Movies are a billion dollar industry, and actors are the face of that industry. So it makes sense that they would be well-compensated for their work. But you might be shocked to learn just how well-paid some of them are.
Here are the biggest single paychecks in Hollywood history, ranked from lowest to highest. Some of these paydays are borderline unbelievable.
Marlon Brando – Superman
Marlon Brando is one of the most celebrated actors of all time. He was also wildly eccentric. Sometimes this would come out in the bizarre choices he made for his characters. Other times, it came out in the form of making unreasonable demands. Such as a multi-million-dollar paycheck for a 10-minute cameo.
That’s exactly what Brando received for his brief role in 1978’s Superman, as the Man of Steel’s doomed father Jor-El. Brando received an unprecedented $3.7 million salary plus nearly 12% of the film’s profits. A ground total of around $19 million landed in Brando’s bank account faster than a speeding bullet.
Jim Carrey – The Cable Guy
Watching the 1996 dark comedy The Cable Guy is like seeing The Beatles play in a bar before they were famous. The movie was produced by Judd Apatow, directed by Ben Stiller, and featured Stiller, Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Janeane Garofalo, David Cross, and Bob Odenkirk before any of them were household names. But at the top of that cast list was Jim Carrey.
Carrey had already reached superstar status by this point in his career, after a string of hits like Ace Ventura, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, and Batman Forever. And he commanded a superstar’s salary. Carrey was paid an enormous $20 million for his role as the titular villain. His paycheck alone was nearly half of the film’s $47 million budget!
Jennifer Lawrence – Red Sparrow
After gaining critical acclaim and an Oscar nod for her role in Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence quickly skyrocketed to superstardom. That was thanks in part to some high-profile roles in big franchise films like The Hunger Games. Ever heard of it?
Lawrence’s paychecks blew up once the dystopian action film, based on a popular series of young adult books, became a runaway blockbuster. After earning only $500,000 for the first Hunger Games, Lawrence’s salary jumped up to the elite range. She now receives $20 million per picture, which she earned for her recent films Passengers and Red Sparrow.
Dwayne Johnson – Jumanji: The Next Level
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, literally and figuratively. His films have grossed over $3.5 billion dollars, and you’d be hard-pressed to avoid seeing his huge muscles on a movie poster. (He stars in an average of two movies every year!)
As you might expect, his paychecks are equally large. Johnson received a beefy $23.5 million to star in the action-comedy sequel Jumanji: The Next Level. After the previous installment Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle earned just under $1 billion worldwide, tossing The Rock a nice pile of dough for the follow-up makes perfect sense.
Ryan Reynolds – Six Underground
After getting his start on TV, Ryan Reynolds has steadily become one of the most sought-after stars in Hollywood. Recent hits like the Deadpool series and Detective Pikachu have cemented his status as a genuine star. And he’s got the pay stubs to prove it.
Reynolds teamed up with action virtuoso Michael Bay for Six Underground. A mega-budgeted action movie written by the screenwriters of Deadpool, the movie was produced by both Bay and Reynolds. In addition to his producer credit, the actor received a mammoth $27 million paycheck to star in the action flick.
Mel Gibson – Lethal Weapon 4
There was a time when troubled actor Mel Gibson was one of the biggest stars in the world. The Oscar-winning director and leading man first rose to popularity in the U.S. after starring as Mad Max in The Road Warrior, and as Detective Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon.
By the time Lethal Weapon 4 rolled around in 1998, Gibson was such a megastar that he could pretty much set his own salary. And Warner Bros. and director Richard Donner were happy to meet his demands. The actor was paid a cool $30 million to star in the final Lethal Weapon film.
Jim Carrey – Yes Man
Jim Carrey is one of the highest-paid comedic actors ever, thanks to an impressive string of hit movies in the 90s and 2000s. And Carrey used his enormous popularity to negotiate a handsome payday for the 2008 comedy Yes Man.
Rather than taking an upfront salary, Carrey requested a percentage of the film’s gross. That’s not unusual for big stars, but Carrey received a staggering 36% of the gross, which is unusual. The shrewd move earned Carrey a paycheck of $30 million.
