Once upon a time, actor salaries weren’t a huge deal. In the old days of Hollywood, the studios held the power with contracts that kept the actors under control. The fall of that system meant actors wield far more clout and their power increased when some discovered that they could make a deal to get a share of the profits of a movie.
Some can argue about how insane it is to pay up to $20 million or more for someone to do a performance. But with budgets high and Hollywood pulling in as many viewers as they can, an actor’s salary is a key issue. There are arguments about how female stars pull in less than a male actor does, but the fact is, we’re dealing with a town where if you’re not making at least a couple of million dollars per project, you’re not considered worthwhile.
This brings us to the big names: the elite of the elite in terms of actors with monster paydays. These are stars, often around for decades, who have established themselves as near royalty in Hollywood. They are stars of proven mega-hits and even a few Oscar winners and thus capable of commanding a huge payday just with their name alone. These are the people to whom a million dollars is chump change and demand not just a big payday, but even a part of the gross and other deals. It’s amazing just how rich you can be to turn down money regular people would kill for, but it just goes to show how huge these guys are. Here are 15 actors in Hollywood to whom a million dollars isn’t worth getting out of bed in the morning.
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15 Mark Wahlberg
Who would have guessed the guy once known as a rapper dancing in his underwear would be one of the highest paid actors around? Mark Wahlberg started off slow in some dumb comedies before Boogie Nights showed he had real acting talent. He had some slumps (the infamously bad The Happening) but his Oscar-nominated turn in The Departed boosted him back to stardom. Wahlberg has really hit it big with numerous smash hit comedies like Ted, The Other Guys, Daddy’s Home and the Transformers films to be among the more popular stars around. He’s just topped Forbes list of the highest paid actors and commands a huge price. His ability to move between comedies, dramas, and action flicks makes him a good choice for nearly any part and thus he’s highly in demand. So it’s no wonder he’s in the high price for any role, even some of the dramas like All the Money in the World as the former leader of the Funky Bunch is now among the business’ highest paid guys.
14 Brad Pitt
Do you want to hear something amazing? Brad Pitt’s pay for Thelma & Louise in 1991 was a mere six thousand dollars. That part stole the film and transformed Pitt into an instant sex icon. By the time Se7en came along four years later, Pitt was commanding $5 million a part. While handsome, Pitt backed it up with real acting talent, able to mix some major Hollywood stuff with award-winning drama. Ocean’s Eleven was a huge winner as Pitt got a profit share that boosted his take to over $30 million. Pitt has continued with $20 million for several roles like Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Benjamin Button and more. Even with his high-profile divorces from Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie, Pitt remains beloved by fans and thus always in demand. He does seem to be moving from blockbusters to smaller films like Fury and War Machine yet Pitt still demands a huge payday for them. As a man still counted as a reliable Hollywood hunk and star, Pitt naturally demands a high price for any appearance.
13 Johnny Depp
It’s almost hilarious to think back to when Johnny Depp was regarded as a good actor in small quirky films. While he became a teen sensation with 21 Jump Street, Depp didn’t play the Hollywood game too much, preferring odd movies like Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood. He did crack a larger range with $5 million for Donnie Brasco but hardly a marquee name. That all changed when Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl turned into a surprise smash thanks to Depp’s turn as Jack Sparrow. Instantly, his price skyrocketed to the $20 million range for the various sequels (the fourth film alone made him $55 million) as well as other oddities like Alice in Wonderland and others.
Of course, Depp has taken a bit of a hit the last few years. The Lone Ranger and Mortdecai were both huge bombs while sequels to Alice and Pirates disappointed majorly. There’s also the accusations of abuse against ex-wife Amber Heard. Yet Depp still has power as his turn as the bad guy in Fantastic Beasts and its upcoming sequel boosts him up majorly and he still commanded about $20 million for what amounted to a cameo in Murder on the Orient Express. Some complain that turning into this huge payday actor has ruined Depp’s charm but it can’t be denied how huge you have to pay for him.
12 Melissa McCarthy
Her rise has been remarkable. Once, Melissa McCarthy’s claim to fame was Sookie on the beloved Gilmore Girls and brief parts in movies like Charlie’s Angels. While funny, most sadly thought her size would be a detriment to her in Hollywood. But then came her scene-stealing Oscar-nominated role in Bridesmaids that made her a star. That same year, McCarthy won an Emmy for her sitcom Mike & Molly and things changed big time. Soon, hits followed like Identity Theft and The Heat and McCarthy was soon demanding a minimum of $10 million a picture. She took less for her passion project Tammy, but as that was a huge hit and she made it back easily. With Spy and The Boss, McCarthy has continued to do great, even surviving the disappointment of Ghostbusters.
Helping is McCarthy’s great presence such as her acclaimed impersonation of Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live. She also wrote several of her own films which helps her asking price, with three movies set for 2018.
