Warner Bros. Spends Big: ‘Joker 2’ Budget Hits $200 Million, Lady Gaga’s $12 Million Payday, Courting Tom Cruise’s New Deal and More  (2024)

In January, Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group chiefs Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy jetted to London to connect with the new crown jewel of the studio, Tom Cruise. The three met to identify a film that would kick off their nonexclusive “strategic partnership.” Sources say a raft of possibilities were discussed, including an “Edge of Tomorrow” follow-up and Quentin Tarantino’s “The Movie Critic,” which currently isn’t set up with a distributor and has Warner Bros., like every major studio, salivating.

At 61, Cruise remains the king of studio tentpoles, a roost solidified by 2022’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” which took in $1.5 billion worldwide. But Cruise wants more than action stardom — he’d like to return to working with auteurs like Paul Thomas Anderson. In fact, he hasn’t earned an Oscar nomination for acting since he appeared in Anderson’s 1999 drama “Magnolia.” Earlier in his career, Cruise benefited from being directed by heavyweights like Spielberg, Scorsese and Kubrick, but then he he moved into a “Mission: Impossible”-oriented phase where he routinely defies the laws of time and gravity.

In Tarantino, Cruise could find the rare auteur who marries box office performance and awards-season heat. However, securing the project won’t come cheap. The biggest roadblock for De Luca and Abdy is potentially Sony. Sources say Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Tom Rothman has the edge, having distributed Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.”

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Still, a Cruise-Tarantino alliance at Warners would align with the De Luca-Abdy modus operandi: Lure A-list directors who can attract bona fide stars — and spend wildly. Since taking over the studio in July 2022, De Luca and Abdy have struck some pricey deals: There’s Anderson’s next movie, which will feature Leonardo DiCaprio (earning $20 million plus), and a Ryan Coogler-Michael B. Jordan vampire film that has Warners ceding the copyright to Coogler after 25 years. The latter move was a head-scratcher considering that Tarantino is the only other director to secure an eventual copyright from a major studio (with “Once Upon a Time”) and will surely be looking to replicate that with “Movie Critic.” But sources who have done recent business with the studio say the mandate to spare no expense to land big talent comes via Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav.

“The strategy at Warner Bros. right now and the reason they made some of these big star deals is they’re basically playing with other people’s money,” says one insider. “They’re shopping for Quentin or Cruise with the notion they can use it as a shiny object that is going to be additive when Zaslav sells the company.”

That time may be approaching. In April, Warner Bros. Discovery can entertain offers to buy, sell or merge with a studio like NBCUniversal, as many on the lot believe will happen. That’s when the two-year lock-up period expires as part of the 2022 deal that united WarnerMedia and Discovery. All of the recent moves, from a first-look pact with Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap to the quest to land Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” follow-up are akin to painting a house before it hits the market.

And this is one splashy renovation. The budget for Todd Phillips’ musical “Joker” sequel — one of De Luca and Abdy’s first green lights — has ballooned to about $200 million, a significant bump from the $60 million cost of the first film. Sources say Joaquin Phoenix is getting $20 million to reprise his role as the clown prince of crime, while Lady Gaga is taking home about $12 million to play Harley Quinn. “Joker” took in more than $1 billion, but musicals are tricky. Case in point: Warners lost $40 million on last year’s “The Color Purple,” according to sources. Though that one can be blamed on the previous regime.

Some argue that spending big is essential when releasing movies in theaters.

“There’s only so much top talent in Hollywood, and it’s very competitive and stretched thin because a lot of talent have deals in streaming,” says Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations. “If theatrical is going to work, you need the A-lister like Tom and Leo, and Warner Bros. is spending what they need to spend to keep this talent.”

But executives across town believe Warners’ math sometimes doesn’t add up, with the studio decried as fiscally irresponsible. The Anderson film, for instance, was greenlit with a $115 million budget, according to sources. Underscoring the gamble, none of the director’s movies has crossed $80 million at the box office. His latest, 2021’s “Licorice Pizza,” made $33 million worldwide. Even with Cruise’s star power, “Magnolia” only mustered $48.5 million. (It was De Luca, then a New Line exec, who convinced Cruise to play “Magnolia’s” misogynistic self-help guru.) The pair are said to be less pumped about another auteur’s latest: Bong Joon Ho’s “Mickey 17.” In January, Warner Bros. pulled the $150 million Robert Pattinson sci-fi starrer from its schedule and then moved it to 2025. A Warner rep insists: “There is, of course, enthusiasm for it.”

Other projects that De Luca and Abdy prioritized are perplexing executives at rival studios. Warners picked up Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Frankenstein film, which is set in the 1930s and stars Christian Bale and Jessie Buckley. It was a project that Netflix deemed too risky and passed on before Warners salvaged it. (A Warners source says Netflix didn’t want to make it on the timeline Gyllenhaal proposed.)

