Successful actors are some of the best paid people in the world. The fact that they work in an industry that can spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make a film and can bring in box office revenues that total in the billions, with releases such as Marvel’s The Avengers, means that it is no surprise that they can earn big money. While the story, cinematography, special effects and musical score all play a large part in determining whether a movie will be a success, one of the biggest draws for viewers and a deciding factor in possible success is undoubtedly who the star actor playing the leading role is.
Although filmmakers will often try to ensure that they pay their talent as little as possible to save money and keep the overall budget down, if they want a blockbuster name to appear, then they may have to pay tens of millions of dollars to ensure they get exactly who they want. While this might seem ludicrous, the actor’s ability, popularity and ability to get people to go see the movie may be enough to justify a large salary. In some cases though, actors who receive a large fee for their services cannot justify the cost. Various factors can come into play as to whether an actor is overpaid. They might put on poor performances, or their films might flop. In some cases, they will simply be paid huge amounts of money for obscenely little amounts of work. This article will examine all of those factors and find the most overpaid actors of all time.
10. Adam Sandler
Adam Sandler has remained one of Hollywood’s top earners, despite the fact that he rarely appears in anything other than comedies. Although he can’t command huge salaries in the region of tens of millions of dollars like other high profile movie stars, he earns huge pay days through taking a percentage of his film’s box office, even if they do not go on to be successes. However, the vast majority of his efforts have been critically panned and many of them like, Jack and Jill, Little Nicky and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, have been box office flops. Estimates from the likes of Forbes suggest that Sandler may only return around $3 – $4 for every $1 paid to him.
His high wages, along with the fact that Sandler’s own production company ‘Happy Madison’ is responsible for most of his movies, has given the actor an estimated net worth of $300 million. A lot of money for someone who has never really had a blockbuster hit.
9. Ben Stiller
Some of Ben Stiller’s most profitable films have been ones in which his salary was relatively low, such as the $3 million salary for Zoolander. His humor and likeability have meant that he has appeared in various comedies that have been hits, including Meet The Parents, There’s Something About Mary and DodgeBall. Meanwhile, recent big money releases involving Ben Stiller have also underperformed. Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb was the least successful entry in the series so far and yet, Stiller received a fee bigger than from any other films in the franchise and the disappointing Little Fockers, which saw the actor paid $20 million. He has also taken starring roles in box office failures and flops such as Tower Heist and The Watch, both movies in which he was paid more than $15 million.
8. Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp has emerged as one of the most popular and successful actors in recent times, largely thanks to his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Those films were incredibly well received and their box office returns justified the large salary of Depp. But not all of his movies have been as successful, yet the actor has been paid very well. For example, for taking on the lead role in The Rum Factory, Depp was paid in the region of $15 million for a film that only grossed $24 million. In another instance of the actor being vastly overpaid, he was given a salary of roughly $50 million for Alice in Wonderland, almost a third of the budget of the entire film. The actor also received large fees for films such as The Lone Ranger and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, both of which under-performed with The Lone Ranger losing around $150 million.
7. Charlie Sheen
By the time of his very public removal from Two and a Half Men, Sheen was demanding a 50% wage rise and claiming that he was underpaid. A wild claim considering he was earning $1.8 million per episode and was the highest paid TV star at the time. He is also set to receive a large windfall from the syndication of Anger Management, a show in which he took an initial pay cut in order to receive back-end profits. This means that the controversial star could be in line for more than $100 million for a show that was panned by critics.
It is not just his TV work though, where Sheen is perhaps given more money than he truly deserves. His salary for roles in the Scary Movie series was reported to be in the millions, compared with the relative low pay of the other actors taking part in the films that were critically unsuccessful. For Scary Movie 5, the 49-year-old was paid $250,000 for just one day of work.
6. Sean Connery
Sean Connery has a history of getting huge paychecks for taking on movie roles. Most spectacular was the record-breaking $1.2 million he was given for returning as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever, along with a 12.5% of the profits, an unheard of salary at the time. He was also paid an unbelievable $250,000 (now worth $400,000 when adjusted for inflation) for just two days of shooting in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, although he did donate both sets of salary to charity.
