When you dream of being an actor, we would hope that you’re in it for the craft. There are much easier and potentially far more lucrative ways to achieve fame and fortune than becoming a Hollywood movie star. Reality television, music and maybe some sound investments matched with a megalomaniac flair are probably some also not entirely trustworthy ways you can maybe achieve fame and fortunate.
Most actors who really hit it big want to act, within some capacity. However, we can’t blame them for sometimes wanting to cash in big for a role that they might not have any artistic interest in. While most of the actors on this list are talented to varying degrees, they all regularly or at least, notably take on roles that are clearly just for the pay. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but there comes a point that you are selling yourself and your audience short. Maybe twenty years ago we would have scrambled to see everything Robert De Niro was in. His name was synonymous with quality, and how someone has to work to convince us that any film he appears in is worth the illegal bandwidth stream. While it should go without saying that not every performance these actors have ever done was just for the pay, they have built up an unfortunate reputation. Who do you think we’re missing?
15. Jackie Chan
There should be no doubt that Jackie Chan did the Rush Hour films just for the pay. As much as we love him in the unlikely buddy cop film, starring alongside Chris Tucker, the truth is Jackie has been pretty brazen about his thoughts on the franchise. Chan not only has a long legacy of some of the best films in all Chinese cinema, he’s always willing to play along with the press junkets and put on a good show. That’s why we were surprised back in 2012 when he revealed how much contempt he had for the beloved Rush Hour franchise. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Chan told the journalist: “I have reasons to do each film, I have something to say. Unlike ‘Rush Hour’ – there was no reason [in making it], you just give me the money and I’m fine. I dislike ‘Rush Hour’ the most, but ironically it sold really well in the U.S. and Europe.” With Brett Ratner teasing last year that a Rush Hour 4 might be in the works, we can’t help thinking that Chan will only be on board if the money is right.
14. Jeremy Irons
Considered by some to be one of the best actors of his generation, Jeremy Irons has done a lot to weaken that reputation. While most beloved for roles in films like Dead Ringers, Die: Hard with a Vengeance and The Lion King (he’s the voice of Scar), he has been in a number of some of the worst and cheapest movies of the past decade. As great as Irons’ talent is, that’s basically how bad the 2000 Dungeons and Dragons is. Of course Irons starred in it and of course, he looked like he’d literally be anywhere else. Add into the mix other movies like Eragon, The Fourth Angel and The Pink Panther 2 – there is no way Irons wasn’t thinking about his bank account in choosing these roles. Even his recent appearance in Batman V. Superman left people scratching their heads, especially as Irons said on the press tour that the film “deserved bad reviews.” And asked why, if he had such contempt for the first film why he would be appearing in the second installment, he didn’t pull any punches and said, “I’m tied into the Batman (franchise) at the minute, which is nice because it’s a bit of income. Not that I need a bit of income, but it’s nice to keep ticking over.”
13. Charlie Sheen
The world watched as it seemed that Charlie Sheen burned his entire career down. Little did we know the extent of the damage but also how he could trade in “tiger blood” for more money than ever. While appearing in some great films like Platoon, it’s not that Charlie Sheen has ever seemed like a pillar of artistic integrity, and has taken on roles solely for the money. This is in spite of some early career interviews where he fears selling out and seems to literally bleed for his craft. More so than most people on this list, he seems to really only care about the pay at this point and has little to no interest in producing anything that resembles good art. For The Telegraph in the UK, film critic Jonathan Bernstein posits another argument: “Charlie Sheen was corrupted by his wealth and success. A bit of a philosophical take, perhaps, but he does make a pretty good argument. Money isn’t always a good thing, and unfortunately, being paid 1.8 million dollars an episode for Two and a Half Men to play a huge scumball maybe contributed to his demise”.
12. Sean Connery
First off, we love Sean Connery. We grew up with him starring in some of our favorite movies ever, from his run as Jame Bond to his take as Indiana Jones Sr. in The Last Crusade. That being said, until his recent retirement from acting entirely, Connery was often a bit more interested in the paycheck than his art. In the last decades of his career in particular with films like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and The Avengers (1998), Connery has all but admitted he has taken on some even beloved roles because they paid him enough, and has a storied reputation as someone who wants to be buried with his money. He has said that he will not give a penny to his only child after he dies, and similarly refuses to sign autographs for fans unless they pay him. Growing up in a very humble background, Connery knows very much what it’s like to be poor unfortunately, that fear seems to have caused him more anguish than happiness. Few people know he quit the James Bond franchise twice over money, and then only agreed to reprise the role for pitiful Never Say Never Again because the pay was good enough.
