A long time ago in a galaxy where George Lucas’ abundant wealth was far, far away, there was a very different man than the Star Wars puppet master you see before you today. Back while George Lucas was shooting the first Star Wars film in the 1970s he was a great deal more insecure and reportedly nervous about the success of his upcoming sci-fi film Star Wars. The ambitious film was delayed and already over-budget making the situation seem increasingly dire to Lucas. At the time, Spielberg was in the midst of making his own sci-fi epic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. With Jaws already under his belt, Spielberg was already a more established director. During a break from filming on Star Wars, Lucas visited to the Close Encounters set and according to an interview with Spielberg for Turner Classic Movies, the visit did little to alleviate Lucas’ concerns:
“George came back from ‘Star Wars’ a nervous wreck,” Spielberg said. “He didn’t feel ‘Star Wars’ came up to the vision he initially had. He felt he had just made this little kids’ movie.”
After a few days, Lucas realized something else: Spielberg’s “Close Encounters” was going to be so much more successful than “Star Wars.” So much more that he felt like making a bet with Spielberg.
Spielberg would later say:
“He said, ‘Oh my God, your movie is going to be so much more successful than ‘Star Wars’! This is gonna be the biggest hit of all time. I can’t believe this set. I can’t believe what you’re getting, and oh my goodness.’ He said, ‘All right, I’ll tell you what. I’ll trade some points with you. You want to trade some points? I’ll give you 2.5% of ‘Star Wars’ if you give me 2.5% of ‘Close Encounters.’ So I said, ‘Sure, I’ll gamble with that. Great.’”
“Close Encounters” would indeed be a hit, making $303 million at the box office. However, “Star Wars” would go on to become one of the biggest box-office hits of all time. A rough calculation estimates that Spielberg’s 2.5% could have made him nearly $40 million.
“‘Close Encounters’ was just a meager success story. ‘Star Wars’ was a phenomenon,” Spielberg said a few years ago. “Of course I was the happy beneficiary of a couple of net points from that movie, which I am still seeing money on today.”
Well played, Spielberg. Well played, indeed.
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