Even though it has nothing to do with us, we’re interested in actor salaries. We’re interested in how much money these stars make for a number of reasons, but one of those, particularly important for this list, is that it gives us a sense of value to compare against the films they star in. This can be good and bad. Take, for example, the recent film The Revenant. Now, we know that Leonardo DiCaprio made a boatload of money on this film, approximately $25 million. But, imagine if he hadn’t. Imagine we had to listen to all those interviews about how grueling the shoot was and how incredibly torturous it was to have to shoot on location for those long hours if it only made the SAG minimum of $60,000. Obviously, the end result has to be considered as well. Leo’s performance was brilliant, and the box office results were enormous. This worked out. But it doesn’t always go that well.
We wanted to consider the opposite ends of the spectrum. We wanted to look at actors who were paid far too little for what they gave us and those actors who were paid far too much. As you may know, gauging actor salaries can be very difficult. Most contracts now include residuals or percentages of film profits. In some cases, actors forego upfront payment, betting on themselves and the film to do well. We have to consider this. We also can only consider what information is made available to us and, often, that isn’t much. Either way, let’s look at 10 Actors Paid Too Much For Their Roles (10 That Weren’t Paid Enough).
20. Johnny Depp – Mordecai And The Lone Ranger – Paid Too Much
Johnny Depp is an actor who is in this strange middle ground. He is one of the most successful actors in the history of the industry. He’s been in some of the biggest and best films ever made. But he’s also been in some incredible flops and cinematic blunders. Take two of his recent roles, for example—Mordecai and The Lone Ranger. For most films, Depp makes about $20 million. He made that in The Lone Ranger despite taking a pay cut to keep the enormous budget down. Depp also took a pay cut for Mordecai, a considerable one. He ended up making about $10 million on that film. Yet, when you consider that Mordecai made less than $50 million and Depp’s salary was close to 20% of the budget, it’s clear he was paid far too much. The disaster that was The Lone Ranger is not Depp’s fault, but paying him $20 million to go on to lose more than $100 million is a frightening thought.
19. Jon Heder – Napoleon Dynamite – Paid Too Little
For an actor like Jon Heder, we present both bad news and good news. The bad news is, Heder was only paid about $1,000 for his starring role in Napoleon Dynamite. The good news is that after the film blew up and made close to $50 million at the box office, the actors were paid quite well. Obviously, Heder’s performance also turned him into a star and allowed him to nab many more roles. There was a lawsuit put forth by the producers regarding unpaid revenues from the studio that was settled out of court, so Heder might have made out like a bandit in the end…or not. Who knows for sure? That’s Hollywood accounting for you.
18. Will Smith – After Earth – Paid Too Much
Will Smith‘s earnings on films fluctuate depending on the size of the film. When he takes on a starring role in a monster budget film, like After Earth, he takes in about $20 million. Now, After Earth earned just short of $250 million. That’s decent for a normal film. But they didn’t cast Will Smith and pay him $20 million to make an average film. The reported total budget was close to $200 million, so they made next to nothing, all things considered. We included Smith in this list because we feel that much of the responsibility of this failure is on him. He was not good in this film. His son, Jaden Smith, was not good in this film either. Will raised Jaden, so he’s doubly responsible.
17. Channing Tatum – Jupiter Ascending – Paid Too Much
Although we don’t have the exact numbers for the salaries on Jupiter Ascending, we know that Channing Tatum was in a career surge and was very high in demand at the time of making it. Reports had his contract demands at approaching $20 million not long after Jupiter Ascending, so we have to assume he made around $15 million. If you’ve not seen this movie yet, keep it that way. Just take our word that it is not good, and Tatum is not worth $15 million. Then again, no one playing the part that he had would be worth that money. The part was not worth $15 million. This stinker lost about $100 million too. So there’s that.
16. Jamie Lee Curtis – Halloween – Paid Too Little
It’s safe to say that Jamie Lee Curtis doesn’t regret filming Halloween for only $8,000 (now at least). The film helped make her of the biggest stars on the planet. Especially in the horror genre. But still, Halloween made $70 million, and the star of the film made next to nothing in comparison. It wasn’t like she was chopped liver either. She is the daughter of two screen legends, and she was sought out because of that. She had the power in the negotiations. It was her first role, though, and it did wonders for her long career, so we’ll let this battle go.
