Donald Sutherland Lost Out on Millions for Not Accepting “Animal House” Backend Offer

The late Donald Sutherland once estimated that he “could have ended up with $14 million” for 1978’s ‘National Lampoon's Animal House’

<p>Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock</p> Donald Sutherland in


Donald Sutherland in 'National Lampoon's Animal House'

Donald Sutherland could never have known 1978’s Animal House would be a huge hit.

The actor, who died at age 88 on Thursday, June 20, said that he lost out on millions for accepting the offer to star in the John Landis-directed National Lampoon frat comedy.

Given the choice to earn a fee of either 2 percent of the film's gross profits or his typical day rate of $25,000, he took the latter. “I told [distributor Universal Pictures], ‘No, you need to pay me my daily rate,’ ” he recalled to Variety in 2014.

But Animal House, which starred John Belushi, Tim Matheson, John Vernon, Verna Bloom, Karen Allen and more, went on to become a box office smash, earning over $120 million worldwide.

Had Sutherland taken that small percentage of the movie’s gross, by his own calculations he “could have ended up with $14 million,” the actor told Variety.

Related: Remembering Donald Sutherland's Life in Photos, from Hawkeye to The Hunger Games

Landis, 73, has said that it was thanks to the Klute star that Animal House was made in the first place. “I was basically told I had to deliver a movie star or we were shutting down,” the director told Variety of the film’s pre-production phase. “The only movie star I knew was Donald. And because he said yes, that’s why we got a green light. All these actors who got their start with that film, from Kevin Bacon to Tom Hulce, owe him a huge debt.”

Fresh off their collaboration with 1977's The Kentucky Fried Movie, Sutherland “was at the height of his stardom, and he came out to shoot this goofy thing for a day,” Landis said. “It would be the equivalent of Brad Pitt appearing in a student film today.”

As the Animal House director revealed to Entertainment Weekly in 1998, he had met Sutherland on the set of 1970’s Kelly’s Heroes and “had gotten very friendly” with him. In fact, Landis said he “used to babysit” the actor’s son Kiefer, now 57.

Related: Kiefer Sutherland Mourns His Dad Donald Sutherland: 'He Loved What He Did and Did What He Loved'

Arnold Jerocki/Getty Donald Sutherland in 2019
Arnold Jerocki/Getty Donald Sutherland in 2019

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While Landis estimated then that, “had he taken a profit position,” Sutherland could have “made at least $20 million,” the exact number is unclear. But judging by Animal House’s box office success, a 2 percent earning would have made Sutherland’s paycheck at least 400 times bigger than it was.

Sutherland died June 20 in Miami after a long illness, a representative confirmed to PEOPLE. He is survived by five children and five grandchildren.

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