Mo’ money, mo’ problems

Posted by · 3:08 am · June 16th, 2009

Harrison FordPower and money don’t go hand in hand, it would seem.

If Forbes’ recent list of the world’s most powerful celebrities — you remember, the one that informed us that Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston wield more power than Barack Obama — was quite amusing, their new ranking of Hollywood’s 20 biggest earners is simply depressing.

The list is headlined “Hollywood’s Top-Earning Actors,” but Forbes never makes clear whether the term “actor” is being applied in the currently PC gender-neutral sense, or whether an accompanying list of “Top-Earning Actresses” is on the way.

It’s an interesting question, because while the aforementioned Jolie may apparently be the world’s most powerful celebrity, she evidently doesn’t have the clout to rank among the industry’s most well-paid. More to the point, nor does any other woman, with the top 20 a boys-only club — an unhealthy, if sadly unsurprising, state of affairs. Is this represantive of the industry’s gender divide, or has the list been segregated? Anyone?

But even leaving that issue aside, there’s plenty of cause for concern in the list, which in some cases, shows an alarming disconnect between actors’ earnings and their commercial (to say nothing of artistic) contribution to the industry. Let’s take a quick gander at the top 5 (amounts represent earnings in the past 12 months):

1. Harrison Ford ($65 million)
2. Adam Sandler ($55 million)
3. Will Smith ($45 million)
4. Eddie Murphy ($40 million)
5. Nicolas Cage ($40 million)

Now, as undeserving of success as their films may have been, I must reluctantly concede that the first three gentlemen all served up hits of some degree last year. But Eddie Murphy? With the back-to-back bombs of “Meet Dave” and last weekend’s “Imagine That,” how exactly is her earning his keep? And were “Bangkok Dangerous” and “Knowing” successful enough to qualify Cage for such a lofty standing?

But speaking idealistically for a moment, it speaks volumes that, between them, these five guys managed to churn out some of the very worst films of 2008. In addition to the aforementioned debacles from Murphy and Cage, what kind of message does it send when tripe like “Indiana Jones IV,” “Bedtime Stories,” “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” “Seven Pounds” and “Hancock” is what sends actors to the top?

You have to go down to #7 if you want to find an actor who at least entertained us in ’08 (and even that’s a generous citation for Tom Cruise’s “Tropic Thunder” cameo), and further down to #14 to find someone (Robert Downey, Jr.) who really socked it by pleasing everyone (audiences, critics, even Oscar voters) last year.

Moral of the story? The more you make, the less you try. Suddenly an economic recession has never seemed so appealing.

→ 19 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

19 responses so far

  • 1 6-16-2009 at 6:37 am

    Brando said...

    I agree, but on the other hand to see a 67 years old actor to be named the top-earning actor in Hollywood is something to think about. Go Ford!

  • 2 6-16-2009 at 6:45 am

    The Dude said...

    I’m actually a bit surprised Will Smith isn’t #1. Say what you will about his movies, the man tends to draw big audiences. I dunno if he’s actually had a “flop” yet.

    But yeah, wtf EDDIE MURPHY!?

  • 3 6-16-2009 at 6:48 am

    Alex S. said...

    I’m getting so sick of hearing about fairness and segregation in every single list or grouping that’s compiled. I understand that people want to see more variety in these things, but at the same time, you have to remember that these things are businesses. I feel like you and everyone that has these same types of feelings thinks that there’s this huge conspiracy to keep women, or african americans, or whatever your minority might be, out. But what I feel like people don’t get is that these are business decisions. Businesses are not going to pay an actor X amount of money just because he’s a man. It’s because they know that his face will bring in a certain amount of interest, and subsequently, a certain amount of money. Female actors just don’t carry movies as much as men do. I don’t have any specific examples to back this up right now, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that your biggest movie money makers every year are generally male-driven films. And that’s nothing at all that you can blame the studios for. Sure, people will complain that there just aren’t enough roles for women, and the variety is unfair. But that’s the same thing. These studios know what types of films are going to make money, they know who can bring that in, and they’re going to pay accordingly to make that happen. If you want to blame anyone, the only people you can blame is the general audiences of america. But I see no fault for watching movies that you want to watch. I don’t believe that I should go watch a certain amount of female-led films just because I watched that many male films. I watch actors that I like, and movies that I like. Same as everyone else. And it’s no one’s fault that a majority of the time, those are in male-driven roles. This argument, as always, tries so hard to be “equal” and “fair” that people get blinded by the business of all of this. They think that because this list has no women in it that they should protest and throw a big fit about it. If you want to do anything about it, why don’t you market some female films, and lobby for their success. The more success those films get, the more money female actors will receive. And vice-versa. If some of these male actors start to bring in less money in the box office, you better believe that they are gonna stop getting as much money for their roles.

