There is a long-standing tradition to rib on actors for being paid indecent amounts of money. What about doctors? Teachers? Police officers? Shouldn’t they be the ones making millions? Aside from being an incredibly reductive argument, it undermines the industry that promotes these high pays and the role we as an audience play in perpetuating it. To accept the reality as it is, high profile actors (who make up a minority of actors, most of whom are often out of work with very little financial stability) are working (in theory) on projects that stand to make millions or even billions of dollars.
When it comes to judging whether or not an actor has earned their pay, that should be near the top of the reasoning as to why they are being paid more than they’re worth. An actor that most of us may not like or enjoy, but who consistently earns their investors heaps of money, might actually be worth far more than your favourite childhood actor who can no longer break even. In the spirit of covering all our bases, we’re trying to cover both actors who fail to make money and those who don’t earn it by virtue of being terrible. Many of these actors are incredibly talented and more often than not, are able to deliver on their promise, but have been in a film or two that they’ve commanded far too much money for what the product was worth.
What actors do you think are earning way too much money?
15. Ryan Reynolds
While Ryan Reynolds is back in our good books thanks to Deadpool‘s massive success earlier this year, let’s not forget that for years, Reynolds was seemingly in one dud project after another. While going back to his early days seems unfair, as he was just starting out, you only have to go back a few years to see some truly disastrous cinematic experiences. Without question, the worst among them was the 2013 comic book adaptation R.I.P.D, where he starred alongside Jeff Bridges. A critical nightmare, the film also failed to make back very much money. On an estimated budget of $130,000,000, the film took in a worldwide gross of just $78,324,220 – barely making back half the money invested. Reynolds may be back in the good books, but he’s had far more flops than hits, keeping him on the list – though just at number 15.
14. Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. may be the most beloved actor working today, but we all gotta admit his presence in The Avengers at this point is pure tokenism. Due to a combination of age and narrative dead ends, his role as Tony Stark feels a bit useless. As one of the highest-paid actors in the world, as much as we love Iron Man, we’re not sure he’s still earning his rate. While we gotta give Robert Downey Jr. some credit, he truly does seem to be trying to pass the torch to a new generation, for now he’s occupying an uncomfortable middle period where he’s not quite earning the enormous money he’s commanding. We don’t really hold it against him, as we wouldn’t turn down that sweet, sweet Avengers money either. For the past three years in a row, Downey has been the #1 paid actor in the whole world, earning $80 million last year alone.
13. Mark Wahlberg
One of the biggest movie stars in the world, Mark Wahlberg has managed to have a career where he balances both comedic and dramatic roles, while still taking on the occasional indie project. We can’t say the same for the past few years though, where Wahlberg seems to have been out for a bunch of money grabs with little respect or attempt for quality. His involvement in Ted 2, Transformers and Daddy’s Home not only felt completely phoned in – they were all transparent cash plays. As one of the biggest earning stars in the business, who also earns money through music royalties and other investments (Wahlburgers, among others), it seems a bit of a shame that Wahlberg is using his fame to work on inferior projects for huge sums of cash. Wahlberg has abused some good faith of the audience, and we’re not sure that unless he turns his career choices around, he will continue to be able to draw in audiences just based on his name.
12. Jennifer Lopez
Thankfully Jennifer Lopez seems to have turned down the notch on her acting career since the early 2000s. While not known primarily as an actress, she has had a handful of truly great performances in films like Out of Sight and Selena. While she rarely does roles that aren’t voice acting for animated films these days, she still manages to command a pretty big pay for someone who is no longer in the prime of their career. How many people are really checking out Ice Age because J-Lo is doing the voice for Shira? Even her live action projects are still pretty trashy (The Boy Next Door was maybe one of the worst movies of the past five years), and who actually watched Lila & Eve? While The Boy Next Door ended up making quite a bit of money on its small budget, Lila & Eve had one of the worst returns of the year, making less than $40,000 in the opening weekend.
