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Highest Paid Actors Don't Challenge Themselves

From Forbes list of money-hoarding actors, they've worked it out like so for the past 12 months of income... (in millions of course)

01 Robert Downey Jr $75
◅ 02 Channing Tatum $60
03 Hugh Jackman $55
04 Mark Wahlberg $52
05 Dwayne Johnson 'The Rock' $46
06 Leonardo DiCaprio $39
07 Adam Sandler $37
08 Tom Cruise $35
09 Denzel Washington $33
10 Liam Neeson $32 

I like their write-up of DiCaprio...

DiCaprio's films might not be very cheery (the actor often dies in the end) but they are super profitable. The 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby, from director Baz Luhrmann, seemed like a tough sell. But with DiCaprio at the helm, the film easily topped $250 million at the box office making it Luhrmann's most successful movie ever. DiCaprio's biggest hit is still the 1997 film Titanic which is the second-highest grossing film of all time. And yes, he dies in the end.

Two things immediately pop out at me about the list. First, that Channing Tatum has had a very good couple of years and it turns out it pays to make your pet project on the cheap and share in the profits (Hi, Magic Mike). Too many dream projects become costly albatrosses for filmmakers and stars. Second, only a few of these men are using their powers for good. Most of them rarely challenge themselves or support quality filmmakers and seem to live solely to service the box office dollar. This second and more debatable point makes me reconsider my annoyance with Leonardo DiCaprio. While it's true that I think his talent has been calcifying by too many similar choices in roles and performance, he very clearly is interested in doing quality work and hanging with A list auteurs. He's thinking about legacy rather thank his bank account so good for him. There's reason to hope and I happily admit that in the trailer he seems to be attacking that Wolf of Wall Street role with more vigor than usual. Perhaps I grossly underestimated in my first Best Actor predictions a couple of months ago?

Denzel and Viola in "Fences" which won them both Tony AwardsThe things some of these men could accomplish if they had a little of Clooney, Damon & Pitt's taste for quality and experimentation and for something bigger than just their own paycheck. Hugh Jackman, a terrific star and personal favorite of mine for example, doesn't step outside of the mutant mutton chops nearly as often as his talent and range suggests he should.

And, I mean, Denzel Washington alone could make Viola Davis's career into what it's supposed to be simply by pressuring Hollywood into making Fences right now. With great power comes great responsibility, Denzel! Didn't you watch Spider-Man? As we get further and further away from the massive success of The Help, the less and less likely it is to happen without Hollywood saying "Oh, can we get Halle Berry instead?" And that'd be a crying shame because money isn't everything. Especially in the realm of drama where quality and skill of execution can help with profitability since automatic money isn't made as it is in genre films which have built in audiences regardless of quality.

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Reader Comments (37)

Hollywood is all about how you're perceived--an actor who finds himself in a position of being a cash cow can't get too ambitious unless of course he's one of their favorites--everyone no matter how successful aren't necessarily favorites of the governing bodies behind the scenes--they have to find their niche that works for them and the system.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

The lack of women shocked me but i am sure we'll see McCarthy and Bullock in 2014.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermark

I'd understand your harping about Dicaprio were it not for the fact that he just played a villain for the first time in Django Unchained, which is different from anything he's ever done.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertr

I liked Leo in Gilbert Grape and Marvins Room. Since then his choices
seem to be all the same, I guess I have Leo fatigue...

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Leo really tried in Django, God bless him. But in the end, he just couldn't pull it off. I'll never understand all the praise he got for that performance.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Leo really tried in Django, God bless him. But in the end, he just couldn't pull it off. I'll never understand all the praise he got for that performance.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Oh how I would love a big screen adaptation of FENCES starring Viola Davis! She is still being incredibly underused and its so disappointing. She has more talent than most actresses.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkent

That's Hugh: Never steps outside of the mutant mutton chops and the closet.

And I'm so glad Adam Sandler keeps getting loads of money!

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Seriously...how in the HELL is Adam Sandler still making this kind of money? It boggles the mind that someone can make flop after flop after flop (after flop) and still make $37 million/year!

