Denzel Washington Finds Next Mid-Level Grosser

For a guy who routinely watches the domestic grosses of his film’s top out between $60 and $90 million, Denzel Washington sure commands a high salary — and it’s reported that he’ll command another huge payday (perhaps in the neighborhood of $20 million) to star in Universal Picture’s in development thriller, Safe House.

The film is being touted as a return to bad guy mode for Washington, though the premise sounds a lot less like Training Day and a lot more like The Rock. To wit: a young CIA agent must transfer a prisoner (Washington) after their safe house is compromised. Cue begrudging team-up, camraderie and a third act twist where the agent let’s Denzel off the hook. Err, sorry — spoiler alert? Anyway! No word yet on who will play the ying to Washington’s yang, but Chris Pine reportedly met with Universal to talk about the role. Though don’t hold your breath — Pine and Washington are already teamed up in the Tony Scott-directed runaway train thriller Unstoppable, and it’s not likely that Universal would want to cause any confusion by pitting the two against each other for Safe House. (Our best guess for the CIA agent: Ryan Gosling.)

All of that aside, however, it’s Denzel Washington himself that makes us scratch our heads. Not his talent nor his role choices — both of which certainly receive high marks. It’s that he can somehow still get studios to pay him so well when the Hollywood economy is clearly going away from paying aging stars top dollar. Here’s an actor with only three $100 million grossers to his name, only one of which (Remember the Titans) was squarely on his shoulders — American Gangster and Pelican Brief were the other two. Yes, he was alone in bringing The Book of Eli to within striking distance of the century mark (it reached $94 million earlier this year), but when studios are afraid to book Tom Cruise — who has a comparible recent history with Washington — anything under $100 million doesn’t feel like enough. There is an arguement that could be made — Washington’s film’s are normally kept on a mid-level budget and don’t need to make that much money to please the studio — but in the end, it’s somewhat hollow. Small budgets or not, Washington feels like the Last of the Mohicans. The one ’90s star that can still command his number without making the studio execs recoil.