Superman was Not Paid More Than Wonder Woman: A Hollywood Econ Primer




The internet was flush with the news, and it was the kind of rush to judgement that just had to be wildly incorrect. That news outlets would even repeat — to say nothing of not investigating the content of — the raving from a Teen Vogue columnist speaks plenty about our contemporary journalism environment.



When Lauren Duca sent out her tweet on the subject it touched off a retweet domino effect:
Gal Gadot made $300,000 for Wonder Woman as compared to Henry Cavill’s $14M for Man of Steel. The most compelling DC villain is the pay gap.


This tweet (since deleted by Duca) manages to have so much going for it; injustice, scorn, snark, and is perfectly emblematic of the crisis issue of feminism.


In other words, it was too perfect.


It was only  after numerous journalistic outlets regurgitated Duca’s record of salary insurrection that people began to dissect this very convenient outrage post. There is a reason she pulled it down. It turns out Henry Cavill was paid practically the same amount as Gal Gadot for his role as Superman. This seems an industry standard, of sorts. Chris Evans earned close to the same for “Captain America”, while Chris Hemsworth pulled in $150,000 for “Thor”, and many of the players in “The Avengers earned about $200,000 in their ensemble film.


And what makes this outrage all the more hilarious: the established Hollywood actress Amy Adams, for her appearance in “Man Of Steel”, earned at least 6-7 times more than Cavill. Where is the feminist praise?! Lois Lane was paid millions!


As it turns out unsurprisingly, all this outrage was misplaced from the start. The origin of the Cavill salary was attributed to a story in Forbes Magazine, and in that piece it relied on a source that misattributed the figure; $14 million was actually Cavill’s entire net worth.



Many are also decrying the “unfair” nature of Gadot’s payout in such a successful feature,  and stating that Cavill was paid tremendous bonuses based on “Man of Steel” being a wild money-maker. Except this is not likely — because it wasn’t. While technically a success, the reboot of the Superman film series was not a rampaging success. This is where the core ignorance of Hollywood movie economics is on display.


As an industry Hollywood frequently defies basic economic concepts. On this I am not even alluding to some of the creative accounting used to cheat artists out of owed returns. (No one should be shocked that people who can create characters and entire universes would also be adept at crafting accounting fiction.) But to grasp why Cavill probably didn’t earn that $14 million in bonuses let’s peer at the basic math surrounding his film.


First you cannot simply look at the budget, measure it to the box office returns, and determine profit. There are factors to consider on both sides of the ledger with a movie, and even then the profit line can still be a moving target. However we can get close enough to Smallville to see the silos, as it were.


To start, the shooting budget of MOS was estimated to be $225 million. This however is not the sum of Warner Brothers out of pocket for the title. You next fold in the “P & A” costs — Prints, and Advertising. The film stock needed to present a movie runs, on average, about $1,500 for a 90 minute feature. MOS had a lengthy run time of nearly two and a half hours, so peg the print price closer to $2,000. The few hundred screens still operating on prints could add $1-2 million.



Next is the advertising budget, a wildly inexact science. Summer superhero pics easily can hit over $100 million in promotional costs, but there are also partnership deals struck with companies. Maybe you promise the makers of Twizzlers that Cavill will gnaw on their product in uniform on screen, and in exchange they will put him on the wrapper and run some TV spots. For the sake of convenience let’s say in the end the studio ends up spending $70 million on ads. Now we have to look at the theater returns, and this too is not a cut-and-dry scenario.




Hollywood has truly turned global in the last generation, and measuring the box office is more adventurous as a result. Overall “Man Of Steel” earned almost $670 million worldwide. At home in North America a recently renegotiated contract with theater owners sees a nearly even split with the studios, with certain blockbuster titles being granted some additional percentage points.  Let’s say with MOS Warners earned 55%. The domestic tally was $291 million, for a $160 million net gain. Now overseas there are all manner of differing percentages and currency exchange rates to bugger the measuring, but generally a 45% return is in the ballpark. MOS did $377 million in foreign territories, for an additional $170 million for the studio.


So these rough estimates puts things at a net return of about $330 million for Warners, against just over $300 million in costs. Profitable, sure — but they are not setting up their lead actor in a Malibu mansion over that return.



So for those crying that their is some form of comic book injustice at play, they are displaying rather functional ignorance how things play out. They are also ignoring the narrative-busting reality that was the amount of money Lois Lane made. I’ll chalk that up to a sin of avoidance.


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