In the last year, Hollywood has woken up to how badly women have been treated. It’s not just behind the scenes with women put down by powerful men. It’s also in how far too often, they earn less than guys do for movies, even when they’re in the starring role. But the fact is, that’s no strange thing in Hollywood. Back in the old studio days, while actors could have sway, the producers had the power to cut down on demands and pay folks a bit more equally. The end of the studio system led actors taking over and making huge demands in pay, even for small roles. Many actors are able to carry not just tens of millions per film but also a pick of the percentage, meaning they can make a monster payday off some smaller roles. There’s also how some actors may actually know a movie is going to be bad but insist on doing it for the money.
It is remarkable to see just how many times an actor has earned a huge payday when they’re not the star. It’s not just supporting parts either, sometimes they can get millions for what amounts to a cameo part lasting just minutes. It’s astounding how the lead is paid so much less than someone else in the cast for a smaller part. Here are 20 actors who ended up paid a lot less than their co-stars in supporting roles and how it’s not just gender but a showcase of some actors just commanding more than others.
Divergent was supposed to be the next major YA adaptation franchise. Lionsgate really thought they had the next Hunger Games with several films planned, including splitting the final book into two films. Shailene Woodley was hired to play the lead role of Tris, her salary just $250,000 but the possibility of negotiating it to more if the films were successful. She was pushed in the promotions and clearly was set to carry the weight of not just one film, but a planned franchise on her back.
Kate Winslet was cast in the smaller role of her main nemesis, in which she would receive far less screen time (due to how Winslet was pregnant at the time). Yet she ended up earning $5 million for the part which she reprised in the sequel. Sadly for Woodley, the franchise ended up ending badly, as the third movie underperformed so much that the studio cancelled the would-be conclusion. Woodley never did get to earn that huge payday while Winslet ended up with one of her bigger paychecks for a brief appearance.
All the Money in the World will be remembered more for its behind-the-scenes drama than the film itself. It told the true story of how billionaire J. Paul Getty’s grandson was kidnapped by gangsters only to have Getty refuse to pay the ransom. Kevin Spacey was cast as Getty with trailers pushing him hard. But when his personal scandal erupted in October 2017, director Ridley Scott made the bold move of reshooting all of Spacey’s scenes with Christopher Plummer in the role. This meant Michelle Williams (as the mother of the kidnapped youth) and Mark Wahlberg (in the smaller role of a company fixer) came back for the reshoots. But this just led to more controversy when it was revealed that Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million for the new footage while Williams was paid just $800.
The outrage was massive given Williams clearly had the beefier part. To his credit, Wahlberg donated all his earnings to a charity of Williams’ choice but it showcased how Money lived up to its name.
George Clooney loves to talk about how he “killed” the Batman franchise. But you can’t blame him for Batman and Robin as the horrible script and terrible direction were such a mess that Joel Schumacher has flat-out apologized to fans for it. At the time, Clooney was still known for ER, not the major respected star fans would know him for. Thus, his price was $10 million, which was pretty good for the time. Except that Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $25 million for his part as Mr. Freeze, a secondary role.
Of course, fans remember his infamously terrible performance with one ice-related pun after another and helping make the movie more of a joke. So not only was it not a major success, but all the money went to the villain instead of the hero. You’d think that the Caped Crusader is automatically the highest-paid guy in a flick but Clooney couldn’t beat Arnie at the salary.
The casting of Chris Hemsworth as Thor was a good one for the Marvel producers. The young man was handsome, strong and carried both the gravitas and humor needed for this major part. It paid off with Hemsworth becoming a star via the role and doing a great job with it. But being an unknown meant he was paid a lot less than what he would get today.
Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins was clearly the biggest paid star on set for his role as Odin. Hopkins has seemed to slide into a variety of “paycheck” roles as of late (see the Transformers franchise) but keeps up with his good acting and was a great presence for the film. His usual asking price is in the $20 million range but he took it down to “just” $10 million for the role. He did the same for The Dark World (a movie Hopkins has slammed) and even his brief cameo in Ragnarok earned him more than others. Turns out the Father of the Gods is also the one who gets all the cash over the God of Thunder.
