The comic book movie boom started 20 years ago and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, and if anything, the genre has become more popular than ever thanks in part to the incredible success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Big-budget superhero epics tend to be among the most expensive films to produce, and if handled correctly they can be relied on to make the most money, so it isn’t surprising that the stars tend to be among the most well-paid in Hollywood. Sometimes even a terrible movie ends up with the studio handing over a sizeable check, but the small print is always worth keeping an eye on, when box office dollars almost always equate to more take-home pay. Read on to discover which comic book movie stars get paid the most.
20. Ryan Reynolds – Green Lantern
Ryan Reynolds hasn’t stopped making fun of Green Lantern for almost a decade, which is fine, because the dismal comic book adaptation fully deserves to be ridiculed for eternity.
The intergalactic superhero adventure is one of the biggest box office bombs of all-time, and ended up losing Warner Bros. almost $100 million after barely recouping the $200 million budget in theaters.
However, Reynolds was handsomely rewarded for his turn as Hal Jordan, pocketing a $9 million salary, a number which would have been much higher had Green Lantern made any money.
19. Ben Affleck – Daredevil
When Ben Affleck signed on to star in Daredevil, he had yet to descend into tabloid fodder, causing him to reinvent himself as an acclaimed filmmaker who also moonlighted as Batman.
The Director’s Cut of Mark Steven Johnson’s Marvel blockbuster is vastly superior to the theatrical edit, which hardly made great use of the Man Without Fear’s undoubted cinematic potential.
The leading man may have voiced his disappointment with the final product on numerous occasions, but he still went home $12.5 million richer despite giving an uninspired performance.
18. Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool 2
It’s that man Ryan Reynolds again, this time pocketing an even bigger chunk of change for finally starring in a smash hit comic book movie at the fifth time of asking.
After Blade: Trinity, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Green Lantern and R.I.P.D. Reynolds’ passion project brought the Merc with a Mouth roaring to life in spectacular fashion.
As the star and producer who also had a helping hand in shaping the script, Reynolds pocket a percentage of the profits, which netted him $13.8 million after Deadpool raced to over $780 million worldwide.
17. Henry Cavill – Man of Steel
Henry Cavill may have been a relative unknown when he was first cast as the DCEU’s Superman, but when Zack Snyder’s reboot soared to a box office haul of almost $670 million, the actor was handsomely rewarded.
The Englishman’s base salary was said to be less than a million dollars, but various performance-related bonuses saw him walk away with a reported $14 million for his first major big screen leading role.
Not a bad return, although fans have been waiting eight years and counting for that sequel that’s never appeared anywhere close to materializing.
16. Halle Berry – Catwoman
Halle Berry is nothing if not a good sport, showing up in person to collect her well-deserved Razzie Award for Worst Actress, and even referring to Catwoman as a ‘piece of sh*t’.
It most certainly is, with the DC blockbuster directed by the pretentiously-named Pitof failing to even recoup the $100 million budget after being torn apart by critics and fans alike, although a $14 million payday surely softened the blow somewhat.
However, it somehow managed to reign as the highest-grossing superhero movie with a female lead for thirteen years until Gal Gadot and Wonder Woman came along to change the game.
15. Jeremy Renner – Avengers: Endgame
Poor Jeremy Renner has always felt like something of an afterthought when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even though he’s been part of the franchise for close to a decade.
Ironically, a Hawkeye show is currently in the midst of shooting for Disney Plus but he’s not even the title character, with that honor falling to Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop instead.
Having renegotiated his contract several times over the years, Renner was rewarded with a bumper $15 million paycheck after Avengers: Endgame became the highest-grossing movie in history.
14. Mark Ruffalo – Avengers: Endgame
Universal still own the distribution rights to solo movies starring the Hulk, which is why Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner has never been given the opportunity to take center stage.
Having replaced Edward Norton in the role, most fans would surely be in agreement that the affable star is a much better fit for the mild-mannered scientist and hulking green rage monster.
Despite never taking top billing, Ruffalo is still deemed worthy of a serious payday, having also pocketed $15 million for his pivotal supporting role in Avengers: Endgame.
13. Marlon Brando – Superman
Marlon Brando’s involvement in Superman is the stuff of legend, with the actor pitching that his Jor-El appear as either a suitcase or a bagel, because he couldn’t be bothered with an onscreen presence.
Even when he did appear, he was reading his lines from a cue card, but his agent deserves immense credit for netting him a significant percentage of the box office gross for his relatively minor troubles.
Richard Donner’s classic was the most expensive movie ever made at the time, and as well as netting a salary of $3.7 million, he took home 11.75% of the box office gross. After Superman flew to over $300 million, Brando was laughing to the bank after becoming $16 million richer.
12. Tobey Maguire – Spider-Man 3
Jake Gyllenhaal was almost drafted in to replace Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 2 after the latter suffered a serious back injury while shooting Seabiscuit, but physical therapy and a substantial pay rise can heal most wounds.
The third installment in the web-slinging trilogy was the costliest production ever with a budget of $258 million, $17.5 million of which went straight into the leading man’s bank account.
Spider-Man 3 may have been overstuffed and overlong, bringing the trilogy to a hugely disappointing close, but at least Maguire was seriously compensated for his physical efforts.
11. Hugh Jackman – X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Dougray Scott must have rued the day on several occasions over the last two decades after he was forced to drop out of Bryan Singer’s X-Men as Wolverine due to scheduling conflicts with Mission: Impossible II.
In stepped unknown Australian theater actor Hugh Jackman, who was paid $500,000 for boarding the cast two weeks after shooting had already started, and went on to become an icon.
By the second movie, the entire X-Men franchise had pivoted its focus towards Wolverine, so it wasn’t surprising when Jackman was paid $20 million upfront for his first solo outing.