11. Cameron Diaz
In a near twenty year career, we’re not quite sure that Cameron Diaz ever really fulfilled the promise of her first few roles. Somehow in the early 2000s, she was crowned one of Hollywood’s elite, though we’re not quite sure why. Considering how few roles she’s actually done in the past few years with nothing on the horizon, maybe her career has taken a backseat. It’s been years since Cameron Diaz has delivered anything but a middling run of the mill performance. You have to go back all the way to 2002 (Gangs of New York) for the last time she attempted to do anything different. While it is possible that her net worth has somehow diminished since 2006, when she was named the 15th richest woman in entertainment (valued at a whopping $100 million), it seems unlikely, unless she’s especially bad at business. While she is one of those actors who seems intrinsically likable, we’re not sure she’s worth her big pay days.
10. Gerard Butler
Okay Gerard Butler, you were pretty damn cool in 300, but that was ten years ago; it’s time to prove that you’re more than a one trick pony. This Scottish actor, whose net worth is currently valued at $30 million, continues to headline films in spite of his lack of success in recent years. While his films rarely tank, they’re also not doing extraordinary business and his film choices have never been particularly good. By far his most successful films in the past 5 years have been How to Train Your Dragon, where he voices side character Stoic. Reportedly, he has commanded salaries upwards of one million dollars on his most recent films, including London has Fallen and Gods of Egypt – two incredibly lackluster projects. Next year he will star in Geostorm, a science fiction action thriller about global warming and a presidential assassination plot. Let’s see if Butler continues to disappoint, or if he gets his act together.
9. Gwyneth Paltrow
It’s been nearly twenty years since Gwyneth Paltrow won her Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, and we’re still a little shocked that even happened. While she has had some good roles over the years in films like Seven and The Talented Mr. Ripley, her career has amounted to a whole lot of nothing. Sure, she’s not bad as Pepper Potts – Tony Stark’s indispensable personal assistant – but she also doesn’t really sparkle, either. Let’s be real here, nobody is going to see the new Avengers movie because they really love Pepper. That being said, her film career earned her a whopping $9 million in 2015, making her the 12th highest paid actress in the world according to Forbes. This is on top of her billion dollar lifestyle brand, Goop.
8. Jim Carrey
Once considered the funniest man alive, Jim Carrey made a very successful transition to serious acting in films like The Truman Show, Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Ignoring for a moment that he’s also an anti-vaxxer, he is an incredibly talented actor who has proven himself as both a talented comedian and dramatic actor. You wouldn’t know it looking at his most recent roles, however, as movies like Dumb and Dumber To and Mr. Popper’s Penguins stand out as his most high-profile roles in the past 5 years. No stranger to big pay days, for the original Dumb and Dumber film, nearly half of the film’s $16 million budget ($7 million to be exact) went directly to Carrey. Currently valued at $150 million, Dumb and Dumber To was the actor’s first big hit in nearly a decade – but we can’t say it was a classic performance for the ages. While it’s nice to see an actor we grew up with finding success again, the real test will be if he can carry on that success to an original franchise and maybe offer his fans something new.
7. Jared Leto
Recently appearing in Suicide Squad as the Joker, much of the film’s pre-hype was devoted to how “crazy” and “unhinged” Jared Leto‘s performance was. Sending used condoms and live rats to his co-stars, it seemed as though no one was more tired of Leto being Leto, than those who had to work with him. Finally seeing the movie, we can’t help thinking: that’s it? While Leto himself claims much of his performance landed on the cutting room floor, his performance as the Joker is outshined by nearly every other iteration of the role in our lifetime, representing what now seems par for course for the actor: big expectation and big disappointed. Touted as one of the brightest stars of Hollywood, Leto has any work to really prove that to be true, unless you subscribe to the “bigger is better mentality” of his particular brand of superficial method acting. He apparently received just under $7 million for the role of the Joker – far too much as far as we’re concerned.
6. Will Ferrell
It really pains us to include Will Ferrell on this list, because we really do love him, but he has been consistently disappointing for a few years now. Even when he does have a rare success these days, like with Get Hard, the film itself doesn’t quite live up to expectations and we might even be more inclined to think the film’s box office results are more due to Kevin Hart than Will. His last really good role amounted to a featured cameo, in the oh-so-excellent Lego Movie – what happened to the days of Step Brothers and The Other Guys? Currently valued at $80 million, Will Ferrell is basically living on the goodwill of his earlier roles at this point. He still has a pretty loyal audience, because he’s the funny guy we grew up with, but how much longer will we be able to put up with one awful role after the next? Here’s to hoping that he’s able to turn things around sooner rather than later.