15. Scarlett Johansson – Ghost In The Shell – Paid Too Much
Scarlett Johansson got her massive payday on Ghost in the Shell. The production was a big deal. The lead role was a woman, and she was paid like a man. There was also the whitewashing issue. This last factor really put a damper on everything. It definitely had a big influence on the poor box office numbers as well. That being said, the movie stunk. The $60 million it lost was not all on the whitewashing, but it didn’t help matters. They took a risk on hiring the very white Johansson. When you learn that Johansson brought in a $17.5 million salary, the casting risk really makes no sense whatsoever.
14. Cast Of City Of God – Paid Too Little
When City of God was being filmed, the filmmakers went and recruited real people from the City of God, Rio de Janeiro. Most of the actors had no experience. Most lived in poverty. All these years later, some of the actors made careers, such as Alice Braga, but most are still living in poverty. But why? The film made more than $30 million and was shot on a shoestring budget. Sadly, the actors were apparently given the choice between a lump sum upfront or a percentage of the profits. Looking to make a quick buck, almost all the actors decided to take the money upfront. It was about $1,000. Much too little.
13. Matt Damon – The Great Wall – Paid Too Much
The issue around the film The Great Wall was similar to that of The Ghost in the Shell. Why hire a white actor in Matt Damon (not that he isn’t a skilled actor) to play a role that will surely be criticized? Regardless of whether the role was meant for a white actor or not, why pay Damon close to $25 million if people are only going to hate on the decision? They had to see this coming. The white savior trope is played out in Hollywood. If being white was a must for this role, cast a no-name white actor. Pay him $100,000. Now, instead of losing $75 million, you only lose $50 million.
12. Adam Sandler – Pixels – Paid Too Much
You just had to know that Adam Sandler was making it to this list. Honestly, were not anti-Sandler like so many critics and film fans. We enjoy him for what he is. We don’t go in expecting a completely new Sandler. We know his comedy. We’ve been watching his version of satire for more than 20 years. We have expectations, and he often meets them. If he falls short, it’s not a huge heartbreak. That being said, why studios were still paying this man upwards of $15 million to make movies that they know are going to flop is beyond us. There was a clear drop-off in Sandler movie sales leading up to Pixels. We knew it was going to bomb. You knew it too. That’s why we didn’t go see it, and it lost $75 million.
11. Eddie Murphy – The Adventures Of Pluto Nash – Paid Too Much
There was a time not too long ago when Eddie Murphy was the biggest comedian around. He was a living legend. Well, he still is. He just isn’t a marketable legend anymore. When The Adventures of Pluto Nash was being made, Murphy’s career was on thin ice. This movie just happened to break that ice. The studios deserved to lose almost $130 million (adjusted for inflation) on the film and the casting decision the made. They should have been wiser and seen the writing on the wall. Why pay Murphy $20 million (20% of the film’s budget) on a guaranteed failure? That’s just pure stupidity.
10. Kevin Costner – The Postman – Paid Too Much
It’s kind of sad how Kevin Costner‘s career virtually died for a while. Sure, he’s back now, and he’s always been insanely rich, but his career took a big hit after a couple of huge flops in Waterworld and The Postman. The Postman was a film that Costner directed and starred in, so his salary numbers are confusing. In saying that, Costner, at this time in his career, could earn around $15 million for a film. Subtract some for starring in his own movie, but add some for his directorial duties, and we’ll call it a cool $15 million. Well, that poor film would go on to lose $100 million, more than it cost to make the damn thing.
9. Heather Donahue – The Blair Witch Project – Paid Too Little
Heather Donahue is one of the most famous non-famous people out there. Everyone has seen her big movie, The Blair Witch Project, but almost no one has seen her since. Even worse, Donahue was portrayed as a real person and not an actor, so even her performance was questioned and not well-recognized. Then, there’s the money. The film was shot on a miniscule budget of about $60,000. Donahue was paid $1,000 for her leading role. She was dropped in a forest and was given cues as to where to go next. That took a whole week. The film went on to make about $250 million.
8. Steve Carell – Evan Almighty – Paid Too Much
When Evan Almighty was being made, Steve Carell was blowing up. The Office was a huge sensation and Carell was negotiating his new contract, which would end up netting him $175,000 per episode (later $300,000). Jim Carrey had done Bruce Almighty, and the studios needed a comparable replacement for the sequel. This led them to throwing money at Carell in the hopes that he could rescue a terrible script and plan. He could not. Despite making between close to $10 million for the film, he was not able to buy our love. Though Evan Almighty made about $175 million, the budget was colossal, dwarfing those revenues by nearly $100 million.
