The comedy Tower Heist opens today and brings with it eager anticipation to see Eddie Murphy as his old school, edgy, wise-cracking self. Murphy, whom a generation knows mainly from his family-oriented films, is in need of a hit to restore his box office cred. Incredibly, according to Forbes, Murphy, the former 1980s box office king, is Hollywood’s most overpaid actor. For every $1 paid to him, he earns $2.70.
But that’s a mountain of gold compared to Drew Barrymore, ranked as Hollywood’s most overpaid actress. For every $1 paid to her, she earns 40 cents.
With movie tickets averaging $10 (extra for 3D), and ever-exorbitant concession stand prices, a night at the cineplex is an expensive proposition even without dinner, gas, parking, and perhaps the price of a babysitter. Moviegoers are relying more on aggregate sites such as Rotten Tomatoes to see if a movie will be worth the money.
Perhaps in that spirit, Forbes’ Dorothy Pomerantz has compiled a list of actors who are not quite giving the studios their money’s worth. The oft-surprising list includes some of Hollywood’s most well-liked and respected A-listers. Like Will Ferrell, for instance. He ranks third on Pomerantz’s list, earning $3.50 on every $1 he was paid (Ferrell had topped this list the last two years running—the buddy comedy The Other Guys helped him avoid that hat trick).
Pomerantz based her rankings on data gathered from Forbes’ annual Celebrity 100 list. This gets tricky, so we’ll just quote: “(We) calculate each star’s estimated earnings on each film (including up-front pay and any earnings from the movie’s box-office receipts and first year sales of DVDs). We then looked at each movie’s estimated budget (not including marketing costs, which are susceptible to accounting chicanery) and box-office and DVD earnings to figure out an operating income for each film. We added up each star’s compensation on his or her last three films and the operating income on those films, and divided total operating income by the star’s total compensation to come up with a return-on-investment number. The final number represents an average of how much a studio earns for every dollar paid he was paid.”
As it ever is in Hollywood, quality and talent don’t amount to a hill of beans where box office grosses are concerned. Four of the actors who round out the top 10 are Oscar-winners. After Ferrell comes Reese Witherspoon, who earns $3.55 for every dollar she is paid. Next is Denzel Washington ($4.25), Nicolas Cage ($4.40), Adam Sandler ($5.20), Vince Vaughn ($5.20), Tom Cruise ($6.35), and Nicole Kidman ($6.70), whose recent film with Cage, Trespass, was a pre-Thanksgiving turkey.
It is not always the case that these actors’ films bomb at the box office. Washington, for example, scored hits with the runaway train thriller Unstoppable and The Book of Eli, but as Pomerantz notes, the Oscar-winning actor commanded a $20 million salary for each film, so they needed to do much better than $167 million and $157 million, respectively.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.