Since Scarlett Johansson sued Disney for the hybrid release of Marvel Studios’ Black Widow in July 2021, a lot of fans have become interested in the compensation that actors earn per movie. Compared to the days when audiences were drawn to a film primarily based on its leading star, it’s now rare for actors to score huge salaries, as viewers are more attracted to a franchise than a star in today’s movie landscape. But with the rise of streamers like Netflix, some high-profile actors still manage to strike gigantic deals, because they’re granted a streaming back-end buyout that helps make up for any box-office losses. To get more ideas on how actors negotiate for their wages in films, check out some of the biggest Hollywood paydays ever in the list below:
Jennifer Lawrence – $25 million (Don’t Look Up, 2021)
Jennifer Lawrence got a $25 million paycheck for her role in the upcoming Netflix sci-fi black comedy film Don’t Look Up. The movie also stars Leonardo DiCaprio, who received a $30 million compensation for the project.
Written, produced, and directed by Adam McKay, Don’t Look Up tells the story of two low-level astronomers (Lawrence and DiCaprio) attempting, via a media tour, to warn mankind about an approaching comet that will destroy Earth. The film is set to receive a limited theatrical release on December 10th, prior to streaming on Netflix on December 24th.
Julia Roberts – $25 million (Leave the World Behind)
Julia Roberts is reportedly getting $25 million for her role in the upcoming Netflix movie Leave the World Behind, which examines the lives of two families over a long weekend. Starring opposite Denzel Washington in the family drama, Roberts plays the wife of the family that rented a house, while Washington portrays the homeowner.
The Sam Esmail-directed movie is an adaptation of Rumaan Alam’s 2020 novel of the same name, which was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. Assessed by Emily Temple of Literary Hub, the novel has been included on 20 year-end lists featuring the best novels of 2020.
Emma Stone – $26 million (La La Land, 2016)
Aside from winning her first-ever best actress Oscar award in 2017, Emma Stone also topped Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid actresses that year with $26 million. The majority of that amount came from her role in the 2016 musical romantic movie La La Land.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, La La Land stars Stone as an aspiring actress and Ryan Gosling as a jazz pianist, who meet and fall in love while pursuing their dreams in Los Angeles. The Oscar-winning film grossed $447 million at the worldwide box office against a budget of just $30 million.
Ryan Reynolds – $27 million (6 Underground, 2019)
Produced by Bay with his longtime business partner Ian Bryce and Skydance’s David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Don Granger, 6 Underground follows a group of people that fake their deaths and decide to form a vigilante team in order to stage a coup d’état against a ruthless dictator. In addition to Reynolds, the movie also stars Mélanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Adria Arjona, Corey Hawkins, Ben Hardy, and Dave Franco.
Arnold Schwarzenegger – $29 million (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, 2003)
After the box-office success of 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Arnold Schwarzenegger had made it clear that he wouldn’t participate in a sequel unless writer and director James Cameron was on board the project. But since Cameron had completely moved on from the franchise, he advised Schwarzenegger to make several lucrative demands from Warner Bros. in an attempt to end the studio’s pursuit for a follow-up movie. But much to Schwarzenegger’s surprise, Warner Bros. gave in to his demands, which included an upfront $29.25 million fee, which is one of the biggest Hollywood paydays ever.
Though Schwarzenegger wasn’t part of the fourth Terminator movie (2009’s Termination: Salvation), he returned to the franchise for the fifth and sixth installments: 2015’s Terminator Genisys and 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate.
Jim Carrey – $30 million (Yes Man, 2008)
For the 2008’s comedy Yes Man, Jim Carrey took a lower salary for the film in favor of taking on residual pay for its performance at the box office. According to Forbes, the actor’s bet worked out in his favor, giving him a total of $30 million paycheck.
Loosely based on the 2005 memoir of the same name by humorist Danny Wallace, Yes Man stars Carrey as Carl, a man who challenges himself to say “yes” to everything. Also starring Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, John Michael Higgins, and Terence Stamp, the movie earned $223 million at the worldwide box office off of a production budget of $70 million.
Mark Wahlberg – $30 million (Spenser Confidential, 2020)
Mark Wahlberg got a $30 million paycheck for his titular role in Netflix’s 2020 action-comedy film Spenser Confidential. That huge salary for Wahlberg was all worth it, as the Peter Berg-directed movie became the streamer’s third-biggest movie of all time, with about 85 million households watching it in its first 28 days of release.
An adaptation of the 2013 novel Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland by author Ace Atkins, Spenser Confidential is the fifth collaboration Wahlberg and Berg following Lone Survivor (2013), Deepwater Horizon (2016), Patriots Day (2016), and Mile 22 (2018).
Mel Gibson – $30 million (Lethal Weapon 4, 1998)
After Lethal Weapon 3 hit theaters in 1992, Mel Gibson said that he would never do another installment of the buddy cop film series. But six years later, Gibson returned to the franchise and earned $30 million for Lethal Weapon 4 ― the highest salary ever paid to an actor for a single project in 1998.
