Hollywood is not always glitz and glam. Sometimes, some of our favorite characters of all time are played by actors who have taken on the roles for shockingly small salaries. Whether they’ve taken on passion projects or were slighted during negotiations, here are some of the staggering salaries actors received for taking on the roles in some of our favorite movies.
1. Michelle Williams – All The Money In The World
Apparently, even with all the money in the world, some production houses are still paying their female actresses less than their male counterparts. And while this disparity has happened in the past, the outrage over the pay gaps among actors in All The Money In The World drew criticism and headlines from all around the world.
When one of Michelle Williams’ costars, Kevin Spacey, was booted from the film, the rest of the cast had to redo some of the key scenes in the movie. To compensate for the second go-around, producers paid Williams just $1,000. Williams’ costar, Mark Wahlberg, instead received $1.5 million. Actors from all over came forward to call out the disparity, and it remains one of the most notorious pay gaps in Hollywood history.
2. George Clooney – Good Night, and Good Luck
Big stars in Hollywood can get paid some big bucks to act in a feature film. Add on top of that directing, writing, and starring in that film, and many actors would be expecting a ridiculously big paycheck to land in their bank accounts. But when it comes to George Clooney in Good Night, and Good Luck, his paycheck was, instead, shockingly low.
Clooney was probably given the lowest paycheck in Hollywood ever. He was paid only one single dollar for writing, directing and acting in the hit movie. In an attempt to save some money as he turned his vision into a feature length film, he decided the first paycheck he would cut out would be for himself. Think that’s a low number? Read on for some more surprisingly small pay days.
3. Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry
Hilary Swank’s portrayal of an American trans man named Brandon Teena was so unbelievably good, it landed her an Oscar for in the category of Best Actress. But it did not land her with a windfall of cash to celebrate her win with.
It comes as a huge surprise that Swank was only paid $3,000 for one of the greatest performances of all time. On top of all the work it likely took to make every scene perfect and award-worthy, Swank herself lost so much weight for the role that, by the end, she reduced her body fat to only 7%. That’s a whole lot of weight loss for not so much monetary gain.
4. Brad Pitt – Thelma & Louise
It might be hard to imagine, but there was once a time when Brad Pitt was not the most sought after movie star in Hollywood. We know, it’s a crazy idea. But even heartthrobs have to start their careers from somewhere. And for Pitt, that somewhere involved a little movie called Thelma & Louise.
The Ridley Scott film was one of his first roles, and Pitt accepted a small payout of only $6,000 to play the part of J.D. But big payouts can come to actors who wait. Only eight years later he would reportedly go on to earn $17.5 million for his role in Fight Club. But he definitely isn’t the only big star that began his career earning low salaries. Read on for more of the shocking pay days.
5. Julia Roberts – Pretty Woman
Julia Roberts is now known as one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood. But no matter how many movies she stars in, it sometimes seems like she will always be known by one of her greatest roles, Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman. But while the recognition for that role may last forever, the money she earned in that film likely has not.
While the character Ward was paid $3,000 to spend a week in luxury, Roberts earned only $300,000 to play her in the film. For anyone who thinks that was a lot at the time, consider the fact that Richard Gere made millions for the same film. Big mistake! Huge!
6. John Travolta – Pulp Fiction
Hollywood celebrities are just like us, they have some good days and they have some bad days. Around the time that Pulp Fiction was getting ready to film, let’s just say that actor John Travolta was having some bad days, and was looking to get his career back on track. And while Pulp Fiction re-bolstered his career, it did not do the same for his bank account.
In fact, Travolta accepted a measly $150,000 to play Vincent Vega in one of the most famous movies of all time. The move worked, and Travolta got his career back to his glory days. A few years later, he would earn $14 million for acting in Hairspray. Now that is a comeback story.
7. Oprah – The Color Purple
You get a role! And you get a role! And you get a role! Maybe that is how it works on the set of Oprah’s old daytime talk show, but that is not how it works in Hollywood. Giveaways are not something you come across everyday, and Oprah Winfrey knows this well, as she struggled for years to be an actress.
One day she was offered a role in a Steven Spielberg film, The Color Purple, and could not pass it up, despite the $35,000 paycheck. In the end, it all worked out for Winfrey. She got to play the iconic part of Sophia, and ended up getting an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, as well as becoming one of the richest women in the world. That’s a win-win.
8. Harrison Ford – Star Wars IV: A New Hope
The Star Wars franchise in one of the most recognizable in film history. And atop that franchise, Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Han Solo ranks as one of the most recognizable characters of all time. But for all of Ford’s hard work, he was paid a surprisingly low amount for his first Star Wars film.
Ford was only paid $10,000 for playing Solo and catapulting the Star Wars franchise to epic greatness. When the first movie of the series did well, Ford was hired once again, and this time offered a little bit of a pay raise. He went on to make $100,000 for the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. Not exactly a windfall, but a 900% pay raise is definitely a success.
