Jackson's "Kong"-Sized Payday

LOTR director reportedly getting $20 million from Universal to helm big-budget remake of King Kong

By Josh Grossberg Aug 13, 2003 5:45 AMTags

The Lord of the Rings ringmaster is ringing up the cash register with his next project.

Peter Jackson is set to collect a whopping $20 million to helm a remake of King Kong, according to Daily Variety.

It is one of the most lucrative paydays ever for a writer-director, the trade paper reports.

Jackson will divvy up the check with his wife and longtime writing and producing partner, Fran Walsh, as well as their LOTR cowriter, Philippa Boyens. The trio is currently cranking out a script for the Kong redo. Walsh will receive a higher cut than Boyens because she is also acting as a coproducer with her hubby. (Variety also notes that it is the biggest upfront salary ever for a filmmaking couple--Jackson and Walsh share a home in New Zealand with their two kids.)

The payday catapults Jackson into the ranks of Tinseltown's top moneymakers, putting him on par with such such mega-stars as Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, and Tom Cruise, who regularly command $20 million or more per picture. The Kiwi filmmaker's Kong-sized salary even tops those of other A-list directors like Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis and M. Night Shyamalan. While those directors might eventually make more than $20 million on a monster hit, they typically forfeit most of their upfront salary and instead to clean up on the back-end.

Of course, Jackson is poised to earn even more if Kong is a hit. He and his pals will reportedly share in 20 percent of the film's gross once it recoups its production costs. According to Variety, no one other than Jackson, Walsh and Boyens will get gross points. In return, Jackson has agreed to complete the movie on time and at an agreed-upon budget.

Jackson has been wild about a Kong remake ever since he was a boy. He penned several drafts of a script and initially pitched Universal the idea back in 1997, since the studio owned the rights to the project. But Universal opted not to go forward as Disney was remaking Mighty Joe Young and Sony unleashed its abominable Godzilla as its big summer tentpole in 1998.

Jackson subsequently spent the next three years pouring his heart into a little film series called The Lord of the Rings.

Shot back-to-back-to-back with a budget of $350 million, LOTR has been a phenomenal success. The first flick, The Fellowship of the Rings, grossed an incredible $850 million worldwide, while the second chapter, The Two Towers, topped its predecessor with $910 million in worldwide ticket sales. The third installment, The Return of the King, is due in December and is expected to perform as well as its predecessors. Factor in video and TV sales and the entire trilogy will easily top $3 billion in grosses.

With his newfound box-office clout, Jackson thought about scaling down and making a movie along the lines of his acclaimed 1994 art-house drama Heavenly Creatures.

But when Universal Chairman Stacey Snider dangled the possibility of a great ape remake, the soft-spoken bespectacled auteur jumped at the chance.

As he did with LOTR, Jackson will produce Kong exclusively in his native New Zealand, using his special-effects house, WETA, as well Camperdown Soundstages and Film Unit, a post-production facility of which he's also a part owner

King Kong is slated to hit theaters by Christmas 2005.