Similar to Money, Dear Boy except the creator's goal in many instances is avoid losing money as a result of getting sued for breach of contract and having to expend legal costs and (in the worst case scenario) damages.
For a creator involved in a contractual obligation project, the obligation aspect looms over everything. A typical example is when there's a final project left in a long-term agreement between parties whose relationship has soured. The enthusiasm for this last project may be low since at least one party just wants to get it over with and end the deal. Other times, the Contractual Obligation Project may be one creators will do just so they can get to do another more enticing project that's also part of the deal. This does not mean a Contractual Obligation Project is all but guaranteed of being a dud. There are times when, in spite of everything, the final product will end up being financially successful, award-winning, and well-regarded.
Compare Ashcan Copy.
- Even though the film ended up winning her an Academy Award, Elizabeth Taylor never liked Butterfield 8 and only did the movie because it was required under her contract.
- The Cat in the Hat is an example due to Mike Myers and Bo Welch being forced under threat of a lawsuit to work on the movie.
- The existence of Cutthroat Island had a lot to do with it being a Contractual Obligation Project for many of the people involved. The producers, for example were obligated to make the film because the money had already been raised and star Geena Davis and director Renny Harlin were contractually tied to do it.
- Kelly Clarkson pretty much said this for the execrable From Justin to Kelly – "Two Words: contractually obligated!"
- Jessica Chastain was given a starring role in Crimson Peak provided that she would also later appear in The Huntsman: Winter's War.
- Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert thought It Happened One Night would flop and were only in the film to fulfill contractual obligations. Both would go on to win Oscars for the movie which also won for Best Picture.
- The Beatles signed a contract with United Artists in late 1963 to make three movies, two of which were the very well-received A Hard Day's Night and Help!. Yellow Submarine was intended by the band to be their third, but as it was an animated film and was Not Quite Starring the Fab Four themselves (they decline to voice their likenesses, and appeared exclusively in a short cameo at the end of the film), the studio said it didn't satisfy their contract. Eventually, UA wound up distributing Let It Be.
- Sylvester Stallone starred in Over the Top purely to fulfill his contract with Cannon Films.
- Paul Newman agreed to star in When Time Ran Out... out of contractual obligation and later called it the worst film he ever did. On the bright side, much of Newman's salary from the movie provided the seed money to begin his successful charity, Newman's Own.
- Sam Raimi was obligated to make Spider-Man 3 and to add Gwen Stacey as a love interest and Venom as the main antagonist, despite stating that he doesn't like the latter character. Originally the main antagonists were Sandman and Harry Osborn as the new Green Goblin. Venom and Gwen were added at the insistence of Avi Arad and the producers (much like an contractual obligation), making the movie messy and the reason why it's the lowest point of first Spider-Man trilogy. After those problems, Raimi left the studios, so the reboot The Amazing Spider-Man was made later.
- Whoopi Goldberg reluctantly did Theodore Rex to fulfill a contractual obligation and avoid paying damages from a lawsuit by the film's producers.
- Whoopi Goldberg had learned the lesson of just biting the bullet and starring in a flop from Kim Basinger, who was driven into bankruptcy when she tried to defy this trope by refusing to star in Boxing Helena.
- Channing Tatum's appearances in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and G.I. Joe: Retaliation were the result of a deal he made with Paramount and the studio threatened him with a lawsuit if he didn't honor the agreement. He picked the G.I. Joe franchise in the hopes that it would be a fun experience but has had very few nice things to say about the films once he was no longer obligated to promote them.
- Jamie Lee Curtis was forced to star in Halloween: Resurrection - a critically savaged sequel to Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later. The promotional team also circulated a lie that Jamie was only meant to have a 30-second cameo but "liked the script so much" she had her role expanded.
- Emily Blunt had to star in Gulliver's Travels (2010) as a result of starring in The Devil Wears Prada. Because of the scheduling conflict, she had to turn down the role of Black Widow in Iron Man 2.
- Back in the 1930s Chinese-American star Anna May Wong was getting frustrated at playing Dragon Lady parts and exotic supporting roles. She agreed to do one more - playing the daughter of Fu Manchu in Daughter of the Dragon - so she could star in the Marlene Dietrich movie Shanghai Express, getting a more interesting part. Daughter of the Dragon marked the last time she ever played a Dragon Lady.
- Val Kilmer didn't want to be in Top Gun, but was contractually obliged.
- Both Otto Preminger and Marilyn Monroe were forced to do the 1954 western River of No Return against their will, due to contractual obligations. They both expressed their frustration over the script which they considered below par. However, the film was a box office hit upon its release and remains a popular classic western.
- Edward Norton made it clear that his participation in The Italian Job (2003) is a result of contractual obligation, not choice. He signed a three movie deal with Paramount, of which Primal Fear, his breakthrough movie, was the first. He kept dismissing scripts for the other two (resulting in the contract getting extended from the intended timeline of contract though Norton now only had to do one extra film), until Paramount coerced him into accepting a role in this film. Norton did not hide his misery on the set, clashing with the crew throughout it, and when the producer handed out gifts to the cast over the movie's surprisingly strong box office performance, Norton returned the gift with a note stating "Give this to someone you actually like—or someone who actually likes you." He also wasn't happy at how the conditions of the deal meant that he was paid a fraction of what he'd have earned on any other film at that time in his career.
