Many of our favourite movie stars are not just brilliant performers but quite bankable too, according to studios and streaming platforms, and so, get paid accordingly. Consequently, owing to the big paychecks they receive for their projects, some of them are among the world’s highest-paid actors.
A recent report by Variety revealed names of actors who are getting paid in millions either for already completed films or upcoming projects. And, Tom Cruise, of course, is the biggest earner by salary in the list. However, the report notes that it is because of the uniqueness of his contract, which “is a vestige of a time when stars, not superheroes” attracted audiences to the theatres.
The math behind the high salaries of actors
The salary an actor can quote for appearing in a film is based on the box office performance of their previous release. For instance, Jason Momoa and Joaquin Phoenix. Variety reports that the actors doubled or quadrupled their charge for appearing in the sequels of the Aquaman (2018) and Joker (2019) after the outstanding box office earnings of the respective films.
Competition from streaming platforms such as Netflix and Apple TV+ can also contribute to an actor renegotiating for a higher salary with studio leads.
It is also noteworthy that the actors’ salary is part of their total earnings, which also includes endorsement deals, money from Instagram promotions and other business incomes.
But the most important factor is back-end deals with the studios. This is what Tom Cruise famously does, resulting in his multi-million dollar earnings from every single blockbuster movie he is part of. While even the most famous actors can reduce their salaries just to work with a director of repute, their deals with the studios ensure they make a windfall from their share of the profits if the film turns into a box office juggernaut.
Take a look at some of the highest-paid actors in the world
With a worldwide gross of over USD 1.3 billion, Top Gun: Maverick is the highest-grossing film of 2022. With this one film, Tom Cruise sits at the very top of the list of highest-paid actors in the world with a stratospheric earning of over USD 100 million reportedly.
According to Variety, Cruise takes a percentage of the movies’ first-dollar gross which means that he gets a bonus before the studio breaks even. Accordingly, his earnings for Top Gun: Maverick includes salary, ticket sales and his share from streaming and home entertainment rentals.
Top Gun: Maverick is a sequel to Cruise’s 1986 film. It follows his character, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, a Captain in the US Navy who is entrusted with the training of a group of young pilots ahead of a mission.
The report says that apart from the film, Cruise is charging between USD 12 and USD 14 million in salary for appearance as Agent Ethan Hunt in the next two instalments of the Mission: Impossible franchise. This isn’t a substantial increase because, as reported by Variety in 2021, Cruise’s salary income for Top Gun: Maverick stood at USD 13 million only — a figure that didn’t include streaming back-end buyout. It is also noteworthy that Cruise’s salary was the same for The Mummy (2017).
Craig was the highest-paid actor by salary in 2021, when he reportedly ensured a pay of over USD 100 million for the two upcoming sequels of the hit murder mystery Knives Out (2019). At the time, Variety estimated that his salary would be higher than what he would have received for the original. But the main contributor to the huge figure is Netflix’s policy of compensating for the back-end profits that actors might get from their film if it gets an exclusive theatrical release.
But Craig actually became a multi-millionaire by playing James Bond in five films starting with Casino Royale (2006). So, how much did he earn from his last outing as the fictional British spy in No Time to Die (2021)? According to a 2018 Variety report, Craig may have netted in around USD 25 million for the film. And it does not include bonuses that a star of his stature would command.
The actor has been in the news in 2022 for two reasons — sweeping the best actor category at all major awards for King Richard (2021) and his 10-year ban from the Academy Award ceremony for the controversial incident involving Chris Rock.
Variety estimates that Apple paid USD 35 million to Smith for the upcoming film Emancipation. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the film is based on the true story of an escaped slave in Louisiana during the American Civil War (1861-1865). The film was set for release in 2022 but Smith’s infamous Oscars incident led Apple TV+ to postpone the release to 2023.
Smith isn’t new to earning millions. With an estimated USD 44.5 million, he was eighth on the highest-paid actors list by Forbes in 2020. According to the publication, his earnings came from his pay for King Richard and his endorsements of mobile phones and a Snapchat series. He also gets paid well for Instagram posts.
