Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner are in the Twilight of their careers. That’s a good and extremely profitable thing. The stars of the phenomenally successful film franchise based on Stephenie Meyer’s books all placed within the top 15 on Vanity Fair’s Hollywood’s Top 40 list, which ranks the top earners in 2010 among stars, directors, and producers.
Lautner (the shirtless werewolf guy), making his debut on the list, placed at No. 9 with estimated earnings of $33.5 million. Stewart, at No. 13 (up from 37 last year), was the highest ranking actress on the list with estimated earnings of $28.5 million. Robert Pattinson (the brooding vampire guy) came in at 15 (up from 35 in 2009) biting off $27.5 million.
The Hollywood’s Top 40 list does not translate to who is most powerful (studio heads and agents are not factored on this list). Nor is it a signifier of who is the best director or actor (cough-Shia LaBeouf, who placed at No. 34 with $15 million of Transformers money). It is purely who earned the most in 2010 from their films, including salaries, box office, and ancillary sales.
The bottom line? Even in a challenging economy which has compelled studios to make fewer films, Hollywood’s creative artists still make a lot of money. “On the studio side, they will tell you how they’re reigning in costs,” observed Peter Newcomb, who compiled the Vanity Fair list and has been tracking stars’ earnings since the mid-1980s. “But when you talk to the agents, lawyers, and producers, they’ll tell you that’s (not true) because just look at the list. Johnny Depp got $35 million for (the next) Pirates of the Caribbean. For select films, studios have no choice but to cough up the money. So on the one hand they are trying to reign in costs, but it doesn’t mean if you’re a big star you’re not going to make a lot of money.”
Topping the list was director James Cameron, who earned a whopping $248 million mostly from Avatar’s record-breaking worldwide box office gross of $1.95 billion, and share of DVD and pay-television revenue (and this doesn’t include his share of toy licensing and other revenue).
Depp had a particularly good year thanks to Alice in Wonderland, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tide, and even the much-maligned The Tourist. At No. 2 on the list with estimated earnings of $100 million, he was the highest-earning actor, followed at No. 5 by Leonardo DiCaprio, who earned an estimated $62 million.
Inception director Christopher Nolan, who was snubbed by the Motion Picture Academy, can take some solace at placing fourth on the list, earning $71.5 million.
Six women, including Stewart, made this year’s list list, down from nine last year. The ever bankable Jennifer Aniston placed at 18, up from 33 last year, with earnings of $24.5 million. Angelina Jolie ($23.5 million) and Sandra Bullock ($22 million) placed 21 and 22, respectively. Katherine Heigl earned $16 million in 2010, good enough to place at No. 33, while Reese Witherspoon came in at No. 36 with earnings of $14.5.
These days, thanks to the Internet and tabloids, even the most casual filmgoer can recount weekend box office grosses or know what salary an actor makes. What is the fascination? “We use the term ‘wealth porn,’” Newcomb laughed. “It used to be in bad taste to ask what your neighbor paid for their house, but now everybody does it. It’s people watching someone win the lottery. There’s some kind of vicarious thrill.”