Weekend Roundtable: “Paycheck” Movies

Back in 1996, director Scott Hicks burst onto the international cinema scene with his art house hit ‘Shine’, which went on to be nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Today (literally today), Hicks’ latest movie ‘The Lucky One’ is a generic weepy romance starring Zac Efron that was adapted from a Nicholas Sparks book. I guess a fella’s gotta eat. Today’s Roundtable takes a look at other obvious “sell-out” movies made by talented (or at least once-talented) people clearly just cashing a paycheck on projects beneath their abilities.

Tom Landy

If we were going to crown a Heavyweight Champeen of Sell-Outs, I think that title would have to go to Adam Sandler. He’s proven that time and time again with recent crap like ‘Grown Ups‘, ‘Just Go with It‘, and especially ‘Jack and Jill‘, all of which are the epitome of lazy-ass cash-ins. The Adam Sandler we used to love is still in there somewhere (I think) and has the talent to make a decent movie when he really wants to, but lately it’s almost as if he’s become bored making people laugh. Now, in order to keep himself entertained, he’s testing to see how little effort he can put into a film and still walk away with millions of dollars in his pocket. It’s sad. And guess what? ‘Grown Ups 2’ just went into production. Ugh.

Mike Attebery

I nominate everything Eddie Murphy has made exceptDreamgirls‘, ‘Bowfinger’ (maybe), ‘Harlem Nights’, ‘Beverly Hills Cop‘, ‘Trading Places‘ (possibly), and ‘48 Hrs.

Not to be flip, but talented as Eddie Murphy is, I don’t think there’s an actor working today who has so clearly made almost every movie simply for the paycheck. When he was on ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio’, he told James Lipton, flat-out, that every mistake he’d ever made was because he always went for the money. In that same interview, he repeatedly referred to Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen as “billionaires” and “rich guys” who kept telling him to do ‘Dreamgirls’ and “forget about the money.” Murphy has got to be classified as super-rich, but for some reason, he still sees everything through that financial prism. Even though ‘Dreamgirls’ contains what is arguably one of his best performances in decades, it’s obvious that it irked him, just a bit, not to cash a $20 million dollar check to make that movie. Even though he was obviously very proud of the film, watch that interview and see how many times he mentions money. It’s telling, to say the least.

Now look at his filmography. Aside from the films I listed above, many of them with disclaimers suggesting that they could very well be happy accidents that resulted from talented collaborators coming to the production along with the big paychecks, to me it seems obvious that the reason Murphy’s films have been so overwhelmingly bad throughout his career is that the quality of the work has always come second to the size of the paycheck. I think Murphy is hilarious when he’s on his game, and he’s clearly got dramatic chops that he’s rarely if ever shown, which makes it almost tragic that even with millions upon millions upon millions of dollars, he always thinks of the money first and the quality of the work second.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

You have kind of a long list of stuff to choose from when it comes to Michael Caine’s “Eh, it’s a paycheck” performances, but the one that stands out in my mind is ‘Jaws: The Revenge’. This is a movie that ranks dizzyingly close to the top of every “Worst Sequel Ever” list you’re likely to come across. ‘Jaws: The Revenge’ was nominated in seemingly every category at the Razzies, which is kinda funny considering that Caine missed out on collecting his Academy Award for ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ during its production. He’s only in the movie for, like, twenty minutes, but he makes up for that with at least two hours’ worth of delirious hamminess. At least Caine has a good sense of humor about it. He’s been widely quoted as once having said, “I have never seen the film, but by all accounts it was terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”

Aaron Peck

It’s funny that we’re talking about paycheck movies. Now, I know that Shaq isn’t considered one of Hollywood’s top talents (or even a talent at all) but he recently dispelled the truth of why he did ‘Kazaam’. He told GQ magazine: “I was a medium-level juvenile delinquent from Newark who always dreamed about doing a movie. Someone said, ‘Hey, here’s $7 million, come in and do this genie movie’. What am I going to say, no? So I did it.” And similarly, down through the ages of acting, well-known and even beloved actors have stooped to making movies simply because the money was too enticing. Seriously, what were they going to do? As Shaq so eloquently states, there was no way in hell he could say no to all those zeroes.

The biggest paycheck whores also happen to be actors we all love when they’re in something good. Samuel L. Jackson is one of the worst offenders, having been in such non-classics as the ‘Star Wars’ prequels and ‘The Spirit‘. Actually, everyone involved in ‘The Spirit’ most likely did that for the money, right?

