In the span of a few short years, Disney's live-action division has become a box-office force with such films as 2010's Alice, 2014's Maleficent, 2015's Cinderella and last year's The Jungle Book.
But as the studio's Beauty and the Beast roars into theaters this weekend, poised to break records, a question looms: Are the stars of these mega-hits reaping the rewards? Sources say Emma Watson is pulling in $3 million upfront to play Beauty's book-smart protagonist Belle. But her final payday will escalate to $15 million if the film's final haul is similar to Maleficent's $759 million worldwide gross, as is expected.
The Bill Condon-directed Beauty is expected to open to north of $120 million this weekend in North America, with some pinning its final weekend total at more than $140 million.
With such past box-office winners in its fold including Cinderella ($544 million) and Jungle Book ($967 million), stars are clamoring to sign on for the studio's live-action offerings. Although Watson earned $60 million combined for the eight Harry Potter movies, she was unable to command a similar payday outside of Hogwarts. Beauty offered the actress a sure-fire gig putting her back in the Harry Potter pay grade.
The studio continues to mine its animated library for live-action redos and has plenty on the horizon including Mulan on Nov. 2, 2018, and Mary Poppins Returns on Christmas Day 2018. Jungle Book director Jon Favreau will return with The Lion King, starring Donald Glover and James Earl Jones as Simba and Mufasa, respectively.
But as it builds the brand, it also has incurred the wrath of some reps, who see the studio's penny-pinching as on par with Marvel. Anecdotes abound including Beauty star Dan Stevens being denied a rental car upgrade to accommodate his two children. Cinderella heroine Lily James received similar treatment when the studio refused to pay for her mother to sit alongside her in first class.
"They are cheap with everyone," said a lawyer with a client in one of the studio's upcoming films.
But others see the studio as being a welcome place for stars looking to land in a box-office hit that has become synonymous with high-quality kids fare. "It it's the right vehicle for the right star, they can be great," says an agent with a client who starred in one of the previous live-action films. "But Disney also has the luxury to not have to put a star in there."
And so was the case with Will Smith, who wanted a $20 million payday for a live-action Dumbo, directed by Tim Burton. Disney balked, and Smith instead collected his $20 million from Netflix to star in Bright. Few argue with the wisdom of that move.
But Disney will pay a star's full freight when it makes sense. Angelina Jolie commanded $20 million in addition to profit participation for Maleficent and is currently in talks for a sequel. But most of the time, it doesn't make sense.
"The IP is the star of the movie," said a producer. "If you hired Jennifer Lawrence as Belle, would it really make a difference in the opening [of Beauty and the Beast]? Unlikely."
Borys Kit contributed to this report.