According to a 2021 Variety report, his earnings from King Richard came at around USD 40 million including streaming back-end buyout.
Killers of the Flower Moon is one of the most anticipated films of 2023 because it not only reunites Leonardo DiCaprio with director Martin Scorsese but also the latter with Robert De Niro.
The historical drama is based on the book of the same name by David Grann. Set in the 1920s Oklahoma, it is about a series of murders in Osage Nation.
For this film, Apple is paying DiCaprio USD 30 million — the same figure he earned for Don’t Look Up in 2021.
Like Cruise, Brad Pitt is one of the most famous Hollywood faces of the 20th century through the 21st. He has hit box office gold innumerable times in his accomplished career both as a star of big budget flicks and as producer too.
Pitt is now set to star in an untitled Formula 1 movie backed by Apple TV+ for which he is to be paid a salary of USD 30 million.
The film is to be directed by Joseph Kosinski of Top Gun: Maverick fame. It also has seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton on board as one of its producers. Pitt’s own company, Plan B, is also one of the producing franchises.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film will have a global release in theatres for 30 to 60 days before it is streamed on Apple TV+. The report also says that as per the deal between Apple and the producers, they will equally share the theatrical earnings. This, according to THR, will bring in anywhere between USD 40 million and USD 50 million for Pitt and his company.
Add to this his USD 20 million salary for Bullet Train (2022), and Pitt’s total salaried gross from 2021 through 2022 alone comes to around USD 50 million.
Salary is not the sole money generator for an actor. Stars such as Dwayne Johnson, who is popularly known as ‘The Rock’, make millions more from their share in profits, endorsements, businesses, investments and promotions on Instagram.
Johnson earned USD 270 million to make it to the fourth place of Forbes list of highest-paid entertainers of 2022. The publication notes that he “got only about a quarter of his earnings” from his films Jungle Cruise (2021) and Red Notice (2021). The Rock’s main source of income? His tequila brand Teremana. Nevertheless, Johnson has the highest earnings among actors in the list — a feat he has been repeating since 2018.
In 2021, he made USD 50 million, including streaming back-end buyout, for the Netflix film Red Notice.
Now, according to Variety, he is charging a salary of USD 22.5 million for Black Adam — a DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film that marks his first appearance in a superhero franchise.
The report says that Johnson not only got a salary raise from Warner Bros. for appearing as the titular anti-hero, he is also set to receive millions from ticket sales and streaming revenue as the producer of the film.
Add to it the fee he charges for promotions on social media. Taken together, and depending on the film’s performance at the Box Office, Johnson could continue to remain the highest-paid actor in the world for another year.
Apart from Black Adam, he also voiced Krypto, Superman’s dog, in DC League of Super-Pets (2022), an animated film not part of the DCEU. It is not clear how much he was paid for that.
Ryan Reynolds is counted among the highest-paid actors of Hollywood and was only behind Dwayne Johnson in Forbes’ 2020 list with total earnings of USD 71.5 million. At the time, he was reportedly paid over USD 20 million each for his films Six Underground (2019) and Red Notice (2021). He has since starred in three more big-budget films — Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021), Free Guy (2021) and Netflix’s The Adam Project (2022).
Variety reports that Reynolds is to rake in USD 20 million for his role as Ebeneezer Scrooge in the upcoming Apple TV+ Christmas musical Spirited. The film is based on Charles Dickens’ illustrious book Christmas Carol and Ebeneezer is the protagonist. The film is expected to premiere late in 2022.
Reynolds is one of the seven actors to round off at around USD 20 million in salary from their upcoming projects as per Variety‘s 2022 list.
The ace comic actor is set to draw an equal paycheck as Reynolds in Spirited. Ferrell plays Present, a character based on the Ghost of the Christmas Present from Dickens’ book.
One of the most respected comic actors in Hollywood, Ferrell’s body of work in films and TV is highly impressive and laudatory. He hosted Saturday Night Live from 1995 to 2002, and then periodically till 2019. Between this period he also starred in several comedy films, most notably in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and its sequel Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013).
