The commodification of art is a touchy subject and one that artists are destined to struggle with as long as our species exists. That perpetual struggle can probably be best summed up in the Black Mirror episode: "Fifteen Million Credits", where, after an impassioned monologue about the evils of the society he lives in, Daniel Kaluuya's mostly reticent character ends up becoming a part of the very system he hated so much.
That's not saying there is anything wrong with getting paid for your art: entertainers have been lauded by humanity for hundreds if not thousands of years for a reason: there's something inherently powerful about sincere human expression. However, it's clear, oftentimes, that some actors are taking on projects that are more inspired by a paycheck than anything else. Sometimes, actors even admit that the paycheck put in front of them is so tantalizing, they just can't say no to it.
And while every actor on this list hasn't expressly stated that they only participated in a movie because the payday was good, it's hard to imagine that they were tackling these roles because they presented themselves as unique creative challenges or ways of enriching themselves. Or maybe they originally were and for whatever reason the movies just didn't pan out the way production envisioned them.
Ben Affleck - 'Paycheck'
We have to start with the obvious here. I know, it's way too on-the-nose, especially when you consider that during a 2003 interview with Conan O'Brien, when Ben Affleck was asked by the Late Night host why he decided to star in Paycheck, he said, "The answer lies in the title."
The action film was part of a slew of big-budget flops starring Ben Affleck that were also critically panned.
Paycheck had a $60 million production budget and ultimately grossed slightly over $117 million worldwide. Its domestic opening weekend wasn't great, and netting Affleck at the time probably cost the studio a pretty penny.
There are some other "cash grab" movies that Ben Affleck participated in that should be mentioned as well: namely Daredevil and Gigli. His foray into the world of Marvel was met with critical ire (even if the movie made money) and he even admitted in interviews he did it for "fun".
Gigli which starred both him and Jennifer Lopez had a lot of buzz, namely because tabloids were popping with stories about the relationship that blossomed out of their filming of the flick and the "Bennifer" dynamic they created. The movie was pulled from theaters after only three weeks making it one of the shortest theatrical runs for a wide release flick.
Reese Witherspoon - 'A Wrinkle in Time'
While Reese's exact salary for the project isn't known, the film production budget for A Wrinkle in Time was a whopping $103 million, resulting in a $131 million box office loss. CBS News reports that Witherspoon earns anywhere from $15 to $20 million per picture, however, actors oftentimes negotiate their salaries and will do projects for much less than their initial quotes.
While the film broke new ground and many critics praised its intention and heart, many said that the movie was ultimately bogged down by a confusing plot, and "all over the place" narrative.
Mark Wahlberg - 'Max Payne'
Mark Wahlberg is one of the world's highest-paid actors, and it's not uncommon for him to earn about $15 million for a film. Again, salaries are negotiable, and options to get a cut of the box office are usually par the course for big-name stars. While Mark Wahlberg has been maligned for being part of some stinkers like Mile 22, and ho-hum flicks like Shooter and Contraband, Max Payne received a ton of flack from reviewers.
It didn't help that Mark was gassing up Max Payne as being the "baddest" dude in a movie that year, including call outs of Bruce Wayne from The Dark Knight.
The movie didn't do too poorly at the box office - it's $35 million budget saw a worldwide gross of $87 million, but it was universally panned clocking in a rough 16% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Jeff Bridges - 'R.I.P.D.'
R.I.P.D. starred Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges, with other notable appearances by Elizabeth Perkins of Weeds fame, and blended elements of Ghostbusters along with Men in Black, so what's not to love?
Apparently, not a whole lot. People weren't keen on seeing a comedic version of Bridges' True Grit character hunting ghosts for the "Rest in Peace Department."
Bridges himself didn't really appreciate the final cut of the flick either. In an interview with GQ he said, "I had such a great time working on that movie. I remember what we were doing. I thought this could be fun to see. And when I saw it, I was a little underwhelmed. For my mind, the studio made some, uh, choices that I wouldn’t have made."
