Getting paid as an actor or actress in Hollywood should be easy. The more money their movies make, the more money they make per movie…right? This, sadly, is not true. In fact, some actors are forced to take minimal paychecks for the juiciest roles. Even worse, some actors don’t even get paid, they earn a percentage of the films total profits. If that film happened to be Battlefield Earth or Pluto Nash well… let’s not go there…
Oprah Aims For The Heart Strings
Starring most recently in A Wrinkle In Time, things weren’t always so colorful for Oprah Winfrey in her acting career. In 1985 the television host made her film debut in The Color Purple, directed by Steven Spielberg. For her role, Oprah took home an unimpressive $35,000. For comparison, she made $290 million in 2011 for her talk show alone.
Taking inflation into account, Oprah would have made just $73,000 in 2011 for her role in the film. Of course, she did earn an Academy Award nomination so maybe earning the respect of her peers was worth the low price of participation.
Gal Gadot Wonders What Happened To Her Paycheck
Initially stealing the attention of the acting world for her role of Gisele in The Fast and the Furious franchise, it didn’t take for Gal Gadot to land a franchise she could be the face of. That franchise is Wonder Woman, and the first movie of the same name is the most critically and commercially successful of the DC Extended Universe. With all that mind, it pretty surprising that Gadot was only paid $300,000 to star in the movie. For the record, it wound up making $821 million worldwide.
Of course, before Gadot steps into the boots for Wonder Woman 2, there are rumors she is willing to hold up production to get paid what she deserves. With her initial deal with DC already over, Gadot has all the leverage in this fight!
Ethan Hawke Gets Purged… Literally
Ethan Hawke found himself in the middle of a career renaissance after starring in the micro-budget horror film The Purge. Made on a budget of $3 million, the film wound up making $64 million domestically and spawned two sequels and one prequel. While the true cost of Hawke’s services has never been released for his role, Hawke has publicly said it was next to nothing.
Starring in The Purge was an experience Hawke called, “no BS, just a great role, a great director.” He also had no trailer and slept on the producer’s couch the entire shoot, purging any movie star treatment from his life. The move worked. Two years later Hawke earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Boyhood.
Jonah Hill Wants To Work For Free
To nab his role in The Wolf of Wall Street, Jonah Hill would have worked free. He just wanted the chance to work for legendary director Martin Scorcese. Hill almost got his wish, getting paid just $60,000 for the role of Donnie Azoff. The role fulfilled a lifetime dream of Hill’s and lead to his second Academy Award nomination.
Hill’s co-star Leonardo DiCaprio also scored an Academy Award nomination for the film. He also got paid a cool $10 million to play Jordan Belfort. Hopefully, he bought Jonah Hill a nice drink or two after long days shooting to help ease the monetary pain.
Michelle Williams Doesn’t Get Hers Or His
Michelle Williams found herself embroiled in a salary scandal after her film All The Money in The World had to go through extensive reshoots to replace Kevin Spacey. Before heading off for the re-shoots, Williams was told every actor would be paid scale minimum. That turned out to be a lie when it was revealed co-star Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million for his role.
Even worse, Wahlberg was paid $5 million for his role in the movie, while Williams was only paid $625,000. That’s a very ugly eight times less than what her male counterpart made. It’s okay to throw your arms up in shock right now, we know we did!
Sean Astin Gets One Salary To Rule Them All
Sean Astin has been acting for a long time. Breaking out as the title character in Rudy, he cemented his place in our hearts as Samwise Gamgee in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Sadly, just as we refer to the trilogy as one whole thing, that’s how producers referred to Astin’s salary too.
For the trilogy, Sean Astin was paid $250,000. Not for each entry in the trilogy, but for the trilogy as a whole! That may not sound like a small amount of money, but when each movie cost $150 million to make, the producers probably could have opened their pockets a little more for such an important character.
Julia Roberts Gets Short Changed
Starring in Pretty Woman as the title character should have netted Julia Roberts a nice paycheck. For a young actress trying to break into the industry, the $300,000 she was paid actually was pretty nice. However, in retrospect, earning less than $1 million for a film that grossed $178 million is highway robbery by the movie studio. We won’t even get into what Richard Gere was paid for his role!
