Greatest Paycheck Acting Performances

While we like to assume every actor chooses their roles based on a deep connection to the material and the character they are playing, many times it is simply done for a payday. That is not necessarily a bad thing as some of the greatest performances in film history were done simply by someone looking to pick-up a hefty paycheck.

Raul Julia (Street Fighter): 1994’s Street Fighter should have been yet another bad video game adaptation jumbled in with the rest of its ilk. However, Tony winning thespian Raul Julia ensured that he alone would be the force which made this flick a legend in geekdom. Tragically, the esteemed actor was suffering from cancer and decided for his final role to go after a big payday in a blockbuster to ensure his family was financially secured. Not only did he get that cash-in from Street Fighter but also his kids were fans of the video games so it was a win-win. Knowing that this film was going to be silly rubbish, Julia absolutely hammed it up as the villainous General Bison. Every villainous monologue he delivers, Raul Julia pours all of his grandiosity into, most notably in the “it was a Tuesday” spiel. While Street Fighter is no masterpiece, Julia injects the movie with so much fun that it has developed a major cult following based solely on his performance.

Sir Alec Guinness (Star Wars): One of the most respected actors of his generation, Sir Alec Guinness built a reputation on towering performances in masterpieces like: Bridge Over the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, and Lawrence of Arabia. With a cast filled with unknowns in his new space opera, young George Lucas knew he needed at least one big name in the ensemble and what better way than to have his Jedi Knight played by an actual knight. While Guinness thought the script was a bunch of strange nonsense, a couple of million upfront at a percentage of the film’s gross for only a month of work convinced him to don the robes of Obi Wan Kenobi. Whatever his motivations, the performance he gives is on the level of the rest of his acclaimed filmography. As you can imagine getting 2% of the haul from what turned out to be one of the biggest films in history changed his opinion on the franchise as he happily popped up in the rest of the trilogy in ghost form. Despite all of the accolades he achieved throughout his storied career there are still millions who best know Sir Alec Guinness as an aged Jedi Master.

Betsy Palmer (Friday the 13th): For most of her career, Betsy Palmer was a character actress known for making those characters rather wholesome. But when she needed to purchase a new Volkswagen Scirocco, she agreed to a role which would unexpectedly make her a horror icon. In exchange for $10,000 Palmer travelled to the New Jersey forests to shoot for 10 days on Friday the 13th. Her role was simple, pop up at the end of the film to reveal herself as Pamela Voorhees avenging a woman on a murderous mission to avenger her poor son Jason. She terrorized the final girl Alice for a bit, lost her head and collected a paycheck believing nobody would ever see this “piece of sh**”. No doubt, it caught her completely by surprise when Friday the 13th became a massive box office hit and an immediate favorite among moviegoers. As the fil has evolved into a true classic, Betsy Palmer’s previous image was obliterated, as the crazed mother of the hockey-masked slasher became her most iconic role.

Marlon Brando (Superman): It has been said that Marlon Brando is to the screen what Sir Laurence Olivier was to the stage. When time came to bring Superman to the big screen, filmmakers sought to an all-star cast to bring legitimacy to the first big budget superhero film. Brando found himself approached to portray the doomed Kryptonian Jor-el. For 13 days of work, the actor would receive: top billing, $3.7 million 1970’s dollars, a chunk of the box office, and a clause stating he did not have to learn any lines. For a man reading his lines off a baby’s diaper Marlon Brando gives a powerful performance as a scientist who has accepted his fate with strength and dignity. Despite his stoic demeanor, there is a genuine paternal love for the son he hopes to save.