You have to feel for Taylor Kitsch. He came to fame as the bad boy Tim Riggins on the acclaimed NBC show Friday Night Lights. With his great looks and good acting, it seemed he was perfect for movie stardom. Sadly, his first big choice was the lead in John Carter, the Disney $250 million film that became one of the biggest box office disasters of all time.
Just months later, Kitsch was starring in Battleship, another sci-fi action flick as a young Navy officer facing an alien invasion. He was clearly the lead, pushed in the promotion and carrying the film. Yet Liam Neeson was paid $10 million, a far greater price for his much smaller role of another captain. He’s only on screen a few minutes yet gets far more pay than Kitsch did. This movie was also a gigantic flop and pretty much killed Kitsch’s Hollywood career while Neeson keeps on going.
This has gotten some major press and not in a good way. The Crown is one of Netflix’s most ambitious shows, a drama telling the reign of Queen Elizabeth II from the 1950s to today. Claire Foy was a little known actress cast as the young Elizabeth handling taking the throne and the changing times. She’s earned huge acclaim and a Golden Globe among numerous other nominations for her turn which viewers loved. Thus, it was more than a bit appalling to discover that Foy was paid far less than her co-star Matt Smith who plays Elizabeth’s husband.
To be fair, Smith is a better known name, especially for starring in the iconic British series Doctor Who. But to not have the character playing the Queen and center of the entire series to be the highest paid member of the cast has caused a huge uproar. Smith himself has even apologized as have the producers. As it happens, the upcoming season will have Olivia Coleman stepping into the role of an older Elizabeth and one hopes she avoids this mess.
Before his Oscar-winning success with La La Land, Damien Chazelle got major attention for this 2014 drama. Miles Teller earned raves for his performance as a young man trying to be a professional drummer. J.K. Simmons played his teacher whose methods border on nearly tyrannical abuse. A veteran actor but not quite an A-lister, Simmons was best known as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies and a spokesman for Farmers Insurance as well as starring on The Closer.
Despite not being that huge a deal, Simmons was seen a bigger draw than Teller with a salary for the film of about $1.2 million. Not bank-breaking but still a lot more than Teller and notably for the low-budget flick. It did pay off as the movie was a huge success making back nearly 10 times its budget. Even better was Simmons won an Oscar for his performance, making him a winner in every way over Teller.
A veteran of Hollywood, John Travolta had seen some low points in his career but revived himself to the A-list with Pulp Fiction. He continued on with several hits but then the mega-bomb of Battlefield Earth took a big bite out of his standing. In 2004, Travolta starred in Ladder 49, a drama about a group of fireman. He played the veteran chief with Joaquin Phoenix as a rookie soon rising up in the unit.
Phoenix’s role was clearly the lead from his various problems to the climactic rescue and a powerful ending. He even got top billing over Travolta despite Travolta being the bigger star and pushed more in the promotion of the film. However, Travolta got $20 million for the role, roughly five times what Phoenix was paid. The movie was quickly forgotten. It just showed that even later in his career, Travolta could get the bigger bucks for a supporting part.
If George Lucas had his way, Obi-Wan Kenobi would have been played by the iconic Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, star of several films of Lucas’ idol Akira Kurosawa. However, 20th Century Fox were already wary of this sci-fi epic and wanted someone with more name recognition. Thus, Sir Alec Guinness was cast as Obi-Wan.
The Oscar winner was a bit wary of the script and the hard desert shoots but agreed to do it. It seems Sir Alec had a sense before anyone else that the movie would be successful as he agreed to a cut in his usual pay in order to help the budget. However, he did make a deal for 2 percent of the gross to be paid out over several years. As Star Wars became the biggest-grossing movie of all time, that meant Guinness took in $50-70 million over the years. He may have famously bad-mouthed the movie later in life but Sir Alec also had the box office force majorly.