Gibson is confirmed to return for a fifth Lethal Weapon movie, titled Lethal Finale. The sequel was supposed to be directed by franchise director Richard Donner. But after Donner died in July 2021, it was reported that Gibson has been approached for potentially directing the film.
Denzel Washington – $40 million (The Little Things, 2021)
One of the biggest Hollywood paydays in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic is Denzel Washington’s paycheck for the neo-noir crime thriller film The Little Things. Washington reportedly snagged a total of $40 million for The Little Things after receiving a back-end buyout when the movie streamed on HBO Max the same day it opened in theaters.
Set in early 1990s Los Angeles, The Little Things follows detectives Joe “Deke” Deacon (Washington) and Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) who investigate a string of murders, which lead them to a strange loner who may be the culprit (Jared Leto).
Cameron Diaz – $42 million (Bad Teacher, 2011)
Cameron Diaz was only paid $ 1 million to star in the 2011 raunchy comedy flick Bad Teacher. But in return for working on such a low salary, Diaz was promised a share of the box office returns. When the Bad Teacher grossed $216 million at the worldwide box office, the actress ended up securing $42 million for the movie.
Directed by Jake Kasdan from a screenplay by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, Bad Teacher tells the story of Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz), a lazy middle school teacher who hates her job, her students, and her co-workers. She is forced to return to teaching to make enough money for breast implants after her wealthy fiancé dumps her.
Alec Guinness – $50 million (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, 1997)
Alec Guinness’ salary for his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars movie is considered as one of the biggest Hollywood paydays when adjusted for inflation. Despite being dismissive of the project, Guinness agreed to appear in the movie with a $3.3 million paycheck. But after some negotiations with the movie’s writer and director George Lucas, Guinness managed to increase its salary with 2.25 percent of the film’s box office return, earning a total initial payout of $50 million.
With a production budget of just $11 million, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope grossed $775 million at the box office worldwide.
Daniel Craig – $50 million each (Knives Out 2 and Knives Out 3)
After the successful theatrical release of 2019’s mystery film Knives Out, Netflix immediately bought the distribution rights for the movie’s two planned sequels in a deal worth $469 million. According to The Hollywood Reporter, franchise star Daniel Craig could earn “upward of $100 million” for the sequels, which is one of the biggest Hollywood paydays to date, especially for two movies that have yet to begin production.
Directed by Rian Johnson and released by Lionsgate, Knives Out grossed $312 million at the worldwide box office against a production budget of just $40 million.
Dwayne Johnson – $50 million (Red One, 2023)
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is getting paid $50 million for Amazon’s holiday-themed action-adventure movie Red One, which is currently scheduled for a 2023 holiday premiere. Johnson’s compensation for the film reportedly includes a back-end buyout for the streaming movie.
Chris Morgan will write the screenplay and produce for the movie, with Amazon planning to exploit the property across multiple ancillaries in addition to being a tentpole film. In addition to starring in the movie, Johnson is also executive producing the project, alongside Dany Garcia and Hiram Garcia of Seven Bucks Productions.
Jack Nicholson – $50 million (Batman, 1989)
Jack Nicholson only received an upfront payment of $6 million for his villainous role as Jack Napier, aka the Joker, in the 1989 movie Batman. But because he reportedly secured a lucrative deal that included box-office earnings as well as merchandise sales from the film’s three sequels that he didn’t even appear in, the Oscar-winning actor ended up earning over $50 million from four-installment movie series.
Tim Burton’s Batman, which grossed $251 million at the worldwide box office, was followed by the sequels Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), and Batman & Robin (1997).
Leonardo DiCaprio – $50 million (Inception, 2010)
When Leonardo DiCaprio got the role of Dom Cobb in 2010’s Inception, it was not clear how well the sci-fi action movie would perform at the box office. Finding the film so “risky,” DiCaprio reportedly took a pay cut. According to Forbes, he and director Christopher Nolan ultimately agreed to split first dollar gross points, which resulted in him earning a $50 million paycheck for the movie.
With a massive production budget of $160 million, Inception grossed $836 million at the worldwide box office. In addition to DiCaprio’s hefty paycheck from the film’s box-office earnings, his deal also included home video and television sales.
Johnny Depp – $55 million (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, 2011)
With a production cost of over $410 million, 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is currently the most expensive movie ever made. A large portion of the film’s production budget went to the salary of the cast and crew, with lead actor Johnny Depp getting $55 million alone.
In a 2011 interview, Depp admitted that he has been “overpaid” for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Over the course of the five films in the franchise that he has appeared in, Depp has reportedly earned somewhere between $300 and $450 million.