11 Adam Sandler
Today, Adam Sandler’s standing with fans has fallen big time. He started off well with Saturday Night Live and soon mastered the character of a man-child who shows up others. That served him with hits Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy that soon had him the king of comedy. Sandler also impressed with actual good acting in movies like Punch Drunk Love and Funny People. Sadly, Sandler has taken some hits due to how he seems to go for the stupidest comedy ideas. Jack and Jill was the most loathed movie of 2011 and Pixels was terrible as well, yet Sandler earned $20 million for each. The Ridiculous 6 went straight to Netflix, a massive critical bomb but still got him $15 million.
His “lowest” price is $5 million for the Hotel Transylvania movies and even Sandy Wexler got him $12 million. Despite that Sandler is racking up more Razzie awards than real hits these days, he still commands a ridiculously high price, one some would argue is far too much given his bad product.
10 Leonardo DiCaprio
In 2016, an Internet meme died when Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his overdue Oscar. It was the capper to a fine career that turned DiCaprio into one of Hollywood’s biggest leading men. His early career was marked by low-paying roles in stuff like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries. It was Titanic that transformed DiCaprio into a massive high-paying actor, earning $20 million for hits like The Aviator, The Departed and others. Sometimes, he can be surprisingly low; he only accepted $1 million for his small part in Django Unchained as he wanted to work with Quentin Tarantino and only $2 million for J. Edgar. But he’s been back on track for $20 million a flick for The Wolf of Wall Street and The Revenant. To be fair, DiCaprio is known for using much of his cash for charity and environmental stuff more than himself. However, it’s obvious how much he commands a picture and thus even a “cheap” part by him is worth at least a million for a studio.
9 Sandra Bullock
All it takes is one role to make you a star. Sandra Bullock proves that. She earned only $600,000 for her role as the bus driver in Speed that made her an overnight success. She cracked the one million dollar mark for the comedy hit While You Were Sleeping although less for The Net. But after that, Bullock was in the higher ranks of Hollywood with A Time to Kill, 28 days, Miss Congeniality and more. True, she hit a slow patch in the early 2000s to the point she took just $50,000 for her role in Crash. But The Proposal got her back up with $8 million. The Blind Side was a huge success as her back-end deal ensured that she not only won the Oscar but also a total of $20 million.
Bullock then took a break following her husband famously cheating on her and adopting a son. But in 2013, she roared back as The Heat earned her $10 million. Meanwhile, Gravity got her nearly $70 million thanks to the back-end deal. Bullock remains a top-dollar actress with $10 million for Our Brand in Crisis and while she claims she did Minions for her son, she also earned $10 million plus a profit share. With an Oscar, her cred and her aura as a well-loved gal, it’s no wonder Bullock is worth the cash.
8 Vin Diesel
Let’s face it, with a name like “Vin Diesel,” he could have only become an action movie star. His rise was a bit slow with roles in Saving Private Ryan and others and he earned only $400,000 for the sci-fi hit Pitch Black. Diesel’s price was up to $2 million for the first The Fast and the Furious movie and naturally, he was on fire with XXX following. However, Diesel hit a rough patch as a few hits (The Pacifier) but too many flops and his ego costing him some roles. But Fast and Furious put him right back up there along with the various sequels to restore Diesel’s box office credibility. Even his voice-acting as Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy required big bucks despite the fact he literally only says three words. Some argue about Diesel’s big price given that outside the Fast movies, he’s not known for major hits but he still demands a high price so he knows how to work with what he’s got.
7 Julia Roberts
It used to be only men could command an asking price of tens of millions of dollars per movie. Then along came Julia Roberts. She always had something about her with an Oscar nomination for Steel Magnolias. But Pretty Woman was what turned Roberts into an instant star and backing it up with hits like The Pelican Brief and others. Roberts soon was pulling in monster paydays bigger than any actress although that seemed to hit her when she hit a rough career patch in the mid-1990s with some flops. She slowly built herself back up with hits like My Best Friend’s Wedding and Notting Hill and then Erin Brockovich was not only a hit but won her the Oscar.
Thus, Roberts was right back on top, commanding up to $20 million for films like Ocean’s Eleven, the first actress to hit that mark. For just four days of work on Mother’s Day, Roberts earned $3 million, a major payday for such short time. Helping are her various endorsements of beauty products which adds in about $50 million a year. The fact that she’s the go-to mega female star in Hollywood for two decades just means that Roberts is worth the price to get her on board a project.
6 Will Smith
Will Smith was always used to a good-paying life thanks to his fame as rapper The Fresh Prince. That led to the smash hit sitcom that boosted him up more but his first few movie appearances were low (just $500,00 for Six Degrees of Separation). Smith got $2 million for Bad Boys and then five for Independence Day. The smash success of both boosted him to the big time as he added in Men in Black and others to be a major success for the summer season. Indeed, for the sequels to Boys and MiB, Smith not only got $20 million but a big portion of the gross. True, Smith isn’t perfect (After Earth was a huge bomb) but still commands a huge payday with $10 million for Suicide Squad and Collateral Beauty. Even Netflix had to shell out bucks for his starring role in the fantasy-cop movie Bright. Smith can back it up with his amazing charisma and his slew of box office hits to prove himself among the highest-paid African-American stars out there and that the Fresh Prince does rule in Hollywood.
