Breaking Down the $20 Million Denzel Was Paid for Unstoppable

Train enthusiasts have been following 20th Century Fox's "true story" actioner Unstoppable ever since 2009, when Tony Scott took the reins on the project -- thus ensuring an explosion a minute and kinetic camera moves galore, only on a train -- and with him came good old, dependable Denzel Washington. The two old pals had worked together before on films like Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, and Déjà Vu; what's more, they'd already made one train movie (The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3) destined to set the summer 2009 box office on fire and steamroll the competition -- said competition being two forgettable little movies featuring no Denzel and no trains. Two little movies called The Hangover and Up.

Well, Pelham might not have performed as well as Tony 'n' Denzel might have liked, but did they let that stop them from hopping aboard again for another go 'round? Heck no! The duo was all set to tell a very different train story in Unstoppable, loosely inspired by a true story based on events that maybe-mostly happened this one time in Ohio. Er, Pennsylvania. Same difference. Anyways, everything was on track for Unstoppable until studio execs tried to whittle the budget down a smidge … by asking Denzel to shave a few mil from his $20 million salary.

And that's when Denzel disembarked. With only months to go before shooting was to begin, the studio scrambled -- and a few weeks later, Denzel was back! Unstoppable would not be stopped! And while we may never know if the veteran actor got his full asking price or not, let's assume he did and proceed to guess just how that cool $20 million breaks down.

$10M: Bare minimum base salary, because would Denzel Washington -- excuse me, Academy Award winner Denzel Washington -- roll out of bed for less? As if. He's got two Oscar statues at home and three more Oscar nods under his belt, which comes to $2 million per nomination. What, you think people went to The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 to see John Travolta talk jive and act weird?

$2M: For playing the hero. You know why Denzel rarely plays the villain? Because it requires different acting muscles. Just ask him to smile that Denzel smile and be The Guy Whose Moral Fiber Will Overcome Adversity/Corruption/Travolta/Runaway Trains, because Denzel can do that guy in his sleep.

$2M: To say lines like "Not for you. I'm not doing it for you," while talking in his everyman voice to the corporate suits who are to blame for everything that's ever gone wrong when he's really thinking of his two daughters working at a Hooters a few towns down the line. Can you say "sound bite"?

$4M: To star opposite a freaking train. (And Chris Pine. That's one handsome kid.) Because of its gimmicky plot, Unstoppable will be remembered as "that train movie" and not "that new Denzel movie," and that's a slight nick to the Denzel brand. (Disagree? Name the last Denzel movie that didn't have just Denzel's face on the poster. We'll wait.)

$10K x 100: For every moving train car he climbed on top of and ran across on film. Video proof: Denzel divulges what denomination in U.S. currency Tony Scott taped to each car!

And the last $1M: Just because. He is Two Time Academy Award Winner Denzel Washington and he WILL get paid for this silly train movie! Do you see any other Oscar-lauded Hollywood actors getting invited to broker deals on behalf of Colombian guerrilla rebel groups? I didn't think so.


Jen Yamato writes weekly for and spent all of Unstoppable with that Soul Asylum song stuck in her head. Tell her she's not alone on Twitter.