Considering that Marvel films seem to have a licence to print money, it's tempting to think that all the stars in their movies are breaking the bank with every appearance. Well, yeah, they kind of are. It just doesn't work the way you're probably imagining. While Robert Downey Jr. makes a minimum of $40 million per film and Scarlett Johansson has used her incredible star power to coerce Marvel into paying her in excess of $6 million per film, most of the other actors in the Marvel films didn't start out with that kind of love. Marvel and the other studios involved in these films have created a ladder-like pay system for their actors. First, you start out small, signing on for several films and committing to show up in basically whatever they want you in. With each appearance, the actor's salary increases. They also get back-end deals which can be extremely lucrative if the film is successful. Now, before you say, obviously, these films are going to be successful, please remember that Marvel was also responsible for Fantastic Four. Success is not a given.
Now, when we're dealing with the type of superstars like the ones in this list, all salaries and talk about low pay is relative. These people are rich and they're making loads of money, but they aren't making that RDJ or ScarJo money. We've gone through and looked at the reported salaries for each of the stars in all of the Marvel films and have listed the most surprising of the bunch. The people on this list were the ones who made the least amount of money. We are going to consider the back-end deals, but we're going to try to look beyond that as well. Since guaranteed money is a better indicator of how much an actor was worth to Marvel, the up front numbers are going to hold more weight. Without further ado, here are the 15 lowest paid stars in Marvel films.
15 Zoe Saldana, $100K+, Guardians of the Galaxy
It probably won't surprise you to learn that Zoe Saldana was the lowest paid cast member of the main stars in The Guardians of the Galaxy. She had one of the lower levels of popularity going in and she's a woman. You know how those types of things go unfortunately. If we assume that she got the same back-end deal as the rest of the gang, about 0.3% of profits, that means her upfront salary was only about $100,000. In the end, after the back-end deal, Saldana brought home about $1.25 million for playing the role of Gamora. But, like we've found for all of these actors (except for Terrence Howard), these low-ball initial contracts have a way of paying off big-time in the long run.
14 Anthony Mackie, $100K+, Avengers: Age of Ultron
Anthony Mackie is one of the unsung heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As Sam Wilson, the actor has appeared in a few of the Marvel films, but he still only earns a tiny fraction of what the other stars earn. Sure, he's got a small part in the films, but so do a few of the characters. For The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mackie brought in about $280,000, but that includes a back-end deal that probably paid him the vast majority of that. All we can do is guess, but we're willing to bet that he was signed on for less than $100,000 up front. Again, this was a small role, so we're not saying he deserved more. But we like to imagine all these Marvel stars bringing in millions, while some, like Mackie, are making much less than that.
13 Karen Gillan, $140K, Guardians of the Galaxy
When it comes to secondary characters in Marvel films, especially Disney productions, the salary information can be difficult to find. There are reports that Karen Gillan, the actress who played Nebula in The Guardians of the Galaxy made about $140,000 for the film. It's unclear how much of a back-end deal she got but we have to assume that there was some at least because there's no way she earned $140,000 up front. Likely, she earned less than $100,000 and got a sniff of the massive profits in addition to that. The character Gomora is very likely to return in future films too, so Gillan has set herself up to earn more in the future.
12 Lee Pace, $175K, Guardians of the Galaxy
Lee Pace has done a lot of quality work over the years, but he's always been a secondary figure for the most part. Or, at least, that's how the casual film fan sees him. It was the same story for Pace in The Guardians of the Galaxy, playing the baddie and earning a fraction of what the main stars made. Still, the actor came away with about $175,000 for his efforts. This isn’t far off what he earns on most films he takes part in, so we can assume that he made a good chunk of this up front. When compared to some of the other secondary characters on this list, Pace might have earned a bit more up front because his character is not set to return in the future. There's a good chance that he got to share in some of the profits, though he probably only got a small fraction of a percentage point compared to the big players in Marvel films.
