Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Most Overpaid Actors Of All Time

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that film actors are called "movie stars." After all, they are the heavenly bodies around which the movie industry and pop culture orbit. Or, at least, they were back in the day. Nowadays, the entertainment industry is built on the broad, computer-generated shoulders of superheroes, dinosaurs, robots, Jedi, and other assorted IPs (Harvard MBA lingo for "cool stuff nerds like"). 

It wasn't always this way. There was a time when movies were advertised mostly based on the famous person whose name was above the title. But today, movies are made based on whether or not its source material is based on a comic, TV show, book, or breakfast cereal. Star power just ain't what it used to be. What's a movie star to do (besides cry into $1,000 bills while sitting on their tiger-skin couch in their Malibu mansion, of course)? 

While name recognition is important, it's reverence, not recognition, that makes stars... and sells tickets. Yet despite star power meaning less, many actors still command salaries bigger than the GDP of some states. What gives? There are many examples of overpaid actors. Some have been paid bookoo bucks in movies that bombed, while many simply don't have the mass appeal to justify their salaries. So who made the list? Some entries might surprise you.

Marky Mark makes bank

We know what you're thinking. "What? How on Earth is Marky Mark overpaid? He's, like, so popular and cool and all his movies make money!" Yeah, it's hard to believe at first. Like we said, there are some surprises on this list. Mark Wahlberg is a certifiable movie star, no doubt, and he has had a string of consistent hits and many outright blockbusters on his resume, with very few bombs Happening to him (see what we did there?). However, as a movie star, he commands huge paychecks. To justify his mega-million salary, his movies have to be more than just hits, they have to break records (see Downey Jr., Robert). 

However, in 2017, the year that Mark Wahlberg was estimated to have made $68 million, he was declared by Forbes to be the most overpaid actor in Hollywood. Ouch. The reason? While his movies made money, he only brought in $4.40 for every dollar he was paid. Ergo, he was overpaid. A lot of actors made this list for the same reason — they simply don't earn back much based on what they're paid.  No word, though, on whether Mark Wahlberg earns more money than his Boogie Nights character, Dirk Diggler. Because if that's the case, then that's truly unfair.

Johnny's star power sinks to the Depps

Okay, so this one may not be that big of a surprise. Johnny Depp's career has been on a downward slide for a while now, thanks to a string of bad decisions, both on-screen and off. In 2015 and 2016, Forbes declared Johnny Depp was the most overpaid actor not once, but twice, with his films earning just $2.80 for every dollar he was paid. Frankly, with duds like Dark Shadows, Mortdecai and The Rum Diary on his resume, we're shocked it's not lower. 

Depp's an interesting case, though. He started as a TV teen heartthrob in 21 Jump Street, then transitioned to quirky film roles like Edward Scissorhands and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Those offbeat choices earned him critical kudos and hipster bona fides, but also the status of "box office poison." Then Captain Jack came along and changed everything. Depp had quite a run for about a decade as a movie star, but now he's back to being bizarre Johnny, only this time without the critical acclaim to back him up. Even worse, with his presumed Captain Jack-inspired bankability, he's now demanding millions for weird film roles that audiences aren't interested in seeing. It's a recipe for, well, being the most overpaid actor in Hollywood two years in a row. 

Jim Carrey makes $20 million? All righty then.

Jim Carrey is an actor whose name guaranteed a blockbuster at the box office back in the 1990s, but his star power has plummeted since the dawn of the new millennium. Carrey had one of the greatest runs ever between Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in 1994 and Bruce Almighty in 2003 (yes, it has been 16 years since Carrey has had a huge hit). However, signs of impending doom began during the peak of his popularity. 

Ben Stiller (before his movie career took off) was directing a comedy about a deranged cable guy who stalks and destroys a man's life. Not exactly a mainstream yuck-fest, but he wanted Jim Carrey to play the title role. Given this setup (movie star in a creepy, dark comedy), you'd think the project would be a low-budget indie flick with Carrey taking a lower salary for the opportunity to do "interesting" work. Not quite. In The Cable Guy, Carrey became the first actor ever to be paid $20 million (and you thought your cable bill was bad). In so doing, he changed the game and stars suddenly became more powerful than ever, with every Tom (Cruise), Dick, and Harry(son Ford) demanding similar paychecks. Alas, The Cable Guy underwhelmed, earning just $60 million domestically. While it has unfairly been called a bomb ($60 million is not a bad haul for its subject matter), it did not warrant Carrey's mammoth price tag.

Adam Sandler makes (too much) green

Adam Sandler is another guy who became one of the biggest, most bankable stars of the 1990s and much of the 2000s, only for his star to fade. Sandler's sophomoric style made big hits out of ribald comedies like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and Big Daddy, to name a few. None of these films were popular with critics, but were big hits with audiences. After about the mid-2000s, though, audiences' appetite with Sandler's schtick had run out. 

