Depending on who you ask, opinions may vary regarding the earnings of actors. Plenty of people believe that they are all highly overpaid, especially when compared to other professions that are perhaps more vital to our daily lives. But it’s the reality we live in that probably will never change as they continue to generate millions of dollars for their roles.
Some actors may rise to fame faster than others while the rest have to spend years attempting to break through the industry. But regardless of how major they may be today, all actors had to start from the bottom to earn their way as high earners. In some cases, actors may choose to take a paycut if the film budget is low but they are intent on being apart of the project. And then you have some cases of actors simply doing it as a favor to a friend in the industry.
Readers will certainly be surprised to see many top names land on this list, but it goes to show that every actor had to earn their way as nothing is truly handed on a silver platter. While a breakout role may not earn the actor millions of dollars, it serves in getting their foot in the door. As you will come to learn, most of these names ended up becoming among Hollywood’s top earners.
Keeping in mind the year these films were released, as well as the budget and earnings generated through the box office, here are 15 actors you wouldn’t believe were paid so little for these major roles.
15. Bill Murray – Rushmore: $9,000
Rushmore has become a cult classic and one of the most revered films of the late 90s. It was director Wes Anderson’s, second film and his first collaboration with Bill Murray who would go on to appear in every single release of his since then. Murray was already one of the top actors by then, but he was willing to take a major paycut to be a part of Rushmore which he didn’t hesitate to accept.
In fact, Murray was so invested in making sure that the film gets made and reaches their expectations as told by Anderson. Disney refused to cover the costs of an original scene involving a helicopter, and once Murray found out, he wrote a check of $25,000 to make it a reality. It was never cashed in as the scene didn’t make the final script after all, but it goes to show how committed Murray was to the project.
14. Jeff Daniels – Dumb And Dumber: $50,000
For a film that was such a box office smash, $50,000 is a gross underpay for Jeff Daniels who co-starred in the film as Harry Dunne. With a reported number of $247.3 million generated in the box office, Daniels must have felt some type of way as he witnessed the film become one of the most popular comedies in history.
If that wasn’t enough to make him feel underpaid, his co-star Jim Carrey earned a hefty $7 million paycheck for his role. The distributors of the film New Line Cinema didn’t want Daniels to be a part of the film, which is why they low balled him with a $50,000 offer.
Perhaps he realized that the film could be a major career hit, which is why he didn’t hesitate to accept the offer. Daniels reprised his role in the 2014 sequel for which he more than made up for the original paycheck.
13. Angelina Jolie – Gone In 60 Seconds: $300,000
$300,000 is not a bad paycheck by any means, most actors never earn that amount from one film in an entire career. But regular standards don’t apply when speaking of Hollywood’s top stars in Angelina Jolie who collaborated with Nicolas Cage for the release of Gone In 60 Seconds. Despite bombing with the critics, the film was a major success in the box office with $237 million.
But we can’t help but feel that Jolie was severely underpaid in comparison to her co-star Cage, who earned $20 million for his role in the film. Many readers will rightfully believe that $300,000 is already an overpay for an actor but the gap between the two salaries will surely make a great case for Jolie being underpaid in this role. The film helped her reach greater heights of success as she increased at a quick rate from there.
12. John Travolta: Pulp Fiction $150,000
Not only was Pulp Fiction a major box office hit with $213.9 million, but it is also considered one of the greatest films of all-time. What some may not know is that John Travolta was not the first choice to play Vincent Vega since Quentin Tarantino had Michael Madsen in mind, but once he passed on the role, he settled on Travolta. It took some convincing for the distributors and producers to agree to Tarantino’s pick since Travolta had made some bad career choices in recent times with many flops to his name.
Pulp Fiction got him back as one of Hollywood’s top actors thanks to an impressive performance for which he only received $150,000. For a name as huge as Travolta, that is a considerably low amount especially since Pulp Fiction became a worldwide success. The film got his career back on track so we’re certain he hasn’t lost any sleep over his paycheck.
11. Spencer Lacey Ganus – Frozen: $926
Frozen managed to smash many records with its impressive performance in the box office to become the highest-grossing animated film in history and ninth overall. With the film reaching a stunning $1.2 billion figure, you would expect the voice actors to have made fortunes but that was not the case for Spencer Lacey Ganus, who voiced 12-year old Elsa in the movie.
During an interview, she revealed that she was only paid $926 for providing voice-over work in the film. Opinions have been divided regarding the paycheck that Ganus received with some claiming that she had agreed to a contract so she cannot be upset about it.
Others came to her defense by noting that the young voice-over actress had a terrible agent and was clearly taken advantage of. Both sides make valid points but $926 is still too little when you consider that the film budget was $150 million.
10. Sean Astin – The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: $250,000
With $2.9 billion generated in the box office through three releases, The Lord of the Rings is one of the most successful film series ever. For that reason, it would be a fair assumption that most of the main characters would have been racking up millions of dollars for every release.
As it turned out, such wasn’t the case for Sean Astin who was offered a contract to portray Samwise Gamgee in all three films for $250,000. Perhaps if he had known how much the films would end up generating, then he may have negotiated his contract, but it certainly isn’t easy to pass up on that amount while also having the chance to reach a global audience.
9. Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine: $3,000/Week
If you’re wondering why Cate Blanchett didn’t bring in much money through her role in Blue Jasmine, then you probably weren’t aware that it was a Woody Allen film. Over the years, he has developed a reputation as someone who refuses to overpay for his actors but it has worked out for both sides.
The film grossed $97.5 million worldwide and was also a major success with the critics. Cate Blanchett received a salary of $3,000 a week with shooting supposedly lasting two months, bringing in a total of approximately $24,000 overall. While it may be shocking to learn that she earned such a low figure, she was highly praised for her incredible performance and ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Actress.
8. Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips: $65,000
If you happen to be unfamiliar with the name Barkhad Abdi, then you will surely recognize him from his role as Abduwali Muse in Captain Phillips. But despite earning critical acclaim for his incredible performance, the actor only received $65,000 – a number that has left plenty of fans flabbergasted.
It was his first acting role which he learned about through a cast announcement on television. He claims to have beaten more than 700 candidates for the role, which is highly impressive. Despite the movie’s major success in the box office, Abdi was financially struggling for quite some time and was working in a store while promotion was rolled out.
Thankfully for him, the film proved to be a fantastic opportunity as his fortunes have turned around. More recently, he was featured in the hit movie Blade Runner 2049, with his roles increasing by the year.
7. Tom Cruise – Risky Business: $75,000
For many years, Tom Cruise was the highest paid actor in the world, earning multi-million dollars per film. He also has some of the highest grossing films of all-time to his name with his breakout role coming in 1983 in Risky Business.
The movie was a major success and exceeded all expectations in the box office with $75,000. That was the last time that Cruise earned a relatively low figure with each of his upcoming films earning him millions. The film has been credited for turning his career around as he was cast in some major releases and never looked back since then.
Cruise is currently the eighth highest-grossing actor of all-time thanks to he t$3.7 billion generated in the box office since his debut in 1981. He will surely continue to climb up the rankings as he continues to be active on the scene.
6. Taraji P. Henson – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: $100,000
It’s no secret that Taraji P. Henson was far from pleased with her paycheck for her role as Queeni in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She made sure that everyone knew in her memoir, claiming that she received less than 2 % of what Brad Pitt had earned. While she didn’t reveal the exact figure, she did indicate that it’s in the “lowest range of fix figures.”
With the film grossing $334 million in the box office, Henson probably felt even more underpaid than she previously did upon learning what Pitt was receiving. The film did wonders for her career as she earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards. While Henson may have felt disrespected with the contract, there is no doubt that she is thankful as it launched her into becoming one of the top actresses in the past 10 years.
5. Jamie Dornan – Fifty Shades Of Grey: $250,000
A number that will surely turn up some heads… For most actors, $250,000 is an incredible pay to star in a film. But when said film is Fifty Shades of Grey – a release that generated $571.1 million in the box office – then it certainly earns a spot to be on this list. Following the movie’s major success, it is rumored that Jamie Dornan attempted to renegotiate his contract although it hasn’t been revealed whether his demands were met.
But for his part in the sequel Fifty Shades Darker, Dornan received a hefty pay with millions of dollars for reprising his role in the film. With the third sequel coming up in 2018, there is no doubt that Dornan will be racking up a couple more millions and that will probably be more than enough to allow him to live comfortably for the rest of his life.
4. Jonah Hill – The Wolf Of Wall Street – $60,000
Jonah Hill was ready to do anything to feature in a Martin Scorsese film, which is why he agreed to reduce his usual rate by a large chunk as he only earned $60,000. It has been rumored that Hill wasn’t the first choice for this role, but he wanted the role of Donnie Azoff so bad that he was more than willing to sacrifice money for it.
In comparison, Leonardo DiCaprio earned $10 million for his role, while the film went on to generate $392 million in the box office. That mattered very little to Jonah Hill who didn’t end up experiencing any regrets over his decision.
With an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Hill elevated his career to an entirely different level. Although he had previously established himself as one of the better comedian actors in modern history, critics had seen him in a different light.
3. Jon Heder – Napoleon Dynamite: $1,000
On the surface, it may be mind-blowing to some that Jon Heder only earned $1,000 for starring in Napoleon Dynamite. But what some may not know is that the film had a mere budget of $400,000 that managed to gross $46.1 million in the box office. Heder had agreed to the role and salary since he was friends with director Jared Hess, but thankfully, he was paid back for his services by renegotiating his original contract.
In the past, we have seen issues brewing between actors and producers once a movie overachieves in the box office but they came to an agreement almost immediately. But considering that the film was a smash hit and the character became a worldwide icon, it is fair to say that Heder was underpaid for his services. His career greatly benefited from starring in the film as he went on to feature in several major releases.
2. Sean William Scott – American Pie: $8,000
Seann William Scott broke through the industry with his role as Steve Stifler in the American Pie series. Despite being the most memorable character of the series, he was only paid $8,000 for his appearance in the original 1999 film.
It is understandable since William was an unknown actor at the time, but the film changed his fortunes for the rest of his life. American Pie grossed $235 million and was popular enough to have four sequels.
Since then, William’s paycheck has gotten much sweeter and cashed in $5 million for his appearance in the 2012 sequel. Although he didn’t exactly go on to have the career that some had anticipated, William has starred in some of the most popular comedies of the 2000s, including Road Trip, Dude Where’s My Car?, and Role Models, so it’s safe to say that he is set for life now.
1. Brad Pitt – Thelma & Louise: $6,000
Brad Pitt broke onto the scene following his appearance in Thelma & Louise, and immediately managed to be on everyone’s radar thanks to his impressive showing as well as great look. It was the film that propelled him into becoming an A-list actor as he went on to star in many box office hits to become one of the highest paid Hollywood stars.
Looking back, $6,000 seems awfully low for Brad Pitt but we highly doubt that he has experienced any doubts regarding the contract. As an up-and-coming actor, some gigs only serve to get your name out there especially if you have the chance to feature in a major production. Such was the case for Pitt who was in need of an opportunity like this one.
It wasn’t long before Pitt was charging millions of dollars to star in films, so his rise to fame was rather fast.
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