7. Nicolas Cage – Windtalkers – Paid Too Much
At the turn of the century, Nicolas Cage was one of the industry’s biggest stars. There wasn’t a soul who didn’t know who Nicolas Cage was. Yes, he still is a pretty big star, in a way, but the studios have realized that he just isn’t the box office draw that he once was. Can you guess what film tipped them off in the biggest way? That’s right, it was the film Windtalkers. They paid Nicolas Cage about $20 million to carry this terrible film, and the guy dropped it. No, we have to admit that it’s not all his fault. But damn, this film lost between $100 and $150 million (adjusted for inflation). Too much.
6. Nǃxau ǂToma – The Gods Must Be Crazy – Paid Too Little
Nǃxau ǂToma is a name that you might not know. You probably have never heard of him, but we’re certain that you’ve seen this actor. He was the star of The Gods Must Be Crazy, essential viewing for people of a certain generation. When they first came to Nǃxau to ask him to be the star of this film, he allegedly did not know the value of money. Since no one had the audacity to inform him of proper values, he was only paid $300 for his role. The film would go on to make more than $60 million. Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. When they came by to shoot the sequel, The Gods Must Be Crazy II, Nǃxau got his big payday.
5. Katie Featherston And Micah Sloat – Paranormal Activity – Paid Too Little
Like The Blair Witch Project and other micro-budget films, Paranormal Activity cost peanuts to make, $15,000 in total. Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, the two actors in the film, were given about $500 each. Shooting lasted for a week, and each day often consisted of 14-18 hours of work. That doesn’t sound like fun for anyone, but the real kick in the teeth came when the film went on to earn just under $200 million at the box office, and the two stars behind the project were not paid a large percentage of the profits. That’s just frustrating.
4. Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry – Paid Too Little
When Hilary Swank was cast in Boys Don’t Cry, she wasn’t a total nobody, but she wasn’t really a star either. She had done The Next Karate Kid, which was a disappointment, but it was a decently big leading role. Yet, when she was cast in Boys Don’t Cry, she was only given $3,000. That’s amazing considering that she needed such a massive transformation to play the role, a transformation she would win an Academy Award for. “I made $3,000. In order to have health insurance, you have to make $5,000. So I didn’t even know that I didn’t have health insurance until I went and tried to get a prescription filled,” Swank recalled. “They said, ‘That’s $160.’ I went, ‘Um, did you try my insurance?’ They said, ‘Mmm-hmm.’ I had an Academy Award, no health insurance.”
3. Rubina Ali And Azharuddin Ismail – Slumdog Millionaire – Paid Too Little
Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail were the little kids in Slumdog Millionaire. Neither of these children were actors prior to this film. In fact, these children were recruited because they lived in the area where the film shoot was taking place (they lived in shacks in Mumbai’s Bandra). Although the information about what was provided is conflicting, the parents of the children say that their kids were exploited. They claim that the child actors were paid less than house servants, £500 for a year’s work for Rubina and £1,700 for Azharuddin. The studios and director, Danny Boyle, say otherwise, claiming that the kids were also paid room and board, and a trust was set up in their name.
2. Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada – Kite Runner – Paid Too Little
The Kite Runner had two child stars played by Afghan actors, but we’re going to focus on only one, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, because his story is much worse. Paid only $9,000 for the role, Mahmidzada’s life after the film was worse because of it. Because of the film’s content, particularly a r*pe scene, Mahmidzada was forced to flee his home in Afghanistan after the film was banned in his home country. He was living with his father in Dubai for several years afterward, but then received threats from the Taliban. Mahmidzada then exiled to Sweden to ensure his safety. Not really worth $9,000, wouldn’t you agree?
1. Judy Garland – The Wizard Of Oz – Paid Too Little
While Judy Garland’s salary from The Wizard of Oz has been greatly exaggerated over the years, the truth is still ugly. Garland did not make less than Toto as the legend says. She made about $500 a week (Toto made $125). But that is still not enough for what she was forced to endure. First of all, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man, Ray Bolger and Jack Haley, respectively, made much more than Garland. This actress was not invisible to the public either. She was already a known commodity. Then the studio tortured her, forcing her to lose weight and working her insanely long hours. When the Garland was too tired to go on, they were feed her uppers or “pep pills” to keep her up and energetic. Jesus. Well, at least they paid her more than the dog.