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Watching a movie whisks us away into another life, another world, another reality, and we happily kick back, suspend disbelief and wait to see where the story goes. But after the credits roll, it gets a lot easier to take a closer look at just how realistic the situation was in the fantasy we just watched.
Is that big life the movie makers created just a little too big? Could that character have afforded that apartment on that salary in real life? Let’s take a look at some onscreen characters whose finances don’t quite add up offscreen.
Josh Baskin, ‘Big’
After making a wish “to be big” on a Zoltar fortune telling machine, 12-year-old Josh Baskin wakes up the next morning in his bedroom in New Jersey in the body of a full-grown man, delightfully played by Tom Hanks. He runs to the city to hide and, despite having no experience or education, lands a job as a product tester at a toy company just by acting like a kid.
Flooded with cash, Josh moves into a Soho loft and loads the vast space up with every expensive thing a boy could want, including a trampoline. If — and this is a big if, since product testing jobs start at around $12 an hour nowadays, though engineers can earn good salaries — he really could have afforded it on his salary in the late ’80s, a real-life Baskin would be kicking himself now for not hanging on to both adulthood and the property, which sold for $9.75 million last year.
Ike Graham, ‘Runaway Bride’
Richard Gere’s character in “Runaway Bride” must have the best-paying newspaper column ever — and he foolishly tosses it to the curb when he throws together a partially fabricated, poorly reported story about Maggie Carpenter (played by Julia Roberts), a woman who left some grooms at the altar.
Things turn out just fine for Ike and Maggie in the end, but Ike should hang onto this gig for dear life. His Central Park West apartment, with its stunning yet understated balcony view, is in a building that has current Zillow estimates at $1.3 million for the smallest space in the building. Even a writer with a rare higher-paying columnist job ($78,000 a year in 2012) couldn’t afford the place.
Jane Nichols, ’27 Dresses’
Jane Nichols, Katherine Heigl’s character in the 2008 rom-com “27 Dresses,” is such a good bestie that she’s a bridesmaid in pretty much everyone’s wedding (and helps plan them, too). What Jane should really do, however, is turn her mad organizational skills into a more profitable career.
Jane works at a nonprofit in New York as an assistant to George, the director — whom she is secretly in love with. So how does a single woman who works at a nonprofit afford to be in 27 weddings — and pay the rent on her Manhattan apartment that’s big enough to have a closet just for all of her bridesmaid dresses? It doesn’t add up. The average nonprofit executive assistant salary is $55,800; the average price of a condo where Jane lives, in the East Village, last year was $1.16 million; and the average cost of being a bridesmaid in 2017 was $1,200 per wedding.
That’s the story her love interest, played by James Marsden, should really get to the bottom of!
Mary Fiore, ‘The Wedding Planner’
Jennifer Lopez’s character Mary Fiore seems to be driving most of the business at the wedding planning firm she works at in San Francisco. (This is realistic: Who wouldn’t want J. Lo to plan their wedding?!?) She’s experienced and she’s bringing in clients, so she’s probably making a salary that’s on the high end of what a wedding planner can make — $120,000.
San Francisco consistently ranks as one of America’s most expensive cities to live in, so Mary’s solid salary wouldn’t go nearly as far here, especially since she’s single and doesn’t have a roommate contributing to her rent or mortgage. That didn’t stop filmmakers from giving Mary a gorgeous home, even if it’s not realistic. AMC estimated that by square footage, Mary’s pretty apartment near Telegraph Hill would’ve cost $4 million.
Lois Lane, ‘Superman’
Here’s another career-focused movie character with an outlandishly swanky apartment. In the original “Superman” from 1978, our hero glides to a landing on the terrace of Lois Lane’s apartment and … yes, she’s a newspaper reporter with an apartment with a terrace.
There’s no way to check on the cost of living or rent prices back in 1978 in Metropolis since it doesn’t exist. But we can take a look at what apartments in Central Park South (the filming location for Lois’ apartment) go for right now, and whether a newspaper reporter could afford any of them. Short answer: no.
One of the less expensive options is an 850-square-foot studio for $3,150 a month — and that’s without a terrace for a superhero to depart from to take you on a flight around the city.
Mia Dolan, ‘La La Land’
We can all agree on one thing: Even if we love them, the most unrealistic thing about musicals is that folks don’t just burst into song and dance in the middle of a conversation, or in a traffic jam on the freeway.
But when it comes to “La La Land,” some critics noted something else about the flick that wasn’t realistic: how Mia manages to afford her cute apartment (even with roomies) and her Prius with only a job at a coffee shop.
