When Star Wars hit theaters back in 1977, no one knew it was going to be the massive hit that it ended up being — not even George Lucas. In fact, Lucas was so unsure of his film’s box office potential that he placed a bet with directing BFF Steven Spielberg to try and make sure he recouped his losses if Star Wars bombed.
In an interview with TCM, Spielberg revealed that he and Lucas made a bet based on percentage points they were receiving for their films. Lucas bet 2.5 percent of the return on Star Wars while Spielberg bet 2.5 percent of the return on Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
“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.’”
Needless to say, Lucas lost out on that bet as Close Encounters went on to gross just over $300 million at the box office while Star Wars made $775 million and has since crossed $1 billion and counting.
That means that Spielberg made out with a cool $40 million bet thanks to the success of Star Wars, even though the $300 million his film ultimately made was more than respectable in of itself.
Lucas and Spielberg are mum on if the bet was ever paid, but it’s yet another fascinating footnote to the wild success story of Star Wars.