Eddie Murphy - 'Best Defense'
The '80s and early '90s were pretty much ruled by Eddie Murphy. The man was, and still is, considered one of the greatest stand-up comedians ever. The success that he attained at such a young age and his jokes were the perfect combinations of wit, brevity, enthusiasm, and shocking honesty that modern comics still attest to their greatness.
That talent translated into a very successful film career with a slew of box-office hits for the actor.
This is why Paramount thought it'd be a good idea to bring Eddie in for the ill-fated Dudley Moore flick, Best Defense. He turned down the role, but then the studio was desperate to bring him in for some star power to try and "save" it. Eddie admitted his decision to take the part was influenced by greenbacks.
"Paramount was determined to get me in the movie. They finally came back with an offer of a million dollars for something like a couple of weeks' work. Now, I want you to tell me a 22-year-old is going to turn down a million dollars for two weeks’ work?" Eddie said.
Best Defense would go on to flop in theaters and get panned by critics - a couple of weeks' worth Eddie brought to the film, even though his scenes were great, didn't do enough to make the production a success. It didn't hurt his career, however.
Jamie Foxx - 'Robin Hood'
Taron Egerton has made a name for himself in the Kingsman flicks and delivering a righteous portrayal of Elton John in Rocketman, so it's not like Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx is the only one with star power in this flick. But the comic-turned-legitimately-incredible-actor had to have known there was something off about this movie when he arrived on set and saw that a period piece about a wealth-distributing vigilante had its actors walking around in clothing that was taken straight off the Zara clearance rack.
Jamie Foxx makes a reported $10 million per flick, give or take, and seeing as this is a high-profile IP that's spawned countless flicks, it's difficult to imagine he didn't bank big money for this movie that was critically panned and didn't really work out in the box office. Deadline reports that 2018's Robin Hood lost some $83.7 million. Yikes.
A more notable "cash grab" flick that is either forgettable or terrible depending on who you ask is Stealth, which gave Foxx top billing after his Ray Oscar win.
But in all honesty, this is more of a cash grab on the studios' part. Jamie Foxx explained the part in an interview with The Movie Blog: "I’m not even the lead in it. I’m the guy who makes a couple of jokes and then I die. It’s the classic black role."
Helen Mirren - 'National Treasure: Book of Secrets'
Dame Helen Mirren is a wonderfully prolific actress who won an Oscar in 2007 for her work in The Queen and shortly after that she pulled the classic post-Oscar move: get a fat paycheck for a movie that's kind of exactly the opposite type of flick that got you an award in the first place.
There are two instances of this for the actress: National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets where she plays Nicolas Cage's professor mom, and Inkheart, where she is Brendan Fraser's finicky aunt Elinor.
While Rotten Tomatoes isn't the end-all-be-all decider of a film's greatness or lack thereof, both of these movies didn't sit particularly well with critics. National Treasure 2 did make a boatload of money with a $459 million worldwide box office gross, with Inkheart making a fraction of that at $62.45 million.
Michael Caine - 'Jaws: The Revenge'
The first Jaws flick was one of those movies that just shouldn't have worked. With persistent issues plaguing the animatronic shark, production taking three times longer than it should have heightened tensions of the set, the movie should have failed. But the constant behind-the-camera drama ended up resulting in a huge win for Steven Spielberg's first feature film and his creativity in solving these problems resulted in some truly horrifying new camera angles (first-person shark-attack view, for example) that give audiences to this day palpitations whenever they're swimming in the ocean.
The movie is the blueprint for the summer blockbuster and made Spielberg a legend. Jaws: The Revenge, did not. In fact, it's a terrible flick but it stars Michael Caine, who is the opposite of terrible. The multiple award-winning actor had this to say about the movie: "I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific."
Orson Welles - 'Transformers: The Movie'
Sure, the 1986 animated version of the cartoon about robots in disguise that brought their intergalactic war to earth for some reason or another holds a place that's near and dear to former children all across America who howled at each new Toy Store release from the franchise. You might even recall the bodacious White Lion title theme track or weeping at the image of Optimus Prime being killed in the beginning of the movie.