A new Prius will run you $24,000–$30,000. The average salary for a barista in Los Angeles is $13.39 an hour, or $27,851 annually. And what about those cute dresses? Perhaps she was deep in debt … good thing she ended up making it in Hollywood!
Sara Melas, ‘Hitch’
The 2005 Will Smith movie “Hitch” is another one of those rom-coms in which love blossoms against the backdrop of picturesque locations in New York City — including an apartment our female protagonist could not afford with her job. Hitch’s love interest Sara, played by Eva Mendes, is a gossip columnist who is always one step ahead of him, so maybe she was one step ahead of the Soho housing market, too?
A scene in the movie shows Sara’s spacious living room, a room wrapped in windows (it’s a corner unit!). Downstairs at the entryway, though, it turns out she’s living at 80 Greene St., a building that doesn’t have corner units. And according to City Realty, the apartments in this building range from $1.4 million to $7 million. The average price per square foot in this building is $946. Could Sara afford that on her gossip columnist salary? Sources close to this writer say nope, not even with a side hustle.
Dana Barrett, ‘Ghostbusters’
We ain’t afraid of no ghosts, but we are very, very afraid of the rent on Dana Barrett’s apartment. At big-city symphonies, career musicians have base salaries just over six figures nowadays. So yes, the New York cellist with the gatekeeper of Gozer living in her refrigerator probably could have afforded a comfortable slice of the city on her philharmonic wages.
But Manhattan? Dana’s apartment with a view at 55 Central Park West? A 900-square-foot apartment in the building sold for $1,250,000 in 2017. It’s unlikely we’re in a single symphony member’s price range. (Why couldn’t Zuul be a successful hedge fund manager?) Here’s a fun factoid about her address: The “corner penthouse of spook central,” a duplex at the top of the building, was up for sale in 2012 at an asking price of $35 million.
Theodore Twombly, ‘Her’
“Her” is set in a near future in which Los Angeles is home to a sea of glassy high-rise buildings, so we can’t nail down the rent or purchase price for an apartment (with clean lines, sparse furniture and a view) in Theodore Twombly’s building based on the going rate.
Another fact-checking problem is his job writing poignant love letters for those who lack the skill (but have plenty of money to pay someone). Perhaps clear, meaningful writing is such a sought-after skill in the near future world of “Her” that even middling professional writers are paid handsomely. (Here’s hoping!) But the character’s apartment and the apparent ease of his ability to go vacationing prompted one writer to ask whether Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, has a trust fund.
Jay Gatsby, ‘The Great Gatsby’
This one’s a bit surprising — and one that’s up for debate. See what you think. A New York Magazine reporter did an analysis of Jay Gatsby’s finances based on everything we can glean from reading the book. The takeaway: Because Gatsby had only been a bootlegger for a short time and therefore couldn’t have amassed a huge fortune, he couldn’t have afforded the down payment on his house or the high cost of his parties. His lavish lifestyle must’ve left him in debt, at least for that summer.
However, a Barron’s analysis of Gatsby’s lifestyle in Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio arrived at the opposite conclusion — that Gatsby’s lifestyle wasn’t as grand as it could’ve been for someone in his line of illicit business. One good point the story makes — it wouldn’t have cost much for a bootlegger to lubricate his parties with plenty of booze.
Ben Stone, ‘Knocked Up’
Seth Rogen plays the jobless slacker-stoner Ben in this late-aughts comedy. We love the odd-couple pairing. Ben, who has zero responsibilities in life, has a one night stand with the uber-responsible Alison (played by Katherine Heigl), who works hard to land a competitive role as an on-air reporter for E! and is living in her sister’s pool house and helping her raise her children.
However, the odd couple isn’t the only odd thing going on here. How does slacker Ben afford the nice house he lives in? The writers try to explain it away with a settlement from a lawsuit well before he meets Alison. Must’ve been some settlement! We know he wasn’t spending a ton on his wardrobe — T-shirts aren’t expensive — but we’re still glad he gets a job in the end.
Sonny Koufax, ‘Big Daddy’
Just like Ben Stone, Sonny Koufax is another movie character who is living off of a big settlement from a lawsuit that happened well before the story in the movie started. (How often does this happen to people in real life? It’s a bit convenient, Hollywood!)
Koufax, played by Adam Sandler in this 1999 comedy, works only one day a week as a toll booth operator, but he lives in a very cool loft in Manhattan. Could his settlement cover rent, or the price of his loft, plus taxes? Well, Koufax’s Soho home wouldn’t come cheap. According to Street Easy, “16 Mercer was once used as a soldiers’ depot for Union troops returning from the Civil War. Today, it’s been repurposed as an ‘artist’s loft’ space with premium finishes.”
Premium space in Soho? One more day a week at the toll booth wouldn’t hurt, Sonny.
