Jamie Dornan – $100,000 – Fifty Shades Of Grey
Although not the first choice for the role of Christian, the handsome billionaire with a penchant for bondage, Dornan secured the role after Charlie Hunnam pulled out over scheduling issues. Hunnam had been offered $125,000 for the role, but Dornan’s lack of box office clout meant he only netted $100,000. Not to worry, though, things have picked up for him in the subsequent Fifty Shades movies, with reports suggesting he pocketed around $4.5m. If you think his starting salary was low, wait until you see the next one.
Jonah Hill – $60,000 – Wolf of Wall Street
Money isn’t everything and it certainly wasn’t the reason Jonah Hill agreed to play Donnie Azoff in Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film about self-proclaimed wolf of wall street, Jordan Belfort. Playing opposite lead actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hill’s earnings are a mere stipend compared to DiCaprio’s cool $10m. Nevertheless, Hill was so delighted to work with Scorsese that the experience made up for his meager earnings. The chubby actor finally broke the $1m ceiling in 2014 for his role in 22 Jump Street.
Jeremy Renner – $65,000 – The Hurt Locker
Before his glory days, Renner’s earning potential had yet to be recognized and he received a paltry $65,000 for the Oscar-nominated movie, The Hurt Locker. Although the film, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, made just $50m, it garnered widespread critical acclaim and won a total of six Oscars. The New York Times dubbed it, “the best non-documentary American feature made yet about the war in Iraq”. Renner went on to become one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, securing himself a whopping $19m for his role in The Arrival.
John Travolta – $150,000 – Pulp Fiction
This was one of those movies that moved the benchmark for Hollywood and saw Quentin Tarantino ascend through the ranks quicker than you could say, “Zed’s dead, baby.” On the back of the 1992 success of Reservoir Dogs, this cult movie saw John Travolta’s return to the big screen after a significant decline during the Eighties. With a very strict budget, Pulp Fiction cost a mere $8m to make but grossed over $200m. It also re-launched Travolta’s career and his next role in Face/Off earned him a rather more respectable $20,000,000.
Scarlett Johansson – $17.5m – Ghost In The Shell
Based on Masamune Shirow’s Japanese manga, Ghost in the Shell didn’t quite live up to expectations, despite its hefty production budget. Amid accusations of whitewashing and racism, due to actors like Johansson being chosen for the lead roles, the film received mixed reviews and is considered a box office failure, even though it brought it $169m. When the budget is $110m, though, it does make for a rather skimpy profit margin. Johansson’s subsequent project, Rough Night, has also performed somewhat disappointingly at the box office.
Haley Joel Osment – $150,000 – The Sixth Sense
If you keep reading, you’ll find out just how much Bruce Willis received for his role in this moving story of a young boy who sees dead people. Even though his performance in the key role gained him an Oscar nomination for Best Support Actor, his financial compensation was minimal. Osment went on to play the lead in Pay It Forward saw him enter the big leagues of $1m earners. As an adult, Osment has continued to challenge himself with unconventional career choices.
Cameron Diaz – $42m – Bad Teacher
Diaz took a big risk when she signed up for Bad Teacher, agreeing to take a minimal salary and betting on her popularity to bring in the dough. It seems she made the right choice, however, with the movie taking over $216m at the box office and giving Diaz a nice little earner as a result of her percentage of the sales. Over the years, Diaz has consistently proved her comic timing and earned two awards for her role as Elizabeth Halsey.
Uma Thurman – $24m – Kill Bill
According to reports, Uma put her life on the line during the making of the violent thrillers, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Despite her original objections, director Quentin Tarantino persuaded Thurman to perform some of her own stunts, a decision that resulted in her hospitalization and a long-running feud between her and Tarantino. In a later interview, Thurman said that making these two movies was “dehumanizing to the point of death.” It seems unlikely we’ll ever see the plans for Kill Bill Vol. 3 come to fruition.