It’s funny to remember that Robert Downey Jr was once considered a Hollywood has-been. After coming to fame in the late 1980s, Downey was soon known better for his drunken rampages and various arrests that made him box office poison. But he rebuilt himself big time as Tony Stark as thanks to him, Iron Man kick-started the entire MCU. It’s hard to see anyone else in the role as Downey has impressed and made him a true box office star. This makes him a must-grab due to how integral he is to the entire franchise as his price for The Avengers and Civil War was about $50 million per film and a percentage of the gross.
That includes his smaller role in Spider-Man Homecoming. Given that Tom Holland was a great choice in the part, the presence of Downey came off a bit distracting although it worked out in the end. Still, for Holland to get barely a million while Downey walked away with a fortune for a brief appearance shows who’s the real powerhouse of the MCU.
Way back in 1996, no one knew who Matthew McConaughey was. Thus, casting him in the lead role of A Time to Kill was a huge surprise. The adaption of the John Grisham best-seller has Samuel L. Jackson as a father who guns down the two men who attacked his young daughter, setting off an explosive trial. The supporting cast was huge with Kevin Spacey and Kiefer Sutherland but Joel Schumacher decided to cast a fresh-faced McConaughey as Jackson’s lawyer.
Sandra Bullock was added as a young legal aide who helps him in the case and she and Jackson received top billing. That’s despite how McConaughey was the true lead who carried the entire film. He got about $100,000 while Bullock was paid $5 million, her standard asking price of the time.
Obviously, Bruce Willis was a major role for The Sixth Sense. He was used to help push it in ads and bring in audiences as he was at the height of his box office power. But there’s no denying Haley Joel Osment was the true star with his haunting turn as the boy who sees ghosts. His “I see dead people” line has become an iconic one in movies and he earned an Oscar nomination for his fantastic star-making performance.
Willis did turn in one of his best performances, especially with the movie’s fantastic twist ending that really made it a hit. But while Osment was paid just a few grand, Willis got his usual $20 million and 17 percent of the film’s gross which ended up being over $700 million. Osment was the lead, yet Willis was the one who made off with the huge bucks for this classic horror flick.
Good Will Hunting is the movie that made Matt Damon and Ben Affleck stars. They shared the Oscar for Best Screenplay and Damon landed a Best Actor nomination for his turn as the janitor of a college who turns out to be a genius who needs some guidance.
Director Gus Van Sant sought out Robin Williams for the key role of a former genius himself who helps Damon out in a unique way. Williams loved to crack on how the first time he met his co-star he “asked for some ID” because of his youth. Williams liked the part and thus agreed to take far less than his usual asking price of the time. However, it was still $1.5 million while Damon was paid just $100,000, despite how he was the title role. On top of that, Williams won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role and thus made out a lot bigger than Damon in several ways.
The Scary Movie franchise has long been successful for being a low-budget series which end up becoming huge box office hits, poking fun at various films. The fifth entry has a wild opening as Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan play themselves in bed trying to make an intimate tape only for it to go awry.
We then move to the main plot of Ashley Tisdale investigating a haunted house. One would think Sheen might have just gotten a low pay for this. Instead, he landed $250,000 for literally one day of work. Lohan herself got $100,00 which she had to use for her variety of financial issues. Yet it showcases how Sheen can pull off some major paydays despite his infamous reputation.
Here’s the all too rare case of the actress paid more than the guy despite the smaller role. After years of waiting, fans of the smash hit musical Les Miserables finally got to see it on the big screen in 2012. Director Tom Hooper brought together an all-star cast with Hugh Jackman in the key role of Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as his obsessive foe Javert. Jackman was paid $5 million for the role with Crowe taking a cut to just under $10 million himself. Meanwhile, Anne Hathaway earned $10 million for her role as Fantine, despite how the part is famous for (as the original stage portrayer Patti LuPone put it) “be on for fifteen minutes, do a big song, die, off-stage until the final scene, taxi!”
