Most theatrical performers become professional actors because they have a talent or a love for what they do. They have a drive to entertain, and they can’t imagine spending their limited time on this planet doing something other than what they love. By the time they’re adults, unless they have seen outstanding success as a child, they have given up any dreams of making a fortune doing what they love, or being a movie superstar. Most just love their jobs, look forward to the hard work, and aspire to meet their next dramatic challenge.
Most successful actors aren’t rich, but the actors who are rich tend to be very wealthy. Have a few Academy Award nominations, a win or two, and you can command salaries a bit higher than union scale.
Forbes analyzed box office success and the contracts of the major movie actors from a recent rolling year (May 2010 through May 2011) and determined which five movie actors likely earned the most. The numbers are a bit staggering. They may not be Warren Buffett’s net worth numbers, but these figures are still sums the vast any typical American will never see in his lifetime.
- Leonardo DiCaprio, star of Shutter Island, Inception, and Growing Pains, probably walked away with $77 million.
- Johnny Depp, star of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean as well as 21 Jump Street, added $50 million to his balance sheet.
- Adam Sandler, who starred in Grown Ups and Saturday Night Live, somehow pocketed $40 million.
- Will Smith, who will be appearing soon in Men in Black III but is better known to me as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, represents Philadelphia with $36 million.
- Tom Hanks, who flopped in Larry Crown but is everyone’s bosom buddy, is splashing around in a big (pause) money pit full of 35 million dollar bills.
The top five movie actors earned $238 million in total. It’s no wonder the movie industry is moving away from big names towards ensemble casts and relatively unknown actors. Most films can’t earn enough revenue to justify the large guaranteed payouts that the top movie stars require. To be fair, actors have quite a bit of expenses to pay. Agents and managers take their cuts, tax bills are high, and someone needs to pay to maintain those California mansions. Regardless, after taxes and expenses, there’s a lot of money that could be put to good use rather than just sitting in a bank account or invested in a stock market index fund.
Successful movie stars often put their money, their mouths, and even their hands behind issues that are important to them. Being a star commands the public ear, and with that responsibility, many — not only actors — feel they have an obligation to endorse causes they find important and those they believe are important to the world.
Searching some listings for background actors or extras in New York City, I see there’s a going rate of about $300 a day (for eight hours). As a full-time job, this is not a bad living, though it’s probably not enough to live comfortably in this city. Most actors won’t find this work full-time, however. It’s a long road from being an extra to becoming a top movie star taking home an eight-digit income.
Published or updated August 3, 2011.