We might think of Star Wars as the most established brand in the history of the motion picture industry, at least this side of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, but all that success wasn’t always such a foregone conclusion. On the set of A New Hope, George Lucas was a worried thirty-something convinced he had a massive flop on his hands. So, he took all that self-doubt and worry and used it to nervously make the worst bet of his entire life, one that has lined Steven Spielberg’s pockets for decades.
Speaking to Turner Classic Movies, Spielberg recently laid out what happened. He was hanging out on the set of his beloved Close Encounters Of The Third Kind when his old buddy George Lucas stopped by to see the set and hang out for a few days. During the visit, the Star Wars director allegedly became convinced his movie would make way less money at the box office, and out of those conversations, an unusual bet arose. If Close Encounters Of The Third Kind made more money at the box office, Spielberg would give Lucas 2.5 points from his stake in the film. If Star Wars was more successful, Lucas would give the 2.5 points to Spielberg.
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, of course, made a mini fortune at the box office, grossing almost $340,000,000 (more than 10X its budget), but that figure was dwarfed by A New Hope which brought home almost $800,000,000 at the box office. No doubt a fair amount of directors would have tried to weasel their way out of the ill-conceived wager, but to his credit, Lucas paid up. In fact, he’s still paying up to this day. Yahoo estimates it’s probably cost him $40 million or so, which is a pretty steep price for a stiff wager.
You can watch Spielberg talk about the bet below…
Fortunately for George Lucas, the whole Star Wars making money thing worked out pretty well for him. He eventually sold his company, LucasFilm, for more than $4 billion, and he certainly hasn’t gone broke paying his buddy these checks. In fact, adjusting for how much money the average Cinema Blend reader has in his or her bank account, this is probably the equivalent of you shelling out a couple hundred bucks once a year for the rest of your life.
Moral of the story? Be confident in whatever it is you’re producing, or at least have the balls to fake it when you’re around your friends.