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Mark-I believe that they separate the women and men for the Forbes lists. They do for television, at least, and I'd assume that would carry over to film.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Jack - Sandler hasn't made flop after flop after flop (after flop). Six of his last ten movies have made over $100m - often a lot more - and Grown Ups 2, though it pains me to write this, will become #7 in short order. He's been remarkably consistent at the box office for a very long time. Regardless of quality, that's what earns him the big bucks.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

I guess I'll echo those above about being nonplussed about DiCaprio being accused of not challenging himself. As preferences go I'd understand him not being a great actor to everyone
but he's more liable to go beyond his reach and give an imperfect performance than give a lazily poor performance, which doesn't suggest laziness or an unwillingness to test himself.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrewK

I don't understand why Christian Bale isn't in this list (after all,he did TDKR last year).Is he not expensive or his team is not as efficient as the others?

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterfrench girl

AndrewK: I'm of the camp that believes that Leonardo DiCaprio doesn't give lazily poor performances. He gives strenuously poor ones.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterColin

I agree with you about George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt giving back to the industry. They mix it up, directing, producing and acting as well as pushing for smaller quality films. I would put Ben Affleck in that category as well.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

At least we can assume that Denzel Washington made a large portion of that 2012 income by giving his best performance in over a decade, but I agree that he could stand to put more of a demand on himself as an actor rather than a star. Furthermore, considering that he's one of the *very few* actors I suspect the Academy would actually want to give a third Oscar, I don't know why he isn't pushing for a "Fences" adaptation. It would be just as advantageous to.him as to Viola Davis.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

I agree with Troy on Denzel, and Jackman just did the riskiest and most promising thing in his career to date. Tatum is expanding (good for him on the Magic Mike profits), Leo was better than he's been in ages in Django and atleast Downey is doing something enjoyable with his fame. This list is far more annoying when Adam Sandler is giving us our "comedy" and then action stars a la The Rock give us nothing new, but hey, not bad overall.

Fences needs to me made though. Now.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I love all your suggestions and let me add another: for every Iron Man/Avengers/Sherlock Holmes franchise tentpole Downey Jr makes, may he pick a cool, different project once in a while that really showcases his acting talents.

From the Globe win and the Oscar nomination for a silly, go-for-broke performance in Tropic Thunder we can tell the industry wants to award him a major prize.

Pick a solid indie with a good ensemble where you're the showcase player, Robert. You have the talent to be an Oscar winner. And money isn't everything.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJay

This said, I love that Tom Cruise is still holding on to this list due to the foreign box office (he's not box office poison in America per se but besides the M:I franchise the US isn't fond of him anymore). The man needs a career change, go back to the Magnolias and highbrow blockbusters like Born in the Fourth of July and Rain Man, Tommy.

Sandler is a brand, whether you like it or not. And many people like him, especially abroad. I don't know a single person who is not a Adam Sandler fan. And these people love movies, it's not like they only go to the cinema to watch blockbusters and comedies! And really, from the comedians nowadays, who would be capable of surpassing him? Only Sandy Bullock has numbers and pedigree to back it up (and the Hangover boys, particularly Galifiniakis). And I'd love it if Steve Carell, Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and Tina Fey could have a movie career but that's doubtful.

Other contenders? Robin Williams and Anna Faris jumped to TV. Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller make very few movies. Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston? Yikes. Sascha Baron Cohen with his Brunos... Jack Black? Eddie Murphy? Be careful with what you wish, people...

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJay

James T--was your "closet" comment really necessary?

The business of Hollywood is damned if you do, damned if you don't. If a popular, work-horse, money-maker tries something risky and fails, then there's hell to pay. Les Miz was in Jackman's wheelhouse, but not in Russell Crowe's. It was a gamble for both, and while Jackman came out of with little scars, Crowe did not. But got to give Crowe an A for effort (like Brosnan in Mamma Mia).

Denzel hasn't stretched since Devil in a Blue Dress, because he's been playing the same two characters, "man slighted" (e.g., Man on Fire) or "bad-ass bad guy" (e.g., Training Day.) He has the power and the clout, and yet, nada. Maybe he's really more interested in theater? Or maybe he doesn't want to gamble.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Are women not considered actors? These overpaid men lists are grating.

July 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHelen Sharp

People like Channing Tatum and Wahlberg making that kind of money is quite shocking. Both are mediocre actors at best. Most A-listers like Depp, DiCaprio, Pitt, Affleck, Cruise are not great actors. RDJ is talented, but he should do more daring roles in movies like Tropic Thunder. His performance in Iron Man 3 and also in Avengers was, compared to his standards, actually quite low.

July 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

"James T--was your "closet" comment really necessary?"

