Movie stars. They don’t come cheap. But when you’ve got pockets as deep as Apple does, a film’s budget is just a rounding error in the greater scheme of things. With that surely in mind, Apple has splurged on an early Christmas present for itself, beating out Netflix, Warner Bros. and Paramount for the rights to A Christmas Carol, a new live-action musical based on the Charles Dickens classic that will star Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell, and be written and directed by Daddy’s Home filmmakers Sean Anders and John Morris.
The Hollywood Reporter broke the news of the deal, but Variety provided the eye-popping financial details. According to the trade, Reynolds will take home $35 million, while Ferrell is looking at a payday north of $30 million, since runner-up Netflix was reportedly willing to pay them $27 million and $25 million, respectively. Neither actor’s feature quote is actually that high, but streaming services have to pay to buy out A-list stars’ backend compensation, since they won’t receive the same box office bonuses they otherwise would from a successful theatrical release. Keep in mind that in all scenarios, those figures included Reynolds and Ferrell’s producing fees, so they make a bit more sense in that context.
Having said that, those are still outrageous numbers to lay out for two stars of a mid-budget holiday comedy. That’s not even accounting for Anders and Morris’ paydays of $10 million to $15 million for creating the movie and overseeing its production. Variety reports that “fees for talent alone will clock in at north of $60 million according to numerous insiders.” And by my math, it may be north of $70 million!
But all that dough wasn’t even enough for the filmmakers, who reportedly asked to retain the rights to the original music written for the film, and also asked for a provision that would see the movie’s copyright revert back to the filmmakers in 20 to 25 years. Quentin Tarantino signed a similar deal with Sony for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, but he’s Quentin Tarantino, plus he had leverage in the form of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. What studio wouldn’t have cratered to his demands in that scenario?
For Apple to establish that precedent this early in its history means that every filmmaker could make the same request, especially A-list filmmakers whose representatives will no doubt argue, “well, you did it for the Daddy’s Home guys, so why not my award-winning client?” I understand that Apple has to make a splash in the marketplace, particularly early on, but despite Netflix’s global takeover, ask people around town what they think about the company’s billions of dollars of debt. This is not a business practice that Apple should want to imitate or aspire to. Not to mention the fact that while Reynolds may be riding a hot streak, Ferrell’s appeal is waning, as evidenced by the box office for Holmes & Watson. A Christmas Carol hasn’t been done quite as often as Sherlock Holmes, but it’s pretty close!
At least Apple is believed to have ultimately retained the rights to the original music being written for A Christmas Carol. That’s smart thinking on their part, especially if this movie is the hit with streaming audiences that Apple is counting on. But $35 million for Ryan Reynolds, when Netflix only had to pay him around $27 million for big-budget action movies Six Underground and Red Notice? It seems like there’s a sucker born every minute in Hollywood, and it’s Apple’s turn at the trough.
No word yet on whether Reynolds or Ferrell will play Ebenezer Scrooge, who’s visited by ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. All I know is, Apple had better hope the whole world watches this thing, otherwise it may be left shouting “bah humbug!”