Harrison Ford – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
It’s no secret that Harrison Ford doesn’t care much for Star Wars. Ford famously asked for his character, the loveable rogue Han Solo, to be killed off in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. 32 years later, Ford finally got his wish. And a big payday to boot.
To appear as Han Solo one last time in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ford was paid $34 million. While we have no doubt he smiled all the way to the bank to cash that check, the actor arguably clicked his heels even more when Han Solo was decisively killed at the end of the film.
Robert Downey Jr. – Captain America: Civil War
It’s no secret that Robert Downey Jr. is the godfather of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The actor hit it big with the very first Iron Man film and has been the face of the Avengers movies ever since. So it seems fitting that his face should be the one smiling on more stacks than Benjamin Franklin.
Downey was paid an incredible $40 million to play Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War. On top of that mammoth salary, Downey was guaranteed a percentage of the movie’s gross. As if that weren’t enough, he also received a bonus when the film outperformed the previous Captain America film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Maybe they should start calling him Platinum Man.
Tom Hanks – Saving Private Ryan
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are two of the biggest names in movies. They’ve collaborated a number of times, most notably in the 1998 World War II epic Saving Private Ryan. Hanks plays Captain Miller, the leader of a team of Army Rangers, searching the European countryside for an American soldier.
For his role as Captain Miller, Hanks bartered for a chunk of the film’s profits instead of a standard salary. Something about starring in legendary director Spielberg’s first war movie gave Hanks the idea that the movie would be a hit, and he was right. Saving Private Ryan grossed half a billion dollars, and the actor pocketed around $40 million.
Denzel Washington – American Gangster
When you think of the words “leading man,” Denzel Washington’s picture can’t be far from your mind. Washington is one of the most celebrated actors ever, and his presence in a film immediately makes it worth watching. The makers of the 2007 true-crime film American Gangster felt the same way.
The film tells the story of Frank Lucas, a drug trafficker who smuggled heroin into the country hidden inside the coffins of American servicemen. Washington was handed a hefty $40 million paycheck to star as Lucas. The expense was worth it, because the movie went on to earn over $250 million and two Oscar nominations.
Cameron Diaz – Bad Teacher
Cameron Diaz has enjoyed a long and successful career, appearing in over 40 films. When she agreed to star in the 2011 comedy Bad Teacher, however, she accepted a relatively low paycheck. What she wanted instead was a percentage of the film’s gross.
Bad Teacher became a surprise hit, which worked out well for Diaz. She wound up netting $42 million for the crude comedy, which also starred music superstar Justin Timberlake and Jason Segal. Diaz later reteamed with Segal for the 2014 comedy Sex Tape.
Daniel Radcliffe – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts One and Two
The Boy Who Lived is living pretty well, it turns out. Daniel Radcliffe appeared in the first Harry Potter film when he was 11 years old, and played the boy wizard for all 8 films. You’d expect him to make out like a magic bandit, but he received his biggest payday for the franchise’s final chapter.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the epic conclusion to the series that had become a worldwide phenomenon, was split into two films. In exchange for leading Hogwarts to victory against the evil Voldemort, Radcliffe received $50 million. We wonder how much that is in chocolate frogs.
Robert Downey Jr. – The Avengers
It’s easy to forget how big of a deal the first Avengers film was back in 2012. After steadily building up their roster of heroes with a series of solo films, Marvel finally threw all of our favorite characters together in an action-packed summer blockbuster. And at the top of the cast list was Robert Downey Jr.
After being seen as a gamble, and the very last actor Marvel wanted for Tony Stark in 2008’s Iron Man, Downey became the most bankable star in the MCU. And he was rewarded handsomely for his part in The Avengers. Downey was paid $50 million to hurl barbed insults at his fellow superheroes.
Leonardo DiCaprio – Inception
It’s hard to think of a time when a movie written and directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Leonardo DiCaprio could be seen as anything but a sure thing. But that was the case for 2010’s Inception. Before it was a box office smash hit and bonafide cultural phenomenon, the movie was seen as a confusing science fiction yarn that might be too convoluted for mainstream audiences.