It’s not just movies that Connery has done to have grossly overvalued his work, filmmakers have also offered him big money roles in films that he turned down. He was asked to take on the role of Morpheus in The Matrix for a significant amount of money and missed out on an estimated $450 million, as the Lord of the Rings producers offered him 15% of profits to play Gandalf.
5. Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford has starred in some of the biggest films of all time and has received critical acclaim for roles in Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Fugitive and Blade Runner, along with the Jack Ryan series. However, he has also had a large number of extremely high paying jobs in movies that have flopped or were less successful with critics and audiences. This includes Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, where Ford earned almost $90 million in basic salary and because of being awarded a percentage of the films gross. Other roles where the veteran actor was overpaid include the $15 million he was paid for Firewall, the almost $10 million for Cowboys & Aliens and the frankly absurd $25 million for K-19: The Widowmaker. A film in which Ford only worked on for 20 days.
4. Julia Roberts
Julia Roberts is without a doubt, one of the most successful female actors of all time, having appeared in numerous films that have gone on to be huge box office successes. However, her popularity and star quality mean that she can also command huge salaries for working on projects that can seem extreme. This includes in some cases, her pay taking up between a quarter and a third of an entire budget, such as the $15 million for Duplicity, the $10 million for Eat, Pray, Love, $20 million for The Mexican and $20 million for Erin Brockovich.
Perhaps the biggest example of just how much filmmakers are prepared to pay to ensure that Roberts will appear in their film, came with the 2010 movie Valentine’s Day, in which the actress was paid $3 million for a brief cameo. Altogether the Pretty Woman star was only on screen for six minutes, resulting in her salary being close to $500,000 per minute of screen time.
3. Will Smith
Will Smith is often regarded to be the last of the mega-actors capable of carrying blockbusters singlehandedly. Following a string of movies that were both commercial and critical successes, such as Bad Boys, Independence Day and Men in Black, Smith was able to command huge salaries to work on films. In fact, such is his draw to producers that his salary has been at least $20 million for both the Men in Black sequels, Hancock, The Pursuit of Happyness, Bad Boys 2 and Ali, as well as $14 million for Enemy of the State and $10 million for The Legend of Bagger Vance. While some of these releases have been big money hits, it is also the case that the majority of them struggled to break even. Even his biggest hit in recent times, I Am Legend, which grossed more than $800 million, saw the actor receive a salary of $28 million.
2. Marlon Brando
Despite being one of the most famous actors of all time, and considered a great in the industry, it is difficult to argue that Brando was not overpaid. His role in The Fugitive Kind, saw him receive a salary of $1 million, the biggest ever pay for a single film, along with just over $16 million for the commercial failure that was The Missouri Breaks and almost $9 million for appearing in just five scenes in Apocalypse Now. Another classic film in which Brando appeared in, also resulted in the late actor walking away with a ridiculous salary. For working on Superman in 1978, for a total of 12 days and appearing for an incredibly short amount of time, Brando received $19 million thanks to a large salary and a then-unique percentage of the profits. When adjusted for inflation, Brando’s salary for Superman would be almost $50 million today.
1. Tom Cruise
Since Days of Thunder in 1990, Tom Cruise has been able to command a huge fee to take the starring role in a film. This has involved salaries of $14 million for Far and Away, $12 million for A Few Good Men, $15 million for Interview with Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles and $20 million for Eyes Wide Shut. These types of fees are now commonplace for Cruise, who is regularly paid around $20 million to appear in a movie, regardless of how successful it turns out to be. While some of these salaries can be justified, it is hard to justify the $100 million he earned for appearing in War of the Worlds. The largest paydays for Cruise though, have come from the Mission Impossible franchise that has seen him earn a staggering more than $250 million, thanks to his share of the gross profits from the movies, which have all been large commercial successes.