Much like Carrey, Sandler had a good ten-year run starring in immature comedies before enthusiasm run out. However, also like Carrey, he was still demanding salaries commensurate with his past achievements. In 2014, Sandler received Forbes' less-than-stellar honor of being the most overpaid actor in Hollywood, returning $3.20 for every dollar he made. He now has a Netflix deal that keeps him him busy... but also makes it hard to measure just how much revenue he's actually generating.

Eddie's salary blasts into outer space

Jim Carrey getting paid $20 million for The Cable Guy is a bad business decision. Eddie Murphy getting $20 million for The Adventures of Pluto Nash is an abomination and a travesty. Make that an a-BOMB-ination. As far as bad business decisions go, this ranks somewhere in the same ballpark as Enron and the subprime mortgages disaster. 

Eddie Murphy was one of the biggest comedy stars of the 1980s and '90s, but was starting to show some chinks in his armor by 2002, when Pluto Nash was released. There was also the fact that Pluto Nash, a raunchy comedy set on the moon in 2087 in which a nightclub owner refuses to sell to the mob (...what?), just sounds like a bad idea. But studio bosses must have figured, hey, we've got a dud on our hands, so let's just pay Eddie $20 million and maybe he'll make something of it. Yeah, not so much. 

Pluto Nash only made $7 million — yes, barely a third of Eddie's salary. Yikes. Eddie's only worked sporadically over the past 19 years, with few hits to his name, sans the times he's been the voice of an animated talking donkey in the Shrek movies. You know a stink-bomb is bad when its stench is still going nearly two decades later. Maybe Eddie should have just paid back his salary.

Myers' on-screen return is unloved

Arguably no comedian has fallen harder than Mike Myers. Myers' magic had managed to make libidinous 1960s British secret agent Austin Powers into an even bigger box office attraction than the character he was spoofing, James Bond. Austin Powers and especially Shrek made Mike Myers about as bankable as any comedian has even been. Alas, as brilliant as everyone knew Myers was, he was also considered one of Hollywood's most difficult actors to work with. After Cat In The Hat underperformed in 2003, Myers took a hiatus from live-action comedies for five years, sticking to Shrek until he returned in 2008's The Love Guru. And hoo boy, he was most definitely not greeted with a warm welcome from audiences. 

It is believed Myers earned $20 million for the film, which made just $32 million at the domestic box office, less than his buddy Dana Carvey's The Master of Disguise (which we can guarantee Carvey wasn't paid $20 million to star in). Given his contentious work history in the years leading up to Guru, one can imagine many were actively rooting for him to fail. They got their wish — Myers hasn't done much in the years since, appearing in bit parts here and there, starring in only one Shrek movie, and a bizarre stunt that's found him hosting a reboot of The Gong Show in disguise. Maybe it's time for another Austin Powers sequel? Yeah, baby, yeah!

Will Ferrell lives the American Dream

Here we go again. Noticing a pattern here? Note to budding young comedians: if you're going to go to Hollywood and be a major comedy movie star, be sure save your money... or keep demanding a bigger salary than you deserve. You can try that too. 

Much like Carrey, Sandler, Murphy, and Myers, Will Ferrell had a nice run where he could seemingly do no wrong. His scene-stealing supporting role in Old School led to lead roles in big hits ElfAnchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. However, like so many others on this list, it wasn't long before Ferrell's box office bankability no longer warranted his salary. In 2010, he was ranked as Forbes' most overpaid actor, returning $3.35 for every dollar he earned. 

Ferrell had a good sense of humor about it though, saying, "Apparently, I'm living the American dream without even trying. Isn't that the whole point? Aren't we all striving to be overpaid?" Fair enough, Will. Fair enough.

Will Smith? More like Will $mith!

Hard to believe, but in the near future we may have to tell the next generation that yes, Will Smith was once the biggest star in the world. Will Smith was so bankable, he could star in any genre and make the movie a hit: comedy (Hitch), action (I, Robot), comedy/action (Men in Black), horror (I Am Legend), even Hallmark-level drama (The Pursuit of Happyness). Smith had the Midas touch. But lately, his star power has stalled. In 2016, Smith was ranked by Forbes as the #2 most overpaid actor in Hollywood (behind Johnny Depp), earning just $5 back for the studio for every $1 he was paid. 

Ironically, it is his pursuit of excellence — however misguided — that seems to be the culprit. The Oscar-bait dramatic roles he has taken seem designed to garner critical raves, but have instead earned anemic Rotten Tomatoes scores. Smith has never been known as a great dramatic actor, but more of an untouchable movie star. By focusing on trying to be an esteemed actor (and picking horrible roles to do it), Smith has damaged both his box office clout and whatever chance at critical admiration he was going for. Long story short, Smith has just made a lot of bad decisions. Fortunately, he dodged the bullet that was Independence Day: Resurgence, though time will soon tell if his role as the Genie in Aladdin is a bust or a blockbuster.

