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YIKES! MOVIE STARS' PAY GETTING OUT OF HAND

Jim Carrey is getting $20 million for each of two movies he'll make next year, "Cable Guy" and "Liar, Liar." So, not to be outdone, Sylvester Stallone has signed a deal that guarantees him $60 million (plus perks and percentages) for a nonexclusive three-movie package. (Even as "Judge Dredd" is dying on the vine.)

Yikes.Has Hollywood gone nuts?

Well, of course it has, but this salary thing is really getting out of hand.

Further proof?

Alicia Silverstone has inked a nonexclusive deal to star in two movies for $10 million.

Yes, that Alicia Silverstone, the star of "Clueless." On the basis of one hit movie, her salary has jumped from less than a million to $5 million per picture.

How are the real movie stars going to feel about that - stars like Michelle Pfeiffer, Melanie Griffith, Meg Ryan, Meryl Streep, Debra Winger and others who command the same or less? And how much higher will it push Demi Moore, Julia Roberts, Whoopi Goldberg and Sharon Stone - the highest-paid female stars in the business?

Not that women shouldn't be in the same salary range as men - they should. But no one should be getting this much money.

It's especially ridiculous when you consider that the barometer used by the studios is whether a star can "open" a movie. That is, the star's name alone is supposed to guarantee an audience will purchase movie tickets in droves.

Roberts may have that ability, as even her weaker movies at least seem to start big at the box office. But do any of the other names listed here?

Let's look at Demi Moore, who is probably the highest paid of the bunch right now, with a guarantee of $121/2 million for an upcoming film called "Striptease." That salary jump for her is based on a string of recent hit movies - "Disclosure," "Indecent Proposal," "A Few Good Men," and going back a ways, "Ghost."

But was she really the reason these movies were such big hits? Probably not. Did anyone really go see "A Few Good Men" because Demi Moore was in it?

Similarly, Sharon Stone has been getting $7 million or more for movies these days, on the basis of two hit movies in a row - "Total Recall" and "Basic Instinct." But she was definitely not the reason "Total Recall" was a hit (think Arnold Schwarzenegger), and after "Basic Instinct" she's had nothing but - "Sliver," "Intersection" and "The Quick and the Dead."

She did co-star with Stallone in "The Specialist," which didn't flop, but which wasn't all that successful, either. But whether she is the reason that film made a profit is arguable - it's really Stallone's picture.

Returning to the male salaries for a moment, after the $20 million paychecks for Carrey and Stallone, how much will established superstars be able to command - stars such as Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood, Michael Douglas, Robert Redford, Tom Cruise, etc.?

What the studios should do, of course, is keep the salary level low and offer the stars percentage points of the films' profits. That way, everyone is encouraged to make better movies. If the movie makes money, the star makes money. If the movie flops, the star still makes a more-than-real-life salary of $700,000 or something.

The way it's going now, will it really be that long before we see $30 million salaries? Or $40 million?

Maybe the time isn't so far off when star salaries will rival movie production costs.

I can just hear the report on "Entertainment Tonight":

" `Waterworld 2' cost $200 million to make, with $100 million of that going toward Kevin Costner's salary."

Yikes again!

- QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Clive Barker, writer-director of "Lord of Illusions" (and, previously, "Hellraiser"):

"I haven't seen a scary movie in a very long time which has truly gotten under my skin. I think `Lord' does that."