ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

When it comes to the economics of Hollywood, we're now used to seeing mindbogglingly-high numbers and thinking nothing of it. Most blockbuster movies these days, even really bad ones, require at least $200 million to get made. That's two-hundred million US dollars. Two-hundred million!

However, it's not just entire productions which are spending, and making, serious stacks of cash. Individual actors can still make unbelievably high amounts of money in the space of a single year. Indeed, they don't even have to be in a particularly lucrative movie to still bring back millions upon millions of dollars.

Forbes recently compiled a list of this year's top Hollywood earners. As you can imagine, superhero and franchise actors are at the top of the list, although there might also be a few surprises.

Before we go into the numbers, Forbes provided the following explanation:

To compile our earnings estimates, we talk to agents, producers, lawyers and other in-the-know folks to figure out how much each celebrity earned from entertainment-related work between June 2013 and June 2014. We do not deduct for taxes, agent fees or the costs of being a celebrity.

1. Robert Downey, Jr - $75 million

From June 2013 to June 2014, Robert Downey, Jr earned an incredible $75 million in a single year. Let me just put that into perspective for you. That is 1756 times more than the average American makes in a year, pre-tax. If you wanted to save up that amount of money, well, it's going to take a long time - about 7142 years to be exact. That's from now all the way back to the founding of the first farming settlements by Neolithic man. And that's only if you save every single penny of your disposable income.

Of course, much of this bonanza came from Iron Man 3, which grossed $1.2 billion at the box office. Interestingly, Downey, Jr also made $75 million in the year before last (mostly thanks to The Avengers), meaning he can probably almost live as opulently as his onscreen character, Tony Stark.

2. Dwayne Johnson - $52 million

3. Bradley Cooper - $46 million

4. Leonardo DiCaprio - $39 million

5. Chris Hemsworth - $37 million

Chris Hemsworth is another Marvel child to make a serious amount of cash last year. This is the Australian actor's first entry on the Forbes top 10, and as you can imagine, the lion share of his salary came from the success of Thor: The Dark World, which earned $644 million at the box office. If you wanted to save up $37 million, it's only 3523 years worth of toil - which seems much more reasonable.

6. Liam Neeson - $36 million

7. Ben Affleck - $35 million

8. Christian Bale - $35 million

9. Will Smith - $32 million

10. Mark Wahlberg - $32 million

But some of these figures - even that earned by Robert Downey, Jr - are chicken-feed compared to Hollywood's top earners. If you know how to play the Hollywood Points game, you can make some serious stacks of Benjamins in the opening weekend alone.

You see, most Hollywood actors receive a, usually generous, lump-sum payment to appear in a movie. However, the more savvy and lucrative players can also trade in their salary for 'gross' or 'net points' on the box office takings in a deal known as 'profit participation'. So, for example, if your blockbuster movie breaks a billion, and you've got 10% of the gross takings negotiated - well, you my friend have just made a cool $100 million. Congratulations.

Let's look at some of the top Hollywood point players.

1. Tom Cruise - $290 million from Mission: Impossible franchise

Tom Cruise is the expert of negotiating lucrative percentage deals off the back of his movies, and because of this he has earned the most moolah for playing a single character in a film franchise - Agent Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible franchise. He made $70 million from the first film, $75 million from the second, another $75 from the third and a final $70 million from the fourth, making a grand total of $290 million. You DO NOT want to know how long you'd have to work to make that amount of money.

2. Keanu Reeves – $262 million from The Matrix franchise

Keanu Reeves latest martial arts flop, 47 Ronin, probably didn't boost his bank account much, but I'm fairly sure he's still not strapped for cash. Reeves made $262 million from The Matrix Trilogy, earning $126 million from The Matrix Reloaded alone - a record for a single movie. For the first film, Reeves accepted a $10 million salary and 10% of the gross, which netted him $56 million. For the latter two movies, Reeves got $15 million straight up, and 15% of the gross, adding an additional $126 million and $80 million to his coffers.

But Keanu didn't keep all this cash to himself. He famously gave around $35 to $100 million (no one's really sure) to the costume and special effects team behind The Matrix Trilogy, explaining:

Money is the last thing I think about. I could live on what I have already made for the next few centuries.

3. Johnny Depp – $185 million from Pirates of the Caribbean franchise

Originally, reports suggested Johnny Depp had made $350 million off of the first four Pirates of the Caribbean movies, however even Disney were apparently offended by this huge number, claiming the reported number was "highly inaccurate". From what we know, Depp earned $20 million for the first movie, $60 million for the second, $50 million off the third and $55 million off the fourth. Indeed, according to, Depp has negotiated merchandise and home release deals for [Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales](movie:586017) which could be worth up to $95 million.

Super Special Mention - Mel Gibson - $400 million from The Passion of the Christ

Although they're making mass stacks of cash, perhaps all these actors are in the wrong business? Sure, Mel Gibson has probably made quite a bit from his various acting roles, but it's only as a director and producer that he was able to make this absolutely obscene amount of cash.

By self-funding the entire production - to the tune of $45 million, half of his net worth at the time - Gibson was entitled to 50% of the box office profits from The Passion of the Christ, which resulted in $300 million. He also took $75 million from DVD sales and $25 million from merchandise - although I'm not entirely sure what merchandise was being made for The Passion of the Christ... I certainly haven't seen many lunchboxes...


Do actors deserve to make this much money?

Source: ComicBookMovie


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