From the outside, the movie industry might well appear to be a place filled with riches and wealth. Successful actors can be lucky enough to be paid millions of dollars for their work in films, and be able to demand huge salaries to appear in the latest blockbusters. Keep in mind that this is not always the case, though. Some actors will occasionally be paid a pittance compared to the type of fees they would usually be expected to receive. This can happen for a variety of reasons. They may be first-time actors and therefore, not able to negotiate such an amount, or a film may be an independent project without a large budget and in some cases, an actor is simply willing to work at a cut-price in order to take part in a movie they really believe in. This article will look at actors who earned incredibly small amounts for films that went on to be critical or commercial successes.
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10 Chris Evans – The Avengers
The Avengers is one of largest movies ever made. It had a staggering budget of $220 million and went on to become one of the most popular films of all times, after it took in more than $1.5 billion at the box office, breaking numerous records in the process. Being such a high-profile movie, you would expect that all of the stars would have received impressive salaries for their work. It would not be uncommon for such a high budget film to have paid its star actors tens of millions of dollars, but in the case of Chris Evans, who played Captain America, he only earned $2 million. While still a large sum, it pales in comparison to some of the other actors who worked on the film such as Robert Downey Jr., who is estimated to have been somewhere in the region of $50 million.
9 George Clooney – Good Night, and Good Luck
As one of the hottest movie stars currently in the film industry, George Clooney can generally demand fees in excess of tens of millions of dollars in order to take on movie roles. He has appeared in blockbusters such as Batman & Robin, Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven and Syriana, as well as taking on directing duties in films such as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. For the political thriller Good Night, and Good Luck, though, Clooney forwent a large salary and accepted just $120,000 in order to direct, co-write and star in it as he was so enthusiastic about the project. His hard work meant that the film was nominated for a number of prestigious awards, including six Academy Awards.
8 Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
The Wolf of Wall Street was one of the most successful films of 2013. It received critical acclaim from the press and garnered box office returns of $392 million, four times the budget used to make the movie. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film saw Leonardo DiCaprio take on the starring role with Jonah Hill in a supporting position. The Superbad actor was only paid $60,000 to act in the movie, a figure that is minuscule compared to the salary of DiCaprio, who earned a reported $10 million to appear. It wasn't even the case that Hill had a small part to play. He had one of the biggest roles out of the entire cast and even earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for his performance.
7 Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew McConaughey has been starring in movies since 1993, when he had his first role in Dazed and Confused. He then had a variety of positions in other movies until the early 2000s, when the 45-year-old began to star in romantic comedies such as The Wedding Planner and How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days. When he decided to move away from those types of roles, for which he was regularly paid in excess of $1 million, McConaughey had to take a pretty big pay cut. This allowed him to get involved in films that he would usually not be considered for, with the biggest example being Dallas Buyers Club. The critically acclaimed film was nominated for numerous awards and the actor even won himself an Oscar for Best Actor, but was only reportedly paid $200,000 out of a modest budget of $5 million.
6 Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Starring Tom Hanks as the title role, Captain Phillips was one of the must-see films of the last year. It told the story of a captain who was held captive by Somalian pirates but chose to cast unknowns in the roles of the pirates. The most prominent throughout the movie was Barkhad Abdi’s character, with his performance being widely praised and seen as a major part of the film’s success. Abdi though received a minuscule fee in Hollywood terms for the job, earning little more than the mandated $60,000 for a feature film. Captain Phillips went on to be one of the biggest movies of 2013, with box office taking of more than $200 million. It also won critical acclaim and was nominated for numerous awards, including Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Academy Awards. Barkhad Abdi himself won the prestigious BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
5 Jon Voight – Midnight Cowboy
Although Jon Voight had appeared in a number of films before Midnight Cowboy, he was sure that the opportunity to star alongside Dustin Hoffman in such a well-written movie, would make his career and ensure that he would be able to make it big in Hollywood. Understanding the importance of getting the role, Voight agreed to work for almost nothing. He earned the minimum wage for appearing in a feature film and the production crew would even charge the actor for any coffee he drank on set. Midnight Cowboy is regarded by many to be one of the greatest films ever made, having won numerous awards and had a significant impact on the movie industry as a whole. It was also a runaway financial hit, bringing in $44 million at the box office, despite a budget of just $3.2 million.
4 Oprah Winfrey – The Color Purple
60-year-old Oprah Winfrey is one of the best known celebrities in the world. With an estimated fortune of $3 billion and earnings of tens of millions of dollars every single year, she is also no stranger to big-money roles. Her first film though, came with a much more humbling paycheck. Starring alongside Danny Glover and Whoopi Goldberg in the film, which had a $15 million budget, Winfrey was paid just $35,000 for her work. The Color Purple went on to gross more than $140 million and was nominated for 11 Oscars, including one for Winfrey in the category of Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
3 Ethan Hawke – The Purge
Ethan Hawke, the 44-year-old actor who had played roles in films such as White Fang, A Midnight Clear and Before Sunrise had a starting position in the 2013 horror film, The Purge. His initial salary for the role was next to nothing. Hawke also went into detail about the lack of luxuries on set, stating that there were no trailers for actors and that for the majority of the shoot, he would sleep on the director's couch to save even more money. The Purge ended up being an unexpected hit, despite receiving a mixed reception from critics, grossing almost $90 million from a production budget of just $3 million.
2 Harrison Ford – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Many of the cast members of the original Star Wars were relative unknowns who had never really worked in the industry before, while others, such as Alec Guinness, were veterans. Just like his co-stars Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford had very little experience in working on feature films and so it is understandable that they would be paid little compared to the other established stars. For his role of portraying Han Solo, Ford was paid a reported $10,000, whereas Hamill is believed to have earned $650,000 for bringing Luke Skywalker to life.
1 Bill Murray – Rushmore
Bill Murray has never been a stranger to taking on low-budget roles, in addition to better paid high-profile jobs. He has had starring roles in comedy blockbusters such as Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day, but is also just as famous for appearing in independent films such as Broken Flowers. While the writer of the film wrote the character of Heston Blume specifically for Murray, they were unconvinced as to whether they would ever be able to get him to sign up or even afford him. However, after reading the script, the former SNL cast member was so impressed with the story that he agreed to work for scale, a figure that ended up being around $9,000. Rushmore eventually became a cult hit and received glowing reviews and is one of the most memorable roles Murray has ever played.
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