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Movie Actor Salaries, Are They Worth It?

With the Oscars around the corner, we will be hearing about movie actor salaries, which always seem to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Few of the best picture nominees are big box office winners. Fortunately for us, George Clooney has decided to go more for "backend" (cut of profits) rather than fixed fees for his movies. If not, his standard fee of more than $15 million would have doubled the cost of "Michael Clayton", and likely scuttled the project.

Forbes.com reported on movie actor salaries, and calculated which stars actually deliver at the box office. Surprisingly, the best investment in movie actor salaries is Matt Damon. For every dollar The Bourne Ultimatum star is paid, Matt Damon's movies gross $29. Not bad, for a career that started with the minor role of Steamer, the goofy younger brother in "Mystic Pizza".

Back in 2004, The Bourne Supremacy grossed $290 million worldwide, plus another $165 million in video rentals and sales. Damon's total take for that film was $26 million, so that was a good investment for Universal Studios, as was the sequel, The Bourne Ultimatum.

What about female movie actor salaries? Jennifer Aniston's last three starring films have earned $17 to every dollar she was paid; The Break-Up grossed an estimated $270 million.

How does your salary compare, if not to the stars, to other working stiffs like you? Find out with our salary calculator.

Actor Salary, Number Two

How did Forbes.com calculate these movie star salaries, return on investment and rankings? By "adding up the film's worldwide box office and U.S. DVD revenues... then subtracting the budget (which includes the up-front compensation for actors) for each film to derive net revenue. Next, to calculate gross income, the actor's total compensation was divided into net revenue. The gross income for the last three movies for each actor was averaged to calculate his or her ultimate payback."

In second place, behind Damon, is the endlessly-hunky Brad Pitt. His film with Angelina Jolie, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, earned $186 million in the United States, and his Trojan War film Troy earned $133 million. But the big bucks came from Troy overseas, where the gladiator flick earned almost triple the U.S. number. If Brad and his ex, Jennifer Aniston, did a film together that would be money in the bank.

Actor Salary Episode Three

At third place in this list of celebrity salaries there is a tie. Thanks to his role as a mascara-challenged pirate, Johnny Depp has brought in about $2.2 billion at the box office for his last three films, which seems like a steal at his $20 million actor salary. Vince Vaughn, earns about half of Depp's actor salary, but his modestly budgeted films - The Break-Up, Wedding Crashers, Dodgeball - have a had a great return vs. their production cost.

Vince Vaughn and his ex-girlfriend Jennifer Aniston are actually a better investment than other superstars who get paid in the $20 million range per picture, namely Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and Will Smith. These actors bring in about $12 per every salary dollar they earn. Indeed, it's been awhile since Forrest Gump, Top Gun and Independence Day.

Actor Salaries with Lower Returns

Farther down the list are comedians Adam Sandler ($9 of film gross for every dollar he's paid), Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey ($8 each). Apparently comedy doesn't translate overseas as well as action does. For example, Ferrell's flick Talladega Nights earned $148 million at the U.S. box office, but only $15 million overseas. Either foreigners don't get juvenile humor, or they do and refuse to pay for it.

At the bottom of the list is Russell Crowe. His last three films earned an average of $5 in gross income for every dollar that he was paid. His most recent film, A Good Year, was produced for $35 million, but earned only $40 million. And his ill-fated film Cinderella Man struggled to find an audience (note to Hollywood: "Cinderella" only works for one man, Jerry Lewis, star of the brilliant cinematic masterpiece Cinderfella).

Does your salary reflect the income you generate for your employer? The PayScale Salary Calculator is a quick and easy way to compare positions. When you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position, be sure to build a complete profile by taking PayScale's full salary survey.

Cheers,

Al Lee

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