As much as I’ll defend Nicolas Cage, he sure does have a reputation of taking jobs just so he can make a quick buck. With all his tax problems, he has to take any role he can get. ‘Bangkok Dangerous‘, ‘Ghost Rider‘, and ‘National Treasure 2‘ were all paycheck movies plain and simple. They offered him a big payday and he took it, even if it meant sporting the world’s most ridiculous action mullet in ‘Bangkok Dangerous’.

Luke Hickman

I don’t mean to knock all actors who begin on television, but they seem to be some of the worst paycheck actors. Think back to big television series and their actors who tried to have film careers. Almost of them end up making awful films. Out of the ‘Friends’ cast, only one has gone on to anything noteworthy. Matt LeBlanc’s movies are terrible. Need I mention ‘Lost in Space‘? Matthew Perry’s film career was also short lived. ‘Fools Rush In’, anyone? Ross made ‘The Pallbearer’. Phoebe made ‘Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion’. Monica appears in Adam Sandler movies. Jennifer Aniston is the only one who has made some decent movies.

Dexter made ‘Gamer‘. Anything with David Caruso is atrocious – including his TV shows. TV actors make the worst paycheck actors.

M. Enois Duarte

How convenient that this week’s topic is called “Paycheck” movies, because I was actually thinking of Ben Affleck as the perfect example of a big name (however unfortunate that is) who’s only in it for the money. Sure, ‘Paycheck‘ is a good starting point for an actor who showed promise in ‘Dazed and Confused‘ and ‘Good Will Hunting‘ and surprised everyone with ‘Hollywoodland’. But I would argue that his trajectory towards sell-out started with ‘Armageddon‘. That’s a movie I actually enjoy for its summer blockbuster escapism, yet I have to admit that Affleck is only there to attract the female audience with the movie’s love story angle. Look at his list of films that soon followed, eventually hitting the motherload with ‘Pearl Harbor‘. Before Michael Bay’s apocalyptic actioner, Affleck genuinely seemed like a fine, promising actor, but his role in ‘Armageddon’ did nothing to display his talent and served only as an obvious meal ticket.

Josh Zyber

Everyone else here decided to call out paycheck movies starring particular actors, but I wanted to highlight the sad fall from grace of a director, the amazingly talented Francis Ford Coppola. After a triumphant run in the 1970s that included the first two ‘Godfather‘ films, ‘The Conversation‘ and ‘Apocalypse Now‘, Coppola hit hard times with the failure of his musical passion project ‘One from the Heart’. The 1982 film was such a disastrous bomb that it bankrupted his studio, American Zoetrope, and left the director in financial ruin. He then suffered a string of further flops throughout the 1980s, including the big-budget Oscar bait project ‘The Cotton Club’.

By the 1990s, Coppola made no bones about the fact that he’d lost interest in filmmaking and would only return to the director’s chair to collect paychecks that would finance his winery business. Paramount lured him back for a third ‘Godfather’ entry despite his earlier insistence that the saga was complete with ‘Part II’. Although regarded as inferior to its predecessors, the movie was a financial success and still showed some signs of Coppola’s talent. The director even seemed artistically inspired during ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula‘, which wound up being one of his biggest hits.

Sadly, by the back end of the ’90s, Coppola pretty much stopped giving a damn altogether. The nadir of this period, and the director’s career, would be ‘Jack’, the 1996 ‘Big’ rip-off in which Robin Williams plays a 10-year-old boy trapped in an adult’s body. The movie is absolutely atrocious and, worse, totally impersonal. It could have been directed by anybody. There’s no sign of Francis Ford Coppola behind the wheel at all. It’s painful to watch.

A successful lawsuit against Warner Bros. at the end of the decade put Coppola back into the financial black. He stepped away from filmmaking until he was ready to return on his own terms with his last few very small, very personal projects. Although I wasn’t particularly a fan of ‘Youth Without Youth‘, the director claims that it reinvigorated his desired to be a filmmaker again. I suppose that’s a good thing, though I fear that the man who gave us the ‘Godfather’ movies and ‘Apocalypse Now’ may be too far gone.

Those are our picks. What “paycheck” movies do you wish had never been made?


  1. Mike Attebery

    Speaking of ‘Jack,’ can anyone figure out what the heck Robin Williams’ game plan is? His career choices for the last fifteen years have been beyond weird. I can’t even pin $ as the culprit for most of them.

    • Doing radio with the owner of a comedy club franchise, I’ve learned a lot of the insider scoop on comics. Turns out Robin Williams is considered to be a joke-stealing hack along the lines of the publicly known ways of Carlos Mencia. From what I’ve been told, he has quietly snuck away into the shadows to not have anyone make all of that info public knowledge.