10. Arnold Schwarzenegger – Batman & Robin
Batman & Robin might be one of the worst comic book movies ever made, but by all accounts it seems as though Arnold Schwarzenegger had an absolute whale of a time.
As the biggest star in the cast, his name was positioned at the forefront of the marketing campaign, and he was rewarded with $25 million for spending just six weeks of the four-month shoot on set.
Not only that, but his Mr. Freeze spends only 23 minutes on screen during the entire running time, and drops 27 ice-related puns in the process, which works out at the action icon earning over $900,000 for every single terrible joke.
9. Christian Bale – The Dark Knight Rises
As one of the most critically acclaimed actors of his generation, Christian Bale certainly isn’t in it for the money, but it helps your finances greatly when you play Batman in a billion-dollar blockbuster.
Christopher Nolan’s Bruce Wayne was paid a $10 million salary for The Dark Knight, but the various bonuses in the small print bumped his earnings up by a further $20 million after it crossed the ten-figure threshold.
He then received roughly the exact same amount when the sequel arrived four years later and did similar business, making Bale the highest-paid big screen Batman by quite some distance.
8. Gal Gadot – Wonder Woman 1984
When Warner Bros. decided to release Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max the same day it hit theaters, star Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins were reportedly handed a bonus of at least $10 million each.
The leading lady was already said to have received a massive pay increase for her return as Diana Prince anyway, with her total pay packet making her one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses.
Gadot is now a regular member of the $20 million club having pocketed the same amount for Netflix’s upcoming action duo Red Notice and Heart of Stone, but the DCEU superhero will always remain her biggest earner.
7. Paul Rudd – Avengers: Endgame/Ant-Man and the Wasp
A lot of people were surprised when Paul Rudd appeared on the list of highest-paid actors in the world back in 2019, probably because he’s such a relatable and down to earth guy that felt out of place in among the typical A-list names.
However, he did take top billing Ant-Man and the Wasp and play a pivotal role in Avengers: Endgame within the space of nine months, which turned out to be a financial bonanza based on his profit participation that totaled $41 million.
The Ant-Man sequel raked in $622 million and Endgame brought in more than four times that amount, so you can completely understand why Rudd looks so happy all the time, when the MCU’s smallest hero is walking away with gigantic paydays.
6. Chris Evans – Avengers: Endgame
Chris Evans initially turned down the role of Captain America twice for fear of being typecast before his mother convinced him to take the part, which worked out pretty well for him in the end.
Another one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s marquee stars who renegotiated their contract several times, it wound up with Evans’ percentage points from Avengers: Endgame coming to a hefty $43.5 million.
That’s not a bad return for the leader of the Avengers, and now that he’s rumored to be in talks for a return, you’d imagine the studio are putting together an incredibly lucrative financial package to lure him back.
5. Chris Hemsworth – Avengers: Endgame
Chris Hemsworth owes his entire career to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having been plucked from obscurity to headline Kenneth Branagh’s Thor before becoming an integral part of the franchise.
Thor’s evolution from stuffy Shakespearean hero to hilarious intergalactic frat bro has reaffirmed Hemsworth’s position at the forefront of the mythology, and he’s set to become the first superhero to star in a fourth solo adventure when Love and Thunder arrives next year.
Having taken home $56 million from Avengers: Endgame, the big Australian will no doubt once again be securing a substantial salary to make his grand return as the God of Thunder in Taika Waititi’s currently-shooting blockbuster.
4. Scarlett Johansson – Avengers: Endgame/Black Widow
Whenever Black Widow finally gets around to actually releasing, we’ll have to alter the numbers on this one, with Scarlett Johansson presumably picking up a hefty series of bonuses based on how the prequel fares at the box office.
As it stands, the actress was paid $15 million upfront for her swansong as Natasha Romanoff, in what’s become her standard Marvel Cinematic Universe fee over the last few years.
Factor in the profit participation on Avengers: Endgame, and Johansson made a cool $56 million long before her hotly-anticipated solo blockbuster had been subjected to multiple delays.
3. Jack Nicholson – Batman
Jack Nicholson technically took a pay cut when he agreed to be Tim Burton’s Joker, lowering his usual salary demands from $10 million to $6 million to don the Clown Prince of Crime’s makeup.
However, built into his deal was a percentage of the profits, something that’s standard practice now but was something of a contractual revelation at the time, one that ended up paying out big time.
Not only did he take a slice of the box office earnings, but he also negotiated a percentage of the merchandise revenue as well, and ended up making $60 million from Batman, which is the equivalent to over $100 million when adjusted for inflation.
2. Robert Downey Jr. – Avengers: Endgame
Incredibly, Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t even the highest-paid actor on the first Iron Man, with the honor instead falling to Terrence Howard, who ended up being booted as Rhodey and replaced by Don Cheadle.
The star and reformed hell-raiser made $500,000 for his first outing as Tony Stark, but by the time he bowed out in Avengers: Endgame, his earnings had skyrocketed to an eye-watering $75 million.
Downey Jr. scored new deals for the final two Avengers epics, Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming after his initial four-picture contract ran out after Age of Ultron. As a result, he improved his terms each time and secured a higher paycheck as a result.
1. Will Smith – Men in Black 3
Will Smith knew fine well that without him there was no Men in Black franchise, something that the dismal performance of recent spinoff International proved, and as a result he negotiated an eye-watering deal for the third installment.
As well as his typical salary, which is generally in the $20 million range, the former Fresh Prince secured a huge slice of the revenue generated by MiB III, which went on to earn $624 million at the box office.
As a result, Smith is estimated to have walked away with $100 million for his efforts, which makes him the single highest-paid actor to have ever starred in a comic book blockbuster.