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Bruce Willis' Biggest Acting Paycheck In Hollywood History Came From A Psychological Thriller

He holds the record for the largest acting payday earned from a single film, which was set back in 1999 with his role in "The Sixth Sense."
UPDATED JAN 22, 2024
Cover Image Source: GettyImages/Theo Wargo
Cover Image Source: GettyImages/Theo Wargo

Bruce Willis, an actor known for his macho yet sensitive action hero roles and one-liners, is one of the most successful and highest-grossing actors of all time. With films like "Die Hard," "Armageddon," "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," "The Expendables," "Pulp Fiction," and "The Fifth Element" under his belt, his movies have grossed roughly $5 billion worldwide. Fans were naturally saddened to learn the dementia diagnosis of the action god. Would they be surprised to know that his biggest acting paycheck in Hollywood history didn't come from an action blockbuster? 


Bruce Willis' Success

As mentioned by Celebrity Net Worth, Bruce Willis' box office success allowed him to command some of Hollywood's largest salaries, especially in the mid-to-late 90s and 2000s. During this period, Willis regularly commanded $14 million in minimum base salary for a single movie. He was paid $14 million for "The Last Boy Scout" in 1991, $15 million for 1995's "Die Hard: With a Vengeance," $16.5 million for 1996's "Last Man Standing," and $14.8 million for 1998's "Armageddon".


Surprise Twist Ending

While Willis has consistently been one of the highest-paid actors for most of his career, he actually holds the record for the largest acting payday earned from a single film. This record was set in 1999 thanks to his role in "The Sixth Sense," a surprise twist that the audience didn't see coming.

Image Source: GettyImages/Rich Fury
Image Source: GettyImages/Rich Fury

"The Sixth Sense" was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, an unknown director at the time. Disney had purchased the film rights for $3 million, but was not pleased with Vogel's decision to spend $3 million on the script from an unknown writer without approval. As a result, Vogel was removed from his position. Spyglass Entertainment then took over the film rights and needed a star to carry their picture. They landed Willis by offering him $14 million as a base salary and 17.5% of the film's profits, plus a comparable percent of DVD and licensing proceeds.

The Sixth Sense's Success

"The Sixth Sense" opened in theaters on August 6, 1999, and was a huge success, grossing $26.5 million in its starting weekend. The movie spent the next five weeks dominating the box office and eventually earned $670 million at the global box office on a production budget of $40 million plus $20 million for marketing. It was also the most-rented movie of 2000.


Willis' Huge Payday

When all the receipts were counted, Willis' gamble on an unknown director paid off in a big way. After his $14 million fee, Willis earned an additional $100 million in backend revenue for a total payday of $114 million. The only other actor in history to earn over $100 million from a single movie is Tom Cruise, who earned $100 million three times, once for "Mission Impossible 2" in 2000, once for "War of the Worlds" in 2005, and once again for 2022's "Top Gun: Maverick.


Willis' payday gets even more impressive after adjusting for inflation. In today's dollars, his $114 million payday in 1999 is the equivalent of $194 million. In contrast, Cruise's $100 million payday for "Mission Impossible 2" adjusted for inflation is only $164 million. Bruce Willis' impressive payday for his role in "The Sixth Sense" not only makes him the highest-paid actor of all time but also demonstrates the power of taking a chance on unknown talent.