The more Marlon Brando’s career progressed, the more he understood that his presence in a film and name on a marquee was a commodity. At one point in the below video, he jokes about the size of the smile an actor gets relative to his or her salary: two teeth for $200,000; ten teeth for $1 million; and “the full Flatbush cemetery” for $2 million.
Back in 1976, Variety reported that Brando had agreed to play Superman’s father Jor-El for $3.7 million and an astounding 11.75% backend for just 13 days of work and less than 20 minutes of screen time. In comparison, Christopher Reeve, the lead actor in the film who dominated most of the 143-minute running time, earned just $250,000 for his part.
So for all that money, could Brando be bothered to learn his lines? Nope. Mr. Method Actor himself instead relied on reading cue cards for his lines, even resorting to having lines written on the diaper of the baby actor he was sharing a scene with.
Yet none of this should come as a surprise. He did the same thing on “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now,” too. Here’s proof:
However, the question remains, was Brando worth it? The answer? Usually.
For example, during the ’70s, comic book superhero movies were the butt of film jokes. Brando’s excessive pay was essentially just another form of investment. If he hadn’t signed on to “Superman“, it’s possible the film never would have been made. Brando was the crucial first step, Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor cinched it, and the rest is history.