Jack made his cinematic debut in Roger Corman’s 1958 teen thriller The Cry Baby Killer. Nicholson and Corman would work together frequently over the next decade. In addition to acting in front of the camera, Nicholson played, wrote and directed films. As well as westerns with modest budgets, he appeared in several of them.
Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda featured in Roger Corman’s 1967 film The Trip, where Jack authored the screenplay. The Trip, which cost only $100,000 to produce, ended in grossing $10 million worldwide.
Two years later, Jack was cast in the Easy Rider film directed by and starring Fonda and Hopper. Easy Rider had a production budget of $400,000 but ended up grossing $40 million globally. Nicholson starred and received an Oscar nomination for the performance. Nicholson’s rise to stardom was sparked by the critical acclaim he received for Easy Rider.
As a film actor, Nicholson has been in many significant parts of the cinema. These include five easy pieces, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and one flew over the cuckoo’s nest, among others.
As early as 1974, Jack earned $500,000 for his role in Chinatown. In today’s dollars, that amounts to about $2.6 million. During the production of Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975, he received a basic pay of $1 million. In addition, he received a 15 percent cut of the profits, bringing his total earnings from the film to $15 million by 1978. In today’s dollars, that’s equivalent to a $60-million salary. He could choose which roles he would pursue after his success in Cuckoo’s Nest made him one of the world’s wealthiest performers. Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now would have been legendary starring roles for him had he not turned them down.
In The Missouri Breaks, he shared the screen with his idol, Marlon Brando. He was paid $1.25 million for the part and received 10% of the film’s profit beyond $12.5 million. After all, with a total worldwide gross of only $14 million, his paycheck was anything but lavish. The Shining in 1980 and Terms of Endearment in 1981 brought in an additional $1.25 million. As of the late 1980s, Jack’s base compensation had risen from $4–5 million to $8–10 million.
As of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Jack’s base compensation was between $10 and $15 million. Anger Management brought in $20 million, while As Good as It Gets brought in $15 million. Before he retired from acting in 2010, Jack earned $10 million for his parts in The Departed (2006) and The Bucket List (2007).
In 1989, Tim Burton made an offer to Jack Nicholson for him to play the Joker in his film Batman (starring Michael Keaton). With this deal, Jack promised to accept a part of the film’s box office earnings and merchandising sales from toys based on his likeness for a mere $6 million.
The worldwide box office takes for Batman was $411 million. He made $40 million in the first few years after the film’s premiere. The transaction netted him $60 million by the year 1994. Earning $110 million today would be the same as that. Jack’s $60 million compensation ranks as the 12th biggest acting paycheck before inflation is factored in.
Keanu Reeves‘ $156 million payday from The Matrix 2 and 3 is the largest acting salary ever. While keeping in mind that Keanu’s earnings came from only two films, it’s safe to say that Jack Nicholson’s Batman salary is among the highest ever paid in Hollywood.