Some movies share the spotlight between multiple actors so well, that it’s hard to call either performer the bigger star of the project. In such cases, you’d expect both co-stars would wind up getting pretty equal pay for the amount of work they are putting in. Watch a movie like Mad Max: Fury Road, and sure, it’s named after Tom Hardy’s character, but could anyone really say Charlize Theron’s Furiosa was any less crucial to the plot? It just makes sense to pay both stars the same if they're equally significant to the story, but it doesn’t always happen that way.
Sometimes one co-star is just a bigger name due to their past films, or someone didn’t negotiate well, or maybe there was even behind the scenes drama that led to the disparate salaries. Whatever the circumstances, there are a surprising number of instances where actors we thought were inseparable on screen, were divided by the dollar once filming concluded. Equal time doesn’t always mean equal pay on this list of 16 Actors Who Got Paid More Than Their Co-Stars.
16 DAVID DUCHOVNY OVER GILLIAN ANDERSON IN THE X-FILES
One of the most talked about aspects of the The X-Files revival recently was Gillian Anderson opening up about the backstage elements of the show—particularly the fact that she was paid less than her original co-star, David Duchovny. Of course, as any The X-Files fan knows, Duchovny’s role in the show became far more limited as the series went on, so by the end it was likely Anderson making the higher salary (or at least we’d hope so since she was still a series regular and Duchovny was essentially a guest star).
During talks leading up to the revival, Anderson revealed that she was shocked to find she had once again been offered less than Duchovny to reprise her role. During the show’s original run, she was able to renegotiate after the first few seasons to get better pay. But Anderson, and many female actresses, were disappointed to see another example in the trend of women being offered less than men for on screen roles. She had to fight the same battle twice, but Anderson eventually wound up getting equal pay both times.
15 JIM CAREY OVER JEFF DANIELS IN DUMB AND DUMBER
Jim Carrey has certainly built up a reputation as a whacky, silly person, but he proved to be anything but a dummy in real life when negotiating his salary for Dumb and Dumber. Because of Carrey’s history of comedic roles, he was viewed as a good, safe choice to feature in a comedy and was sought after for the movie. Jeff Daniels, on the other hand, wasn’t known as much for doing humor, so he was low-balled when being given an offer for the role. To the studio’s surprise, Daniels took the offer, but evidently he would have been wise to hold out.
Jeff reportedly only made around $50,000 for Dumb and Dumber, which admittedly doesn’t sound bad at first for an unestablished comedy role. But Jim Carrey, who had just had a hit in Ace Ventura, walked away with a lot more. Supposedly around $7 million after repeated bouts of negotiating. Clearly Carrey is nowhere near as dumb as the characters he depicts on screen.
14 HARRISON FORD OVER EVERYONE IN STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
A new Star Wars movie was going to be a big deal no matter what, but the original cast members coming back undoubtedly lended credibility that the sequel was going to be something more special than the prequels. But in the years that passed since the original trilogy, there was one clear breakout star as the years went by: Harrison Ford.
Nothing against Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, but outside of Star Wars, they haven’t had Ford’s continued major successes with films like the Indiana Jones franchise, Blade Runner, and The Fugitive. Ford was the breakout of the original cast, and obviously had a bigger name than the newcomers like Daisy Ridley, so it makes sense he would get a big cut of the profits. And lest we forget, Han Solo also had one of the most memorable moments in The Force Awakens since this would prove to be his final appearance on the franchise. Moments like that are worth paying for.
13 LEONARDO DICAPRIO OVER JONAH HILL IN THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
This is another case where it’s not so much surprising that an actor made more than their co-star, but rather just how much it was. Sure, Jonah Hill isn’t the movie headliner for dramatic roles that Leonardo DiCaprio is, but he’s certainly proved he has some serious acting chops. Anyone who thinks all he has to offer is the gross out humor of Superbad needs to see him opposite Brad Pitt in Moneyball. But apparently Martin Scorsese wasn’t impressed.
Jonah Hill received $60,000 for his role in The Wolf of Wall Street, the bare minimum he could have been offered. Though apparently there’s something about low salaries that pay off in critical recognition. Like a similarly paid later entry on this list, Hill got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his part. But then, DiCaprio also got an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for the film, but also had a $25 million paycheck to go alongside it.
12 CAMERON DIAZ OVER DREW BARRYMORE AND LUCY LIU IN CHARLIE’S ANGELS
Next up we have an actress who was paid more than not just one co-star, but two. Charlie’s Angels have always been known for being a trio, so you would think all three women of the group would be viewed as equally important both on screen and off. Apparently, that wasn’t the case.
Diaz is said to have pulled in $12 million for her part in the group of ladies, more than either of her co-stars. Though Drew Barrymore does have some consolation in that she actually made more than one of her co-stars as well, since her and Lucy Liu weren’t even paid the same salaries beneath Diaz. Barrymore received a lesser, but still respectable, $9 million for her role. Lucy Liu, on the other hand, was given just $1 million for her part. Looking at the three salaries for each woman, it looks like there was clearly a favorite angel in the group.
