Arnold Schwarzenegger Crafted An Iron-Clad Contract For His Terminator 3 Return

The business side of Hollywood has always been convoluted, weird, and probably better left behind the curtain out of sight of movie fans. However, these days so much of the conversation around a movie, especially a franchise film, is about the moving and shaking that goes on in agent offices and studio accounting departments. What was (insert any random tentpole movie title here)'s budget? How did it do at the box office? The lead actor got paid HOW much?!?

At the end of the day, the movie is the movie and no one will remember if it was a flop or success at the time, but still, there are certain times when it is interesting to take a closer look at the "business" side of "show business" and one of them has to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger making a metric crap-ton of money for appearing in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." 

"The Terminator" started out as a low-budget genre flick, but by the time "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" rolled around everybody was making bank, including Schwarzenegger who pulled in a record-breaking salary of $15 million in 1991. That franchise as well as a string of action movie and comedy hits made Arnie one of the biggest stars of his era, so it's no surprise that the Austrian Oak got a massive payday for the much bigger, much more expensive sequel.

And what's crazy is just how much he made for "Terminator 3" even though his star power was fading a bit and James Cameron was not involved.

Money talks and BS walks

A 2005 Slate feature details the insane contract shenanigans that went on to get Schwarzenegger back into that role, which includes a final draft contract that was 33 pages, a nearly $30 million pay-or-play deal (meaning once signed the studio was going to pay Schwarzenegger the $29.25 million whether they made the movie or not), and a perk package (a fully equipped gym trailer, private flights, personal bodyguards, 24-hour limo service, etc) that added another million and a half to making Schwarzenegger happy.

Was Schwarzenegger worth it? Well, has there been a "Terminator" movie without him? Not yet. The man had so tied to the image of "The Terminator" that the producers had little choice but to pay him what he wanted. He had the most powerful weapon going into this contract negotiation: leverage. 

Warner Bros, Sony, and Tokyo Distributor Toho-Towa went in together on putting up the money for "Terminator 3" and their financing was contingent on only one thing: Arnold Schwarzenegger had to star. James Cameron, one of the most powerful filmmakers in the industry, was expendable for the financiers, but not the leading man and Schwarzenegger knew that if he didn't sign on the movie died, slurping up the many millions the producers had already paid for development.

So, he not only got one of the biggest paydays on record, but he also got 20% of the gross of the movie, meaning that for every dollar of box office or DVD sale or TV/streamer licensing deal "Terminator 3" made, 20 cents went to directly Schwarzenegger. This is also not the norm. Hollywood loves to use accounting tricks to make even the most successful film a loss on paper, so most participation deals are crafted to pay out "net" percentages, meaning they pay only on the profits of the film, which any good agent will tell you is almost nonexistent.

Who knows how much money Schwarzenegger ended up with for returning as The Terminator, but I hope he bought his agents and lawyers something nice for negotiating such an insane contract.