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Hollywood back-end commissions pay off big for stars

Oh, how we love our Hollywood stars; they tell us how to vote, what to think about the environment and they publicly advocate raising taxes on middle-class Americans, all while espousing condescending, simplistic views on global warming. Our celebrities beseech Middle America for the slightest conservative lean even while their luxurious limousines cruise through ghettos and modest suburbs as they primp in route to plays, operas and exclusive film screenings.

Sandra Bullock accepts award for "Gravity."
Sandra Bullock accepts award for "Gravity."
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA

When not slumming, they board lavish, personal jets that belch carbon footprints the size of California and throw glittery parties for have-gots or host fundraisers for DNC candidates in their palatial, gated mansions.

Meanwhile, Joe and Sally Sixpack, for 20 bucks admission and maybe $50 for Coke and popcorn, get to watch a movie during which our stars frivolously wreck expensive cars, get naked and make love to actors half their age and blow stuff up before returning to the ordinariness outside the glimmering theater marquis.

While many narcissistic Hollywood stars when giving live interviews sound like asylum patients chatting incoherently after med-time, some do know how to make a buck or two.

Costar George Clooney - who's worth about $160 million - aside, Sandra Bullock agreed to perform her Oscar-nominated role in "Gravity" for a paltry $20 million upfront, but she negotiated a 15% cut from the Alfonso Cuaron film that took in $710 million worldwide. Bullock, the veteran A-lister whom a couple years ago leaked more information than the public needed to know about her split with motorcycle builder, Monster Garage host and all around bad boy Jesse James, reportedly walked away with about $70 million after back-end points from that one movie kicked in.

"If you’re really an A-list star and you’ve got negotiating clout...you can share in the pot of gold," says Adam Markovitz, senior writer at Entertainment Weekly. Click here to see Marovitz's "best Hollywood deals" interview.

No kidding, Mark. Hollywood has a rather large pot of gold and though Ms. Bullock's income from "Gravity" is current, it is hardly unique to Tinseltown's big stars.

Take Cameron Diaz, for example. While she could have demanded a huge upfront salary based on her mega-star status, she requested a paltry $1 million to play lead in the predictable, silly-funny 2011 hit "Bad Teacher." However, Diaz, who wasn't about to leave anything on the table, contracted a fat percentage of box office receipts that netted her a cool $42 million, according to one report. The sassy starlet no doubt laughed at blonde jokes inspired by her character all the way to the bank.

As the U.S. economy improves nearly as fast as a morbidly obese sea turtle sprinting across Malibu Beach, other Hollywood heavies with savvy agents have back loaded their deals in an effort to buck inflation, many earning just about enough money to buy France, or at least a bodacious penthouse in the Big Apple.

Nevertheless, all A-list actors who take lead roles on commission aren't quite as fortunate. Said stars picked the right movies. Conversely, John Travolta picked a real loser when he waived his standard $20 million fee for $10 million upfront and an extra $15 million when "Battleship Earth" surpassed $55 million in ticket sales.

It didn't. Instead, the sci-fi action feature based on the book by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard tanked, bringing in about $21.5 million.

Before a single tear is shed over the Urban Cowboy taking a $10 million hit for his Church of Scientology, it should be noted that Mr. Travolta's net worth is estimated to be somewhere around $165 million. Travolta not only travels by jet most of the time, he flies his own Boeing 707.

Apparently young Vinnie Barbarino did more than sit in the back of the class and comb his hair during Mr. Kotter's lectures. Travolta got his start in the TV show Welcome back Kotter.