Year-end list time tends to bring a lot of different approaches out of the woodwork, and Forbes’ now-annual list of Hollywood’s worst-earning leading actors is definitely a different way of looking at things. Based on a sample set of each actor’s last three films, the list breaks their earning power down by how many dollars were made by the films, for each dollar spent on the actor. It’s speculative for sure, but it’s nevertheless an interesting look at how often paying the big contract for a top-name star is worth it.
It’s also particularly attuned to any star actor who’s had an unfortunate string of flops recently; the small sample set ensures that for Will Smith, who’s second on the list, the massive underwhelm of Concussion would drag down what’s otherwise generally considered surefire star power. Or Will Ferrell, who’d take a big hit in this scenario for being one of many parties involved in Zoolander 2 earlier this year. There’s some recency bias to this method, and it doesn’t account much for a movie failing for more reasons than just its star (see #3 and Jupiter Ascending), but as much as anything it’s a reminder of just how much money is invested in some stars, and how much of a gamble any movie is no matter how good it looks on paper.
Yet for the increasingly low returns on investment outlined here, there’s a pretty steep drop between even Smith’s second-place finish and Johnny Depp at number one for the second straight year, with just $2.80 per dollar spent on contracts. Sure, this is weighted against bombs like Mortdecai and Transcendence, but it still says a lot about how much money is spent on big stars, even as franchises become more and more of a selling point over time.
You can read a little more about the list and its methodology over at Forbes, and read the top ten (bottom ten?) here:
10. Bradley Cooper ($12.10/contract dollar)
09. Julia Roberts ($10.80/contract dollar)
08. Leonardo DiCaprio ($9.90/contract dollar)
07. Mark Wahlberg ($9.20/contract dollar)
06. Adam Sandler ($7.60/contract dollar)
05. George Clooney ($6.70/contract dollar)
04. Will Ferrell ($6.50/contract dollar)
03. Channing Tatum ($6.00/contract dollar)
02. Will Smith ($5.00/contract dollar)
01. Johnny Depp ($2.80/contract dollar)