In Hollywood, it can be very hard to tell which projects are going to become the best movies and which will be damp squibs. Even for those directly involved, such as the cast, sometimes investing in the future success of a movie is not worth the gamble, and you just want your pay day upfront. But that can also be a costly mistake, as Donald Sutherland found out when he agreed to be in a friend’s comedy movie for a single day of filming during the height of his ’70s fame.
During the ’70s, Sutherland starred in such hits as Kelly’s Heroes, MASH, Klute, and horror movie Don’t Look Now. When making Animal House in 1978, John Landis put all of his eggs in the volatile basket that was SNL’s unpredictable breakout star John Belushi. The studio wanted a star name as back up, so Landis went to his old friend Sutherland.
According to Matty Simmons’ book Fat, Dunk, and Stupid: The Inside Story Behind the Making of Animal House (via Insider), Sutherland was initially offered $20,000 for one day’s work plus points on the film. Points means a percentage of the movie’s profit once it comes out.
Sutherland reportedly just wanted the money upfront with no points. So he agreed to $35,000 for a day’s filming and rocked up for a cameo as a pot-smoking professor. This would turn out to be a decision that Sutherland would live to regret.
Animal House went onto become one of the highest-grossing comedies of all time, making over $140 million on a $3 million budget. Adjusted for inflation, it has made half a billion dollars and is the 9th highest-grossing movie with an R-rating of all time. In a radio interview, Sutherland said he was offered 2% of the gross. Which is substantially more than $35,000.