Comedy is an area where we can find relief from the everyday stresses of life – an artform which allows us to escape and laugh at the world if only for a moment. And they say that comedy is one of the more difficult arts – even more so than the dramatic genre – because of the challenge inherent in making people laugh. Yet, comedians often gain a reputation of always being funny but they become ‘type cast’ under the assumption that they won’t have the depth to be able to pull off anything truly dramatic. But countless examples serve to dispel this myth; comedians are some of the most well rounded actors in the industry. Another common assumption about comedians is that they built up a sense of humour as a coping mechanism, having struggled in life – but this stereotype, for many comedians, is accurate.
Making the crossover from the laughs to the tears and terror can be a struggle. Perhaps not necessarily for the comedians themselves but for the audience, struggling to see and accept their favorite comic in a more serious role. But there’s success to be had if an actor manages to make the risky transition. Take comedian Mo’Nique , who won an Oscar for her dramatic role in “Precious”, as an abusive mother of an inner-city teen. Or stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt, who received critical acclaim for his role in the dramatic indie film “Big Fan” – portraying the biggest fan for the New York Giants who, when assaulted by a team member, struggles to cope and accept the event.
So indeed, some of comedy’s big names have made a flawless transition to drama. Of course, others may not have been so lucky, but who are the richest comedians that have made the dramatic turn? Among the biggest earners there are some familiar names who made a splash in the dramatic arena; our top list features some fantastic actors and some ace movie recommendations, so it might be time to reactivate that Netflix account.
10. Marlon Wayans – $15 Million
Many people might be doing a double-take right now, but you read this right. The younger Wayans brother actually has some impressive flexibility as a dramatic actor that he can add to his comedic chops. In the 2000 film, “Requiem For a Dream”, Wayans is sidekick to Jared Leto. This somewhat disturbing movie forced its actors to delve in at the deep end, exploring the darkest corners of their psyche; making the film a force to be reckoned with, and a modern classic according to some. Wayans proved that he could tap into his dramatic, serious side to become a very flexible actor who strives for more than just the laughs.
9. Owen Wilson – $40 Million
Many people know Owen Wilson as the funny man who regularly stars in the biggest comedy films of the year. But this actor has much more depth than most of us comedy fans might realise. In the film “Darjeeling Limited”, Wilson shows off his dramatic acting abilities and proves that there’s more to him than just a funny man. But Darjeeling Limited isn’t Wilson’s first time in the dramatic genre, as he was also in the film “Behind Enemy Lines” and “The Haunting”. Still, it seems as though Owen Wilson has only given audiences a taste of what he’s truly capable of as a dramatic actor so this might be one to watch.
8. Whoopi Goldberg – $45 Million
Whoopi Goldberg is known for her fantastic comedic timing and being able to get a laugh out of all of us with a clever one-liner. She was originally born as Caryn Elaine Johnson, Goldberg got her start in Hollywood as a successful stand up comic. But she had much more up her sleeve than just jokes and punch lines. She would prove her worth as a dramatic actor in films such as “The Color Purple”, “Carina Carina”, “Ghost”, and much more. Even though she still dives into comedy regularly, when she has a dramatic role lined up, people will line up to see it.
7. Robin Williams – $50 Million
Robin Williams was originally known as the funny man with many voices. He first landed commercial success with the comedy television sitcom, “Mork and Mindy”, while consistently working as a stand-up comic. Williams became the film star we know today with movies such as “Dead Poets Society”, “Good Will Hunting”, “Mrs. Doubtfire”, and his famous voice over work as the blue genie in “Aladdin”. Williams is one comedian on our list who has proved without doubt that he has flexible acting chops and can flawlessly move between comedy and drama at the drop of a hat. Everyone’s favourite funny man even managed to terrify us all in the thriller, “One Hour Photo”, when he took on a profoundly creepy role. Williams’ success started with comedy, but now it’s fair to say he’s respected – and paid – in equal parts for his comedy and his dramatic work.
