Donald Sutherland was a full-blown movie star by the time he made “Animal House,” having appeared in hits like “M*A*S*H” and “Klute” in just the preceding decade. So, naturally, he wanted to be paid like a star. According to Matty Simmons, Universal did take kindly to Sutherland’s initial asking price of $250,000 (“Get the f*** outta here!”). Instead, they offered him $20,000 and a commission of two percent based on the film’s return. Sutherland declined: “I can’t take that offer. I just want the money, I don’t want any points in the movie.”
Instead, Sutherland’s final payment for the film was $35,000 with no commission. “Animal House” turned a tidy profit; the box office returns have been reported as $120,091,123. As Simmons notes, Sutherland could have netted himself a multi-million dollar check for one day of work had he gone with Universal’s first counter-offer.
During an interview on the “Opie & Anthony” show, Sutherland told his side of the story and acknowledged his mistake. Asked if he knows what his two percent commission would’ve been, he answered, “I don’t want to know.” Sutherland didn’t wind up hurting for cash in the long run, but I do hope he kept his agent and lawyer close during future fee negotiations.