  2. Cal

    To be honest, I don’t really care if actors make an occasional bad movie.

    A job is a job, and if you want money for something, why turn down work?

    That’s why I don’t understand the concept of selling out. If someone offered you a million dollars to spend a few weeks talking to a CGI squirrel, could you honestly say you’d turn them down?

  3. Josh Zyber

    I don’t think Eddie Murphy is as super-rich as one might assume. The guy has several ex-wives and a crapload of kids, both legitimate and not, to support.

  4. Mike

    Lowest estimate I’ve ever seen for Murphy’s net worth is $75 million. Highest was well over $400 million. Since he’s also estimated to have made $75 million in 2011 alone, and I classify super rich as having between $100 and 200 million, by my book, he is safely in the realm of the super rich.

  5. Alex

    Not being an actor, I wonder sometimes about the stress of the “dramatic” roles. It seems that once an actor or actress wins the Oscar, their next role seems to be a reasonably mindless actioner. I’m thinking of Halle Berry (Catwoman), Kevin Spacey (The Negotiator), and Adrian Brody (King Kong), off-hand. Is it for the money (Oscar-bait doesn’t pay well)? Is it to wind down and not have to try to hard? Is it to add a few bucks to an actor’s total box-office gross?

    • Alex

      Oh, and let’s not forget Christoph Waltz (The Green Hornet) and Alan Arkin (Get Smart).

      And poor Anthony Hopkins. The man is probably the best classical actor of his generation but his IMDb page will always list “M:I-2” and “Bad Company.”

      • JM

        After ‘Nixon,’ Anthony Hopkins went on vacation.

        I wonder if ‘Hitchcock’ will be his return…?

      • To be fair, Christoph Waltz was NOT supposed to be Chudnofsky/Bloodnofsky in Green Hornet. That was to be the one and only Nicolas Cage. But since Cage wanted to play the villain JAMAICAN he got bounced.

        Yes, it’s a paycheck performance, and I agree, Waltz’s soul is FAR removed from it. It’s just not fair to pin on him, I don’t think.

        You want a paycheck actor? ADRIEN BRODY, anything he’s made post-Pianist. FUCK.

    • Josh Zyber

      I think it’s the other way around. The critical acclaim and awards buzz inspires producers to offer the actors lucrative mainstream roles. Producers like to put respectable actors in their dumb action movies to lend an air of legitimacy.

      Jerry Bruckheimer is a huge proponent of this strategy. Hence the reason why actors like Steve Buscemi and John Malkovich wind up in stuff like Con Air and Armageddon.

  6. TNAJason

    Luke Hickman,just to point out Courtney Cox(Monica) was in The Scream Movies,I like all 4 of them,but Scream & Scream 2 were good,not just “decent”. But even if she did it for the paycheck they are better than anything Aniston did,and I like some of her stuff. I dont know just my opinion.

  7. JM

    Sometimes a movie is a paycheck, sometimes it’s film camp.

    I don’t mind when Mamet whores out.

    Hannibal, Ronin, Wag The Dog, The Edge, Hoffa, The Untouchables, The Verdict.

    All writers are underpaid. Buying a good one can elevate the material.

    • Mike Attebery

      I think The Edge was a spec script. That movie is gold. If that’s whoring out, then my God, please make me a whore.

      • JM

        My love for ‘The Edge’ is of an intensity that box office mojo and metacritic could never predict.

  8. JM

    Is the entire cast of ‘Transformers 3’ doing it for the paycheck, or to maintain their brand awareness?

    • Alex

      The Garfield series is a shame because Bill Murray is inspired casting for the voice of Garfield. Too bad none of that inspiration rubbed off on the director.

      • Kevin

        I always liked the fact that Bill Murray, who plays Garfield in those movies played Peter Venkman in “Ghostbusters”, and Lorenzo Music, who often supplied the voice of Garfield in various cartoons, also supplied the voice of Peter Venkman in “The Real Ghostbusters”.

  9. JM

    I don’t know about Johnny Depp.

    Maybe he’s just giving himself to his fans, for his fair market value.

    • Mike Attebery

      Last night, as I was shelving Ghost Protocol next to M:I II and III, I was wondering what the heck had happened to Woo.

  10. I agree about Eddie Murphy (he has made some terrible, terrible choices), but I’d like to add ‘Shrek’ to his ‘good movies’-list. He’s the best voice actor in that movie, simply hilarious and inspired. “Parfait!”