As merger mania draws near, De Luca and Abdy seem unwilling to push back on talent asks. But apparently they did just that during the Coogler-Jordan negotiations. The director and star wanted 25% of first-dollar gross to split and two guaranteed theatrical release slots for future films. Both deal points were nixed.

Despite the pressure to acquiesce to demands from top talent, De Luca and Abdy can still say no.

Warner Bros. Spends Big: ‘Joker 2’ Budget Hits $200 Million, Lady Gaga’s $12 Million Payday, Courting Tom Cruise’s New Deal and More  (2024)


Is the Joker 2 budget $200 million? ›

We've learned that the sequel's budget is in the $200 million range, a shockingly steep increase given that the original "Joker" cost less than $60 million. According to Variety, the budget for "Folie a Deux" has ballooned to "about" $200 million.

Why is the budget for Joker 2 so high? ›

Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Lady Gaga, the movie is set to continue the story of Phoenix's grounded version of The Joker. Given the immense success of 2019's Joker, it makes sense that the new movie would get a bigger budget, complete with salary increases all around.

Will there be a Joker movie 2? ›

A "Joker" sequel titled "Joker: Folie à Deux" is set for release on October 4. The movie stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck and Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn. The film is a musical and will reportedly include at least 15 new versions of well-known songs.

How much did Joaquin Phoenix get paid for the Joker? ›

According to reports, Phoenix landed a cool $4.5 million for his role in “Joker.” While this is a hefty sum by most standards, it's important to consider the context. Phoenix is already a well-established actor with a string of critically acclaimed performances under his belt.

How much money did the Joker steal? ›

merging smoothly into a line of other school buses, just as the GCPD started arriving from the opposite direction. As a result of the heist, the Joker stole upwards of $68,000,000.

How does the Joker have so much money? ›

At the funeral of "King" Barlowe, a criminal racketeer and a major rival of the Joker, the Joker is surprised to learn that he has inherited Barlowe's vast fortune. With his newfound fortune, the Joker builds himself a life of luxury and retires from crime.

Is Thomas Wayne the Joker's dad? ›

One of the mysteries in director Todd Phillips' Joker is whether Arthur Fleck really is the son of Thomas Wayne as his mother Penny Fleck claimed. Both Wayne himself and Alfred Pennyworth said it was untrue and that Penny was delusional, hence her eventual stay in Arkham Asylum.

Is Lady Gaga playing Harley Quinn in Joker 2? ›

The Oscar and Grammy winner teased her upcoming role alongside fellow Academy Award winner Joaquin Phoenix in the sequel to 2019 Batman prequel “Joker.” As Phoenix reprises his titular role as Arthur Fleck AKA the Joker, Gaga will play Harley from the “Batman the Animated Series” origins, as a bit different from Margot ...

Who is playing the Joker in 2024? ›

The sequel to Joker (2019), loosely based on DC Comics characters, Joaquin Phoenix reprises his role as the Joker, with Lady Gaga joining the cast as his love interest, Harley Quinn. Zazie Beetz also reprises her role from the previous film, while Brendan Gleeson and Catherine Keener also join the cast.

Who is the highest paid actor? ›

Adam Sandler's four film projects of 2023 propelled him to an annual salary of $73m (£57m), making him the highest-paid performer in Hollywood, according to Forbes magazine.

How much was Lady Gaga paid for the Joker? ›

Meanwhile, Lady Gaga, who will play Dr. Harleen Quinzel, the titular Batman villain's therapist turned love interest, will earn $12 million for the role.

Did Joaquin Phoenix lose weight for his role as the Joker? ›

To get into the character of Arthur Fleck, Phoenix lost 52 pounds for the role by eating a restrictive diet that was supervised by a doctor.

How much is Lady Gaga getting for Joker 2? ›

Not coming as a surprise, Lady Gaga's remuneration for Joker: Folie a Deux, trails significantly behind that of Joaquin Phoenix's. Gaga is reportedly taking home a sum of $12 million, as per the aforementioned report.

How much is the Joker budget? ›

Joker's box office takings: domestic and international

Despite a modest budget of $55,000,000, the film's box office performance far exceeded expectations. Released on 4 October 2019, it boasted a runtime of 2 hours and 2 minutes.

How much did Heath Ledger make for playing the Joker? ›

Heath Ledger portrayed the role of the Joker in Christopher Nolan's 2008 superhero film, The Dark Knight. If reports are to be believed, the actor reportedly locked himself up in a hotel room for a month to prepare for the role, for which he was reportedly paid a salary of $20 million.

How much did Dune 2 cost to make? ›

Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment co-produced and co-financed “Dune: Part Two,” which cost $190 million to produce and roughly $100 million more to promote to global audiences. Despite the steep price tag, the film has retained the staying power needed to justify those expenses.

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