No, it wasn't. It's a cheap shot at an, by all accounts, nice and humble man. Those rumours seem to be based mostly on his love for musicals and his wife being older and not exactly model material. And isn't this rather sexist?

July 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLara

I am GOBSMACKED that Channing Tatum made that much money. He's still relatively new to the industry...he must have made a lot of that money through producing and back-end profits...regardless, I will never understand the appeal for him. He's an attractive guy but, in my mind, one of the worst actors working today. It's like watching a brick wall on camera.

July 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Jay,don't you think McCarthy has proved she can open movies this year.

July 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermark

Tatum's been in the business for nearly a decade. At some point, he is no longer new blood.

There are some actors I do not mind doing their schtick. Denzel is one of them. Unfortunately, with the death of Tony Scott, he has yet to find a director to work on such films are at his level for the movies where the schtick and charms really fly. I wish he return to directing, and not just for a Fences adaptation, but there are plenty of August Wilson works that can be on the screen.

DiCaprio is a boring screen presence for me. Only after looking at the trailer for The Wolf of Wall Street did it seem like he was doing something of a resemblance to DeNiro in the Scorsese period. I wish he had done more roles like Catch Me If You Can.

"The things some of these men could accomplish if they had a little of Clooney, Damon & Pitt's taste for quality and experimentation and for something bigger than just their own paycheck."

My problem with Clooney is that there is too much awareness in every gesture and project he has to build around his persona. He seems to have read every article that has compared him from Warren Beatty to Robert Redford tp Cary Grant. I find his directing a little overrated at this point and never thought of him too much as an actor. Apparently his most powerful aspect to him is his charm offensive as a producer but with movies that are by design only seem in existence for awards. Pitt and Damon have done way more projects that involve much more risk and seem firmly in the non-commercial sphere than Clooney has ever done. Clooney cares about the AMPAS and industry, but I think both Damon and Pitt stopped caring a while ago- and good for them.

July 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

I think Channing Tatum still has room to show us what he can do. It was only last year when people realized he was good in comedy. Sure, he does a lot of stupid action, but he is learning that he can do other stuff. Cut him some slack.

July 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoey

Helen-as I mentioned previously, Forbes separates these lists out by gender, so women would be on a different list that they release at a different time of year.

July 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Thank you, John T. I looked up the movie gals for 2013 and this is what I found: Jennifer Lawrence ($26 million), Kristen Stewart ($22 million), Jennifer Anniston ($20 million), Emma Stone ($16 million), Charlize Theron ($15 million), Sandra Bullock ($14 million), Mila Kunis ($11 million), Melissa McCarthy ($10 million), Gwyneth Paltrow ($10 million), and Meryl Streep ($7 million). The fact that the lowest male makes more than any of the females is always revealing.

July 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHelen Sharp

John T & Helen -- huh. I don't know how i missed that list this year (oh right i was overseas when it came out) but i did write about the 2012 list.

July 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R


July 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnni-Björn

The 2013 Forbes numbers are from the top 100 paid entertainers. Of course Oprah, Madonna, even Jennifer Lopez make a lot more money, but they are not primarily movie actors. I am impressed that Meryl Streep has stayed a box office draw / top ten female money maker for 30 years. I don't know if that has ever happened before in movies.

July 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDevon

Devon -- i'm not sure anybody has lasted as long as her either (she's actually probably going to hit 40 years as a draw since her box office dominance started in the late 70s) but long runs arent unprecedented. Elizabeth Taylor and Natalie Wood for instance both had big hits in three separate decades 40s 50s and 60s ... though they started as child stars so when their reigns were over they weren't nearly as old as Streep is now. Being a box office draw in your 60s is a big deal and curiously it seems to only happen to women who were not really headliners when they were young. Helen Mirren and Judi Dench both have had strong somewhat leading lady careers late in life but they weren't draws in their 30s like Streep was.

July 20, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Jay -- "And many people like him, especially abroad" Adam Sandler? Really?

July 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue


When has Matt Damon ever pushed for a "smaller quality film"? All he does is bland mainstream action-dramas.

July 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRik

And yes, saying "Adam Sandler is liked abroad" is quite a reach, especially given majority of his films' grosses come from the U.S. if you check his boxofficemojo profile. DiCaprio is liked abroad, Cruise is loved abroad but Sandler isn't cared about much.

July 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRik

Rik -- Exactly!

July 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

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