11. Harrison Ford
We are living in the second Golden Age of Harrison Ford. Thanks to his already iconic performance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he seems reborn. You have to remember that one of the biggest fears over the new Star Wars was Ford, who over the past decade, has not only done everything he could to distance himself from Star Wars but has basically phoned in every performance imaginable. It didn’t seem to matter if the material was good or not, Harrison Ford sleepwalked through dozens of films, including (and not limited to) The Expendables 3, Cowboys vs Aliens, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, and Morning Glory. While Ford seems to have warmed up to Han Solo after disowning it for so long, we have to believe that’s in part due to the monumental pay he was offered for the role. He was paid 50x more than any of his Star Wars co-stars, making us believe he held out for a really big pay day. Maybe though, Ford is worth it – The Force Awakens has made Ford the highest earning movie star of all time. Complain all you want about the money, he knows how to guarantee a good return.
10. Eddie Murphy
When we were kids, Eddie Murphy was maybe the funniest guy in the world. Thanks to Netflix, we have also been able to revisit Raw, and it turns out – we were way too young for that. With movies like Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America and Trading Places, it seemed that Murphy could do no wrong. Even when he would come out with a movie that wasn’t really on the same par as those classics, we forgave him because of the good will and effort he put into every project. And then suddenly, things took a turn for the worst. Sometime after The Nutty Professor hearing a movie starred Eddie Murphy was enough for you to make a mental note to never ever watch it. While you could have tried to argue that Murphy had just lost his touch and just wasn’t funny anymore he more or less admitted that no, he was doing it for the money: plain and simple. Murphy was going through some personal problems and had a lot of unforeseen costs due to his divorce, that resulted in him choosing movies for the pay rather than the art. However, last year for the Washington Post, he promised those days were behind him, saying: “The check movies are over for me”. Let’s hope he holds true to that promise.
9. Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis has established enough goodwill over the first Die Hard movie to make us forgive him for A Good Day to Die Hard, but it’s not enough to make us forgive him for Cop Out. Willis doesn’t seem like the most likable guy based on his interviews. Bitter, defensive and self-centered, he always seems like he’s going through the motions and like a sullen teenage girl forced to put on a pink dress, he is so over it. Willis has certainly picked up a number of roles that were just for the pay over the years, but none were as glaringly obvious and painful as his role in Cop Out. Say what you want about Kevin Smith, he did not deserve the misanthropic shade that Willis through in his direction. Brazenly only there for the money, he not only didn’t do his best work, but made Smith’s job nearly impossible as well. Smith has not kept quiet about his difficulty working with the Die Hard star, saying after the production: “I want to thank everyone who worked on the film, except for Bruce Willis, who is a f*cking dick.” It’s pretty clear that Willis was not making that money because he respected the script, the director or the process – it was an easy pay day.
8. Johnny Depp
Depp has a little more to worry about than being accused of being in it “for the money”, but we’re here to call Johnny out on what we have known for a while: he is in it for the pay, that’s it, that’s all. Once upon a time Johnny Depp was the most promising actor of his generation. In roles like Edward Scissorhands, Dead Man and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he became THE Indie star. Then Pirates of the Caribbean rolled on out, and he gave a performance like we’ve never seen in a Disney film: after that, he stopped doing Indie roles. After that, he stopped trying to act and just became a bizarre character. As one of the richest actors currently in the business, most of that fortune has been built in the past 15 years in sequels and Disney. Depp has claimed to be overpaid for the Pirates franchise, but is still pretty happy to take that money, saying: “Basically, if they’re going to pay me the stupid money right now, I’m going to take it, I have to. I mean, it’s not for me. Do you know what I mean? At this point, it’s for my kids. It’s ridiculous, yeah, yeah. But ultimately is it for me? No. No. It’s for the kids.”
7. Julia Roberts
In recent years Julia Roberts has faded significantly from the public eye so she can focus on raising her family. Roberts used to be the biggest star in the world, big enough to earn the title of America’s Sweetheart. Roberts has built a lot of goodwill in American film, and has endeared herself to millions. That doesn’t mean she’s above working for the money. Case in point: Mother’s Day. This 2016 release that is piggybacking on the success of other Holiday-themed films like Valentine’s Day and New Years Eve was universally panned as one of the worst films in recent memory. Writing for Variety, Andrew Barker said of the film: “Atrociously written, begrudgingly acted, haphazardly assembled and never more backward than when it thinks it’s being progressive.” Roberts, who barely appears in the film, was paid a whopping $3 million for her role in the film, roughly translated, she was paid $750,000 PER DAY. As the film went on to earn just $8.3 million in the opening weekend, her pay alone was half of the film’s opening gross. We have a hard time believing that Roberts was in it for the “craft”.