6. Will Ferrell – $85 Million
Will Ferrell has become iconic in the world of laughs as he saw commercial success with films such as “Anchorman”, “Elf”, and “Step Brothers”. But in 2006, Ferrell decided to play it straight (we could even call it a little quirky) in the film, “Stranger Than Fiction”, which demonstrated that Ferrell had the ability to act without expecting laughs in return. Then in 2010, he delved head first into drama with the film, “Everything Must Go” playing an alcoholic who loses his wife and job, and sells his possessions in the attempt to start a new life. Ferrell has circled back to comedy since, though, which – according to box office numbers – is where his audience appreciate him the most.
5. Steve Martin – $110 Million
Steve Martin is considered to be one of the most successful stand-up comedians of his time, and he branched out into comedic acting as the star of comedies like “Roxanne”, “Cheaper By the Dozen” and “The Pink Panther”. His dramatic debut, though, was the leading role in the film, “Shopgirl”, based on a movie that he wrote himself. Indeed, in 2009 comedy ‘It’s Complicated’ Martin in fact played down his comedy in the role of the staid, serious middle-aged divorcee to contrast Alec Baldwin’s zany mid-life crisis. While the more serious roles may be considered a small blip on the radar of Steve Martin’s career, he certainly demonstrated his skills in the dramatic field, skills which render his comedic abilities even stronger.
4. Bill Murray – $120 Million
When most of us think of the Hollywood all-star league of comedic actors, Bill Murray is one of the first to come to mind; he was at the helm of a new age of comedy in the 70s and 80s. While Bill Murray is iconic and well known for his comedic roles in films such as Caddyshack and Ghostbusters, he shocked millions in his dramatic breakthrough role in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation”. He continued his success in dramatic roles in the film, “Broken Flowers”. It seems as though as Murray grows older his roles in films become more serious and contemplative – but the bulk of his huge wealth still comes from his comedic success.
3. Ben Stiller – $120 Million
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” isn’t Ben Stiller’s first turn in the world of dramatic cinema. While we knew and love him in funny movies such as “Zoolander”, Stiller has a very flexible talent, which he has showcased several times throughout the year: For example in ‘Permanent Midnight’, when he plays a comedy writer addicted to drugs. Stiller’s dramatic roles tend to maintain a comedic twist but he’s certainly gone dark with his comedy-dramas, displaying a depth that wasn’t all that evident when his character was setting up the Derek Zoolander School for Kids Who Can’t Speak Good…
2. Jim Carrey – $150 Million
Jim Carrey, comedy’s favourite Canadian, has built his career on laughs and exaggerated faces. From “Ace Ventura” to “The Mask”, plus his independent comedy work, many wondered how he would fair in the darker film, “The Truman Show”. But audiences got to see a different side of Jim Carrey without the laughs and comedic front, and the film was a hit. He further expanded his dramatic chops in the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” starring alongside Kate Winslet, which received an overwhelming positive response from the world’s leading critics. It was perhaps that film which marked Carrey as more than one of the most distinctive faces of comedy, bestowing upon him some indisputable credibility as a dramatic actor.
1. Adam Sandler – $300 Million
The Marmite of comedy, Sandler has spent his career building on the huge success of comedic films such as ‘Happy Gilmore’, ‘Waterboy”, and ‘The Wedding Singer’. He started off in his early 20s with a turn in The Cosby Show and went on to attract attention for his role in ‘Billy Madison’ in 1995. This kicked off a thriving career in comedy, and Sandler went on to set up his own production company in 1999, ‘Happy Madison Productions’. This company has produced most of Sandler’s films but two since, and is the driving force behind his enormous fortune.
In 2002’s dark comedy ‘Punch Drunk Love’, Sandler played a more adult and darker role; this film wasn’t led by Sandler’s production company, and was Sandler’s first venture into drama. He also acted in a more serious role in the film ‘Spanglish’, and Happy Madison productions tried the dramatic route with subsidiary Madison 23 producing ‘Reign Over Me’ and ‘Funny People’. None of these films really made a splash critically or financially, suggesting that some comedians should stick with what they’re good at. After all, comedy has certainly been kind to Sandler’s $300 million strong bank account!
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