Robin Williams – $75,000 + A Picasso Painting – Aladdin
Despite his popularity, it took Robin Williams some time before he entered the big league. Even though Aladdin netted around $500m, Williams received a mere $75,000 for providing the voice of the Genie. Part of the agreement was that the creators wouldn’t use his voice for marketing purposes, but they rescinded on this part of the deal and subsequently presented Williams with a painting by Picasso to make amends. Williams earned considerably more in his later years, reaching a pinnacle with Bicentennial Man, for which he received $20m.
Hugh Jackman – $52.5m – X-Men
Although his salary for the original X-Men totaled a mere $500,000, the series’ success has secured Jackman over $52m in total. Playing the key role of Wolverine, Jackman received more generous compensation for both X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine which was released in 2013. Jackman received $20m for each of these, although his income dropped considerably with the latest 2014 offering and he was paid a miserable $7m for X-Men: Days of Future Past. He doesn’t seem to be complaining, though.
James Earl Jones – $5,000 – Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
The voice of Darth Vader is probably one of the most famous in movie history while his signature heavy breathing has become the stuff of legends. Despite this, Jones was paid just $5,000 for giving the iconic villain his memorable voice. The man behind the mask also claims he received very little in the way of financial compensation and is still waiting for residual payments from his role in Return of the Jedi. It seems kind of strange for one of the most celebrated villains in Hollywood, doesn’t it?
Oprah Winfrey – $35,000 – The Color Purple
She may be worth over $3bn now, but in 1985, Oprah had to settle measly $35,000 for her part in The Color Purple. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie ended up taking a little more than $146m and earned Oprah an Oscar nomination. Based on Alice Walker’s novel of the same name, the film was greeted with some lukewarm reviews but still managed to earn Oprah an Oscar nomination for her part as Sofia Johnson. It’s doubtful whether Oprah would even get out of bed for $35,000 these days.
Sandra Bullock – $77m – Gravity
Having just won an Oscar, Bullock could really command any salary she wanted but, by the sound of things, she earned every penny of her $77m for this one. The complicated technology required to make this movie meant that Bullock spent as much as 10 hours a day along inside a lightbox. “Often, I would just stay in whatever apparatus I was in because it was too long to get in and out of it,” she said. It was worth it in the end, though and brought in $700m internationally.
Halle Berry – $14m – Catwoman
It’s only fitting that one of the sexiest comic book characters ever created should be played by the woman who has been voted the sexiest women alive several times over. With a body hugging leather suit that left nothing to the imagination, Berry’s performance put her up there with the all-time greats like Julie Newmar who was the first to play the role back in the Sixties. While the movie received something of a critical roasting, Berry certainly looked the part in her dominatrix-style costumes.
Leonardo DiCaprio – $2.5m – Titanic
This historical romance was such a success it literally sank the competition at the Oscars in 1998. This epic tale is based on the true story of the catastrophe that hit when the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912. Playing the lead role of Jack Dawson, Leonardo DiCaprio was cast opposite Kate Winslet and their on-screen chemistry was the stuff of legends. Twenty years after the box office sensation was released, the pair thrilled their fans when they reunited for romantic drama, Revolutionary Road.
Clint Eastwood – $250,000 + A Ferrari – The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Following the success of the 1964 Spaghetti Western, Fistful of Dollars, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly cemented Eastwood as a true Hollywood star. Along with For a Few Dollars More, they became known as The Man With No Name trilogy and marked the beginning of Eastwood’s legendary career as both actor and director. Although $250,000 doesn’t sound like much, it is the equivalent of $1.8m today, so a tidy little earner for the celebrity. Today, Eastwood is valued at around $375m which is considerably more than the next actress.
Anna Kendrick – Over $8m – Pitch Perfect Films
The first of the Pitch Perfect trilogy has been called, “one of the best musical comedies since A Mighty Wind” and netted $115m at the box office. Anna Kendrick stars in the lead role, as a talented yet quirky singer who helps the Barden Bellas reinvent themselves to take on rivals, the Treblemakers in a national a Capella competition. While it’s not known how much Kendrick pocketed for the first movie, but she earnt $8m for the two sequels. And to think that the biggest earners are still to come!