Dylan, ‘Friends With Benefits’
Dylan, played by Justin Timberlake, and Jamie, played by Mila Kunis, are sick of heartbreak and can’t take another relationship. The two friends have just had bad breakups and they’re over it, so they decide to be friends with benefits … and it’s all set against a backdrop of nice living spaces, in New York and Los Angeles.
In New York, Dylan apparently has a great magazine job. His gig as an editor at GQ must come with better perks than what most other NYC media professionals earn. His apartment in TriBeCa is in a chic neighborhood in a stylish, newer building … with rental prices upwards of $20,000. In the year the movie came out, the average salary for an editor in publishing in New York was $53,500.
Andie Anderson, ‘How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days’
In this 2003 rom-com, Kate Hudson plays Andie Anderson, a writer at Composure magazine who writes how-to articles. But her next how-to, which the movie is named for, proves a bit tougher to write than she expected. Matthew McConaughey’s Benjamin placed a bet that’s keeping him in the game, too, and of course, it gets complicated.
Here’s one thing that isn’t complicated: As a magazine staffer, there’s no way she can afford her beautiful apartment on East Fifth Avenue. Marlon Brando once lived in this building in the Village. Street Easy calls the pre-war beaux-arts building one that “defines grandeur,” whose “sizable homes, with their soaring, 10-1/2 foot ceilings, boast an eclectic variety of original details.” A one-bedroom in the building went for $1.6 million last year.
Forget losing the guy. Andie’s next story should be about how to afford that sweet spot on a magazine staffer’s salary.
Laura Burney, ‘Sleeping With The Enemy’
Played by Julia Roberts, Laura Burney fakes her own death to escape her abusive husband. She flees their home in Cape Cod for Iowa — where the cost of living is much, much lower.
Laura previously worked part-time as a librarian, which wouldn’t have allowed her to sock much away. Her husband works in finance and, from their beachfront Cape Cod home, it’s clear they had plenty of money. Or at least he did. Considering the fact that he’s so controlling in other ways, you know he was controlling her funds, too. So how does Laura afford to rent and update this rather large home in Iowa and help pay for her mother’s nursing home?
Let’s face it — 007 lives a glam life, but there’s no way queen and country are paying all of those lavish bills.
For the release of “Spectre,” CNBC did a quick financial reckoning of Bond’s lifestyle, and the numbers aren’t there. That or some accountant at MI6 is shaken, not stirred, into a heart attack every time 007’s expenses come in.
Kidding. We know Bond isn’t collecting receipts for martinis.
Sure, some of Bond’s gadgets, including his quarter-of-a-million dollar Aston Martin, would theoretically be provided by his employer. But CNBC makes some excellent points. What about his sleek, perfectly tailored suits? One outfit he sports, designed by Tom Ford, goes for more than $3,000. His West London apartment would cost more than $1 million. Remember that time he faked his own death? Maybe it was to escape creditors rather than bad guys.
Carrie Bradshaw, ‘Sex And The City’
Carrie’s rent-stabilized apartment in New York was a convenient way to explain how she afforded her housing, but not her wardrobe, in the television show. But in the first “Sex in the City” movie, fans of Carrie and her crew are asked to suspend belief once again when Mr. Big shows her a gorgeous pre-war penthouse apartment that even has a closet big enough for his wife’s shoe collection.
Big’s job was always a mystery on the show; we just knew he had plenty of money. But this is quite the upgrade for Carrie. The building housing the penthouse with the amazing closet is across the street from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The price tag to buy it? Somewhere around $40 and $50 million. Big must have a big job!
Noah, ‘The Notebook’
In this wrong-side-of-the-tracks romance, Ryan Gosling’s Noah grows up without two nickels to rub together, as my grandmother likes to say. But he puts a ton of work into this old Southern house, which is the Martins Point Plantation house in South Carolina in real life. He even gives it the blue window shutters that Allie, who comes from a wealthy family, says she wants on her dream home. Talk about wooing a gal.
The house is a total wreck when he buys it, so he presumably got a great deal. But renovations on this scale aren’t cheap. The average cost of a renovation (in today’s dollars) on multiple rooms is $43,000, according to Home Advisor, but the typical range goes up to $74,000.
Noah’s home in “The Notebook” is big: five bedrooms, four and a half baths, 4,200 total square feet. We have to think the renovation budget would’ve been on the high end. But who cares? Allie got her blue shutters, and she can paint on the deck!
Lucy, ‘While You Were Sleeping’
Lucy, Sandra Bullock’s character in this charming 1990s rom-com, is a Chicago Transit Authority worker who collects tokens at a booth in an El station. The interior shots of her apartment in the movie suggest a modest space, but the building is a gorgeous one in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, which has historical mansions and bike-friendly streets.