But the film was a flop and it's been critically annihilated since its release, nostalgia aside. What you may not know is that Unicron, one of the villains in the film was actually voiced by a Hollywood screen legend and the man behind was cinephiles consider the greatest movie ever made: Orson Welles. That's right, the Citizen Kane director, producer, co-writer, and star completed the voice work of Unicron about five days before he died.
Today reported that Welles was in such poor health while recording his voice for the character that his recordings were synthesized to give it a more "Wellesian" flavor, and he didn't have kind things to say about his participation in the project either: "You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy. I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I'm destroyed. My plan to destroy Whoever-it-is is thwarted and I tear myself apart on the screen." That was his endorsement of the now cult classic animated feature.
Hugo Weaving - 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon'
Yes, another Transformers entry in this list, and it doesn't sound like Orson Welles is the only actor that had a rough time doing voice-over work for the film. Hugo Weaving, who is no stranger to big-budget franchises like The Matrix and Lord of the Rings provided voice-over work for long-standing Transformers villain Megatron, but his experience working on the films was something he said he'd be reluctant to ever do again.
He told Collider, "It was one of the only things I've ever done where I had no knowledge of it, I didn't care about it, I didn't think about it. They wanted me to do it. In one way, I regret that bit. I don't regret doing it, but I very rarely do something if it's meaningless. It was meaningless to me, honestly. I don't mean that in any nasty way."
He also stated that his interaction with director Michael Bay was "minimal."
"My link to that and to Michael Bay is so minimal. I have never met him. I was never on set. I've seen his face on Skype. I know nothing about him, really. I just went in and did it. I never read the script. I just have my lines, and I don't know what they mean. That sounds absolutely pathetic! I've never done anything like that, in my life. It's hard to say any more about it than that, really."
Bay didn't really take too kindly to Weaving's comments and responded to them in his personal blog. Despite not mentioning the actor by name, it's pretty clear who he's talking about:
"Do you ever get sick of actors that make $15 million a picture, or even $200,000 for voiceover work that took a brisk one hour and 43 minutes to complete, and then complain about their jobs? With all the problems facing our world today, do these grumbling thespians really think people reading the news actually care about trivial complaints that their job wasn’t ‘artistic enough” or 'fulfilling enough'? I guess The Hollywood Reporter thinks so. What happened to people who had integrity, who did a job, got paid for their hard work, and just smiled afterward? Be happy you even have a job – let alone a job that pays you more than 98% of the people in America.I have a wonderful idea for all those whiners: They can give their 'unhappy job money' to a wonderful Elephant Rescue. It’s the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Africa. I will match the funds they donate."
Jeremy Irons - 'Dungeons & Dragons'
There are a lot of Hollywood actors and artists who actually enjoy playing Dungeons & Dragons in tight-knit groups. If you've ever engaged in the make-believe game, it's a super fun activity to engage in with your friends, something that Vin Diesel, Joe Manganiello, Vince Vaughn, Tom Morello, The Big Show, and tons of other high-profile celebs engage in.
But the kind of excitement and glee that comes from playing these games don't really translate well to the big screen.
That's something viewers of 2000's Dungeons & Dragons movie learned the hard way. When Irons was asked what prompted him to jump on board with the flick, his excuse was a pretty regal one: "I just bought a castle! I had to pay for it somehow. Like Alec Guinness in Star Wars, I had to give the project some gravitas," he said in an interview with The Guardian.
Sean Connery - 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'
Sean Connery reportedly took on the lead role in 2003's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, because he turned down the role of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. Why did he refuse to partake in Peter Jackson's epic trilogy that completely altered the landscape of fantasy films and became a huge cultural phenomenon? Because he didn't "understand it."
He told The New Zealand Herald: "I read the book. I read the script. I saw the movie. I still don't understand it." Although The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen purportedly didn't make much sense to Sean Connery either, he thought that there might be something to the script that he wasn't seeing, as was the case with LOTR, and Jurassic Park, and The Matrix.
LXG went on to be a comically bad flop with one of the most unintentionally hilarious end scenes in recent cinematic history.