While there’s been some talk that the days of huge actor salaries in Hollywood films are coming to an end, the recent payday for actor Robert Downey Jr. for his roles in the Iron Man films and The Avengers seems to prove otherwise. The numbers show that the biggest actors in the business are still making huge amounts of money and it doesn’t look to change any time soon.
But, while some onlookers might see an actor payday of over $50 million as being outrageous, the raw numbers show that it might be one of the best investments a studio can make, depending on who the actor is. There’s a reason some Hollywood actors are paid what seem to be obscene amounts of money: their mere presence in a movie can often boost box office profits even if the film itself isn’t any good.
Here are the top five actors whose films have grossed the highest amount of money domestically. Check them out after the jump.
5. Harrison Ford
At number five, Harrison Ford starts off the list with a life-time total domestic gross for the studios of $3.66 billion. Ford’s best performing film is Star Wars, with $461 million and the average performance on his films over the course of a 36-film career is $101.8 million.
The fascinating thing about Ford is that while $3.66 billion is a huge number to fathom, the actual amount when adjusted for inflation is astounding. Box Office Mojo’s adjuster is admittedly simplistic — the adjuster simply ups the ticket prices to average 2013 prices — but using that as a general estimate, Ford blows away the competition at number one with an estimated take of $7.88 billion for the studios.
But when you think about it, the numbers make perfect sense. Ford was one of the biggest box office draws throughout the 70′s and 80′s, when the original Star Wars trilogy was making billions for Fox (NASDAQ:FOXA) and the Indiana Jones films were hugely popular for Paramount Pictures (NASDAQ:VIA).
4. Samuel L. Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson places at number four with a life-time total domestic film gross of $3.67 billion. His highest performing film is, unsurprisingly, Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) The Avengers which made $623 million in the U.S. and over $1.5 billion worldwide. And over the course of Jackson’s 59-film acting career, his films have made $62.4 million on average.
Jackson’s inclusion on this list might seem strange given that he doesn’t necessarily fit the bill of a lead box office draw, but he has consistently had roles in top performing films over the course of his career — and at 59 films, he has acted in nine more films than the actor on this list with the next highest amount of appearances.
Chalk it up to good luck and picking the right films, but Jackson has had — and continues to have — a successful career despite not usually appearing in a lead role. And it’s important to note that the sheer amount of films Jackson has appeared in is reflected in the $62.4 million that his films make on average — the lowest on this list.
But Jackson’s numbers are still nothing to balk at — that’s for sure.
3. Morgan Freeman
At number three on the list comes Morgan Freeman with a life-time total domestic gross of $3.7 billion for the films in which he’s appeared. Freeman’s best performing film is Warner Bros. (NYSE:TWX) The Dark Knight, which made $534 million domestically, and films in which he’s appeared have made $74.2 million on average over the course of a 50-film career.
While the well-respected actor’s best performing films have been in supporting roles for the wildly popular Dark Knight trilogy, Freeman had a long, consistent career in a variety of leading roles. From Universal’s (NASDAQ:CMCSA) successful action flick Wanted to the Warner Bros. comedy The Bucket List, Freeman’s career has been the epitome of consistency.
Up next for Freeman are roles in the sci-fi film Transcendence, from Warner Bros. and Lions Gate (NYSE:LGF), a voice acting role in Warner Bros. animated film The Lego Movie, and a film based on the novel The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. He certainly loves to change up the pace, doesn’t he?
2. Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy is another name on this list who has lost the huge box office pull he once had. It’s easy to forget, but Murphy was once one of the biggest names in Hollywood and look no further than the raw numbers good for a number two placement on this list.
Murphy’s films have made a total of $3.81 billion over the course of his career, with his best performing film being the Dreamworks Animation (NASDAQ:DWA) film Shrek 2, which made $441 million. Over the course of a 38-film career, films in which Murphy has appeared have made an average of $100.3 million.
Although Murphy isn’t quite the box office draw he once was, the numbers show that’s he still found consistently successful work over the past several years in supporting roles — other than a few clunkers as the lead, such as Paramount’s Imagine That and Fox’s Meet Dave.
Of course, go back to the late 80′s and 90′s and you’ll see an absolutely brilliant track-record of box office performance where everything he touched seemed destined to approach $100 million. The Nutty Professor and its sequel, Dr. Doolittle and its sequel, Coming to America, and Beverly Hills Cop all made over $100 million. And the less successful films during Murphy’s nearly two-decades of box office success are peppered with films making over $50 million.
1. Tom Hanks
We’ve talked a lot about consistency, but look no further than Tom Hanks at number one to see the definition of the term. Of all the actors on this list, Hanks is the only one on the list whose stature as an actor, both critically and as a box office draw, is arguably stronger than it ever has been.
As for the raw numbers: the total domestic life-time gross for films in which Hanks has appeared is just over $4.07 billion. His best performing film is the Pixar-animated Toy Story 3, which made $415 million domestically, and over the course of his 40-film career, his films have made an average of $100.8 million — tying him with Harrison Ford, who would blow Hanks’ numbers out of the water if only minimally adjusted for inflation.
Having had major roles in classic films such as Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Saving Private Ryan, and the Toy Story franchise, it’s impossible to overestimate the impact Hanks has on box office draw.
Next up on Hanks’ plate are lead roles in Columbia Pictures’ (NYSE:SNE) Captain Phillips and Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks — both of which are getting early buzz for the Oscars.
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