The movie business is the pinnacle of success in the entertainment business. There’s massive pay involved to the actors, you can bounce from project to project to fulfill creative desires and the fame is second to none. Everyone dreams of becoming the next blockbuster actor or actress when entering the Hollywood bubble and the professional goal tends to be to earn as much money as possible while you are at a peak. Most actors and actresses that are household names tend to make millions of dollars that we can’t relate to, but a paycheck is worth what you are offered.
Promising movies having high demand for star power and big names lead to the talent being able to hold more power. Everyone is making decent money but some make much more than their co-stars. We tend to look at movies and assume it’s an even playing field for all the notable names who likely raking in similar paychecks, but that’s not how it works out. The top star likely eats up the majority of the money allotted to the cast and it can make the rest of the actors and actresses have to take a smaller cut if they truly want to be in the project that may have a smaller budget.
The politics of acting can skew our perception of assuming all blockbuster stars are equal but that’s definitely not the case. The on-screen talent will take lesser pay at times to get a role they badly want or feel could help set them up for bigger pay and a higher demand in the future. That’s also the reason we often see many great talents take poor rom-com movie roles once in a while as a “cash grab” to make up for a smaller pay in prior films. We’re looking at some of the cases that featured one specific actor or actress making much more than their co-stars in films you may not have expected this to happen.
10 Leonardo DiCaprio > Jonah Hill - The Wolf of Wall Street
There’s no doubt Leonardo DiCaprio deserves to be in the conversation as Hollywood’s greatest actor of our generation and his pay dictates that. The problem is DiCaprio’s co-stars don’t always get the best paydays due to his large salary. Wolf of Wall Street was the best case of this with Leo earning an astounding $50 million while his co-star Jonah Hill agreed to SAG’s minimum wage for the job of around just $60,000. Hill was already a star following his comedy hits and respected work in the hit film Moneyball getting him an Oscar nomination. The deal of Hill was likely one that will see him make big money from the same studio in the future but DiCaprio definitely made the majority of money from the smash hit.
9 Jackie Chan > John Cusack and Adrien Brody - Dragon Blade
As Americans, we all admire Jackie Chan for his work in karate movies doing his own must-see stunts and showing a great sense of humor but he’s a far bigger international star than most realize. Chan is an absolute legend in China and it showed in 2015 with the film Dragon Blade raking in massive money internationally. Despite that being his only acting role in the calendar year, Chan was the second highest paid actor in the world earning $50 million. Co-stars John Cusack and Adrien Brody were nowhere to be found when looking at the highest paid names of the year despite working on the same film in large roles. Hopefully Chan finds a way to get some of the money made off the embarrassing Rush Hour television series imitating his hit movie.
8 David Duchovny > Gillian Anderson - The X-Files
The X-Files has been revered as one of the most under-appreciated television shows of the past twenty years. Fox’s hit series about alien life may have been wonderful on screen but behind the screens, the sexism frequently shown in the entertainment business hit the pay of the actors. David Duchovny was paid much more than his co-star Gillian Anderson during the first three seasons until she was finally able to get equal pay. It wasn’t too much to ask since the two were literally equals on the show with basically the same job. Anderson was once again offered an insulting figure for the revival show of half of Duchovny’s pay but refused until a better offer came around.
7 John Travolta > Joaquin Phoenix - Ladder 49
The acting careers of John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix are polar opposites given their reputations. Travolta is known for his hit films and star power while Phoenix tends to have more of an artistic side that is expressed in his roles. This was proven on a larger level when both co-starred in the Ladder 49 thriller film. Travolta made a mind boggling $20 million for the movie while the actual star of the film Phoenix earned just $850,000. As discussed, Phoenix has an artistic vision that he likely saw with this role but his agent must have had nightmares after seeing the difference in pay despite Travolta having a far smaller role.
6 Jim Carrey > Jeff Daniels - Dumb and Dumber
Dumb and Dumber is one of the more infamous comedies of the 90s with thousands of thirty-year-olds knowing every quote from the movie today but not many fans know about how drastic the pay disparity was between stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Carrey made a whopping $7 million for the film compared to just a measly $50,000 for Daniels, an extremely low figure for a leading role. The timing of Carrey’s smash hit Ace Ventura: Pet Detective allowed him to improve his contract but he was always scheduled to get paid much more than Daniels. Given their careers following the film, Daniels has to regret not holding out for a bigger pay.
5 Julia Roberts > Natalie Portman - Closer
Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman will go down as two of the most successful and talented actresses of all time. The two worked together in Closer but it left Portman wishing her pay was closer to Roberts' after looking at their salaries. The majority of fans and critics would agree Portman had the more impressive role in the movie but the pay didn’t showcase that. Roberts made $20 million which was twenty times more than Portman’s one million. Portman won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar so her work was at least recognized since the pay was drastically secondary to Roberts.
4 Mel Gibson > Danny Glover - Lethal Weapon 4
The Lethal Weapon franchise is one of the more celebrated with the perfect mix of action and comedy spanning through four entertaining films. Lethal Weapon 4 was the final film in the series and gave us the happy ending we wanted all the characters to get, along with the random appearances of Chris Rock and Jet Li. The stars were still Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as partners but Gibson made over $18 million more than Glover. Considering Glover is highly respected and Gibson is now known as a horrible bigot, this fact is even more depressing to think about. Gibson apparently had one of the better agents in Hollywood and Glover didn’t mind taking a pay cut for the love of the role.
3 Cameron Diaz > Drew Barrymore > Lucy Liu - Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
The Charlie’s Angels movie series made a great deal of money in the box office but the pay between the three angels was anything but even. Cameron Diaz reportedly raked in $20 million for Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, a figure much more than her two co-stars that were of equal roles of importance in the film. Drew Barrymore still took in an impressive $14 million with Lucy Liu getting the shaft at just $4 million. Obviously, that’s a great check and we’d all love to make that much in our lifetime but comparative to her peers, Liu was screwed and Barrymore even had a poor deal compared to Diaz taking home the most money.
2 Harrison Ford > Daisy Ridley and John Boyega - Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The pay regarding the actors of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the principle of paying respect to those that paved the way for us today. Star Wars veteran Harrison Ford was paid 50x more than his co-stars in the film made to bring new generations of fans into the juggernaut series. The 73-year-old earned about $20 million to reprise the role of Han Solo one more time which was definitely an ode to his star power and overall importance to the Star Wars legacy. John Boyega and Daisy Ridley were technically the stars of the film setting up the new faces of the franchise but they earned just $100,000 to $300,000 each. Considering how much they’ll make in the future from the upcoming Star Wars movies and the newfound fame, it’s a fair trade off.
1 Robert Downey Jr. > Everyone - The Avengers: Age of Ultron
The rise of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has led to Robert Downey Jr. becoming the highest paid actor in Hollywood and earning far more money than any of his Avengers teammates. Downey made $40 million for his work in Avengers: Age of Ultron and more than quadrupled the pay of most of the other stars. Scarlett Johannson raked in an outstanding $20 million for her role as Black Window but it was half of Downey’s pay. Everyone else earned $7 million or less for their work in the film. Marvel apparently wanted Robert Downey Jr. to live the character of Tony Stark in real life as he’s by far the wealthiest Avenger and the richest man in Hollywood these days.