5. Katherine Heigl
One of the actors on the list who has never been consistently good, it’s remarkable that Katherine Heigl still gets work. Her ego exploded due to the back to back success of Grey’s Anatomy and Knocked Up, though she has since devoted her career to starring in second rate romantic comedies that are offensive to the women they’re made for. Apparently able to command as much as $12 million a role, Heigl has not demonstrated any particular talent or nuance, though perhaps that would be asking far too much within the scope of the second rate roles she consistently takes on. While her career does seem to be slowing down, it seems even those fans who were willing to put up with her have been disappointed one time too many. Her 2012 film, One for the Money, earned her a shocking $15 million – the film never even recouped its budget costs. Maybe that big failure is why we’re seeing a whole lot less of Heigl.
4. Will Smith
Will Smith might be the biggest movie star in the whole world, but has anyone stopped to ask why? Sure he’s loveable, able to balance action, comedy and dramatic moments (okay he’s super talented), but at the end of the day, he’s had far more misses than hits – especially in the past few years. One of the biggest frustrations with Smith’s career is his complete unwillingness to take risks, even demanding to not wear the iconic Deadshot mask for most of the Suicide Squad running time. Worth an astonishing $240 million, Smith has been raking in big bucks for mediocre films for nearly a decade. While we didn’t dislike Men in Black 3, we can’t say that Smith earned the reported $20 million he was apparently paid to reprise the role. Same can be said for the complete dud from 2008, Hancock, where Smith also received $20 million. While we don’t bemoan anyone who can negotiate that amount of cash on a consistent basis, we have to wonder why producers are offering him that much when he’s such a safe choice.
3. Ashton Kutcher
Luckily for Ashton Kutcher, he’s been expanding his earnings through some pretty good investments far outside the film industry. A serviceable, but still somehow inadequate, replacement to Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men – Kutcher has some comedic talent, but not since Dude, Where’s My Car? has he really lived up to his full potential. To think he was earning $750,000 per episode of Two and a Half Men is outrageous when all he was doing was looking good and mope. His take on Steve Jobs in the box office failure, Jobs was similarly disappointing. Kutcher consistently commands far more money than he’s worth, as most of his fame doesn’t lie on what he does on camera but off. He fails to disappear into the roles, playing a sort of scripted version of himself – and not particularly convincingly.
2. Adam Sandler
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Adam Sandler is consistently being overpaid, since he acts as producer on most of his films, and as a result is consistently paying himself. While he occasionally has a big hit, his films as of late have been summarily disappointing at the box office. For two years running, he was named the most overpaid actor by Forbes magazine – meaning his salary far eclipsed any returns. This wouldn’t even be so awful, if he didn’t so obviously underfund most of the rest of the productions he’s on. Taking Jack and Jill as a prime example, with its far inflated $79 million budget, Sandler walked away with 20 million dollars. The film was not only horrifically unfunny but incredibly cheap. While it featured Sandler in a dual role as both title characters, it seemed as though as little effort as possible was put into achieving the effect that was used as early as the 1930s in Hollywood cinema – as he consistently preferred putting both characters in different shots, cutting down costs. The basketball game featured heavily in the title was similarly so poorly done, that there was not a moment that you felt as though you were in a real stadium. Sandler being overpaid almost feels criminal in these contexts, as he makes a grab for money, shortchanging his film, and his audience. According to Variety, the only reason Sandler didn’t top the most overpaid actor for a third year running by Forbes, was due to his deal with Netflix.
1. Johnny Depp
In spite of having some good roles over the course of his career, we’re not really surprised that Sandler has chosen money over art. He never seemed that invested in his craft, and while he seems like a really fun guy, we never considered him a great artist. Johnny Depp, on the other hand, is a very different story. Depp established himself as one of the best actors of his generation in the 1990s, with roles in films like Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Dead Man and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, he re-invented how we think of pirates, and seemed to indicate that Depp could bring his rare and transformative talents to mainstream success. Over the course of the past fifteen years though, Depp has slowly become a caricature of his previous success, and his box-office numbers reflect that in spite of the fact that he continued to make huge earnings. 2015 was maybe his worst year yet, with two big flops, Mortdecai and Transcendence – both of which were somehow much worse than you could even imagine. Even worse was his return average for the year; for every $1 Depp was paid in 2015, he earned just $1.20 back. Talk about a bad investment!
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