- John Wayne starred in The Conqueror to close out his contract with RKO.
- For nearly 20 years, Walt Disney had a distribution deal with RKO. By the early-1950s, RKO was crumbling under the erratic leadership of Howard Hughes. In 1953, Disney had formed his own distribution company, Buena Vista, but was still obligated to deliver one more film to Hughes. As a result, Disney compiled segments from his earlier animated anthologies Make Mine Music and Melody Time, to create Music Land (1955). This constituted a new film in RKO's eyes, and the deal ended with Music Land.
- Musicians frequently release Cover Albums, Christmas Albums, Live Albums, Greatest Hits Albums, or Remix Albums as a quick, easy way to fulfill a contract.
- When Marvin Gaye got divorced in 1977, he agreed to give his ex-wife half the proceeds from his next album. The result was Here, My Dear, which was panned by critics and fans alike (although critics praised it in retrospect). Rumors that he intentionally made a bad album that wouldn't sell soon arose.
- Axis: Bold as Love by The Jimi Hendrix Experience was a contractual obligation album because the Experience was required to release two albums in 1967. Despite this, it is regarded as a classic and was listed at #83 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
- After the death of Van Morrison's producer Bert Berns, Morrison was still contracted for an album to his Bang Records company, owned by Berns' widow Ilena, with whom Morrison didn't get along. To get out of his contract, Morrison recorded an album worth of desultory, sometimes intentionally offensive "songs" such as "Ring Worm", "Here Comes Dumb George", and "Blow in Your Nose". They sometimes get released as "rarities" to hoodwink completists.
- Lord Melody (a calypso singer) released two in 1962/1963 to get out of his contract with Cook Records (which was about to fold). These were Lord Melody 1962 (US) / More Calypsoes By Lord Melody (Trinidad) (largely rerecorded early 50s material and singles aimed at tourists) and Caribbean Limbo Music (an album of Melody and a man named Sam discussing limbo moves over jazz instrumentals from Cook's back catalogue) In Trinidad, 1962 was Melody's poorest selling release, though it was fairly successful in the US due to his cover of "Shame And Scandal" (Wau Wau).
- The Dingees admitted that, after writing enough songs for their fourth album, The Rebel Soul Sound System, they'd planned to stick in a bunch of dub remixes as Album Filler to extend the whole thing to double-album length—and thus fulfill their five-album contract with their label. Ironically, the label dropped them before they could record any of it, and The Rebel Soul Sound System wound up being the band's zero-budget passion project instead of a contractual obligation.
- Led Zeppelin were contractually obligated for one more album after the death of drummer John Bonham, but were unwilling to continue without him, and so released Coda, an album made up entirely of unreleased songs, mostly from In Through The Out Door. It's generally considered to be their worst album.
- Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album expressly invokes this trope: it contained a minimum of brand new material, and that was often deliberately thrown together and made to look slapdash and amateurish whilst still remaining funny. Most of the rest consists of off-cuts from film scripts, and reworkings of old sketches and songs that go back to the middle 1960s, and which were originally intended for radio and TV shows that preceded Python by some years. Some sketches had indeed already been performed on British radio and TV by other people.
- This trope is invoked in-universe in the final episode of 30 Rock when, after the show-within-the-show "TGS" is cancelled, another episode has to be produced in order to avoid having to give Tracy a $30 million payout.
- In the Family Guy parody of Return of the Jedi, the Opening Crawl veers off into a rant about how they're tired of parodying Star Wars, says that Fox made them produce it, lapses into a non sequitur about raccoons, and finally asks the audience to lower their expectations for the episode.
- The three The Fox and the Crow cartoons produced by UPA were a contractual obligation for their distribution contract with Columbia Pictures. UPA wanted to do cartoons that steered away from the cliches of the day, such as the use of Funny Animals and Slapstick, both of which the Fox and Crow cartoons exemplified in spades. The cartoons were actually well received (two were nominated for Academy Awards), which gave UPA free rein to make their own films with their own characters.
- An in-universe example occurs in the Rocko's Modern Life episode "Wacky Delly" when Ralph Bighead ends production on his show The Fatheads to create his artistic masterpiece. However, his network contract states that he has to make one more show so, to get it over with, Ralph hires Rocko, Heffer and Filburt to make a pilot for the new show, hoping it will be bad enough to get the executives to cancel his contract. Unfortunately, they love Wacky Delly and the show becomes a massive hit.
- VeggieTales: Invoked in a song that was so pointless, Larry's voice actor supposedly refused to finish it (though this was probably written-in meta-humor). "The Song Under the Credits" was its name, and in the middle of a chorus of "Hey hey ho-ho-ho-ho" the actor left, while the other actors chewed him out for leaving, telling him "We have contractual obligations to finish this song!"