    I just can’t take this argument seriously though. This is the way america and our economy is set up. It’s how it’s going to be.

  • 4 6-16-2009 at 7:07 am

    Brando said...

    I agree with you, Alex, it’s all about businesses and the studios making money. But is just because of the studios that we don’t see a lot of actress in big roles. Nia Vardalos said recently in The Huffington Post:”A little-known fact: some studios recently decided to no longer make female-lead movies.

    Lately, I’ve been in meetings regarding a new script idea I have. A studio executive asked me to change the female lead to a male, because… “women don’t go to movies.”


    When I pointed out the box office successes of Sex and The City, Mamma Mia, and Obsessed, he called them “flukes.” He said “don’t quote me on this.” So, I’m telling everybody.”
    Just a little and significant example.

  • 5 6-16-2009 at 7:41 am

    Zac said...

    Ford passed up a up front salary in exchange for 33% of the profits after a certain B.O. amount. Spielberg and Lucas also got $65 million each, meaning Paramount coughed up $195 million to these three guys. I don’t think they’ll complain since the movie made $700 million plus around the world.

    Murphy and Cage still command $20 million a movie hence each of them making $40 million in the last year for 2 movies.

    Why the studios still think these two are worth it, I don’t know, especially in Murphy’s case since he hasn’t headlined a live action movie worth watching since Bowfinger 10 years ago IMHO. Cage on the other hand has made some good and great movies the last 10 years: Bringing out the Dead, Adaptation, Matchstick Men, National Treasure, Lord of War, World Trade Center and Knowing.

    As for Sandler and Smith, I would imagine they were paid upfront plus a percentage of the profits, hence their making more than Cage and Murphy.

  • 6 6-16-2009 at 7:53 am

    Brando said...

    Since when Knowing, WTC and National Treasure are good movies? And by the way, The Wicker Man and Ghost Rider are also awful. Poor Cage.

  • 7 6-16-2009 at 8:22 am

    Alex S. said...

    There’s a difference between a “good” movie, and a profitable one. The way these studios look at films, their financial success is what makes them “good”. I agree that Cage hasn’t necessarily been in many “good” movies lately, but most of them are at least bringing in the money. And that’s what the studios care about.

    Still though, I agree, with such god awful excuses for movies as The Wicker Man and Ghost Rider, I’m surprised he’s still drawing the kind of attention that he is.

    And Eddie Murphy makes zero sense to me. I can’t even begin to figure that one out.

  • 8 6-16-2009 at 10:25 am

    A.J said...

    How many female driven films have made over 200 million dollars? Two. Out of 90.

    My Big Fat Greek Wedding

    Gone with the Wind is almost there with 198.6 million but that’s still 3 out of 90., 3.3%

  • 9 6-16-2009 at 10:35 am

    Brando said...

    I think that Mamma Mia made that or more. And in Twister, Bill Paxton is also the lead character, not only Helen Hunt.

  • 10 6-16-2009 at 11:25 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Alex: In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a guy, so it’s not “my minority.” (Since when are women a minority, anyway?)

    Obviously, there are more leading men than women who can open a film — unfair or not, it was ever thus. I just think 0 out of 20 is a pretty staggering stat, that’s all. Lately, Angelina Jolie or even Meryl Streep seem to be opening movies with more success than Eddie Murphy.

  • 11 6-16-2009 at 11:41 am

    Brando said...

    Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon… who isn’t opening movies with more sucess than Eddie Murphy?

  • 12 6-16-2009 at 11:44 am

    red_wine said...

    Business or no business, I cringe with disgust when I see such lists. I am with Guy on this one, not one in Top 20????
    And whatever way we chid Jolie, it is an undeniable fact that she is the biggest movie star in the world right now in terms of fame only, she is quite possibly the most famous human being, more people have heard about her and seen her picture than Obama or any of the guys mentioned on the list(jesus christ Eddie Murphy, he even makes a living!!!!!).

