Compared to the average American’s salary, the amount of money famous actors receive for film and television projects seems astronomical. For example, Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson raked in over $65 million dollars each in 2017, according to Forbes.
However, multimillion-dollar paychecks weren’t always a reality. Back in the 1950s, leading actors were signed to contracts by Hollywood studios and were paid modest salaries compared to today’s huge paychecks. (For example, Marilyn Monroe was reportedly only paid $1,500 a week, or a total of $18,000, for the 1953 movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” In 2018, that would be about $153,000.)
This all changed when, in the 1990s, Hollywood salaries hit record highs due to the belief that certain actors could guarantee blockbuster opening weekends simply by headlining the movie. Nowadays, movie studios have less faith in celebrities and more in the power of a franchise movie, but famous actors can still demand a pretty penny. Here’s a look at the highest-paying TV and film roles of all time.
Jerry Seinfeld—$1.5 million per episode for “Seinfeld”
By the last season of “Seinfeld,” Jerry Seinfeld was banking an average of $1.5 million an episode to play himself on TV. It was reported that NBC was willing to pay him $5 million per episode to keep the show going for a 10th season, but that Seinfeld declined.
Sandra Bullock—$70 million for “Gravity”
Not only did she earn an Oscar nomination for her role in the 2013 space movie “Gravity,” but Sandra Bullock also earned an astounding $70 million.
Emma Stone—$26 million for “La La Land”
Her salary from the 2016 film “La La Land” landed Emma Stone on Forbes’ highest paid actress list.
Tom Hanks—$40 million for “Saving Private Ryan”
In a deal similar to the one he made with “Forrest Gump” producers, Tom Hanks earned an approximate $30-40 million for the 1998 war flick “Saving Private Ryan.”
Cameron Diaz—$42 million for “Bad Teacher”
Although her salary for the 2011 movie “Bad Teacher” was only $1 million, Cameron Diaz was able to take a cut of the box office earnings, which netted her a total of $42 million from the movie.
Jim Carrey—$30 million for “Yes Man”
In lieu of a typical salary, Jim Carrey successfully negotiated an ownership stake in “Yes Man” and earned $30 million.
Brad Pitt—$30 million for “Ocean’s Eleven”
The 2001 heist flick earned Brad Pitt the biggest salary of his career—a reported $30 million.
Kelsey Grammer—$1.6 million per episode for “Frasier”
As the star of “Frasier,” Kelsey Grammer earned $1.6 million per episode for the show’s last two seasons.
Harrison Ford—$65 million for “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”
What would an “Indiana Jones” movie be without Harrison Ford? The actor agreed to come back for the 2008 sequel if he could take a part of the movie’s earnings. The end result? Over $65 million.
Bruce Willis—$120 million for “The Sixth Sense”
Not only did Bruce Willis ask for his usual $20 million salary to star in the 1999 hit “The Sixth Sense,” he also negotiated to receive a percentage of the movie’s gross revenue and video sales, a move that netted him an additional $100 million.
The cast of the “The Big Bang Theory”—$1 million per episode
In 2014, the salaries of five of the actors on “The Big Bang Theory” (Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar) reached $1 million per episode. They later took a pay cut in order to support the salary negotiations of co-stars Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch.
Arnold Schwarzenegger—$29 million for “Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines”
For “Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines,” Arnold Schwarzenegger received a $29.25 million “pay or play” fee, meaning he would have still been paid even if the movie hadn’t been made.
Mel Gibson—$30 million for “Lethal Weapon 4”
In 1998, Mel Gibson became the highest paid actor for a single project at the time with his $30 million paycheck for “Lethal Weapon 4.”
Jack Nicholson—$50 million for “Batman”
By taking a percentage of profits from the 1989 “Batman” movie, Jack Nicholson was able to increase his salary from $6 million to over $50 million.
Leonardo DiCaprio—$50 million for “Inception”
Add Leonardo DiCaprio to the list of actors who made big bucks on the back end. For the 2010 movie “Inception,” it’s said the actor earned at least $50 million, if not more.
Robert Downey Jr.—$50 million for “The Avengers”
After starring in the “Iron Man” movie franchise, Robert Downey Jr. confirmed that he was paid $50 million to reprise his role in the 2012 film “The Avengers.”
Daniel Radcliffe—$50 million for the last two “Harry Potter” films
As the titular star of the “Harry Potter” movies, Daniel Radcliffe received $50 million for the last two films in the series.
Johnny Depp—$68 million for “Alice in Wonderland”
For playing the Mad Hatter in the 2010 live action remake of “Alice in Wonderland,” Johnny Depp reportedly took home a whopping $68 million.
Tom Hanks—$70 million for “Forrest Gump”
In what might be the biggest payday of his career, Tom Hanks netted somewhere between $60 million and $70 million when he negotiated part of the profits of “Forrest Gump” as part of his compensation for starring in the 1994 movie.
Tom Cruise—$75 million for “Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol”
The action star reportedly earned $75 million for the fourth movie in the “Mission Impossible” franchise.
Tom Cruise—$100 million for “War of the Worlds”
In what turned out to be a savvy business move, Tom Cruise opted out of receiving an upfront salary for 2005’s “War of the Worlds,” instead choosing to take a percentage of the proceeds. His final take-home pay from the film reportedly ended up being $100 million.
Will Smith—$100 million for “Men in Black 3”
Considering how popular the “Men in Black” movie franchise was, it’s not a complete surprise that Will Smith was able to secure a $100 million payday for the third installment in 2012.
Keanu Reeves—$262 million for the “Matrix” movies
For the three “Matrix” movies, Keanu Reeves reportedly earned a $262 million payday for his role as Neo.
Johnny Depp—$300 million for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies
Of course, Depp is a pretty huge star these days, having starred in hit films like “Edward Scissorhands” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” He got his start in the horror film “A Nightmare on Elm Street and the TV series “21 Jump Street.”
“Mad About You” stars—$1 million per episode
In 1998, Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser, who starred on the hit show “Mad About You,” successfully negotiated $1 million-per-episode salaries.
The cast of “Friends”—$1 million per episode
By the time “Friends” went off the air in 2004, each cast member was receiving a $1 million-per-episode salary, a significant increase from the $20,000-per-episode salary they started out with 10 years earlier.
James Gandolfini—$1 million per episode for “The Sopranos”
James Gandolfini, star of “The Sopranos,” apparently made HBO a deal they couldn’t refuse. They reportedly paid him $1 million per episode to renew his contract in 2006.
Tim Allen—$1.25 million per episode for “Home Improvement”
For the last 28 episodes of the ’90s sitcom “Home Improvement,” star Tim Allen made $35 million in total. That comes out to about $1.5 million per episode.
Ray Romano—$1.7 million per episode for “Everybody Loves Raymond”
In 2003, producers of “Everybody Loves Raymond” agreed to boost star Ray Romano’s salary to around $1.7 million per episode.
Charlie Sheen—$2 million per episode for “Anger Management”
In addition to the $2 million per episode that Charlie Sheen commanded as the star of “Anger Management,” he also reportedly made $1.8 million per episode while starring on the hit TV show “Two and a Half Men.”
Michael C. Hall—$20 million for seasons 6 and 7 of “Dexter”
For the last two seasons of the Showtime hit “Dexter,” the show’s star Michael C. Hall reportedly made at least $20 million.