Investing in Cruise is risky business

Tom Cruise belongs in a class all to himself. He has been a movie star for nearly 40 years, since 1983's Risky Business. He seems like a movie star from a bygone era who's somehow still one of the biggest stars today. The irony is that nobody really seems to like him all that much, even though they keep going to his movies (at least the Mission: Impossible ones). Will Smith and some other actors on this list are popular, but seem to habitually make bad choices. Cruise is the opposite — he's not that popular, but he knows how to pick roles in movies that people want to see. 

That said, while his movie choices have mostly been wise, his off-screen antics have been anything but, leading to public distrust of the former boy wonder. In 2010 it all came to a head, and Cruise was #2 (behind Will Ferrell) as Hollywood's most overpaid actor according to Forbes, earning $7.20 for every dollar he earned. His career since has been spotty. There have only been a few outright bombs, like Rock of Ages and The Mummy (which was such a train wreck it all but killed Universal Studios' proposed Dark Universe in one fell swoop). If anything, Cruise's past ten years have been marked by mediocrity, which for a guy like him is just as bad as outright failure. But hey, he'll always have Ethan Hunt — Mission Impossible: Fallout was the biggest hit in the franchise.

Kurt Russell is a soldier of fortune

Kurt Russel is another entry in the "shouldn't have been paid $20 million club" that was out of control in the 1990s. Admittedly, adding this one kinda hurts, just because Kurt is so freakin' cool. But hey, we have to call them like we see them. 

We're once again back in the late '90s. Jim Carrey had just changed the game with his outrageous salary for The Cable Guy. Now everybody wants to earn $20 million. Well, Kurt Russell gets his for Soldier. If you don't remember this movie (which would be understandable), Russell plays a borderline mute soldier in a future space colony. A lot like Pluto Nash, really. 

Soldier was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson of Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil "fame," so that should give you some idea to the movie's quality. Soldier is basically just a really bad, straight-to-video-quality action picture that was always going to have a hard time earning back its budget, which was out of control before the cameras even started rolling thanks to Russell's salary. Soldier sits at an appalling 12% on Rotten Tomatoes and only earned $14 million at the box office. For most actors, that's a career killer. Thankfully, Russell survived, though he has taken a few more lumps to the jaw at the box office. But again, he's just so awesome, he can't stay down for long.

Arnold makes a cool $25 million

We've talked a lot about how getting paid $20 million became something of a movie star status symbol in the 1990s. Well, when you think Arnold Schwarzenegger, you probably think of one thing: hugeness. So Arnold being Arnold, a $20 million salary just wasn't big enough. He had to earn $25 million, his reported salary for 1997's Batman and Robin

Batman and Robin, you might recall, is the film that killed the original Tim Burton-Joel Schumacher Batman series. Arnold played Mr. Freeze, a casting decision that was met with much controversy, for good reason. It just didn't make any sense. However, the star of Batman Forever, Val Kilmer, had left behind the cape-and-cowl, and had been replaced by then-unproven TV star George Clooney. With that vacuum of guaranteed bankability under the cowl, Arnold was by far the biggest star in the production, and consequently could demand whatever he wanted. Besides, Batman Forever had broken box office records, so as far as Warner Brothers was concerned, no amount of money was too much to spend on their golden goose. 

The film cost $125 million, a mammoth sum in those days, with $25 million of it going to buy Arnold cigars and Humvees. Yet despite that mammoth investment, the film only made $107 million. Hard to believe, but yes, a Batman movie once only managed to make a little over $100 million — and Schwarzenegger was the name above the title.

Marlon Brando: The godfather of overpaid actors

This one shouldn't come as a surprise — Marlon Brando is the poster child — the Godfather, you might say — for overpaid actors. Brando was the biggest movie star of the mid-20th century and arguably the greatest film actor of all time. He managed to use his reputation as a bargaining chip for huge salaries in which he was overpaid for limited work.

Brando's overpaid roles are too many to list. He was paid $3.7 million and 11.75% of the profits of Superman: The Movie for about ten minutes of screen time. While that movie made tons of money, does anyone think it was because of Brando (who allegedly wanted to play the part as a floating green bagel)? 20 years later, Brando was rumored to have earned around $5 million for The Island of Dr. MoreauDon't get us started on that one

You can't blame Brando. Who wouldn't want to coast on past success and make multiple millions for only a few weeks of work? The issue with Brando's largess is that, to quote the man himself, he could've been a contender. As much as he did for his profession, he could have done so much more if he actually cared. But hey, some people want accolades, some people want their own Pacific island. If studios were dumb enough to pay Brando millions for two weeks of substandard work, he wasn't dumb enough to say no.