Marlon Brando – $19m – Superman
When you’re as famous as Marlon Brando, you can really call the shots and the megastar certainly made sure he got a super-sized salary for his walk-on role as Joe-El in Superman. Even though he was onscreen for a mere 15 minutes, Brando received $3.7m remuneration for his role as well as 11.45% of the profits. As one of the biggest hits of the Seventies, Superman grossed $300m, giving Brando the equivalent of $50m in today’s terms and making this the most expensive cameo role in Hollywood history.
Tom Cruise – Over $350m – Mission: Impossible
Tom Cruise has been around long enough to know the ins and outs of the movie industry and to ensure his box office appeal is suitably compensated. Cruise is one of the biggest earners in Hollywood history, consistently receiving upwards of $20m for a single movie. The Mission: Impossible movies have proved popular and successful and have grossed around $2bn so far. With the sixth Mission: Impossible movie due for release later this year, it looks like Cruise will be cruising to the bank in style for some years to come.
Keanu Reeves – $262m- The Matrix
It’s this kind of deal that turns actors into millionaires. Not only did Reeves get a fix salary for his role as Neo, he was also given a percentage of the sales which made him a record-breaking $126m for The Matrix Reloaded when it was released in 2003. Rumors suggest that the creators approached both Will Smith and Johnny Depp before offering the role to Reeves, but, as both appear later in this list, it’s doubtful that either regrets their decision to turn it down. Look who’s up next…
Johnny Depp -$185m – Pirates of the Caribbean
Depp’s film career has been filled with stunning performances in complex roles, such as Edward Scissorhands in the movie of the same name and Sam in Benny and Joon. Although now reportedly stuck in “franchise hell”, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies have certainly earned Depp a nice little nest egg, although his extravagant lifestyle has been reported to have soaked up most of those millions already. The latest in the Pirates series, Dead Men Tell No Tales, has received mixed reviews but will still net around 95m for Depp.
Tom Hanks – $70m – Forrest Gump
We all know it was worth it in the end, but the making of Forrest Gump wasn’t all plain sailing. Although originally offered $10m for the leading role, Hanks handed back some of his takings after the movie went over budget. This turned out to be a seriously clever move as he negotiated a percentage of the sales instead. As the movie grossed $670m, Hanks’ earnings ended up reaching a grand total of $70m… not to mention worldwide acclaim and an Oscar. All in a day’s work for this Hollywood superstar.
Will Smith – $100m – Men In Black 3
In 2015, Newsweek named Smith, “the most powerful actor in Hollywood”. Starting out in the TV comedy series, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Smith’s career sky-rocketed after he took to the big screen. Smith is the only actor to have starred in 11 consecutive box office hits. Despite a hefty production budget, the latest Men in Black movie proved as popular as the previous two and banked around $624m worldwide. With a percentage of the takings written into his contract, Smith ended up taking home a whopping $100m.
Bruce Willis – $120m – The Sixth Sense
We’ve already learned that Willis’s costar, Haley Joel Osment, earned a measly $150,000 for this movie, but Willis already had a series of successes under his belt by the time The Sixth Sense was released. Having already starred in the first two Die Hard movies, there was only one way the creators of this off-the-wall film would secure his services, and that was with some serious dosh. Willis was given a contract that entitled him to 17% of the movie’s gross sales, in addition to a $14m salary. Wow.
Daniel Radcliffe – Over $74m – Harry Potter Films
The character of Harry Potter launched Daniel Radcliffe’s career but when the first one was made, he was offered just $145,000 to play the title role. As the success of the series cemented it in everyone’s hearts, so Radcliffe was offered increasingly more money to continue as the young wizard and the 2010 Potter movie, Deathly Hollows, earned him a tidy $20m. Mind you, between the movies, the merchandise, and the original books, the brand is now estimated to be worth around $25bn – just to put it in perspective.
Adam Sandler – $60m – Anger Management
Produced by Sandler’s company, Happy Madison Productions, the star-studded cast of Anger Management failed to impress the critics, but the public was impressed, and the comedy ended up growing $195m. Obviously, as the movie was backed by his own company, Sandler earned 25% of the total income, but his salary comes primarily from his acting role. The movie’s success inspired producer Joe Roth to take it to the small screen and the TV series of the same name was launched in 2012, with Charlie Sheen in the lead role.