    Atleast there’s 1 consoling factor, if we were to make a list of the Top 20 best actors working today, the list would be pretty heavily biased towards women, atleast for me.

  • 13 6-16-2009 at 11:52 am

    Brando said...

    But this list is only for male actors, right? Because Angelina is worthing 27 millions, more than Brad Pitt.
    On the other hand, talent and profitability are two very different things that don’t combine in Hollywood.

  • 14 6-16-2009 at 12:30 pm

    Alex S. said...

    First of all, Guy, I wasn’t directing that note to you. It was just an ‘in general’ thing. Just a response to what you posted. More of a note to society in general, I guess. So I appologize if that sounded as if I was attacking you.

    And, I do think that women are a minority in film. I’m not saying that they deserve to be, because, regardless of how my note sounded, I agree that there is a market for women-led films, and I think that they do deserve more than what, apparently, they’re doing (assuming that this list wasn’t soley for male actors. If so, then we’ll need to wait til a female actor list comes out to fairly disect this).

    Anyway, everyone’s looking at this thing wrong I think. I mean the whole Eddie Murphy thing does really throw all of this out the window. It makes the arguement moot because he continues to do bad movie after bad movie and they aren’t making any money. So that hurts anything I try to say. But maybe eventually studios will decide to stop paying him, and things will balance out.

    But, back to my point. Everyone is saying that Angelina Jolie is so rich and so famous. Well, that is definitely true, but on the other end, her movies aren’t making the hundereds of millions like some of these other guys’ are (again, I really wish Eddie Murphy wasn’t in this category right now lol). But I think her movie stock is rising. I know she’s been famous for a long time, but in my opinion, Wanted made her a viable lead character that can dominate a box office. And I think we’re really gonna start to see her money making potential from here on out. And I remember a time not so long ago when Julia Roberts was controlling the box office too. So obviously there is a market.

    I just think that, regardless of how famous some of these women are, statistics show that female-driven roles historically do not perform as well as male-driven movies. There’s an argument to be made for women that they aren’t getting as many chances as men (and I do agree with that), but at the same time, maybe studios know something that we don’t. I’m sure they’re doing tests all the time. You better believe that if they knew something that showed women-led movies would make them the money that say a Will Smith movie would, they’d have all kinds of movies lined up. I really just think that the overall movie-going audience seems to prefer a leading man in their movie. And until that changes, men will probably control the major earnings in film.

  • 15 6-16-2009 at 12:50 pm

    Brando said...

    Angelina Jolie is not been famous for a long time. She only started to get some attention after her winning the Oscar in 1999. And the explosion only happen in 05, with Brad Pitt.

  • 16 6-16-2009 at 1:32 pm

    the world said...


    I think you may not have considered that the actor’s earnings are a reflection of their past recent work. So what they got paid in 2008 was a reflection of the success they generated just prior to that.

    So this makes sense now for:
    Murphy(2007 – shrek, norbit).
    Cage(2007 – national treasures, next)

    What they got paid in 2008 didn’t have much to do with how their 2008 movies fared. However, their future earnings for 2009+ is reflective of their crappy market appeal now.

  • 17 6-16-2009 at 3:07 pm

    j said...

    Clearly it’s gender-segregated. There are 8 actresses who got 10+ million last year, while the #20 actor there got exactly that. Topped by Sarah Jessica Parker & Angelina, tied for 10th with Johnny Depp.

  • 18 6-16-2009 at 5:30 pm

    Jesse said...

    No, it’s not as if women don’t go to see movies, and I agree with Brando. Recent ‘chick flicks’ with known lead actresses have done very well, especially if the reviews are good. Even Bride Wars made money. Think back to the studio system. Female leads were every bit as talented, paid, and acclaimed as men (Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe). Today, it’s clearly a man’s world, and until we see more successful female writers and directors, it unfortunately won’t change.

  • 19 6-21-2009 at 11:36 pm

    Matt said...

    Hey lay off, Hancock. That movie was not nearly as bad as some people say. It was quite orginal! I actually thing Smith is not being lazy at all, he actually tries to do different works in a genre than what is tradationally done. It may not always work, but least he tries.