5 Jennifer Lawrence
For a lady who once claimed to “hate the Hollywood game,” Jennifer Lawrence sure has gotten into it nicely. She was paid just three thousand a week for Winter’s Bone, the movie that made her a star. Likewise, her first turn as Mystique in X-Men: First Class was just $250,000. By her third go-around in 2016’s Apocalypse, she was taking in $8 million. The change, of course, was The Hunger Games as the movie’s success boosted Lawrence to the A-list almost overnight. She earned $4 million for her Oscar-winning turn in Silver Linings Playbook which added to her cred. By the final Games movie, she was worth $15 million per picture. Passengers may have been a flop but it did get Lawrence to crack the $20 million mark and topping Forbes' list of the highest paid actresses. Even mother! got her a good payday and at her young age, Lawrence is likely to continue raking in the bucks for a while and prove she’s worth the high price.
4 Emma Stone
Her rise has been amazingly fast, even for Hollywood. Emma Stone started off on a reality show trying to build a new version of the Partridge Family, winning a spot but the show was never made. She bounced around with a few different names before her role in Superbad pushed her to stardom. She soon added in Zombieland and others before her starring role in Easy A made her a box office success. Stone was soon pulling in a few million per movie from romantic comedy Crazy Stupid Love to her role in The Amazing Spider-Man films. Stone even managed to command a high price for her turn in Cabaret on Broadway. The big push has been her Oscar-winning turn in La La Land which has allowed Stone to top the list of highest paid actresses, banking $26 million. With plenty of years ahead of her, it's likely Stone lands on that list more as she rarely needs to be the struggling actress she played on screen to be among the best in the business.
3 Tom Cruise
This should be no shock. Long before the mega-million dollar salaries of today, Tom Cruise was one of the highest paid actors around. Of course, when you star in mega-hits like Top Gun, Rain Man, A Few Good Men, The Frim and the Mission: Impossible series, you can pretty much ask whatever you want. Cruise has been brilliant as not only commanding roughly $20 million a picture but also deals to gain a percentage of the gross for films like War of the Worlds and others. Cruise did hit a bit of a slump after his infamous couch-jumping with Oprah Winfrey and thus lowered his price to “only” $7 million for the likes of Rock of Ages and Jack Reacher. But he’s back on top as he can still pull in attention.
Surprisingly, Cruise only got half a million for his cameo as a balding fat executive in Tropic Thunder but that worked out as he was the best part of the movie and back on the A-list. True, The Mummy was a flop but American Made did well and the next Mission movie is likely to be a hit. Cruise is ready to return to an iconic role with a Top Gun sequel that will earn him $28 million and show how, at 55, he’s still one of the most in-demand guys around.
2 Tom Hanks
We all know Tom Hanks is a great guy off screen. He’s warm, heartfelt, has a great sense of humor and his Everyman appeal is a key reason he’s succeeded in Hollywood. But it’s often overlooked how Hanks is among the higher-paid actors around and will often command a high salary for any film. Indeed, before star salaries were skyrocketing, Hanks was commanding a high price of a million for stuff like Big or even the bomb The Bonfire of the Vanities. Naturally, his Oscar wins and the hit of Forrest Gump made Hanks crack the $20 million a picture rankings and thus pushed him up even more. If you want a comparison, Hanks was paid $500,000 for the first Toy Story movie. For the upcoming fourth film, he’ll be earning $17 million. That’s on top of his work as a producer and even occasional director as everyone in Hollywood wants to work for a man whose track record for hits and Oscar movies is among the best around. So he’s a great guy but Hanks is also notable for being a huge demand on budgets.
1 Dwayne Johnson
For a former pro wrestler, The Rock has done pretty well for himself. He always had an amazing charisma and build but there were doubts he could make it work in Hollywood. His role as the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns and a spin-off movie showed his promise, charming and amazing and led Johnson to a nice boost in Hollywood. He showed nicely in comedies like The Game Plan before Fast 5 rocketed him to major stardom. He’s added in hits like Central Intelligence, Moana, San Andreas and more. True, Baywatch was an unexpected flop but Jumanji looks ready to restore his box-office cred. That’s not to mention his starring role in the HBO comedy Ballers. As it stands, Johnson commands eight figures for movies and $650,000 for each Ballers episode, allowing him to be tops on Forbes’ list of highest paid actors. And that’s not even bringing up his WWE appearances to make the Rock a guy who never has to worry about commanding a good price for a performance.
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