Christopher Nolan has enjoyed a long run as one of Hollywood’s most respected and successful directors. He got his start with the low-budget thrillers Following and Memento, later directing the magicians thriller The Prestige and changing superhero movies forever with his Dark Knight trilogy of Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012.) Outside of his Batman films, Nolan has continued to make quality, well-received films, such as Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014).
Nolan is currently at work on Dunkirk, his World War II drama with Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance that’s set for release next summer and will likely be on pre-2017 lists of Oscar contenders for the new year. And beyond all the box office success, critical raves and other accolades, Nolan has achieved another honor.
Christopher Nolan is now Hollywood’s highest-paid director, according to a THR article about who’s getting paid what in the motion picture industry these days. According to the article, Nolan is being paid $20 million upfront plus 20 percent of the gross for Dunkirk. That is the most a director has been paid for any movie since Peter Jackson also got $20 million for his King Kong movie (released back in 2005).
According to the piece, the average director fee for a studio movie in 2016 is in the $750,000 to $1.5 million range; though even big names like Angelina Jolie have only made $1 million (in that case, for Jolie's work on her own WWII film, Unbroken), or just 5 percent of what Nolan will take home as his fee for Dunkirk. The THR article also states that more directors of late have been receiving more backend participation and less in terms of up front fees. This is good for directors is some cases, but not-so-good- for others.
Whether or not Christopher Nolan “deserves” to be the highest-paid director in Hollywood is, ultimately, a matter of opinion; though it's at least justifiable from a studio investor's perspective. He’s had a long run of commercial hits and no real flops as a filmmaker, and has the proven ability to direct crowd-pleasing blockbusters that also go over well with film critics for their creative merits. Nolan's film are usually praised for being on the cerebral side too - something that isn't commonly said about the collective work of other big-name blockbuster filmmakers that are currently active (with Michael Bay being one obvious example).
Of course, if Dunkirk fails to perform well at the box office when it comes out next year, Nolan’s tenure as Hollywood’s highest-paid director may prove to be a short one. Seeing as people have already started buzzing about the film well ahead of its theatrical release (and the WWII genre in general remains a popular one for moviegoers), it would come as a real surprise if Dunkirk were to under-perform commercially.
Dunkirk opens in U.S. theaters on July 21st, 2017.