9. Kerry Washington – Scandal
With her list of daily job responsibilities including saving the free world from complete disaster and balancing the egos of Washington D.C., all while rocking some of the best business suits in the game, Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington, should get paid the big bucks. And while Washington’s salary is definitely enviable, it’s only a fraction of what some of her counterparts take home.
Washington received $250,000 per episode of Scandal. Compare that to another leading lady from “Shondaland,” Ellen Pompeo, who makes $400,000 per episode to play Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy. This surprising fact pairs well with one of Olivia Pope’s famed giant glasses of red wine.
10. Jamie Lee Curtis – Halloween
It’s hard to predict what exactly will work in Hollywood, and what exactly will catch on and earn the title of “cult classic.” Who could have known that a masked man named Michael Myers going on a slashing spree would turn into one of the most classic horror films? This might explain why Jamie Lee Curtis’ paycheck was slashed when she took on a leading role.
Curtis was only paid $8,000 for her role in Halloween, a film that would go on to be played over and over again every Halloween season. The film went on to make tens of millions of dollars, and Curtis was brought back to make a sequel. It turns out, in the end, the paychecks for Halloween were just as horrifying as the film.
11. Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Note to future producers, never try to hustle Jennifer Lawrence, especially after her experiences filming American Hustle. When signing on to play Rosalyn Rosenfeld in the Columbia Pictures film, Lawrence also signed on to earn 7% of the film’s profits. The movie ended up earning $251 million and, in turn, Lawrence earned about $17.5 million. Sounds like a big pay day? Just wait.
Lawrence ended up making headlines when emails from Sony were leaked online and revealed that her costars, Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale, were set to make 9% of the film’s profits, or about $22 million. Since the revelation, Lawrence has been an outspoken advocate about gender pay gaps in Hollywood, as did another leading lady on this list.
12. Bill Murray – Rushmore
Bill Murray is known in Hollywood and around the world for being a character on and off the screen. And it seems that famed director Wes Anderson agrees, considering that Murray has acted in more of Anderson’s films than any other star (eight of his films, to be exact).
For Murray’s role in Rushmore, he took home a tiny $9,000 paycheck on the nearly $17 million grossing moving. But in the end, both Hollywood men benefited. Anderson added a second feature film to his resume, and the movie revamped Murray’s career. It seems Murray didn’t mind the lacking paycheck, he’s been in nearly every Anderson movie since.
13. Mel Gibson – Mad Max
The dystopian action film Mad Max became an instant cult classic, largely with help from it’s star, Mel Gibson. It was his portrayal of Max Rockatansky that helped the film later earn the title of the most profitable film of all time, earning $100 million in the box offices after costing just $350,000 to make.
But with a budget like that, the actors certainly were not looking at multi million dollar pay days. Gibson actually earned $15,000 for his role in the film. Today, Gibson’s paychecks when he stars in movies probably account for at least the amount that Mad Max cost in total.
14. Sean William Scott – American Pie
Let’s just state a fact: There would be no American Pie without the incredible character of Steve Stifler, the high school jerk that audiences love to hate, and hate to love. It was his lines that got some of the most laughs, and the character became one of the most easily recognized.
But all that hard work did not exactly translate into cold, hard cash. Sean William Scott was reportedly paid only $8,000 to portray Stifler a.k.a The Stifmeister. That’s just a small slice out of the American Pie budget, which was reportedly $11 million, proving you can’t have your pie and eat it too.
15. Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Taking on a feature length film can be a huge time commitment for any actor or actress. But nothing compares to the time and energy put into filming Boyhood, a movie that followed a boy growing up for 12 whole years. But for Patricia Arquette, time was not exactly money.
While reports have not been able to pinpoint exactly how much Arquette made during her 12 year commitment, she has not demurred about letting audiences know how little the actors were paid. She once said in an interview “I paid more money to my babysitter and my dog walker than I made on ‘Boyhood,'” Ouch. Well, we hope that the Oscar she won for her role made up for the pay cut.
16. Jim Carrey – Yes Man
Sometimes taking a risk works out. Take, for example, Jim Carrey, who signed up to star in the movie Yes Man by accepting absolutely no pay up front. Instead, he bet on his future and secured a deal to get just over 36% of movie profits after a few of his previous films had some lackluster reviews.
But it seems that while Carrey has had some hits and misses, Yes Man turned out to be a hit. A $220 million hit, to be exact. That meant that Carrey went away with $35 million. Sometimes saying “yes” to some risky situations pays off. Read on for some of the most surprisingly low salaries on this list.
17. Gal Gadot – Wonder Woman
There is no denying that the breakout action movie Wonder Woman was a huge monetary success for Warner Brothers. But can the same be said for the leading woman wonder, Gal Gadot, who helped rake some of that money in? Apparently it cannot.