11 Gwyneth Paltrow, Not Much, Iron Man
We actually don't know how much Gwenyth Paltrow earned for playing Pepper Potts in the Iron Man franchise, but apparently, it wasn't enough. While most of the actors in these films are just counting their blessings for landing a steady paying gig, Paltrow is bellyaching that her and Robert Downey Jr.'s salaries are not close to equal. Newsflash Paltrow: no one's salary is close to RDJ's. Here's what she said: "Look, nobody is worth the money that Robert Downey Jr. is worth. But if I told you the disparity, you would probably be surprised." No, we wouldn't. Did you earn less than $500,000 for the first film? Well, that's what most stars made in their first Marvel film. Did you double that in your second film? Good, that's what most have done. Stop comparing yourself as a background character to the title character and the highest-paid actor in the world. You do that and you're gonna have a bad time.
10 Chadwick Boseman, Under $200K+, Captain America: Civil War
Whenever newcomers join an ensemble cast, you've got to expect that they're going to claim a much smaller piece of the pie than the old veterans on set. That's why it's not all that surprising that Chadwick Boseman only earned about $700,000 for his part in Captain America: Civil War. Even though he had a significant role, it was the actor's first appearance in the franchise and he is promised a lengthy run of appearances in the future. We can assume that Boseman, like all the stars in these joint features, got a significant back-end deal. We can't imagine that he earned anything more than $200,000 up front, plus a 0.1% back-end deal, which would bring him to his final salary. Just by looking at the trends, we should expect that Black Panther will bring in at least $500,000 up front for Boseman.
9 Andrew Garfield, $500K, The Amazing Spider-Man
When Andrew Garfield was asked to take over for Tobey Maguire and reboot the Spider-Man film franchise, he was probably giddy. After all, Maguire was paid $4 million for the first film and was offered a $20 million upfront salary for Spider-Man 4 (plus a back-end deal). Garfield was going to be rich rich rich. Sadly, the actor was asked to come on board for a decidedly lower-budget version of the films. For his part, Garfield was paid $500,000 for The Amazing Spider-Man. While we don't know what the star was paid for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we can assume that he, like all others, probably doubled his upfront salary for the sequel, especially considering the first film made over $750 million at the box office.
8 Don Cheadle, $1M, Iron Man 2
Ok, so Don Cheadle made $1 million for Iron Man 2. That's a good paycheck up front compared to what most stars get in their first Marvel film, but the character of Rhodey is a more interesting study. In the first film, Iron Man, Rhodey was played by Terrence Howard. Somewhat surprisingly, Howard received a massive salary of $4.5 million when he signed on for a three-picture deal. That $4.5 million was set to move up to $8 million for the second film. However, when it came time to get rolling, there were rumors that Marvel and the filmmakers wanted to move on from Howard. So, they went to him with an offer of $1 million, a massive decrease from what it should have been. Unsurprisingly, Howard turned down the offer and the studios picked up Cheadle, who was more than happy to sign on at that price. Again, it's a nice payday, but it's significantly lower than what it should have been for Howard.
7 Chris Pratt, $350K+, Guardians of the Galaxy
Lovers of Parks and Recreation might try to argue that Chris Pratt has been a legend since birth and was destined to become the greatest movie star of all time, but, the truth is, when he was cast as Peter Quill in The Guardians of the Galaxy, he wasn't all that well-known outside of that show. Disney is notorious for hiding their numbers well, but we can take some educated guesses in regards to Pratt's salary. For his part, Pratt was rumored to have made about $1.5 million, with much of that coming on a back-end deal. By looking at the salaries of his co-stars, we can assume that everyone made about 0.3% of profits on the back-end. This is a pretty safe bet because Dave Bautista made almost as much as Pratt, a fairly strong signal that the bulk of their salaries were tied to the film's profits. That would mean that Pratt probably only signed on for about $300,000-$400,000 up front.
6 Paul Rudd, $300K+, Ant-Man
Unlike many of the actors who are cast in Marvel superhero roles, Paul Rudd is one who already had a pretty big name. You would think that he would be able to leverage this into a massive payday, but he was forced to sign the same type of deal that most of the others had to sign. He took a small up front fee, if you consider about $300,000 small, and earned a percentage of profits. In this case, it was likely the same 0.2% that many of the Avengers signed. After Ant-Man brought in over $500 million at the box-office, Rudd came home with a hefty $1.5 million-dollar paycheck. Again, this is a lot of money and we don’t want to downplay that. But put yourself in Rudd's shoes. This guy was an A-list actor who had to bet on a solo film based on a superhero that the casual Marvel fans aren't even aware of. It was a risk, but it paid off.