6. Ben Kingsley
Ben Kingsley, has worked long and hard to make us forget that he is an Oscar winner. While he still takes on smaller projects, he has taken on some blisteringly awful film choices in the past twenty years as well. Movies like The Love Guru, Thunderbirds and Robot Overlords (yes, that’s a real film, and yes, it’s as bad as it sounds). Worst of all, Kingsley worked on BloodRayne – a video game adaptation by Uwe Boll. While just an outright awful movie, the story behind Uwe Boll’s career is a little more money grabbing than it might seem on the surface. His movies are basically made purely for profit, and not the way you think: he has absolutely no obligation to produce a quality product or get returns. He is exploiting German Tax Law to basically make money out of nothing, and the actors he works with are doing the same. Ben, you know you can do better. If you have no doubt this is a huge scam only to make money, be sure to read this illuminating profile for The Escapist.
5. Nicolas Cage
Some people love to hate on Nicolas Cage. He has an incredible range as actor, from the highest highs to the lowest lows. In the space of a few seconds he can become quieter than a mouse, and suddenly louder than a steam train. Cage is both the best-worst actor, and the worst-best actor, maybe of all time. While an Oscar nominee who has appeared in some of the best films of the past 30 years, Nicolas Cage has worked just for the paycheck more often than not. An infamously big spender, it should be no surprise that this actor takes on roles that pay the bills – since he has far more than most people. Once worth $150 million, by 2011 Cage actually owed the IRS nearly $13 million! As a collector of bizarre relics (dinosaur bones), rare animals (albino cobras) and some islands, at least Cage is spending his money “wisely”. Knowing his passion for spending money, explains most of his career choices. There is no way that Cage was thinking about his “craft” when he took on roles in films like Left Behind, Bangkok Dangerous or The Wicker Man – he was figuring out how to pay his bills.
4. Marlon Brando
Considered by many to be the greatest actor to ever live, Marlon Brando was not above making movies for the pay. In particular in the last twenty years of his career, it’s hard to say he made any movies at all that were worth his talent. Corpulent, tired and dejected, he basically made a mockery out of everyone who dared cast him during this later period. Not only would he demand “stupid money”, to borrow words from his friend Johnny Depp, he would make a string of ridiculous demands that no normal human ever would. Knowing very well that people would literally kill to have them in their movie, Brando really abused the system. He abused his power, and he robbed filmmakers blind for having him wheeze his way through a performance. In a recent documentary, Listen to Me Marlon, built from Brando’s own recordings, he even went so far as to say: “There are no artists. We are businessmen. We’re merchants. There is no art. It’s all bull***t. Money, money, money. If you think it’s about something else, you’re gonna be bruised.” While this sounds more like the plea of a wounded artist as it does a real con artist, his later work really lives up to this statement.
3. Henry Cavill
While some have criticized Henry Cavill for declaring, “he’s not just doing it for the art,” at least he’s being honest. Unfortunately for us, Cavill is not a great actor to begin with and there might be dozens of more worthy performers who could have stepped into his shoes and done a better job. Cavill is bland at best and unlikeable at worst, so to hear he’s playing Superman for the money leaves a sour taste in our mouth. This isn’t just the case of him saying it once; speaking to Variety he went into great detail about how much he loves money, saying: “The money’s fantastic and that’s something which I deem — and again, it is frowned upon — very important.” Only to continue on and on about all the great things he loves to buy, and how it’s not selfish at all and that acting is okay too. Some people might appreciate that Cavill is “keeping it real”, but a little humility goes a long way.
2. Robert De Niro
It doesn’t seem so long ago that De Niro was starring in all-time classics like Heat and Goodfellas. But oh boy, that is about 20 films ago. De Niro appeared in five films last year alone, each worst than the last. He seems like an absolute shell of his former self, and while some critics have argued he’s just “evolving”, he seems to be sleepwalking through one embarrassing scenario after another. Reportedly, De Niro has had some money troubles, for one, he lost $88 million in art investments when he was conned by a middleman. An anonymous friend for The New York Post similarly added that De Niro has “a lot of overhead” and it doesn’t matter how rich you are, more is tempting, especially if the offers are coming in. De Niro is apparently a pretty dedicated family man and wants to guarantee his kids have money for their future. We guess that makes sense, we just wish for every movie like Dirty Grandpa he makes something half as good as his worst Scorsese collaboration. Since he’s still worth an estimated $150 million, we think he can afford to be a little picky.
1. Adam Sandler
Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Adam Sandler is making his movies for any other reason than the pay? More so than any other actor on this list, Sandler has been pretty fraudulent in the production of his films, often devoting nearly (or over) 50% of the budget to his own pay. Movies like Jack and Jill, which is not only godawful but cheaply made, has a reported budget of $79 million dollars. For acting, producing and writing Jack and Jill, Sandler’s paycheck was a solid $20 million! Over at Red Letter Media, they deconstruct exactly what corners are cut and how absolutely offensive this is for film fans who still dish out their hard earned money for Sandler. It’s maybe been a decade since Sandler has made a worthwhile film, and yet he continues to pay himself more and more, focusing less money and time on producing a good product. Sandler has also topped Forbes’ most overpaid actor more than once.
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