their teeth into. They weren’t hung out to dry. It’s not a soulless piece of work. It may be inept in some places but I meant every word. Marvel distinguished themselves by going after good actors, writers, and directors who were unexpected choices. One side to that is they don’t have to pay them as much. Me, [Jon] Favreau, [Kenneth] Branagh, James Gunn – we don’t have giant action quotes, but we’re all filmmakers who want to do something with a giant action movie instead of just accomplish it. And the actors, from Downey straight on through, they only went after the people who could get it done. So how come they’re not getting giant quotes on this movie? There’s the element of the opportunity here for something that is both popular and very human, and usually you have to choose as an actor.”
With The Avengers 2 due out in 2015, there is still some way to go, and a lot of time to negotiate those new contracts. Deadline claim that Marvel have threatened to re-cast roles if contract talks don’t go their way, can an Avengers sequel work with someone other than Hemsworth playing Thor, or even a new face in the Iron Man suit?