By today’s standards, Lucy might be able to swing renting a room, but not a full apartment, in this part of Chicago on her salary. Two-bedroom condos on Lucy’s block are going for $319,000 to $425,000 right now.
Annie Walker, ‘Bridesmaids’
We’re aware of Annie’s finances from the get-go in “Bridesmaids.” Annie, played by Kristen Wiig, and her bestie Lillian, played by Maya Rudolph, sneak into a boot camp fitness class in a park until the instructor spots them. She has a roommate to help pay the rent, which she’d certainly need with her job as a sales clerk at a jewelry store. According to Glass Door, the average salary for that gig is $18,000 a year. She eventually loses that job and has to move in with her mother.
Yet through it all, Annie looks fabulous. She has an endless supply of cute outfits. Her hair looks terrific. When she steps out of her beat-up car, she’s perfectly accessorized with totally un-shabby shoes and bags. How’s she affording that? We aren’t sure, but here’s a theory — Annie is the ultimate budget shopper, and that’s where all of her money is going (she does end up getting her car fixed for free!).
The Budget Babe hunted down some of Annie’s looks and found ways to get them that wouldn’t have broken the bank, but which would still require more than a zero balance in her bank account. We hope Annie is more responsible with her finances in the future, but at least she’s dressing for the job she wants.
Jane Adler, ‘It’s Complicated’
Let’s make one thing clear: Meryl Streep makes everything better. So we don’t care that her character in “It’s Complicated,” Jane, couldn’t really afford her home. It’s Meryl.
Still, a baker could not have afforded the sprawling Spanish-style ranch Jane lived in, nor the renovations she was doing on her already stunning kitchen. You’d have to be a seriously celebrated celeb baker (Mary Berry?) to have the cash for this home, which sold for $10.5 million in 2015. The 6,100-square-foot ranch in Thousand Oaks, California, is on 57 acres, which likely provided more than enough room for Meryl’s baking needs.
Tony Stark, ‘Iron Man’
Stay with us here. Yes, Tony Stark is wealthy enough to attach the word “mogul” to his character. But some are wondering if the dark-arts mogul turned Iron Man could realistically afford the good-guys empire he has created.
Forbes, which ranks the wealth of fictional characters, estimated Stark’s net worth at $12.4 billion in 2013. But Ranker noted that the Iron Man suit alone would have cost him $7 billion, and then there’s all the damage he’s caused. (We’re guessing no insurance company would touch Iron Man, even on a high-deductible plan.) With the suit alone cutting so deeply into his bank account, how is he funding the Avengers?
Henry “Indiana” Jones, Ph.D., has a sweet job. He’s a professor of archaeology, and he must be tenured. How else to explain his ability to dash off at a moment’s notice to a remote jungle to evade booby traps and claim an ancient relic, or save his father from Nazis.
But even with a solid job, it’s hard to fathom how he can afford to travel around the world on his expeditions, whether by plane, ship or zeppelin. If you think air travel is expensive now, you should’ve seen the prices back then. “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” for example, takes place in 1936, a golden era for flying in which it could cost an inflation-adjusted $20,000 and more than a week to take some of the longest flights in the world at the time. How would Dr. Jones have afforded it?
Sam, ‘Sleepless In Seattle’
How Tom Hanks’ Sam and his son, Jonah, ended up on a houseboat in Seattle is a sad story, but there’s no denying that his little slice of life at a dock on Lake Union is a beautiful, idyllic thing.
Sam is an architect, and he seems to keep busy enough. But is he pulling in enough of a salary to afford a $2 million home? When the houseboat at the end of the dock on Westlake Avenue North sold a few years ago, the four-bedroom, 2,200-square-foot floating abode went for more than $2 million. The buyer was anonymous, but we hope the new owners feel a connection to the houseboat, like they were MFEO (“made for each other”), as Jessica, Gaby Hoffman’s character, said of Sam and Annie.
Annie Savoy, ‘Bull Durham’
In addition to her role as the psycho-spiritual goddess-muse-mentor-lover to a chosen player on the Durham Bulls minor league baseball team, Annie Savoy teaches part-time at Alamance Junior College in Durham — “English 101 and Beginning Composition!” Susan Sarandon’s Annie cries in the heat of an argument with Crash, played by Kevin Costner.
Annie’s duties on behalf of the church of baseball are clearly unpaid, so she must be relying on her part-time teaching gig to pay the bills. But there’s one problem: Annie lives in a glorious three-story historic home. The James Manning House is a Queen Anne-style Victorian named after the judge who built it around 1880. Redfin estimates the 3,600-square-foot home is worth more than $700,000 today.