5 Jeremy Renner, $500K+, The Avengers
When Jeremy Renner was brought in to play Hawkeye in The Avengers, he was recognized as a quality actor but many fans still were not familiar with his name. While we don't know exactly what Renner signed on for up front, we can imagine it was very close to what the other newcomer, Mark Ruffalo, signed on for. In the end, Renner brought in just over 2 million for The Avengers, and that included a 0.2% back-end deal. If we assume that the profits were about 50% of the $1.5 billion that the film brought in at box-office, that would mean that Renner made $1.5 million in a back-end deal and only about $500,000 up front. That's not a bad haul, but when you look at the numbers his co-stars were pulling in, it's small potatoes. Renner would more than double his salary in The Avengers sequel though, banking about $6 million, plus a heftier percentage of the profits.
4 Chris Evans, $300K+, Captain America: The First Avenger
There's an argument to be made that most of the actors in Marvel's bank of superheroes were not stars when they were cast. Sure, some, like Jennifer Lawrence, Ryan Reynolds and Bradley Cooper were giants in the industry prior to signing on, but almost all of the others were catapulted to fame because of their Marvel films or after they were already cast. Chris Evans is one of the actors who challenges this argument a bit. No, Evans was not a megastar, but he was a well-known. Still, when he was first brought on as Captain America, he wasn’t paid like a star, all things considered. For appearing in Captain America: The First Avenger, Evans was only paid $300,000. That's a far-cry from what Robert Downey Jr. made in his first film. But, like we mentioned, Marvel upped the ante for the sequels and joint films. Take The Avengers: Age of Ultron for example. Evans made about $7 million on that film.
3 Chris Hemsworth, $200K+, Thor
It's weird to think back to a time when Chris Hemsworth was a virtual unknown, but that's how it was when he was first cast as Thor in Thor. When the Aussie was asked to take the part and commit to a number of Marvel films in the future, he agreed and signed his name under his reported salary of $200,000. Don't feel too bad for the penniless Hemsworth though. Only a few years later, he was bringing over $5 million upfront for The Avengers: Age of Ultron. He also was making significant percentage points on the back-end of that film's profits, a film that brought in $1.4 billion at the box office. Thor is bleeding money these days.
2 Mark Ruffalo, $500K+, The Avengers
Back-end deals make salaries so hard to gauge. It might look easy for an actor to sign a contract that is built primarily by a percentage of profits, but anyone in the industry will tell you that's not the case. Still, when it came time to make The Avengers, it was a pretty safe bet that the movie was going to make a great deal of money. Most of the solo films had done well and people were amped up for this joint venture. For Mark Ruffalo, this was a weird time to be sure. The Incredible Hulk had already ripped through Eric Bana and Edward Norton and now he was asked to sign a contract for The Avengers that was almost entirely paid by a back-end deal. Most reports suggest that Ruffalo made just under 3 million with a 0.2% back end deal on The Avengers: The Age of Ultron. Comparatively, that’s less than half than all of the other Avengers (except for Thor who made reportedly $5.4 million plus bonus).
1 Tom Hiddleston, $160K, The Avengers
Poor Tom Hiddleston. This guy was shortlisted for the part of Thor only to cast as the devious brother, Loki. While the part is amazing and Hiddleston hits it out of the park, there is a significant drop-off in salary between the two parts. Since Chris Hemsworth only made $200,000 for Thor, we can assume that Hiddleston's salary was significantly less. When everyone came back for The Avengers and Loki was cast as the villain, Hiddleston must have been as excited as a pig in poo. The superheroes on The Avengers team were making millions in that film, you would think that Hiddleston got to share some of that pie too, but he didn't. While his co-stars counted their millions of dollars, Loki only made about $160,000 for his part in The Avengers.