A lot of actors and actresses who are killing it in the movie industry today grew up wanting to be in the profession. It’s safe to assume many of them grew up watching movies, watching their favorite stars do their thing, and these guys and girls wanted to follow suit and imitate (and possibly surpass) their level of success. It’s what any aspiring actor or actress wants to do. They hope their careers will turn out just like those they see on screen. The glitz, the glamor, the red carpet events – it’s something that attracts a lot of people into the profession. But how is such a glamorous lifestyle possible? It’s just part of being in the movie industry, but what it ultimately all boils down to is the money.
People in the movie industry have money, and lots of it, especially the stars we see on screen. Or at least that’s the common perception. It is generally the case that famous actors and actresses get paid megabucks. It’s generally the case, but it’s not always the case. You’d be surprised at some of the salaries these stars have taken for a movie – they’re shockingly low, relatively speaking of course. For some, they took on such roles earlier on in their careers, so they didn’t yet have the clout to demand hefty pay checks. Others took on the roles just because they loved the script and wanted to do everything possible to make the movie work, even if it meant taking a considerable pay cut. Some agreed to do movies for favors to directors, and other low salaries can just be attributed to crafty directors, those who wanted top talent on board while saving as much cash as possible. Whatever the reasons may be, it’s still shocking when you hear that these 15 stars were paid so little for such major roles.
15 Sean Astin - $250,000 For The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
Read the name Sean Astin, and it probably won’t ring any bells for a lot of you, but slap on some pointy ears, put on a cloak, put him beside Elijah Wood, and now you’ll probably know who I’m talking about – if you didn’t clock it from the title of course! Sean Astin played one of the main characters in the iconic Lord of the Rings trilogy, Samwise Gamgee, one of the hobbits entrusted to take the ring to be destroyed. Those movies just killed it at the box office. It smashed box office records, and it was a major financial success.
When the film projects began, it was deemed to be one of the most ambitious and costly film projects of all time. So, they probably wanted to save as much cash as possible. They did well with their scrimping and saving, and got their star characters, their hobbits in the movie, for a bargain. Sean Astin was paid $250K, not just for one of the movies – that was his combined salary for all three movies. Considering it took eight years for all the filming to be completed, and the massive sums of cash that was ploughed into making the movie, that salary, as I’m sure many of you would agree, was just ridiculously low. Luckily for Sean, though, the movie did so well, he got quite a sizeable amount in bonuses; it's the least he deserved!
14 Elijah Wood - $250,000 For Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
There were plenty of characters that you’d consider to be main characters in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But if you had to pick one, the main guy – or the main hobbit – it would have to have been Frodo, Elijah Wood’s character, the hobbit who was entrusted with the task of destroying the ring of power. The entire trilogy basically centres around him, his journey, and the struggles he faced on his way to destroy the ring. It’s therefore remarkable that his salary for the trilogy – yes, all three movies – was around $250K as well. That really is a pittance. Sure, Elijah wasn’t a megastar actor at the time, but even so. Look at what went on in that movie, and you can safely assume it must have been a seriously tough movie to make, with an intense, gruelling schedule. But at least he got a whole lot more in terms of bonuses when the movies did so well, and got plenty more roles and became a huge star off the back of the movie’s success.
13 Ryan Gosling - $1,000 A Week For Half Nelson
Today, Ryan Gosling’s at the top of every woman’s swoon list. He’s starred in some super-hit films in recent years, movies such as The Big Short and the musical drama La La Land, movies that have propelled him to the forefront of the Hollywood scene. He’s one guy who today can demand a hefty pay check. But that hasn’t always been the case. Even after he starred in the hit film The Notebook, Gosling was still earning a pretty measly wage. Producers felt they could get him on the cheap, or perhaps he just wanted to try his hand at different films, even if they were low-budget indie flicks like Half Nelson. He played a lovable teacher with a drug problem, and it’s a role that gained him plenty of attention, including an Oscar nomination. Amazingly, he was only paid $1,000 a week for the role. Sure, it was a low-budget production, but even so, that’s a pretty remarkable price!
12 Chris Evans - $300,000 For The Avengers
Chris Evans – the actor, not to be confused with the presenter of the same name – earned around $300,000 for his role as Captain America in The Avengers. That, to you and I, seems like a hell of a lot of cash, a pretty decent salary. But in actual fact, compare that salary to the amount earned by others in that movie, and it’s a pretty laughable sum. Robert Downey Jr. for example, earned a whopping $50m for his role in the same Marvel movie. That, considering that their roles were pretty similar, is a really massive difference. When Chris Evans received his pay check, he couldn’t have been smiling – well, when he came to know about Robert’s salary that is. It makes the guy, who’s a pretty decent actor, seem like a novice or a newcomer. If you think about it, it really is a travesty he was paid that sum.
