How much money did Jack Nicholson make for playing the role of the Joker in the 1989 film, Batman?

It’s a question that many have asked and if you’ve landed on this page, then you’re no doubt keen to know the answer yourself. Today I’m going to take a look at this question, and do my best to provide an answer.

But before I get to discussing Nicholson’s salary, it must be noted just how important the actor was to the success of Batman. His casting – at the time, one of the most prolific pieces of casting ever made for a comic book movie – is arguably one of the reasons why the movie made a heap of money at the box office.

Batman star, Michael Keaton is a fantastic actor and one who is celebrated today, but back in 1989 when Batman was released, the guy playing Batman wasn’t the big draw for the movie. And neither was Batman director Tim Burton, who at this point in his career was not the recognised name he is today.

Batman owes a great deal of success to Nicholson.

Don’t believe me? Then simply check out any of the posters/promotional material for the film. Nicholson’s name gets top billing, each and every time. His name is in front of Keaton’s and it’s always brought up first in discussions about Batman, long before Burton is mentioned.

Nicholson’s name sold that movie and his name has remained synonymous with the picture and the role of the Joker ever since. In fact, until Heath Ledger took on the part of the Clown Prince of Crime for 2008’s The Dark Knight (which of course, he made his own), Nicholson was the name most people associated with the Joker.

So, what was Nicholson’s reward for the part he played in Batman? A large chunk of cash.

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Nicholson’s Batman salary

Image: ©Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Entertainment

Over the years there have been numerous reports about the deal that Nicholson made for Batman, with various figures banded about highlighting how much he was paid. You want the truth? There’s no one set amount being suggested!

However, most reports agree on two things:

  • Nicholson was paid an initial flat fee for playing the Joker
  • Nicholson received an additional (more lucrative) figure on top of his fee

Let’s discuss the flat fee first as this is an amount that is never disputed.

Around the time of Nicholson’s casting, the actor was earning north of $6 million a picture. He was paid $6 million for the role of Daryl Van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and in 1992, he was paid $10 million for playing James R. Hoffa in Hoffa.

For the role of the Joker, which landed in the middle of these films, Nicholson was reportedly able to command a $10 million paycheque. But Nicholson didn’t take $10 million – instead he opted to take $6 million.

A 2000 article by Entertainment Weekly highlights this $6 million upfront fee, as do various other reports which back it up. The EW story also notes a backend deal, which accompanied the fee – something which is mentioned in all fee reports too.

But what was the fee and why did he get it?

When Nicholson signed on the dotted line to play the Joker, his contract included a deal to earn a percentage of the overall box office take. Whatever the movie made at the box office, the actor had it in writing that he was guaranteed to earn a slice of the action too.

These sorts of deals happen, but they are not all that common as there’s a big risk associated with this kind of agreement. In the movie making business there is no guarantee a picture is going to perform and if the movie turns out to be a bomb, then an actor entering into an agreement like this can lose them millions.

However, Nicholson had faith in the picture and he took this deal. But it wasn’t the only thing in his contract.

In addition to a percentage of the profits the actor also had it in writing that he would receive a cut of the merchandising profits. This was another crafty move from the actor (or his agent).

Now anyone who knows anything about that first Batman movie – or who lived through the ‘Batmania’ of summer ‘89 – will tell you that Batman made a lot of money from merchandise. From posters and T-shirts, to action figures and even a breakfast cereal, Batman products were everywhere and they brought in a great deal of money – even more than the film itself.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the back-end deal that Nicholson agreed to was worth around $50 million. A nice chunk of change – but is that accurate?

Well, further digging into this deal and in 2013, CNN ran a story about author Marc Eliot’s unauthorised biography on Jack Nicholson. According Eliot’s book, Nicholson actually made between $60 million and $90 million for playing the Joker – a higher figure than the $50 million that was previously reported.

So, what is it, $50 million or $90 million?

A little more digging and in 2016, Pearl and Dean ran a post on the highest paid actors of all time and yep, you guessed it, Nicholson’s name came up. The article mentioned his foresight (and business savvy) with Batman which not only netted him the upfront fee of $6 million, but also the slice of the merchandise and box office returns. The figure in this story was noted as being $60 million, which the article states that if you account for inflation it is around $100 million.

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So, how much did Nicholson make on Batman?

Image: ©Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Entertainment

Taking into account inflation, Nicholson received:

  • An upfront fee of $6 million
  • A backend deal, worth up to the value of $100 million (in today’s money)

The conclusion?

Nicholson has one hell of an agent and/or some fantastic foresight and negotiating skills! He also has a lot of money thanks to Batman.

Nicholson made a huge amount of income on Batman – more than any other actor involved with the movie. He may not have received the biggest upfront fee for appearing in a film within the Batman Anthology – that particular accolade goes to Arnold Schwarzenegger for his role in Batman & Robin – but he certainly made the most off the back of it.

He might play a clown on the big screen, but off screen he’s no joker.

And now you know.

So, what do you think?

Was Nicholson’s involvement with Batman worth his huge pay deal? Was Nicholson the main reason you watched Batman ’89 and is his performance the main reason you continue to revisit the movie?

Sound off in the comments section below and let me know your thoughts and feelings on Jack’s pay deal. Also feel free to share your memories of watching Nicholson for the first time during summer ’89 – was it amazing to see? Let me know.

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