In an old interview with Turner Classic Movies that's currently making the rounds, Spielberg revealed that the two filmmakers -- and longtime friends -- made the wager precisely because Lucas didn't think his film would be a successful. It all came about after Lucas, burnt out from the "Star Wars" shoot, took a break to visit Spielberg on the set of his work-in-progress film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
"George came back from 'Star Wars' a nervous wreck," Spielberg told TCM. "He didn't feel 'Star Wars' came up to the vision he initially had. He felt he had just made this little kids' movie."
Recent revelations confirm that Lucas was in a sad state of mind while shooting "Wars," so it makes sense that he would visit his friend Spielberg for some moral support. But Spielberg said that Lucas was so impressed and intimidated by Spielberg's work on "Close Encounters" that he felt sure it would trounce "Star Wars" at the box office -- and wanted to put money on it.
"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,'" Spielberg recalled. "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 percent of Star Wars if you give me 2.5 percent of 'Close Encounters.' So I said, 'Sure, I'll gamble with that. Great.'"
The rest, they say, is history: "Star Wars" went on to become the second-highest-grossing film of all time (behind "Gone With the Wind"), raking in a mammoth $1.48 billion when adjusted for inflation. Business Insider calculates that Spielberg's cut of that haul totaled approximately $40 million.
"'Close Encounters' was just a meager success story. 'Star Wars' was a phenomenon," Spielberg told TCM. "Of course I was the happy beneficiary of a couple of net points from that movie, which I am still seeing money on today."
It seems that being a good friend really does pay off.
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