Everyone knows who’s on the Hollywood A-List. Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Eddie Murphy, Tom Cruise and John Travolta come to mind. There are new ones, like Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts and Will Smith. They all have one thing in common: they have or will earn $20 million or more to star in a movie.
Evergreens like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone used to be on the A-list, but not anymore. Our longtime action heroes have gotten old, and it seems that newcomers are ready to take their place.
When Revolution Studios signed Vin Diesel to star in the spy thriller XXX for the sum of $10 million, everyone was surprised. Diesel, after all, had earned $2.5 million for his previous role in El Diablo and a lower seven-digit figure for The Fast and the Furious. What could have prompted a studio to invest so much in Diesel? Maybe it was the surprise success of The Fast and the Furious, which many industry insiders are still at a loss to explain. Whatever the case, Revolution seems to believe Diesel made the film a hit.
Another Furious cast mate making his way up the list is Paul Walker. While he earned a reported $1 million for the drag racing action movie, he earned $2 million more for Timeline. Though it’s not equivalent to Diesel‘s score, it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Plenty of other thesps are also making their way up the list. Ben Affleck, for example, will earn $10 million for his role in The Sum of All Fears, as will Matt Damon for The Bourne Identity and Mark Wahlberg for The Truth About Charlie.
Some, however, are wondering whether these actors without pedigree are commanding too high a salary too soon.
Paying your dues
Harrison Ford made $20 million for last year’s thriller What Lies Beneath and $25 million for the upcoming historical thriller K-19: The Widowmaker. No one, however, can argue that Ford has not paid his dues.
For his role as Han Solo in the 1977 sci-fi action film Star Wars, Ford earned the paltry sum of $10,000 (OK, the amount was also against one-quarter of one percent of net theatrical revenues, but that’s beside the point.) In 1983, he earned $500,000 for Return of the Jedi and that was after the success of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Nearly 25 years later, Ford has earned his $25 million asking price, especially after the success of both the Star Wars and the Indiana Jones franchises.
But let’s face it, movie audiences seem to be getting more and more fickle with time. An actor who’s hot now may not necessarily be hot tomorrow.
Take Gwyneth Paltrow.
Less than two years ago, Paltrow was the “It Girl” in Hollywood. Everything she did was praised and everything she wore was copied. She was a fashion “do” and her films, like 1998’s Shakespeare in Love and 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, did relatively well. Combined, the two grossed a total of $180.4 million. By contrast, her next two films, Duets and Bounce, earned a combine total of $41.5 million–a 77% decline. It will be interesting to see how much her upcoming film, Shallow Hal will do. Either way, Paltrow has clearly lost the title of Hollywood darling she sported in the past. But at least she at one point had a string, albeit small, of box office successes.
Some actors get the big paychecks without even having earned a box office hit. Brad Pitt is a perfect example of this. For his upcoming movie The Spy Game, Pitt earned the hefty sum of $17.5 million. That’s quite a hike from his 1995 asking price of $10 million per movie. And what has he done since then? The Devil’s Own, Seven Years in Tibet, Meet Joe Black, Fight Club and Snatch–nothing that would warrant such an exorbitant salary.
It seems actors no longer need to be big box office successes to be branded stars these days. With Hollywood and its whimsical audiences constantly changing their minds about who’s hot and who’s not, perhaps studios should hold out on shelling out the multi-million dollars deals–at least until an actor can prove his worth.