It wasn’t long after Pretty Woman became a massive hit that Julia Roberts became one of the biggest film stars in the world. In fact, she parlayed Pretty Woman’s success into charging $20 million per film before it was the cool thing to do.
Bill Murray Does Anything For Wes Anderson
The movie Rushmore helped launch the career of director Wes Anderson. Known for his off-kilter visual and writing style, he is one of the most unique filmmakers working today. Anderson sure got lucky when Bill Murray agreed to star in his film for scale at the time, netting the comedy icon a not-so-cool $9,000 for his work.
Of course, after starring in Ghostbusters and Groundhogs Day, Murray probably doesn’t need the money. For his part, Murray said, “this is the first movie I’ve done in a while that’s completely whole,” proving he was never in it for the money from the start. He just wanted to make something really good.
Jim Carrey must have felt the same way about Yes Man!
Jim Carrey Says Yes To Nothing
In 2008 Jim Carrey starred in the comedy Yes Man after agreeing to a surprisingly low salary. To star in the movie, Carrey took zero money up front despite the films $70 million budget. The move may seem odd but actually worked out financially for the star.
Instead of a salary, Jim Carrey agreed to do the film for 36.2 percent of it’s gross after production and marketing costs were recovered. Simply put, Carrey made zero dollars until the movie turned a profit, which it did, raking in $223 million worldwide. It is estimated that Carrey ended up with $32 million thanks to his shrewd business move, turning the lowest payday of his career into the highest!
Ryan Gosling Starts Small
After the movie The Notebook turned Ryan Gosling into a movie star, he turned around and dove head first into independent filmmaking. Choosing to star in the school-based drama Half Nelson in 2006, Gosling earned a sad $1,000 a week. That’s a far cry from the life-changing $1 million he made for The Notebook or the stunning $10 million he made for Blade Runner 2049.
As most of these stories go, Gosling’s had a happy ending, earning his first Academy Award nomination for Half Nelson. He would repeat the feat two years later for starring in Lars and the Real Girl, although he got paid a much heftier salary for that one!
Lindsay Lohan Takes A Pay Cut
Lindsay Lohan started her career as a child actress and quickly rose to fame for her roles in The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday. She became a superstar after Mean Girls became a pop culture phenomenon in 2004. Sadly, her career stumbled after that and she was forced to take small roles in bad movies or have no movie career at all.
One of those movies was called The Canyons, a low budget thriller directed by Paul Schrader. For the film, Lohan made just over $6,000, a far cry from the $7.5 million she banked making Herbie Fully Loaded, Georgia Rule, and Just My Luck.
Halle Berry Can’t Keep Up With John Travolta
A huge movie star in the 1990s and early 2000s, it might surprise you to find out what Halle Berry made for one of her biggest roles. Starring alongside John Travolta in the hi-tech thriller Swordfish, Halle Berry took home a seemingly respectable $2.5 million. and she received an extra $500,000 bonus for her first ever nude scene. Welcome to Hollywood!
Berry’s co-star, John Travolta, was paid $20 million for his role that featured zero nudity. See why we’re shocked? It’s not because Berry had a low salary, it’s how low her salary was versus her male counterpart.
Chris Evans Gets A 1940s Payday For A 2011 Film
Chris Evans entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the Captain America: The First Avenger. The movie takes place during World War II, and Chris Evans seemingly got paid like that’s when he shot it too! Working with a massive $140 million budget, Marvel found it in the kindness of their hearts to pay Evans $300,000 for his undeniably iconic role.
Since becoming the First Avenger, things have gotten better for Evans. Not Robert-Downey-Jr.’s-$50-million-payday better, but playing a key role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made his participation necessary. Now Evans can demand a much higher salary and reportedly used that leverage to nab $18 million to play Captain American in Avengers: Infinity War.
Brad Pitt Has A Rough Start
Considering that Brad Pitt is one of the biggest movie stars of all-time, the paycheck he earned for his small role in Thelma and Louise might surprise you. If you step back into 1991 and remember Pitt was nowhere in his career, then the $6,000 payday he received at the time won’t surprise you at all.