Gadot was paid only $300,000 for landing the top role in the DC Comic turned movie. And while we are not ones to put our noses up to six-figure paychecks, consider these facts. Gadot herself received the same $300,000 amount for her very small role in Batman v. Superman. Or to compare that price with other leading superheroes, Ryan Reynolds earned a reported $2.7 million for Deadpool and Ben Affleck made $43 million for his role in Batman v. Superman.
18. Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
There are some opportunities that anyone would be a fool to pass up. For Jonah Hill, being a part of the film The Wolf Of Wall Street was one of them. Between acting alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, to working on a Martin Scorsese film, Hill found himself being offered everything he could ever ask for. And because of that, he didn’t ask for much when it came to his paycheck.
Hill has said about the deal, “They gave me the lowest amount of money possible. I said ‘I will sign the paper tonight. Fax me the papers tonight.’ I want to sign them tonight before they change their mind.” That amount was $60,000, and, as anyone could guess, the papers were signed that very night.
19. Chris Evans – Captain America: The First Avenger
In the battle between Marvel Cinematic Universe stars Captain America and Iron Man, apparently Iron Man wins, at least when we look at the bottom line. When Chris Evans signed on to play the lead in Captain America: The First Avenger, he was paid $300,000. And while that’s definitely not nothing, it’s a pretty meager some compared to other Marvel stars.
Compare that amount with the $500,000 that Robert Downey Jr. received for his leading role in Iron Man, nearly twice the amount that Evans was given by Marvel. But Evans can still be proud of himself to receiving that sum, given that it was his first solo movie gig.
20. Sean Astin – The Lord of the Rings
Signing up to act in a series is a huge time commitment. It means that an actor’s schedule will be filled with shoots, and leaves little time for them to take on side projects. And for some of these series (we’re looking at you, Pirates of the Caribbean) those commitments last for years and years. So the actors who take these roles should expect a pretty nice payout.
Well, not Sean Astin from The Lord of the Rings franchise. He was paid only $250,000 to play the character Samwise Gamgee. Think that is not such a bad deal? Well, consider this other detail: he was paid $250,000 to play in all three movies. Ouch.
21. Jamie Dornan – Fifty Shades of Grey
When producers were trying to begin filming Fifty Shades of Grey, their hands were tied. They first wanted actor Charlie Hunnam to play the main character Christian Grey, but Hunman ultimately declined due to a lack of pay. Then along came Jamie Dornan.
Dornan was given just $100,000 to star in the three-part movie alongside Dakota Johnson. But producers knew they could not get away with that number for long, and they needed to make sure that the man who played Grey would commit for the entire series. Soon, Dornan was offered $6.92 million to film the next two films, and grace our movie theaters for 3 consecutive Valentines’ Days.
22. Jon Heder – Napoleon Dynamite
What happened to Jon Heder when he decided to take the role of Napoleon in Napoleon Dynamite should be a lesson to everyone who has trouble believing in themselves. But to be fair, no one could have guessed that this truly quirky movie would become so instantly popular.
That is why Heder decided to do his friend, Jared Hess, a favor when Hess pitched him the idea for a new movie. Heder decided to play the main role as a favor to Hess, and accepted only $1,000 to play the part. That’s only a few “dang quesadillas” worth of money. Luckily, Heder reportedly renegotiated his contract after the film saw so much success.
23. Spencer Lacey Ganus – Frozen
Sometimes child actresses are paid so little that we cannot just “let it go.” Take, for example, what happened behind the scenes of the movie Frozen, which quickly became one of the highest earning animated films of all time. But the young woman who provided the voice for Elsa was not exactly among the highest earners in the cast.
Spencer Lacey Ganus was 15 years old when she voice acted in the movie, and only participated in one day of filming. She was only paid $926 for her time. And if she was holding out for a big pay day once the movie came out, that came up short as well. She only received $10,000 in residual checks.
24. Ryan Gosling – Half Nelson
There are times when actors decide to take on a major motion picture, and there are times when they decided to let their creative flags fly and take on a role in an independent film. And after starring in The Notebook and making the press rounds that came with such an iconic film, Ryan Gosling was ready to take on something very different. Enter: Half Nelson.
The indie film did not make much, and neither did Gosling for his part in it. Overall, the film took in about $2.6 million, and Gosling pocketed just $1,000 a week. After a big payout for The Notebook, and with some even bigger payouts on the horizon (think Crazy, Stupid Love and La La Land), we’re thinking Gosling had no problem managing to make ends meet.
25. Jeff Daniels – Dumb and Dumber
The cross-country adventures of two of America’s favorite, but also pretty dumb, duo became an instant classic. Dumb and Dumber may have landed a place in everyone’s hearts, but that popularity did not exactly translate into a huge payout for actor Jeff Daniels.
Daniels was paid $50,000 for his role as Harry. And that might sound like a decent deal, but considering that his costar, Jim Carrey, was paid $7 million, we would go ahead and say that Daniels was given the short end of the stick. But not to worry, Daniels went on to rack in dollars elsewhere, and continues to be a household name.
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