Of course, Hathaway made the most of her time as her fantastic rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” was hailed as the best part of the entire movie. It also earned her just about every Supporting Actress award around, including the Oscar. Yet still amazing that Hathaway got a lot more cash for this brief role, rather than Jackman who was really the star of the show
It’s true that Julia Roberts is one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. She was the first actress to start commanding some huge $20 million paychecks per film and can back it up with numerous hits as well as an Oscar. Yet it is still astounding how she was paid so much for so little time on screen. Valentine’s Day was an all-star ensemble comedy, looking at various folks handling this day of romance, some looking for love while others were just trying to get by. Roberts plays an Army captain who hits it off with Bradley Cooper on an airplane, a short but good role. Roberts’ payday for it was $3 million up front and three percent of the gross. Which means she was basically paid $12,000 per word, bigger than anyone in the cast.
She kept it up for the follow-up in Mother’s Day, which gave her a slightly bigger role. But it still was $3 million and a gross percentage for what was just four days of work. Granted, they were more ensemble pics but considering all the huge stars involved, for Roberts to get paid for the smallest parts speaks volumes to her power.
This got some major attention and for good reason. In the current climate, the idea of paying a woman less than her male supporting co-star is one thing. When the woman is playing the most iconic female super-hero of all time, it comes off even worse. Granted Gal Gadot isn’t as huge a name as others but she was quite clearly the force in Wonder Woman, making the Amazon hero come to life and be a fantastic icon to moviegoers and young women.
Yet her pay for that movie was $300,000, a pittance compared to some of the epic paydays of other actresses. Meanwhile, Chris Pine commands a regular price of $6 million a movie. It’s gotten some bad press, considering the fact that Gal was playing the title role, and she was playing a superhero, which in today's movies, means you're never going to get higher on the food chain than that. It just shows Hollywood still needs to catch up on the balancing of gender equality.
Had the Internet existed in 1988, it would have been filled with trashing talking Michael Keaton as Batman. The idea of a mostly comic guy as the Caped Crusader made folks think it would be a bomb. Thankfully, it worked out, as Keaton did a fantastic job in the role. However, he ended up playing second fiddle in terms of pay to Jack Nicholson. Casting the veteran as the Joker was inspired with Nicholson totally stealing the movie as the villain.
At the time, Nicholson’s asking price was about $10 million but he loved the part and so agreed to only be paid $6 million. However, Nicholson did pull off a deal to get a percentage of the profits for the film. As it was the biggest box office hit of 1989 as well as a huge seller on home video, Nicholson ended up making over $50 million which made Keaton’s pay a pittance. So it looks like Nicholson got the last laugh on this.
Getting a huge payday for a small role is one thing. But leave it to Marlon Brando to take it to the next level. Maybe it’s a bit understandable as Christopher Reeve was a total unknown when cast as Superman, which makes sense as they wanted a fresh face. They thus needed to surround him with some dependable stars and Brando, then at the height of his Hollywood power, was chosen for the brief but vital role of Jor-El, the scientist who sent his son to safety from his doomed planet. The only thing bigger than Brando’s talent was his ego, and he negotiated a payday bigger than anything at the time. Between the regular pay and part of the ticket sales, Brando ended up being paid $3.7 million for just two weeks of work.
Keep in mind, this was back in a time when $100,000 was considered a huge top price. Crazier was Brando himself clashing with director Richard Donner to the point of suggesting they just use a rock for Jor-El and he’d do the voice. He even ended up with top billing despite how he’s only on screen about fifteen minutes. Reeve may have been the Man of Steel but Brando was the one who got the big bucks off this.
It was the movie revival the world had waited for. The Force Awakens reignited the entire Star Wars franchise, rocking fans with its great story and new action and JJ Abrams deserves huge credit for making it all work. Obviously, Harrison Ford was a big deal for his return as Han Solo, but the movie brought the new characters in with a great story.
The entire plot revolved around finding the long-missing Luke Skywalker and in the final scene, Rey finally comes to a distant planet’s island to reach him. It’s a brief scene, Luke turning to face her as she hands him his old lightsaber and he clutches it in his artificial hand. While Ridley was paid about $100,000 for her role, Mark Hamill managed to get at least a million dollars for an appearance lasting less than a minute. While no one is talking specifics, it sounds like Hamill also got that huge pay over Ridley for The Last Jedi. So it seems Luke Skywalker can still pull in the big bucks.