Jack Nicholson – $60m – Batman
Jack Nicholson starred in his first film in 1958 so he’s been in the industry long enough to know how to negotiate a decent deal. Over 30 years later, when he agreed to play the Joker opposite Michael Keaton’s Batman, Nicolson took a lower base salary in exchange for a percentage of both the takings and the merchandise sales. Ever-popular, the movie grossed over $400m, giving Nicholson a comfortable bonus. He certainly made the part his own, however, and is arguably one of the best Jokers ever.
Christian Bale – $54m – Batman
It seems playing comic book characters is one of the best ways to make money in Hollywood and playing the coveted role of Batman brings in the bucks as well as some serious kudos. Bale is one of the longest-running batmen of all time and his appearances in Batman Begins, The Dark Night, and The Dark Night Rises earned him a respectable $54m. Despite that, he chose not to return for a fourth reprisal of the character… possibly a good thing given the critical roasting it received.
Daniel Craig – $80m – James Bond Films
What actor doesn’t dream of saying those iconic words, “My name is Bond, James Bond.”? A very different persona to the previous Bonds, Daniel Craig earned more than any of his predecessors. The last Bond movie he made, Spectre, made him $39m, nearly $15m than the second highest paid Bond, Pierce Brosnan. He was offered even more to make the fifth one but turned it down, saying, “I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists.” I wonder if our next actor felt the same about his long-running role.
Bruce Willis – Over $52.5m – Die Hard Films
The Die Hard films were pure Hollywood and, despite being a little older than most action-adventure heroes, Willis did a great job portraying the no-nonsense NYPD detective, John McClane. The first Die Hard movie was released in 1988 and the subsequent four movies have continued to be well-received, with the series pulling in around $1.4bn. Willis has already appeared on the list for his role in The Sixth Sense and he also earned an impressive $10m for his role in Look Who’s Talking back in the Eighties.
Al Pacino – Over $5.5m – The Godfather Films
These movies are some of the most quoted and in history and include scenes that are considered to have changed the face of Hollywood. Although not the first choice for the role of Michael Corleone, Pacino did a fabulous job and made considerably more when he returned to do Part III. Marlon Brando did rather well out of his role in the movie, earning a tidy $50,000 despite having to put up a bond as insurance against any losses caused by his notoriously bad behavior on set.
Matt Damon – $82m – Jason Bourne Films
Although Matt Damon has a lot to do on screen during the Bourne movies, the one thing that isn’t really required of him is speaking. In the first movie, Damon had a sum total of 25 lines and, as he was paid around $25m for the performance, he must have made sure each one was perfectly delivered. Damon was missing from the cast of Bourne Legacy but returned for the latest offering and it looks like there’ll be more where that came from, but only if Damon approves of the storyline.
Zach Galifianakis – $20m – The Hangover
Having started out as a stand-up comedian, this dark comedy Zach Galifianakis’s movie career with a big bang. Although paid less than $1m for the first blockbuster, the financial rewards came later, with salaries of $5m and $15m respectively for the two sequels. Galifianakis received widespread critical acclaim for his performance as the superbly quirky Alan. Although director, Todd Phillips had another actor in mind for the role, he was no doubt pleased with his final decision. Don’t go yet… there’s a couple more legend worth reading about.
Bradley Cooper – $20m – American Sniper
Heart-throb Bradley Cooper was catapulted to fame with his role in the 2009 comedy, The Hangover. Directed by Todd Phillips, this box office hit netted over $450m and introduced a wealth of new talent to the big screen. After reprising his role in the next two Hangover films, Cooper went on to even bigger and better things. By the time he was cast as U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, Cooper was already at the top of the game, hence the paycheck of $20m!
Matthew McConaughey – $200,000 – Dallas Buyers Club
You would think, with a name as big as his, any role Matthew McConaughey agreed to take on would earn him somewhere in the millions, but he received only $200,000 for playing the part of HIV-positive, Ron Woodruff. Based on a true story, the film took around three years to complete and, although not financially his best choice, it ended up winning McConaughey an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. It was still a lot more than our next actor got.