Tom Hanks – $60 million (Forrest Gump, 1994)
Tom Hanks opted for performance-based pay for his titular role in the 1994 film Forrest Gump. The Oscar-winning romantic drama grossed $678 million, helping Hanks secure a $60 million salary ― the largest payday of his career to date.
Based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom, the Robert Zemeckis-directed movie depicts several decades in the life of Forrest Gump (Hanks), a slow-witted but kind-hearted man from Alabama who witnesses and unwittingly influences several defining historical events in the 20th-century U.S.
Adam Sandler – $62.5 million each (Four-Picture Netflix Deal)
One of the biggest Hollywood paydays was recorded in 2014 when Netflix signed a four-picture deal with Adam Sandler for $250 million or $62.5 million per movie. Though those films turned out to be some of Sandler’s most critically reviled works, they apparently attracted a lot of viewers on Netflix that the streamer decided to renew the deal twice: first in 2017 and again in 2020.
Sandler’s Netflix original movies include The Ridiculous 6 (2015), The Do-Over (2016), Sandy Wexler (2017), The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017), The Week Of (2018), Adam Sandler 100% Fresh (2018), Murder Mystery (2019), and Hubie Halloween (2020).
Harrison Ford – $65 million (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 2008)
To get Harrison Ford back for the fourth Indiana Jones movie, Paramount Pictures agreed to a deal that split a large portion of the film’s earnings between him, director Steven Spielberg, and producer George Lucas. That deal gave Ford a $65 million paycheck, a number he’s looking to top with presumably his last outing as the titular archaeologist in the yet-to-be-titled sequel set to be released on July 29th, 2022.
Released 19 years after the third Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull grossed a whopping $791 million at the worldwide box office against a production budget of $185 million.
Sandra Bullock – $70 million (Gravity, 2013)
Sandra Bullock got an upfront payment of $20 million for her role as Dr. Ryan Stone in the 2013 sci-fi thriller Gravity. While that’s already impressive on its own, the actress also received an additional $50 million, thanks to her deal that included 15% of box-office revenue. So after Gravity earned $723 million at the worldwide box office, the Oscar-winning actress brought in a combined payday of $70 million.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity stars Bullock and George Clooney as American astronauts who are stranded in space and attempt to return to Earth after the mid-orbit destruction of their Space Shuttle.
Robert Downey Jr. – $75 million (Avengers: Infinity War, 2018)
Robert Downey Jr. was the highest-paid actor of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His biggest paycheck in the ever-expanding superhero franchise came in 2018 when he received a $75 million payday for reprising his role as Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, in Avengers: Infinity War.
More impressive, however, is that Downey reportedly made $15 million for just spending three days on the set of 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Tom Cruise – $75 million (Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, 2011)
Tom Cruise took home $75 million for reprising his role as Ethan Hunt in 2011’s Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, helping him to top Forbes’ most powerful actors list in 2012. With a production budget of $145 million, the fourth installment of the Mission: Impossible film series grossed $695 million at the worldwide box office.
Directed by Brad Bird, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol sees Hunt and his team race against time to find a nuclear extremist codenamed “Cobalt” who gains access to Russian nuclear launch codes when a mission by the team goes wrong, resulting in the bombing of the Kremlin. The IMF is implicated in the bombing, forcing the President to enact “Ghost Protocol,” disavowing the organization and leaving Hunt and his team without backup.
Keanu Reeves – $83.3 million per movie (The Matrix Trilogy, 1999-2003)
Keanu Reeves scored an upfront salary of $15 million for his role of Neo in The Matrix. But because his deal included a portion of the trilogy’s box office earnings, the beloved actor secured a combined pay of $250 million or $83.3 million per movie across all three films.
Eighteen years after the release of the third Matrix movie, Reeves is reprising his role as Neo in The Matrix Resurrections, which is set to hit theaters on December 22nd.
Will Smith – $100 million (Men in Black 3, 2012)
One of the biggest Hollywood paydays to date came in 2012 when Men in Black 3 grossed $624 million at the worldwide box office. Because Will Smith opted for performance-based pay for his role in the film, the actor ended up raking in over $100 million of the flick’s total ticket sales.
In Men in Black 3 Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), an old enemy of Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), escapes from prison and travels back in time to kill the younger K (Josh Brolin) in order to allow his species, a ruthless alien race known as Boglodites, to attack Earth. This forces Agent J (Smith) to go back in time and team up with K’s younger self to save his partner and the world.
Bruce Willis – $100 million (The Sixth Sense, 1999)
Bruce Willis took an upfront salary of $14 million for his role as Malcolm Crowe in the 1999 supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense. His deal, however, also included a portion of the movie’s box office returns and home video sales, bringing his paycheck from the film to a whopping $100 million.
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense stars Willis as a child psychologist whose patient (Haley Joel Osment) can talk to the dead. With a modest production budget of $40 million, the movie earned a total of $673 million at the worldwide box office.