DiCaprio, already a big-name actor with several hit films and Oscar nominations under his belt, agreed to take a paycut to get the risky Inception made. As payment, he accepted a cut of the film’s gross, as well as its home video and TV sales. When Inception became a worldwide hit, DiCaprio took home at least $50 million.
Jack Nicholson – Batman
To star as the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman, screen legend Jack Nicholson negotiated a deal as legendary as himself. Nicholson wanted a relatively modest $6 million up front, roughly half of what he normally got paid. In exchange, he wanted a big piece of the Batman pie.
Nicholson was given a percentage of the film’s gross. That number would’ve been big enough, considering 1989’s Batman was a runaway hit. But the actor also negotiated for a cut of the film’s merchandising profits, which was substantial. As if that weren’t enough, Nicholson got a percentage of the gross of the film’s sequel, and he’s not even in it!
Adam Sandler – Anger Management
Funnyman Adam Sandler is an unexpected box office champion. His movies have grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide, placing him among the top-earning actors in Hollywood. And you’d better believe he gets paid like one. Sandler earned his biggest single paycheck acting alongside a Hollywood legend.
Sandler was paid a princely sum of $60 million to star in 2003’s Anger Management. His big-name costar? None other than Jack Nicholson. The two actors proved to be a winning comedy duo, with the film grossing nearly $200 million and a successful spin-off TV series starring Charlie Sheen.
Johnny Depp – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was an unexpected success that launched a massive franchise. To date, the Pirates films have grossed over $4.5 billion worldwide. And much of the series’ success can be laid at the stumbling feet of the film’s irresistible main character Captain Jack Sparrow.
Johnny Depp has played the oddball pirate captain in 5 films and counting. But the actor nabbed his biggest buccaneer payday in 2017’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Depp reportedly plundered around $60 million for the mega-budgeted sequel.
Tom Hanks – Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump may not be a smart man, but Tom Hanks sure is. Hanks was already a bankable star, but his 1993 Oscar win for Philadelphia gave him more clout than he’d ever had before when he signed on to play the title character in 1994’s Forrest Gump.
Hanks used that clout to guarantee himself a cut of the film’s profits, which turned out to be substantial. Forrest Gump was one of the biggest movies of the year, earning over half a billion dollars worldwide. Hanks’ cut totaled $60 million. And that’s all we have to say about that.
Harrison Ford – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
“It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.” It isn’t easy being Indiana Jones, but it sure is profitable. After a 19 year hiatus, Harrison Ford returned to play the iconic adventurer in 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
And Ford plundered a tidy sum for his part in the big-budget sequel. The veteran actor received a paycheck worthy of a treasure hunter, nabbing $65 million in salary and box office profits. With a fifth film reportedly in the works, Ford is probably looking forward to another adventurous payday.
Johnny Depp – Alice in Wonderland
Disney’s 2010 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland earned over $1 billion at the box office. Audiences couldn’t get enough of director Tim Burton’s update on the classic characters. That included Johnny Depp’s charmingly bizarre performance as the Mad Hatter. The actor was barely recognizable his crazy makeup and wardrobe.
In classic Disney/Depp fashion, the House That Mickey Built paid Depp several hats full of dough for his services. The actor reportedly took home $68 million, which included his up-front salary and a cut of the film’s profits. Guess the Hatter wasn’t so mad, after all.
Tom Cruise – Mission: Impossible
Audiences nowadays could be forgiven for not knowing Mission: Impossible used to be a TV show. The brand has been a big-budget action movie franchise for over 20 years. The first film debuted in 1996, produced by and starring international megastar Tom Cruise.
Cruise bet big on the movie’s success. With a few exceptions, theatrical reboots of classic TV shows hadn’t fared well, and the twisty espionage plotline of the original film was competing in a summer loaded with action spectacles like Independence Day. But the movie was a blockbuster hit, nabbing half a billion dollars at the box office and earning star/producer Cruise a sweet $70 million paycheck.
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
For the space thriller Gravity, Sandra Bullock negotiated a salary that could’ve been seen as a gamble. Bullock was far from the first choice to play the lead role of Dr. Ryan Stone, but she used her recent Oscar-winning clout to land a salary of 15% of the film’s gross.
