George Lucas Lost A $40 Million Bet With Steven Spielberg

Senior Editor
03.28.14 31 Comments

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg seem like a lot of things, but high-stakes gamblers isn’t one of them. I just can’t picture George Lucas cursing at the TV from his racecar bed, apoplectic that he dropped six large against Dayton last night before he stuffs his neck pouch with another handful of kitten. But bet is exactly what they did, against each other, back in 1977. And the bill has reportedly thus far amounted to upwards of $40 million.

Back in 1977, when Lucas was making Star Wars and Spielberg was making Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in the midst of a mutual cry sesh, they each bet the other that the other’s movie would end up being the bigger success. Which turned out to be a bit of a double-edged light sabre for the fat man.

They made the bet on the set of “Close Encounters,” which Lucas visited as a retreat from the stressful “Star Wars” set, where production was not unfolding as the director imagined. Spielberg, on the other hand, banked on “Star Wars” being more lucrative. Of course he was right: “Star Wars” was the highest-grossing movie of 1977, while “Close Encounters” was No. 3. (“Smokey and the Bandit” was No. 2.)

“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.'” [BusinessInsider]

Yahoo calculates that Spielberg’s 2.5% of an eventual $1.5 billion has earned him almost $40 million. Wait, Lucas actually paid out?

“‘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.” [Yahoo]

Whoa, I can’t believe they actually saw the bet through. I expect that from Jordan and Barkley on the golf course, but not from a couple of nerds like George and Steve. Maybe I’ve had them wrong all this time. I always pictured them on set, storyboarding it out like a couple of middle schoolers staging battles between GI Joes. But it was the seventies, who knows? Maybe they were just rolling dice and keeping it real as shit, making all the bitches call them “Gator.”

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