The blue-eyed boy (or Asgardian god, if fans insist) of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is one of the most famous faces on Earth. His personal brand is incredibly influential, from the west coast of the US to the eastern parts of Asia. In 2021, he was paid a salary of USD 20 million for Thor: Love and Thunder (2022). The film made him the first Marvel actor to lead a fourth solo film in the MCU. Though the film has been received well, it hasn’t been a gargantuan success one expects from MCU films.
Hemsworth is now gearing up for the sequel of Extraction (2020), a Netflix original film in which he played a black ops mercenary on a mission to rescue the son of an Indian drug lord from captors in Bangladesh. For the sequel, the Australian actor is charging the standard USD 20 million.
Diesel will be earning a salary of USD 20 million for Fast X, which is set to release sometime in 2023. The film is the 10th instalment in the main canon of the Fast & Furious franchise and will be followed by an 11th film in 2024.
The story of the film is not known but Diesel returns as former criminal turned street racer Dominic Toretto aka Dom with other regular faces including Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jason Statham and Charlize Theron.
New faces include Jason Momoa, Daniela Melchior and Brie Larson — all of whom are notable for their appearances in either DCEU or MCU. Due to the huge star-studded cast involving notable names from the industry, reports suggest that the budget of Fast X is around USD 300 million which makes it one of the most expensive films ever made.
Phoenix is one of the biggest movie stars of all time. His repertoire is stacked with films that can safely be called classics. After three Academy Award nominations in acting categories for Gladiator (2000), Walk the Line (2005) and The Master (2012), Phoenix eventually won the Oscar for Best Actor for Joker (2019).
His personal accolade apart, Joker is considered a landmark film featuring a comic book character. Though the Joker is one of the greatest supervillains of Batman, Phoenix successfully brings out a sympathetic side of the character.
The film’s sequel was confirmed on 8 June by director Todd Phillips. Phoenix returns to play Joker in the film, which has a working title of Joker: Folie à deux.
Expectations from its sequel are, therefore, very high particularly because the film made over USD 1 billion at the worldwide box office, making it one of the highest-grossing films of all time. As such, Phoenix, who drew just USD 4.5 million in salary for the first film, is now drawing USD 20 million for the second.
Washington has been earning millions in salary over the 2021-2022 period. He made USD 40 million, including share in profits, for The Little Things (2021). The figure for the Warner Bros. film was high because of the competition from streaming platforms.
Washington is preparing for The Equalizer 3 — the third instalment in the hit The Equalizer franchise. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the film is expected to hit the screens in 2023. For reprising his role as Robert McCall, a former Marine and Defense Intelligence Agency operative, Washington is charging a salary of USD 20 million. He might as well make more if there is any back-end deal written into the contract.
Very few female actors in Hollywood come close to the earnings of Jennifer Lawrence. The two-time Academy Award winner was the world’s highest-paid actress as per Forbes in 2015 and 2016, for making USD 52 million and USD 46 million, respectively. The earnings fell to USD 24 million in 2017, but she still remained among the top three female actors.
Consistently at the top of the game, Lawrence made USD 15 million for Red Sparrow (2018) and was among the top five highest earners, male or female, as per Variety’s calculations in 2018. It is not clear how much she earned for appearing as the mutant Mystique in X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019), but reports suggest it could be somewhere around USD 8 million — a low figure due to her short screen time and the reason that the film was a major flop.
But in 2021, Lawrence was again in the high-salary game with USD 25 million, including back-end buyout, for the Netflix film Don’t Look Up (2021).
From just USD 10 million for Minions (2015), Bullock climbed to double the figure for The Lost City (2022). The USD 20 million pay made her one of the highest-paid actors in 2021, by salary from films.
The Lost City, a Paramount Pictures movie, did well at the theatres and was also critically appreciated. She is also appearing in Bullet Train (2022) opposite Brad Pitt, but her earnings from this appearance are not known.
(Main image credit: Lionsgate Films; Featured image credit: Scott Garfield/Scott Garfield – © 2022 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All rights reserved./IMDb)