Reece Thompson had a small part in "Titanic" 20 years ago. Today, he still makes money on the film, but the amount fluctuates from year to year.
- Reece Thompson appeared in "Titanic" at the age of 5.
- He landed a small speaking role as a character the movie database IMDB lists as "Irish little boy."
- Thompson still receives residuals from the film, but the amount sometimes fluctuates from year to year.
- Film and television actors — and their heirs — can earn money through residuals for years if a project is successful enough.
You've probably seen Reece Thompson's face before, but you most likely wouldn't recognize him on the street.
At the age of 5, Thompson made his film debut in the 1997 megahit "Titanic." He played the part of the "Irish little boy," a young third-class passenger who tragically dies with his mother and sister when the famous passenger liner sinks.
In the movie, Thompson appears in three scenes and has a line of dialogue.
Today, Thompson, 25, is the digital marketing director at Brian Head Resort, a skiing and snowboarding resort in Utah. He doesn't remember much of his time on the set of "Titanic," which has grossed over $2.2 billion worldwide in its lifetime — the second-highest of all time, according to Box Office Mojo.
But each year, Thompson still receives a few checks for his performance in the film.
Thompson got his start as a child model and acquired a talent agent after he won a contest. When he was 5, his agent offered his mother two potential projects: an appearance in a gas station commercial, or a shot at a role in "a major motion picture."
Though the commercial was a surer bet — a tidy sum for a few hours of work — Thompson's mother opted for the riskier latter option, he told Business Insider.
"It turned out to be one of the highest-grossing films in history, so it's pretty bizarre in retrospect," Thompson told Business Insider. "My mom was like: 'Let's just do it. It'll be cool. Even if the movie sucks, we'll see it.' Obviously, it ended up exploding, so that wasn't a bad decision on her part, that's for sure."Thompson said he didn't remember much about the audition or the filming, but he does recall struggling with an Irish accent. At such a young age, he had a hard time changing his pronunciation of the words — or even fully grasping what an accent was.
"If you listen to it, it doesn't sound very Irish," he said. "It just sounds soft-spoken. I remember trying to mimic what the speech coach was trying to do. That's as close as I got."
Thompson said he was paid at a certain rate for his time on set. When the film came out on December 19, 1997, it was a massive hit, raking in $28.6 million in its opening weekend in the US, according to Box Office Mojo.
Thompson ended up earning about $30,000, which was invested and put into bank accounts. Much of that money has since gone toward his education, car, and living expenses, he said.
He continues to receive residuals on a quarterly basis, however.
In the years after the movie's debut, the checks were in the "low thousands," he said. The amount would sometimes spike, like when the VHS and DVD versions came out in 1998 and 1999, respectively. There was also a DVD rerelease in 2005, a Blu-ray release in 2012, and a theatrical rerelease from AMC Theatres last December to celebrate the film's 20th anniversary.
Thompson said the residuals didn't get much of a boost after the 2012 theatrical release of "Titanic" in 3D, though.
The website of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists says that for films, "residuals begin once the movie appears on video/DVD, basic cable and free or pay television, or new media." How much a performer earns varies based on their contract and the enduring success of the film. Extras — whom the SAG calls "background actors" — can't receive residuals.
Now, Thompson says he tends to earn about $200 to $300 a year in residuals.
"It's weird because it's not present in my mind anymore," he said. "It's not like, 'Oh, when am I going to get a new "Titanic" check?' When it happens, it's like, 'Oh, cool, an extra $100.'"
SAG-AFTRA estimates it processes 1.5 million to 1.6 million residuals checks a year.
For Thompson and other "Titanic" actors, those residuals will keep coming in every year as the film continues to make a splash with theatrical and TV audiences. And their heirs can even collect residuals checks years down the line.
"There have been a couple of times where it's been like: 'Oh, wow, that's a $250 check. This movie's 12 years old. That's pretty bizarre,'" he said. "But hopefully, they keep playing it a lot, because that means more money for me."