11 Oprah Winfrey - $35,000 For The Color Purple
Oprah Winfrey is arguably the most-loved woman on the planet. Her talk show was watched throughout the world, and was different from the typical talk shows of the time, and that’s solely because of the host. Oprah’s been so successful in the industry, and has risen to become one of the most famous and influential women in the world, because she’s a people person. She can sit with you for a few minutes and become your friend, get you to open up, feel like you’ve known her your entire life. It’s something that’s been coined, “The Oprah Effect.” Being the star she is, understandably acting roles have also come her way. She may not be the world’s most prolific actress, but she can still write “Oprah Winfrey the actress” on her résumé. Her first film was back in 1985, in which she played the abused and vulnerable Sofia in The Color Purple. She was snapped up for $35,000, which when you consider what she’s worth today, around $3bn, is a pittance.
10 Bill Murray - $9,000 For Rushmore
Bill Murray is considered to be royalty in the acting industry, and with good reason. He’s been around on the movie circuit for donkey’s years, and has starred in some of the world’s most iconic films. Back in 1998, Murray had already been in the industry for decades, and was a massive name. It’s therefore amazing he did a movie, Rushmore, for the lowly sum of $9,000. That seems ludicrously low for someone who could very well rock up to a shoot, deliver a couple of lines in that deadpan style, and demand around $100k for his troubles. But Bill isn’t your conventional Hollywood A-lister – he’s not swayed by the cash. He does movies because of the script, because he feels he can lend something to the story, and for a number of other reasons, just for the challenge of playing a new role. He could be one of the industry’s wealthiest actors, but he’s in the industry for the love of it, because it’s his passion, and we respect that.
9 John Travolta - $150,000 For Pulp Fiction
Ever seen the movie Pulp Fiction? If you’re a movie nut, it’s safe to assume that you probably have. The 1994 movie is a seriously iconic movie with a stellar cast, including John Travolta. It was one of his roles that would live long in the memory for any Travolta fan. It proved a hit amongst the fans, and did very well at the box office, and as a result of which, Travolta was nominated for pretty much every prestigious award under the sun. Want to know how well the movie did at the box office? After doing some digging, I can say that the grand total from box office revenue came to $107,928,762. That’s a whopping figure, and John’s salary was a measly $150,000. After the success of Grease, a movie that propelled Travolta to worldwide superstardom, you’d think he’d be able to demand a higher price tag than that, but nope, he had to make do.
8 Jennifer Lawrence - $500,000 For The Hunger Games
Jennifer Lawrence is regarded to be one of the world’s hottest movie stars. People go crazy over her, and she’s certainly one of the sexiest, newest talents to appear on the Hollywood scene in recent years. She’s also starred in some hit movies, one of which – or four of which I should say – have been The Hunger Games movies. But off the back of those roles, and a few others, can you really call Jennifer Lawrence a superstar, a legend, one of Hollywood’s greatest actresses? Not really, she’s close, she’s getting there, but hasn’t quite hit the mark as of yet. That’s why her salary of $500k for those movies was actually a pretty decent sum. But considering the movies went on to make $680,000,000, she must have been clenching her fists a bit. I hope, for her own peace of mind, that she got what she deserved – a hefty bonus!
7 Jim Carrey – Nothing For Yes Man
Not many actors do this, or are even able to do this. It’s a money-obsessed industry, but Jim Carrey’s someone who’s pretty savvy. By 2008, Carrey had been doing his thing in Hollywood for decades. He was already earning top dollar for his movies, but wasn’t prepared to bankrupt the production team who were so eager to get him on board for Yes Man. He could’ve done just walked away and said he wasn’t interested. But Carrey liked the script and was eager to see the movie achieve success. So, in order to help everyone out, seeing as it was a low-budget movie, he took no salary for his troubles, so everyone could plough all available funds into making the movie. It was a strategy that paid off. It grossed around $226m worldwide, and only then did Carrey take his cut - $35m to be exact. That’s more like it.
