It’s a simple fact that our favorite stars have a quality about them, an unfathomable charisma, that makes us want to go and see them time and again at the movie theater. There’s a reason why the films of talented actors like Gary Oldman and watchable leading men like Matt Damon have grossed $2.813 billion and $2.710 billion, respectively. What do these two men have over fellow thespians such as Thomas Jane (The Punisher) and Lukas Haas (Mars Attacks!), who languish well down the list on $208.4 million and $259.6 million, respectively?
Whatever this unnamable star quality is, this ability to put bottoms on seats at the movies also seems to have a gender factor. The top 10 biggest box-office grossing names are all male; the current closest female is actually in 13th place overall (although another Shrek sequel would surely help her break the top 10). Older women, especially, seem to be marginalized in movies – so don’t expect to see the 64-year-old Meryl Streep among the top 10 females, even though she’s one of the most lauded – and widely regarded as one of the finest – actresses ever. Surprisingly, there is another actress of the same age who manages to break the top 5 top-grossing females, perhaps by playing roles that avoid typecasting issues.
For the sake of equality, this list is actually divided into two sets of 5, with the top 5 actresses followed by the top 5 actors. This means actors like Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis, Robin Williams, Johnny Depp and Robert Downey, Jr have chivalrously made way for their counterparts of the fairer sex.
The figures are astounding; to break the top 5 list for actresses the performer would need to have appeared in films grossing a total over $2 billion, whilst the top 5 bar for actors is over $3.5 billion. Somehow, men just seem to be This list has been organized by US domestic gross only and cameos or ‘bit’ parts are not included in the final total (otherwise Stan Lee would probably be top for all his cameos in films based on Marvel characters). With that in mind, we’ll begin with the top 5 highest grossing ladies at the box office. These figures are brought to you courtesy of Box Office Mojo.
5. Sigourney Weaver: $2.176 billion
Beating out familiar names such as Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett is Ripley herself, Sigourney Weaver. Films such as Alien and its sequels, as well as Ghostbusters and The Village have performed very well at the box office, enabling this popular 64-year-old actress to avoid the marginalization of age from which many of her peers suffer. However, it was a certain hit film containing lanky blue aliens that catapulted Weaver over many other stars, with Avatar grossing over $760 million alone in the domestic market. Weaver’s worldwide box office gross total tops $5 billion.
4. Helena Bonham Carter: $2.538 billion
The 47-year-old English actress has won numerous awards for her acting prowess, and she has received two Oscar nominations and seven Golden Globe nominations for her work. Being Tim Burton’s better half has done her no harm, as her husband’s films such as Alice in Wonderland, Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have all been big hits. But it was appearing as the wicked Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter films that has helped Bonham Carter reach this position. Her worldwide total is over $7.2 billion.
3. Emma Watson: $2.580 billion
Another actress who can thank the Harry Potter franchise for her box office success is the 23-year-old Emma Watson. Having a starring role in each of the eight magical films puts her ahead of Bonham Carter, who only heavily featured in three (her bit part in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is not included). Watson appeared in the comedy This Is the End (as herself) which made over $100 million in domestic box office gross. She has a worldwide total of over $8 billion.
2. Julia Roberts: $2.641 billion
Julia Roberts is currently in 19th position overall for top box office performers (at the time of writing). The accomplished 46-year-old is still a big name draw and has enjoyed massive hits with films like Ocean’s Eleven, Pretty Woman and the impressive Erin Brockovich. Her biggest domestic hit was Ocean’s Eleven but the worldwide audience preferred her in the seminal romance Pretty Woman. Roberts has been in films that have grossed a very respectable worldwide figure of $5.3 billion.
1. Cameron Diaz: $2.823 billion
Just edging out of the all-male top 10 biggest box office grossers is 41-year-old Cameron Diaz. Diaz has starred in many hits like the Shrek series, The Mask, Charlie’s Angels and There’s Something about Mary to name a few. Diaz enjoys broad appeal as an actress who performs just as well with comedy as she does with drama. She can command salaries of over $15 million, enjoys point-deals on total box office gross and is proof that cinema audiences aren’t just full of young males who want to watch other young males they can dream of emulating. Diaz’s films have brought in over $6.5 billion worldwide.
5. Samuel L. Jackson: $3.735 billion
In all fairness, the ubiquitous Jackson does appear in a lot of films. Although he pushes Tom Cruise back into sixth place, Jackson has been in almost twice as many films. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Jackson is a class act and eminently watchable in just about every project in which he appears. The 65-year-old was one of the best things about the Star Wars prequels, as Mace Windu, and he has been doing very well lately thanks to his portrayal of superhero wrangler Nick Fury. Jackson’s movies have made over $7.5 billion worldwide.
4. Eddie Murphy: $3.810 billion
Arguably the most surprising name in the actors’ top 5 is that of Eddie Murphy’s. There is no denying the comedian was one of the biggest stars in the world in the 1980s but massive flops like The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Meet Dave and Holy Man tarnished his star power. Fortunately, a role as an asinine donkey in the Shrek films has rocketed the actor into fourth position. A worldwide gross of $6.6 billion shows that studios can still bank on the 52-year-old’s enduring appeal.
3. Harrison Ford: $3.852 billion
As Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Rick Deckard, Ford was easily one of the most popular actors of the 1980s. His name on a project almost guaranteed a great return, although he did face some cinematic hiccups such as Frantic and The Mosquito Coast. Ford enjoyed universal appeal and has continued to enjoy success even at the age of 71, thanks to films like Cowboys & Aliens and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. $6.29 billion has been spent on tickets worldwide by people wanting to see Ford in action.
2. Morgan Freeman: $3.984 billion
It has become a movie cliché, but it is widely accepted that having Morgan Freeman in your picture will add gravitas and quality. With his instantly recognizable profound tones, friendly features and ability to play both moral and immoral characters, Freeman has proved that his 76 years are not a hindrance when it comes to filmmaking. His role as Lucius Fox in the recent Batman films has boosted his box office worth considerably, whilst films such as Wanted and The Sum of All Fears have performed successfully. Freeman’s class translates worldwide, demonstrated by a global gross of $7.8 billion.
1. Tom Hanks: $4.263 billion
It is too easy to hurl superlatives at this 57-year-old actor. Hanks has churned out hit after hit whilst portraying memorable characters such as Professor Robert Langdon, Forrest Gump, Captain Richard Phillips and, of course, Woody the cowboy. Hanks is the atypical “everyman” actor, even willing to shed off the good guy skin to play a thief in The Ladykillers and a hitman in Road to Perdition. He clearly picks good scripts and talented directors to work with, and this combination of talent and wise choices means he has the highest average box office gross of the top 10 box office giants. Although this list is very volatile and can change swiftly as stars enjoy massive hits and endure monstrous flops, it is unlikely Hanks will fall too far. A worldwide gross of over $8.4 billion, without appearing in a single Harry Potter film, is testament to the actor’s popularity and chameleon-like ability to successfully adapt any role with which he challenges himself.
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