Three years later, in 1994, Pitt would get his breakout role opposite Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire. The movie, based on the series of Anne Rice novels, rose from the grave to earn $223 million worldwide, giving Pitt his choice of projects to pursue after.
Matthew McConaughey Gets His Oscar
To star in Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey went to extremes to provide authenticity to the real-life character he was portraying. Playing a man diagnosed with AIDs who begins selling medicine illegally to others afflicted with the disease, the actor dropped his weight to an unhealthy level. He also let his salary drop to an unhealthy $200,000, a small sum for the romantic-comedy-leading man.
So it goes, the move paid off for McConaughey in other ways, earning him his first Academy Award nomination as well as a career resurgence. He parlayed the critical success of his role into higher profile gigs on True Detective and in Christopher Nolan’s science fiction epic Inception.
Our next actor is more of a voice, and you won’t believe what she was paid to play Else in Frozen!
The Voice Of Elsa Gets The Cold Shoulder
John Sciulli/WireImage/Getty Images
Frozen was a gigantic hit for Disney when it came out it the winter of 2013. After grossing $1.28 billion worldwide, it’s pretty frightening to find out that Spencer Lacey Ganus was only paid $926 for her work as the voice of teenage Elsa. The House of Mouse really stole the cheese on this deal!
Hopefully, Spencer has come to terms with her small payday, having now earned an additional $10,000 in residual checks and counting. The 15-year-old voice over actress should also have a solid career ahead of her. Disney reportedly already wants her back for more movies and television shows. She could even be the next Julia Roberts!
Jamie Dornan Gets Paid Like The Second Choice He Is
Originally Charlie Hunnam was supposed to play Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie trilogy. When the rising star of Sons of Anarchy dropped out, he was replaced by Once Upon a Time star Jamie Dornan. Dornan, being given his first shot at a leading role, was paid minimally, making roughly $100,000. That low salary is reportedly the reason Hunnam dropped the role.
While getting paid like a supporting actor probably wasn’t what Dornan wanted, he was better compensated for the two sequels. Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed both netted Dornan about $5 million. Looks like the smaller payday was worth it in the end!
Unknown James Howson Barely Gets Living Wages
Cast as Heathcliff in Andrea Arnold’s 2011 adaptation of Wuthering Heights, unknown British actor James Howson got paid next to nothing. Earning just $13,000 for his work, the $5 million independent film clearly spared every expense when it came to casting the first non-white actor to ever play the male lead.
The movie was released with a whimper in the United States. Howson has not had an acting credit since but has had a few run-ins with the law. It’s unfortunate Howson was not able to translate his small payday into a bigger one like so many other actors on this list.
Barkhad Abdi Makes Barely More Than Minimum
The bad guy in the Tom Hanks film Captain Phillips, Barkhad Abdi was paid just over the Screen Actors Guild minimum for his work. The small amount would be the $60,000 Jonah Hill was paid for his role in The Wolf of Wall Street. Abdi made $65,000 for his Academy Award-nominated acting debut. Take that, Jonah Hill!
Before the movie was released, Abdi was working as a mobile phone salesman in Minneapolis. Once the film was released, he quit and hit the awards circuit. Since then he has worked on a number of notable films including The Brothers Grimsby, Eye in the Sky, and Blade Runner 2049. We’re guessing he earned a little more money for those films.
George Clooney Is An Underpaid Triple Threat
Normally netting between $10 and $20 million to star, write, or direct a movie, George Clooney took a huge pay cut to make his passion project. Released in 2005 Good Night and Good Luck was welcomed by Hollywood as an instant cinematic classic and George Clooney was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards that year. He also gave himself a small role in the film as Fred Friendly, which was not recognized by the Academy.
For all his hard work Clooney accepted a miniscule payday of $120,000 for working triple duty. That’s about $40,000 per job! If there is anything we’ve learned today, it’s that sometimes a big payday often follows a small one, and Clooney followed up Good Night and Good Luck with a $15 million payday for Ocean’s Thirteen.