6 George Clooney - $120,000 For Good Night, and Good Luck
George Clooney acted in, directed and wrote his 2005 movie, Good Night, and Good Luck. So, you can therefore imagine, the script was close to his heart, and he wanted to give the movie every chance of becoming a success. Just because you have George Clooney in the movie, it doesn’t automatically make it a success. Everything had to be created to perfection, so you can guess that George had a hell of a lot to do on set to see his project through to the end. But that wouldn’t have bothered George, who’s the ultimate professional. When the political-drama hit the big screen, it took off and became a success. George received a ton of accolades for it, and it was nominated for six Oscars. It’s therefore staggering that the only cash George took from that movie, was a salary of $120,000. But seeing his movie become a global success was payment enough.
5 Jamie Dornan - $110,000 For Fifty Shades of Grey
The Fifty Shade of Grey movie proved to be an immediate success at the box office. Based on the novel, which was also wildly successful, the film had to do some extra work to get people interested, to bring that novel to life. It certainly did that alright, and it had a pretty big effect. It started a kind of craze, and people began talking about the film openly, which was pretty weird considering social taboos and the fact that it was an erotic thriller of sorts. Kudos to the actors for their performances. They became massive stars as a result of their roles, Jamie Dornan especially, who played the main man himself, Christian Grey. But, because he was pretty much a nobody at the time, his salary for the movie was a meagre $110k. Of course, he got way more in the sequels, millions in fact, but it’s still pretty laughable that for the best film out of the three, he got paid next to nothing, all things considered of course.
4 Lindsay Lohan - $2,300 For The Canyons
Lindsay Lohan is probably the biggest disappointment in the movie industry, something she herself would probably agree with. She failed to live up to her potential, and pretty much ruined her career, a career that was set to take her to the top of the Hollywood scene. Her fall from grace was truly remarkable. Once upon a time, what seems like many moons ago now, Lindsay was one of the most famous teenagers on the planet. She was a teenage star, and was earning megabucks at such a tender age. It’s remarkable how things turned out, through her own doing of course. She self-destructed due to her various addictions and bad choices, lost movie deals as well as other projects, and therefore missed out on a ton of cash. Lindsay was financially destitute, and so when Paul Schrader wanted her on board for The Canyons, she needed the cash, even if it was just $2300, and accepted, more out of necessity than anything else.
3 Matthew McConaughey - $200,000 For Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew McConaughey is one of the best actors out there. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. He, like pretty much everyone else in the industry, has had his fair share of struggles, none more so than in the 90s. That decade was pretty much a write off for Matthew, a flop decade, one that he’d like to forget. But despite the duds, Matthew’s one guy who always demanded a decent amount of money, cash that was warranted too because of his performances. But in the 2000s, he was still looking for that one memorable movie role. He turned down roles because they just weren’t right for him, but Dallas Buyers Club provided him with just what he was looking for. It was the right kind of project for him to sink his teeth into. Money wasn’t really on his mind when he said yes to that movie – it was more about making the movie a success, and reviving his career, which he certainly did.
2 Brad Pitt - $6000 For Thelma and Louise
Yes, you read that correctly: Brad Pitt – the legendary acting superstar Brad Pitt – got paid $6000 for his role in Thelma and Louise. Seeing the type of global superstar Brad Pitt’s become today, it seems ludicrous that he once did a movie for what would now be considered pocket change for him. But back in 1991, he was just a young whippersnapper, still with dreams and aspirations of making it big. But even for a newcomer, a relatively unknown actor at the time, $6000 – some reports say it was even less – is just ridiculous. It just goes to show that everyone starts somewhere, and even someone of the calibre of Brad was once really low down the pecking order. Now the guy can command $30m minimum for a movie; $6000 probably wouldn’t even cover the cost of a few seconds of an appearance. He’s come leaps and bounds since those early days.
1 Jonah Hill - $60,000 for The Wolf Of Wall Street
Jonah Hill has been around since 2004, but his career only really took off when he starred in arguably the best film of the last decade, The Wolf of Wall Street. Alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, he was one of the movie’s main characters, someone the audiences loved. It was an epic performance, and one that made Jonah a global superstar. What he had to do just to look right for that movie was just as incredible as his performance. He put on a ton of weight, and looking at him in that movie and comparing it to the way he looks now, he’s just unrecognizable. That’s what you call doing everything possible in order to create a cinematic experience people will remember.
Being one of the main characters, you’d think that Jonah would’ve earned, perhaps not Leo’s salary of $10m, but certainly something not too far off from that figure. But $60,000, really? That really criminal. But Jonah, who revealed this information himself, didn’t feel bitter about it. He was so eager to work with Martin Scorsese, that he said he himself would’ve paid the legendary filmmaker everything he had just to get the role. Scorsese probably sensed that when casting him for the movie and knew he could get him on board at a steal. Anyway, it was certainly worth it, because Jonah Hill’s now a global sensation.
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