    Christophers Walken & Lloyd, two of my favourite actors, have a lot of crappy films on their respective resumes. For the money, I guess.

    And what was Leslie Nielsen thinking when he did “A Space Travesty”?

    • CK

      I’ve heard that Walken rarely turns down a role because he just likes to keep busy. In a way I like that, because he always makes a movie better.

      As for Lloyd, I can understand actors who have played iconic roles, like Doc Brown, taking what they can get. It may be difficult for them to get work if they’re too associated with one role.

  11. JM

    I can’t think of any female directors who have sold-out.


    I can’t think of any romantic comedies that were made by talent for the art.

  12. JM

    Will Smith is lined up for ‘Men In Black 3,’ ‘Bad Boys 3,’ ‘Hancock 2,’ and ‘I, Robot 2.’

    And he sold his son to M. Night Shyamalan.

  13. CriticalMass

    Glad to see some love for Harlem Nights… It has always had a bad rep but I think it’s one of Eddie Murphy’s funniest!

    He certainly deserves a better “comeback” than Tower Heist though… Tarantino needs to put him in a movie!!

    • CK

      I seem to remember him being rumored for Inglorious Basterds, but I could be mistaken. That would have been interesting.

  14. Dimwit

    I’m surprised that neither DeNiro or Pacino where mentioned.

    A big caveat for this whole theme: it’s a business. No actor has any control if all that they are is just the actor. Many of these “paycheque” movies sounded good and there’s many “good” movies that were done just for the paycheque. Caine wrote in his bio about how desperate he was because the tax dept was after his ass and he had to take anything to get money to pay them off. He took anything including Jaws3 and Blame It On Rio. Oh yeah, he thought that was going to suck too, but it was a holiday in Brazil. Surprise! It turned out well and restarted his career.

    As for Murphy, I think that he’s very insecure. I would wager that most of the actors familiar with everyone are like that. Particularly the ones that live in Hollywood. Any actor without a role is just an unemployed bum. Any director without a film is viewed the same. You get marginalized very quickly if you need to get a job. Everyone wants to work and will say yes if their star starts to fall. There’s whole studio networks that take advantage of that. Notice how many of Murphy’s stiffs are shelfjobs. He works constantly. You don’t see him on the screen for a while, it’s movies made that will get shown in a few years.

  15. I like actors who come out and acknowledge their paycheck movies. Both John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale has said at least one time that they do bad action movies and romantic comedies just so they can do the barely-paying little movies that they love.

  16. Brent Umina

    Funny you mention The Island of Dr. Moreau because I was thinking of Marlon Brando as being a sell-out. The man did some incredible work in his day, but I’d be willing to say everything after Apocalypse Now was just for money. Don Juan Demarco, The Island of Dr Moreau (which was just a mess in my opinion), The Freshman….hell, even Superman (and that was BEFORE Apocalypse Now). In the end the man just took himself way too seriously and he burned out.

  17. Well one actor that I know who admits when he does a paycheck movie is John Cusack. Almost all of his movies are things that he did because he loved the script or really wanted to get the movie made. But he did take the roles in Con Air and 2012 for the paycheck.He was probably guilty of taking a lot of his roles in the 80’s for the check as well since he was just starting out. At least he keeps his paycheck grabbers to the bare minimum.
    As for Pacino and DeNiro. They both have had awesome careers. Two of my favorite actors of all time. Can they be accused now of being in it for the check? Maybe. Pacino is 71 and DeNiro is 68. Now I am pretty sure that roles aren’t just flying in their direction anymore. They are at the point where they are probably just doing it for the paycheck. I think both have earned that right. I would love to see both of them make a few more gems..maybe even one together. But not like Righteous Kill. That probably sounded like a good idea on paper, but…

  18. In Samuel L. Jackson’s defense, I remember reading an interview with him before the Star Wars prequels were released and he basically said he didn’t do it for money, he just really wanted to be in the Star Wars movies. And I’m sure like EVERYONE, he didn’t expect them to be so disappointing. And by the time the next movie came along it was already too late. I’m guessing he was probably under contract for multiple films as is usually the case, so it would be pretty hard for anyone to say Phantom Menace stunk so I’m outta here.

  19. You guys are right on the Murphy, Affleck, Jackson, Walken and Caines of the last few years.

    I’m surprised that no one’s yet mentioned the biggest sell-out known as NICOLAS CAGE. If there was anyone who will overact in anything and people will dish out money to see him make a joke of himself, it’s got to be the Cage-ster.