How Much Do Actors Make at Their Actual Jobs?

Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Ever since Clint Eastwood demanded a tenth of the gross (plus a Ferrari) to appear in 1966’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, studios have been supplementing stars’ upfront salaries with a cut of the box office. It was the cost of doing business: Stars sell tickets, the thinking goes (or went), and giving them a portion of a movie’s first-dollar earnings was insurance against empty theaters and red ink. But in recent years, with tentpole budgets growing and fewer movies being made, sharing the pie became dicey, in part because gross participation is a zero-sum game: Executive producer Steven Spielberg’s slice comes at the expense of star Will Smith’s, and so on. But more pressing, an actor’s seat-filling power in one hit franchise is no longer easily transferrable to other films, a lesson driven home by the costly failure of last summer’s Cowboys & Aliens, headlined by Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, stars of the Indiana Jones and James Bond movies.

These days, financial ruin is never more than a few bombs away, so studios are asking talent to share in the risk. Blockbuster advances have faded into Hollywood memory—Jim Carrey, famous in the nineties for his $20 million price tag, has recently been known to defer upfront payment—and now stars are being asked to wait until their movies break even before collecting a share of the receipts. That means two things: Names like Cameron Diaz—who slashed her upfront salary on last summer’s Bad Teacher in exchange for a bigger piece of its post-recoupment box office, and is understood to have made $28 million—are betting on films rather than the reverse. And actors are at their most valuable in sequels to hits, basking in the light of franchises more than radiating their own star power. This is why Disney paid Johnny Depp a reported $350 million for the four Pirates of the Caribbean films, but declined to green-light his upcoming Lone Ranger movie until its $250 million budget was trimmed and Depp agreed to a more modest deal. All of which is to say that Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and ­Taylor Lautner—the stars of the Twilight movies, who each made $25 million plus 7.5 percent of the grosses for the series’ two-part finale—might want to consider opening savings accounts. Especially if they ever want to do anything other than Twilight.

… And how much on their breakdowns?

A profit-and-loss statement of ­Charlie Sheen’s meltdown of 2011 has him $8 million in the black: Experts estimate that he banked at least $7 million from ticket sales and merchandising from his “Torpedo of Truth” tour, and that he also made around $1 million in Twitter endorsements. (It’s believed he recouped his $25 million of his salary for Two and a Half Men and that he still holds a stake in its syndication deal.)

How Much Do Actors Make at Their Actual Jobs?