The gamble paid off big time. Gravity became a huge hit, grossing over $700 million worldwide. In addition to landing Bullock her second Oscar nomination, the movie’s success earned her a sizeable paycheck of $70 million and counting! That’s some out-of-this-world cash.
Tom Cruise – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Tom Cruise makes a pretty good living off of the Mission: Impossible series. As the lead actor and producer of every film in the popular action franchise, Cruise gets to call all of the shots. Which usually means placing himself in dangerous situations, like clinging to the side of the tallest building in the world.
Cruise performed that particular stunt in 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. It looks amazing on film, and makes for a suitably thrilling sequence. But don’t worry too much for Cruise – he was well compensated for his daredevilry. The superstar pocketed a seemingly-impossible $75 million.
Alec Guinness – Star Wars
Despite famously growing to hate the film, Alec Guinness couldn’t deny the impact that Star Wars had on his life. When George Lucas hired him to play Obi-Wan Kenobi in the 1977 original, Guinness was the only real star in a cast of newcomers. And he was paid well for it.
The studio agreed to double Guinness’ salary. But in addition, he was also guaranteed a small percentage of the film’s gross. That has turned into a staggering amount of money. Guinness ultimately received $80 million and counting for his role as Obi-Wan. He earned only $6 million of that during his lifetime, with the rest of the amount being paid to his estate since his death in 2000.
Will Smith – Men in Black 3
Will Smith is one of the most popular actors in the world, with more than a few hits under his belt. That includes the Men in Black franchise. Smith and co-star Tommy Lee Jones headlined the blockbuster first installment back in 1997, and his bankability as a leading man has only gone up since then.
Case in point – for the third Men in Black film, released in 2012, Smith received a cosmic paycheck that included a cut of the movie’s ticket sales. All told, the actor pocketed $100 million for protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe.
Tom Cruise – War of the Worlds
Tom Cruise has been an A-lister for four decades, so it was only a matter of time before he crossed paths with Steven Spielberg. The two first teamed up in 2002’s Minority Report, before joining forces again for the 2005 sci-fi epic War of the Worlds.
Cruise commanded an A-list salary and a cut of the profits of the blockbuster alien invasion film, which netted him $100 million for his services. However, his relationship with Spielberg soured during the publicity tour for the movie, during which Cruise famously danced on Oprah Winfrey’s couch and began aggressively shilling for Scientology. The two haven’t worked together since.
Bruce Willis – The Sixth Sense
When The Sixth Sense came out in the summer of 1999, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan was virtually unknown. The spooky thriller about a little boy with the ability to see dead people only had one thing going for it to lure people into the theater, and that was Bruce Willis.
Willis was a big star, but he took a pay cut from his normal asking salary in exchange for a percentage of the supernatural drama’s profits. Willis must’ve had his own sixth sense. The modestly-budgeted movie, from an untested director and featuring no other known actors besides Willis, became a smash hit. And Willis took home $120 million.
Robert Downey Jr. – Avengers: Infinity War /Avengers: Endgame
Any list of well-paid actors is going to feature a few entries about Robert Downey Jr. And thanks to the Avengers films, that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Downey’s salary has increased dramatically with every Marvel movie in which he appears. Get ready to read some really big numbers.
Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, essentially Part One and Part Two of the final Avengers movie, shelled out a whole lotta superhero bucks to get Downey into the Iron Man armor one last time. The actor was paid a staggering $75 million for each film, plus a percentage of their box office grosses.
Keanu Reeves – The Matrix Reloaded / The Matrix Revolutions
The Matrix was an unexpected hit that became a genuine phenomenon. The movie exploded in popularity after its March 1999 release, thanks to its mind-bending premise and groundbreaking special effects. Star Keanu Reeves, who was the Wachowskis’ last choice to play Neo, got a substantial salary boost for the sequels.
It took four years to produce The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, both released in 2003. By then, the hype was so high that Reeves was able to negotiate a cut of the profits of the surefire hits. The move paid off, and Reeves took home a reported $250 million. Whoa.
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