Was John Williams paid only $50K for 'Star Wars' score? Composer for 'Harry Potter', 'Jurassic Park' turns 89

'Star Wars - A New Hope', despite its seemingly low paycheck, was instrumental in having his genius recognized by the industry and securing the life-long collaborative partnership with top directors and studios

Was John Williams paid only $50K for 'Star Wars' score? Composer for 'Harry Potter', 'Jurassic Park' turns 89
Composer John Williams performs during Universal Studios' 'Wizarding World of Harry Potter Opening' at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 5, 2016 in Universal City, California (Getty Images)
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Meet John Williams. If you aren't familiar with him, we can guarantee you are familiar with his music. In fact, if you are a millennial, this man is responsible for crafting the film soundscape of your childhood adventure film.

Besides composing nearly all of the music heard in the 'Star Wars' franchise, he was also Steven Spielberg's favorite composer. So when you rewatch any of the 'Indiana Jones' films, 'E.T.', 'Jaws' or the 'Jurassic Park' films, it's Williams signature compositions you'll be hearing. If you are a Potterhead, know that Williams is also responsible for the music of the first three 'Harry Potter' films that set the tone and soundscape for every film in the franchise to follow. 

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He just turned 89 on February 8 and won his first-ever Oscar win for musical direction for the 1971 'Fiddler on the Roof'. Yes, he has been around that long, winning 25 Grammy Awards, five Academy Awards, and four Golden Globe Awards along the way. With 52 Academy Award nominations, he is also the second-most nominated person in Oscar history, second only to Walt Disney at 59 noms. 

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Was Williams underpaid for 'Star Wars'?  

It was the year 1977. When 'Star War Episode IV - A New Hope' premiered, it was a phenomenon. But the epic space adventure franchise might not have had the success it had without its signature compositions, which have been hummed by 'Star War' fans ever since.

Lucas originally used the works of musical maestros like Beethoven, Bach, and Tchaikovsky, among others, to score the original rough cut of the film. He then handed that cut to Williams and said: “That. But better.” Williams had already scored Spielberg's 'Jaws' and it was why he got the job.

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But since this was the first film in the franchise, the budget was still modest, unlike the sort of money Disney now blows on its sequels since 2012. In fact, prior to its release and success, the film was called just 'Star Wars' because it was supposed to be just one film instead of becoming the episodic sprawling space opera and multi-million dollar franchise. 

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In an old cost sheet dug up by fans, the final cost for making the film was 11 million dollars. The budget allocated to "Score and music" was just $50,000, half of Lucas' fee of $100,000 -- this was of course way back in 1977.

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Adjusted for inflation, the music budget comes to just around $250K!  That amount covered not only John Williams' fee but also everything spent on orchestration, score prep, LSO, studios, editing, mixing, and engineering. So in today's figures, John William might have received between $25K to $50K for his iconic score.  

But Lucas reportedly also shared profits from the film with key people who worked on the film, from the lead actors to Williams himself. Though it is unknown how much Williams might have received, even a 1 percent margin would have generated plenty of income.

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Not to mentions that Williams since has scored all the 'Star Wars' sequels, whose budgets have been enormous. Plus there is that lovely thing called residuals. So even though Williams may have been paid a tiny fraction of the total money spent on the film, he has more than made up for it in later years. 

What is John Williams' net worth? 

Top composers like John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and Danny Elfman generally get paid scoring fees as high as $2 million per picture now. According to Celebritynetworth.com, John Williams' net worth is approximately $300 million -- a fortune made from a career that has spanned 60 years as a composer, conductor, and pianist. Besides the scores for iconic movies, he is also noted for composing music for NBC news productions, 'The Nightly News' and 'Sunday Night Football'. He was also the principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra for 13 years and has conducted thousands of concerts.

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'Star Wars - A New Hope', despite its seemingly low paycheck, was instrumental in having his genius recognized by the industry and securing the life-long collaborative partnership with Lucasfilms and now Disney and of course, Spielberg's Dreamworks.   

Tributes for composers' birthday

The Twitter handles of both 'Star Wars' and 'Jurassic Park' tweeted out birthday wishes for the composers' big day. "Happy Birthday to the composer of the saga, John Williams!" was posted on the 'Star Wars' Twitter feed, while 'Jurassic World' tweeted: "From all us who hear this man’s music every time they see a dinosaur: Happy Birthday to the one and only, John Williams!"

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The Dubai Opera also posted about the composers' birthday saying the UAE-based NSO Orchestra will perform his iconic 'Star Wars' theme song at the Movie Music Gala on February 20. "Wishing one of the greatest film composers of all time, #JohnWilliams a very happy birthday! Featured here is the iconic #StarWars theme song which will be performed live by @nsosymphonyuae at the #MovieMusicGala show at 2pm and 8pm on 20 February. Don't miss it!” the Dubai Opera captioned the post.

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