Sandra Bullock and the incredible, shrinking star salary

Guy Adams

 Sandra Bullock and the incredible, shrinking star salary

Lost in the endless coverage of Forbes magazine’s annual list of the best paid celebrity this week is a small, but nonetheless important point: very few of the actresses in the magazine’s top ten have actually enjoyed a particularly lucrative year.

These things are relative, of course, but by the (admittedly outrageous) standards of Hollywood, most of the star salaries featured in the top ten, which I’ve cut-and-pasted below, amount to little more than chicken feed.

Only a few years back even a relatively minor lead actress would refuse to get out of bed to appear in a movie less than a “20-20” – agent speak for a deal that gives you $20 million up front, and a 20 percent cut of profits. People like Nicole Kidman and Cameron Diaz were pulling $25m a film.

That, however, was before the tightening of the credit markets, which have made it harder to get finance for new projects. It also pre-dated the industry-wide decline in the performance of movies which can be broadly termed “star vehicles.”

Now Diaz has to make do with a $32 million a year. Kidman isn’t even on the list (which you can see in full here). People like Kristen Stewart, whose $12 million wouldn’t have even put her in the top thirty a few years back, are now sneaking in at number ten.

Even Sandra Bullock, who is said to have made $56 million last year, generate the lion’s share of that figure through “back-end” payments rather than a straightforward paycheque: for her Oscar-winning role in The Blind Side (she’s pictured accepting her gong, above), she agreed to forego a huge advance in return for getting a share of the movie’s eventual profits.

That eventually proved to be a good bet, since the film made $300m worldwide. But other actresses haven’t been so lucky. Meryl Streep, generally considered to be the most beloved leading lady of her generation, could only make $13m, which represents a drop in earnings of around 50 percent.

These people are hardly on their uppers, of course. But their shrinking earnings are nonetheless a measure of the changing nature of the movie business’s finances. And shows how agents, managers, and other members of the industry who survive off scraps of their wealth are currently living in interesting times.

Forbes Top Ten Highest Paid Actresses in $U.S. :

1. Sandra Bullock ($56million)

2. Reese Witherspoon ($32million)

3. Cameron Diaz ($32million)

4. Jennifer Aniston ($27million)

5. Sarah Jessica Parker ($25million)

6. Julia Roberts ($20million)

7. Angelina Jolie ($20million)

8. Drew Barrymore ($15million)

9. Meryl Streep ($13million)

10. Kristen Stewart ($12million)

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  • Mike Hewlett

    It’s the middle of a worldwide financial crisis. Some changes in the vast incomes generated by actors, celebrities and sports stars are overdue.Comparing these numbers with those earned by police officers, fire service personnel, nursing staff still makes for obscene reading.

  • John Richard O’Sullivan

    How someone as untalented as Sarah Jessica Parker can earn 25 million that much in one year for an outdated franchise as Sex and the City beats me…

  • Guest

    Was Jennifer Aniston in anything in the last year? Would anyone who witnessed the accident please call…

  • frances smith

    though not fast enough, at least their earnings are heading in the right direction. down. now if the same thing can happen in the financial sector we might eventually return to sane economics.

  • conan_drum

    While not disagreeing with the obscenity of these people getting so much for so little,
    often a few weeks work a year, and in some cases getting extra for endorsements and advertising. I assume these are pretax figures. There is a fair amount of redistribution involved. I would also like to see the amounts given by these actresses to charity.
    This applies also to actors of course.

  • Guest

    Of that “Top Ten”, only Meryl Streep could be thought of as being a genuine top-ranking actor. The rest are actors who pose to the camera, mainly with little change in facial expression – often only their voice changes. It’s little wonder that Kidman, known as “Waxwork” in the industry, is no longer in that “Top Ten”.

  • conan_drum

    I have never been as impressed by Kidman as she clearly is by herself and the same goes for the other Australian export Gibson. Though it is interesting to see the same character
    complete with staring eyes and grimace turning up both in LA and on the mediaeval battlefields of Scotland.

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