Hollywood payouts are enough to turn most movie-watchers green with envy. Face it: it’s impossible not to think about how it must feel to wear designer clothes on the red carpet or live in a beachfront mansion. However, not even Hollywood megastars make big bucks every time they step on set.
Plenty of big-name actors have accepted relatively small sums of money for their starring roles—pocket change when compared to multi-million dollar contracts they’d typically net. Whether their earnings were due to poor negotiating or they simply invested in a passion project, these 22 actors and actress got surprisingly little money for their work on some wildly successful films…
1. Harrison Ford (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope): Ford made only $10,000 total for his role as Han Solo in the first Star Wars film. After the film’s success, he was able to negotiate a little pay bump—to the tune of $100,000—for the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back.
A New Hope / 20th Century Fox
2. George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck): Clooney was only paid one dollar for writing, directing, and starring in this movie—yep, one single Washington. He even mortgaged his home to help finance the film. Now that’s a passion project!
Good Night, and Good Luck / Warner Independent Pictures
3. Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry): Swank won an Academy Award and plenty of recognition from her peers in Hollywood for this physically taxing role, which required her to lose a dangerous amount of weight! However, she only earned $3,000 for all her intense effort.
Boys Don’t Cry / Hart-Sharp Entertainment
4. Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips): Abdi made $65,000 for his role as the fearsome Somali pirate, Muse. While that may not exactly seem like pocket change, his payout paled in comparison to the $50 million that costar Tom Hanks earned.
Captain Phillips / Columbia Pictures
5. Cast of Paranormal Activity: Although this film raked in nearly $200 million worldwide, Paranormal Activity had one of the lowest budgets of any movie ever made. That’s probably because the each cast member was initially paid a mere $500 for their work!
Paranormal Activity / Paramount Pictures
6. Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman): To sniff at Gadot’s $300,000 payday for her lead role as the DC Comics icon would be an insult to every empty wallet. But considering that Ben Affleck, who starred as her Justice League-leading comrade in Batman V Superman, made $43 million, and her pay becomes a head-scratcher.
Wonder Woman / Warner Bros.
7. Brad Pitt (Thelma and Louise): Pitt didn’t pull in multimillion dollar contracts from the get-go; in fact, in one of his early roles in this Ridley Scott film, he only earned $9,000. Still, with a body like that, who needs a big payout?
Thelma & Louise / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
8. Corey Feldman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles): Struggling to find work after washing out of the 1980s, Feldman turned to voicing Donatello (left) in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film that grossed $200 million domestically. Unfortunately, he earned just $1,500 for his trouble.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / New Line Cinema
9. Daisy Ripley and John Boyega (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens): When the Star Wars franchise rebooted in 2015, producers paid these then-unknown stars between $100,000 and $300,000 for their work. Of course, the film would become the biggest box-office hit of all time.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens / Lucasfilm Ltd.
10. Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson): A little-known independent film, Half Nelson only grossed $2.6 million. Then again, producers didn’t have much overhead: they only paid Gosling $1,000 a week for his efforts. Fortunately, he earned a little extra by way of an Oscar nomination.
Half Nelson / ThinkFilm
11. Bill Murray (Rushmore): The comedic icon will accept roles in lesser-known films every now and again, including Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. He only brought home $9,000 for his work in the movie, even though it went on to make $17 million. Hey, anything for a good friend, right?
Rushmore / Buena Vista Pictures
12. Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween): Horror enthusiasts loved the 1978 cult hit that first featured the infamous Michael Myers on a good ol’ stabbin’ spree. But while the film made tens of millions of dollars, lead actress Jamie Lee Curtis only took home $8,000.
Halloween / Compass International Pictures
13. Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite): Heder accepted his role as the titular character of this quirky film as a favor to his friend and its director, Jared Hess. Initially, he was only paid $1,000 for his work; though he renegotiated later after the film’s success!
Napolean Dynamite / Fox Searchlight Pictures
14. Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street): Hill could’ve earned a big payday in his role as Donnie Azoff, the right-hand man to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort. However, he was so excited to work on a Martin Scorsese film that he accepted just $60,000 for the opportunity.
The Wolf of Wall Street / Paramount Pictures
15. Patricia Arquette (Boyhood): Arquette spent 12 years working on Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood, which follows a child as he—and the actor playing him—grows up. The movie made $25 million; Arquette later quipped that her babysitter earned more than she did while she was working on it. Luckily, she took home an Oscar for the role.
Boyhood / IFC Films
16. Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project): This film’s paltry budget of $60,000 didn’t exactly leave a ton of cash for its three stars. In fact, Leonard made just $500 for his work, which included sleeping in a tent in chilly weather for a week.
The Blair Witch Project / Artisan Entertainment
17. Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World): Williams didn’t make all the money in the world for her role in the reshoots of this film after one of its stars, Kevin Spacey, was canned for a sexual harassment scandal. Contractual oversights allowed producers to pay her just $1,000 while her costar, Mark Wahlberg, negotiated $1.5 million.
All The Money In Thr World / Sony
18. Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber): To star in a film of goofs, stupidity, and violent diarrhea, Daniels earned a pretty cool $50,000. Hey, not bad! That is, until you consider that Jim Carrey, his costar, made $7,000,000.
Dumb and Dumber / New Line Cinema
19. Sean William Scott (American Pie): While Scott’s portrayal of Steve Stifler—the hilarious standout high school jerk—was really the heart and soul of the film, he wasn’t exactly the heart and soul of the film’s $11 million budget. He only made $8,000 for the role.
American Pie / Universal Pictures
20. Chris Evans (Captain America: The First Avenger): Look, no one felt sorry for Evans’s $200,000 earnings for his role as Steve Rogers. But Robert Downey Jr. made more than double that—$500,000—for Iron Man, despite Downey’s own contract being considered fairly due to his past drug issues. Just sayin’…
Captain America: The First Avenger / Paramount Pictures
21. Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings): For all three Lord of the Rings films, the actor behind Samwise Gamgee made $250,000… total. Considering the films had a cumulative $400 million budget, he might have been able to ask for a few extra bucks!
Lord of the Rings / New Line Cinema
22. Mel Gibson (Mad Max): The Mad Max movies have developed quite a cult following since the first was released in 1979. But the star of the film, Mel Gibson, only earned $15,000 for his role!
Mad Max / Roadshow Film Distributors
This goes to show you that not every actor you see on the silver screen is earning a lot of money. Sometimes, the underpaid actors and actresses put passion before a paycheck—and the audience reaps the reward.
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