As movie-goers, we often expect that actors make millions of dollars per movie. After all, they’re able to afford the mansions and jets that they’re so often buying with their earnings. While there are definitely instances where an actor will make millions from a role–Tom Cruise earned $70 million for the first Mission: Impossible movie, for example–there are also instances where they take a drastic pay cut.
There are many reasons why an actor would make less money for a certain role. It could be that they wanted other people on the set to make better wages. Sometimes they take a pay cut for the chance to work on a small indie film with an even smaller budget. Whatever the case, some of the biggest actors in Hollywood have been paid a lot less than you would think for some of the movies they’ve made.
Sometimes, these low fees are just the up-front wage and the actor negotiates a percentage of the gross box office earnings. However, this can be dangerous as some movies turn out to be flops and actually lose money in the long run.
Read on for our list of 9 famous actors who were paid less than you’d think for their roles.
9. Matthew McConaughey – Less than $200,000 for Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
You’d think that when an actor does so well on a role that he wins an Oscar, he probably made a lot of money with that gig. That’s not the case with Matthew McConaughey and his award-winning role in the 2013 film Dallas Buyers Club. The film only had a $5 million dollar budget, so he couldn’t get the big paychecks he was used to from The Wedding Planner and Sahara. In the end, it’s said that he took home less than $200,000 in initial pay from the film. While he also likely got a small percentage of profits, that wouldn’t have been a smart movie if the film never took off the way it did.
8. Tom Cruise – $100,000 for Magnolia (1999)
Tom Cruise was at the height of his popularity in the late ’90s and early ’00s. He was making some big-name movies and earning the big bucks. For instance, he earned $70 million for Mission: Impossible in 1996, $20 million for Eyes Wide Shut in 1999 and $75 million for Mission: Impossible 2 in 2000. It may be surprising to hear that, during all of these high-paying roles, he agreed to only $100,000 for his major role in Magnolia, which came out in 1999. Why did he agree to such a low price? This was a relatively low-budget movie and it only spent $37 million total. Even knowing this, Tom was the one that approached the producers to be in the movie, and not the other way around.
7. Jonah Hill – $60,000 for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Jonah Hill‘s acting cred has really improved since he first came on the scene in the mid-2000’s. While he was originally relegated to comedic roles, like Superbad and Accepted, he entered the world of serious acting with Moneyball, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. You’d think that he’d be able to ask for–and get–the kind of money that all the big actors are getting for their roles. Not so with The Wolf of Wall Street. He took home only $60,000 compared to Leonardo DiCaprio‘s $10 million. Jonah told Howard Stern of the low pay, “I would sell my house and give him all my money to work for [Martin Scorsese]. I would have done anything in the world.”
6. Bill Murray – $9,000 for Rushmore (1998)
Despite having immense success as a comedic actor in the ’80s, Bill Murray saw his acting career hit a bit of a slump during the 1990s. However, there was one film that not only rejuvenated his career, but also showed his capacity for more dramatic roles: the 1998 Wes Anderson dramedy Rushmore. Bill went on to win a host of awards for his role in the film, including a an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor. Still, with all this acclaim, the film was still relatively low-budget, spending only $20 million on the production. Because of this, Bill decided to work for the SAG minimum and took home about $9,000 total for the gig.
5. Nicole Kidman – $7,000 for Margot at the Wedding (2007)
Sometimes, an actor takes a pay cut in order to work on a low-budget indie film with loads of potential. That’s the case with Nicole Kidman and her leading role in the 2007 film Margot at the Wedding. The film only had a $10 million budget. That may seem like a lot, but compared to other movies, it’s actually quite small. In the end, Nicole only took home $7,000 for the role. That’s very small compared to the $16 million she earned for The Invasion that same year. Still, that small paycheck didn’t help the movie. Margot at the Wedding still bombed at the box office, only making about $2.9 million worldwide.
4. Lindsay Lohan – $100 a Day for The Canyons (2013)
Usually, when an actor decides to take low pay, it’s because they’re very passionate about a low-budget project. While that’s definitely the case for The Canyons, which only had a $250,000 budget, it can also be said that Lindsay Lohan didn’t have much choice. By 2013, her acting career was stagnant. So, just like with all the other actors on the erotic thriller, she agreed to a $100 per day up front salary. In the end, she earned just over $6,000 for her role. Unfortunately, The Canyons was a box office bomb, earning only $265,670 worldwide.
3. Robert Downey Jr. – $100 a Day for Game 6 (2005)
At this point, it’s hard to think of Robert Downey Jr. (who has a net worth of $85 million) as anything but a big-budget commercial actor. However, his first blockbuster movie was only in 2008 with his amazing role in Iron Man. Before that, he was regularly taking lower-paying roles. One notable example is his role in Game 6, a sports drama from 2005. He, along with a few of the other main actors, agreed to work on the independent film for just $100 per day. Unfortunately, taking that kind of pay cut didn’t help the film become a financial success. While production cost $500,000, it only earned $129,664 at the box office.
2. Ethan Hawke – “Almost No Money” for The Purge (2013)
While Ethan Hawke was a relatively big name in the mid-’90s, his career has slowed down in the last few decades. But, in 2013, he got the opportunity to work on The Purge, a sci-fi horror thriller. What do you do when you want to act in a movie with only a $3 million budget? Apparently, in Ethan’s case, he took home “almost no money” up front for the role, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He even slept on a producer’s couch during the production. However, he did request an unspecified percentage of the box office take–which ended up being a good decision. The Purge earned $87 million at the worldwide box office despite lackluster reviews from critics.
1. George Clooney – $3 for Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
When an actor works on a project that they’re very passionate about, often money doesn’t seem all that important. That was the case with George Clooney and his role in Good Night, and Good Luck in 2005. Not only did he act in the movie, he also wrote and directed it. The film cost only $7.5 million to make and he had to mortgage his home to help pay those fees. So what did he pay himself for his role? He decided to take $1 each for his writing, directing and acting credits. You read that correctly: he was paid a total of $3 up front for Good Night, and Good Luck. Considering that he earned $20 million on Ocean’s Eleven, that’s quite a bit less than what he’s used to.