Getting a big break in Hollywood is no small feat. In many cases, you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time, shake hands with the right people and be prepared to be a star at all times. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the roles these actors earn will make them sought-after celebrities for years to come.
To be fair, the paychecks that most actors get for starring in bad movies is more than some people earn after they’ve worked for months. So, the idea of people in Hollywood making “chump change” is enough to make the average person roll his/her eyes. However, when you’re trying to be a big star, it’s important to know what you’re worth. It’s also important to know when you’re not being paid fairly, and to have a plan for coming up with a way to truly earn what you’re worth.
Some of the roles that made your favorite actors famous actually didn’t even pay that much. Although in hindsight, most of these celebrities probably don’t mind their humble beginnings, especially if these movies led them to the A-list. Here are 12 well-known Hollywood roles that actually didn’t pay much.
12 Chris Evans (The Avengers)
Chris Evans was paid $2 million for his starring role in The Avengers, as Captain America. Sure, that’s a pretty significant sum of money, but when you’re the star in a multi-million dollar movie franchise, $2 million is chump change. It’s also pretty insulting that Evans got such a meager salary for his work when his co-star Robert Downey, Jr., got $50 million for being in The Avengers. There’s no way around it—that’s completely unfair. Maybe once Chris Evans has been in the business for a few years, makes some huge mistakes in life and then makes a Hollywood comeback, he’ll get paid more for his roles.
11 George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck)
Superstar George Clooney “only” got $120,000 for his role in the movie Good Night, and Good Luck. Of course, for Clooney, the movie was a passion project, and the salary he accepted for the film was way below his usual rate. Clooney also directed, co-wrote and starred in the movie, so it’s safe to assume that he was paid pretty handsomely, when you really think about it. After all, Good Night, and Good Luck got six Academy Award nominations. The ER alum has also gone on to star in movies such as Up in the Air and The Descendants, and also produced the movie adaptation of the play August: Osage County.
10 James Howson (Wuthering Heights)
Newcomer James Howson, is best known for his role as Heathcliff in the Andrea Arnold movie Wuthering Heights. Howson earned the role after producers searched far and wide for the right actor to fulfill the part. James Howson starred in the movie opposite Kaya Scodelario, who is famous for her work on Skins. Reportedly, Howson was only paid $13,036 for the role. Perhaps the reason Howson hasn’t been getting more work in Hollywood is because he was giving conditional discharge for racially harassing his girlfriend and daughter (his girlfriend is the child’s mother). He reportedly made threats against the mother and child after he was denied admittance into the maternity ward when the baby was born.
9 Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Somali actor Barkhad Abdi, made his impressive acting debut when he appeared alongside veteran actor Tom Hanks in the movie Captain Philips. The movie was nominated for an Oscar, but The New Yorker reports that Abdi had to live off a per diem from Sony Pictures while he was promoting the project. Sure, the studio put him up at the Beverly Hills Hotel, but he still should have been making way more than a per diem for such a successful movie. Captain Philips, which was directed by Paul Greengrass, definitely brought about a huge payday for Tom Hanks, though. Hanks took home $50 million for his lead role in the movie.
8 Lindsay Lohan (The Canyons)
In recent years, Lindsay Lohan hasn’t been all that reliable when it comes to showing up to work on time. That probably had a lot to do with why she only got paid $100 a day to film the movie The Canyons, according to The New York Times. Since the movie didn’t do very well in the box office, the members of the production team were likely wiping their brows in relief after making Lohan’s salary decision. Since the movie only took 23 days to film, it looks like Lindsay really didn’t get much money at all. However, it was also reported that Lohan got “an equal share of the profits, but no vote in decision-making.” So, maybe she got a bigger payout after all.
7 Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Unlike Leonardo DiCaprio, who made it very plain that he wanted more money for his work on The Wolf of Wall Street, Jonah Hill was willing to settle for $60,000 for starring in the movie, which is the legal SAG minimum. According to Hill, he took the role because it was something he really cared about, and he didn’t want to pass up the chance to work with director Martin Scorsese. He even stated during an interview on The Howard Stern Show that he’d do it all again if he was given the opportunity, and that when he was offered the role, he wanted to sign the papers right away before the producers changed their minds.
6 Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy)
Jon Voight made his Hollywood debut in the movie Midnight Cowboy, which basically launched his career. He received the legal minimum for his work at the time the movie was produced, in 1969. Not only was he paid as little as possible, but he was even sent a bill for the coffee he drank while on set. Fortunately, this career choice earned Voight his first Oscar nomination. He even told the Associated Press that accepting the role was one of the best decisions he’d made for his career. Looks like this risk-taking attitude was passed down to Voight’s daughter Angelina Jolie, who is a pretty talented actress when she’s not busy changing the world or being caught in love triangles.
5 Ethan Hawke (The Purge)
Ethan Hawke agreed not to be paid upfront for his role in the movie The Purge. However, the actor did take home a percentage of the profits after the movie was released, but the exact amount was not disclosed. Hawke talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the movie, saying that “there were no perks. No trailer, no driver, no BS, just a great role, a great director". The actor even stated that he slept on the director’s couch for the entire shoot, just to make sure no money was wasted. The fact that Hawke didn’t reveal just how much money he made for The Purge indicates that either the payoff was great, or it wasn’t enough to speak of.
4 Jim Carrey (Yes Man)
Comedian and actor Jim Carrey got $0 upfront for his role in Yes Man. However, he did take home 36.2 percent of the profits from the movie, which is a pretty hefty salary. Yes Man earned $223 million at the box office, which means Carrey’s risky career move definitely paid off. Jim Carrey is also known for other comedic movies with a moral twist, like Liar, Liar, as well as the Dumb and Dumber movie franchise. Recently, he gave the commencement speech for Maharishi University School of Management, encouraging graduates to go after their dreams and avoid playing it safe. Looks like he can actually put his money where his mouth is.
3 Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson)
It seems that Ryan Gosling is just as popular for the memes that have been created as an ode to his dreaminess, as he is for actually starring in movies. The actor and former Mickey Mouse club member has had a pretty successful acting career, and is perhaps best known for his starring role opposite Rachel McAdams in the romantic drama, The Notebook. Gosling also agreed to be paid only $1,000 a week to star in the movie Half Nelson. The film was about a teacher in the inner city who is struggling with addiction, and was released in 2006. Apparently, Ryan thought telling the story was worth it, which probably made him even dreamier to his fans.
2 Bill Murray (Rushmore)
Bill Murray is known for being eccentric, and he’s been known to make allusions to the fact that money really isn’t all that important to him. When Murray starred in Rushmore, he only got $9,000 for the project, even though he’s a huge star for movies like Caddyshack. Wes Anderson directed Rushmore, and he was probably astonished that a big star like Bill Murray was willing to be paid the SAG minimum for the movie. It’s pretty clear that the Saturday Night Live alum is just passionate about his craft. After all, he got kicked out of medical school for marijuana possession, so acting seemed like a logical choice.
1 Brad Pitt (Thelma & Louise)
It’s hard to believe that one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood once accepted $6,000 for a role. Brad Pitt’s breakout role was in Thelma & Louise, in which he starred with Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in 1991. The Golden Globe and SAG Award winner has gone on to play in notable movies like Troy, Fury and Seven. When he’s not starring in great movies, Brad Pitt is busy raising his brood of adopted and biological children with wife and fellow actress Angelina Jolie, and helping to restore the economy and livelihood of the city of New Orleans.