11 BRUCE WILLIS OVER HALEY JOEL OSMENT IN THE SIXTH SENSE
Child actors are always going to have it a bit rough starting out since their acting prowess is usually still unproven. Regardless, Haley Joel Osment was the star of The Sixth Sense. He’s the one who utters the “I see dead people” line that became the most remembered part of the movie. But of course you couldn’t sell tickets off the name Haley Joel Osment (and you still couldn’t, honestly), and M. Night Shyamalan was an unknown director. So it was up to Bruce Willis to give the film some name value.
Willis certainly got paid well for his name, too, pulling in $14 million for his role in the film. That’s pretty good, especially when you consider The Sixth Sense isn’t really the first movie people associate Bruce with as opposed to something like Die Hard. While Osment, the actor who is associated with the film, earned far, far less. Around $150,000 was his final cut. Osment is known for seeing unusual things, but a big pay day wasn’t one of them.
10 BRADLEY COOPER AND HIS MALE CO-STARS OVER JENNIFER LAWRENCE AND HER FEMALE CO-STARS IN AMERICAN HUSTLE
In 2015 there was a lot of talk about the discrepancy in pay between male and female actors. A lot of it started when Patricia Arquette won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and used her speech to talk about the wage gap, particularly in Hollywood. As months went by, more actresses spoke up, including mega star Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence articulated her personal grievances on the issues in a letter where she talked about her own experience receiving lower compensation, even after establishing herself as an actress. And she brought up one film in particular where she faced that problem.
The Oscar-nominated American Hustle was a star-studded movie focusing on some unlikable people. But what viewers wound up not liking the most were reports that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams were both paid less than Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Christian Bale in the film. The women were paid two percent less than their male colleagues, but when a film grosses hundreds of millions of dollars, that adds up to a lot. Lawrence is currently one of the top paid actresses in movies, but was left wishing she fought harder for her pay on American Hustle.
9 MEL GIBSON OVER JOAQUIN PHOENIX IN SIGNS
Mel’s Gibson’s value as an actor was pretty much destroyed a few years after Signs due to his off screen behavior, but for a while, he was an actor who was pretty much guaranteed to be in big movies. The times sure have changed, and now Joaquin Phoenix arguably has more value attached to him. Yet that wasn’t so in 2002, when M. Night Shyamalan was back with another eerie thriller with a twist ending.
Mel supposedly made close to $25 million, whereas his on screen brother made a fraction of that much. It’s particularly surprising since Phoenix had already delivered a strong performance in 2000’s Best Picture winning Gladiator, so you’d think producers would have more faith in his ability. But given how Gibson has wound up, and the laughingstock Shyamalan became after repeated duds like The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth, we’d say Joaquin got the best deal in the long run.
8 JULIA ROBERTS OVER NATALIE PORTMAN IN CLOSER
Natalie Portman was right in the midst of her climb towards superstardom when this film of start-and-stop relationships came out. She was in the middle of the Star Wars prequels, which, while disappointing, were still getting attention. And she’d already had a decade in the industry since her childhood start in Léon: The Professional. But there was just no denying that Julia Roberts had had more consistent success during her additional years on the screen.
The two women both had equally significant roles in this dramatic romance film about mixing and matching relationships. But it was Roberts supposedly walking away with around $20 million for her part. Portman, meanwhile, is said to have been paid $1 million for her part. Natalie’s career was still on the rise, so perhaps she just didn’t have the proven résumé to expect more. Now that both women are thoroughly established actresses in their careers, it’d be interesting to see the salary results if they decided to share screen time again.
7 TOM HANKS OVER BARKHAD ABDI IN CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
There’s no doubt that Tom Hanks was the biggest name in 2013’s Captain Phillips. Without him, there’s no way the movie would have got as much attention as it did, so it was probably a fair decision to pay him a bit more than the other actors to compensate for his name value and proven acting ability. But many critics and viewers were stunned to find out just how little Hanks’ co-star Barkhad Abdi was paid for the film.
While the going rate for Tom Hanks is supposedly around $20 million per film, his on-screen antagonist in Abdi has been revealed to have only made $65,000 for his role as Muse in Captain Phillips. No, we didn’t forget to include any zeroes on that number. Sure, it was Abdi’s first film, so we can’t expect an unknown to be pulling in Tom Hanks kind of money right off the bat. But Abdi has since been said to be struggling with finances even after his big role, having to work in his brother’s mobile phone store. Definitely not what you’d expect for a man nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards.
6 MICHAEL DOUGLAS OVER SHARON STONE IN BASIC INSTINCT
Go ahead and add Sharon Stone to the ranks alongside Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Lawrence for women who spoke up last year about the struggle to be paid equally to their male colleagues. In 2015 she talked about the difficulty she had in acquiring decent positions even after the success of Basic Instinct in the ‘90s. Though if reports are true, even that role in one of her most noteworthy films wasn’t as lucrative as you might imagine.
Sharon Stone is said to have made around $500,000 for her iconic role in Basic Instinct. Michael Douglas is said to have made near $15 million. And while Douglas was certainly a big name during this period, he’s not the one most people remember about the movie. Sharon has since moved onto TV work, where actresses call the footing a bit more equal in terms of pay. And judging by one of the later entries on this list, perhaps that’s true.
5 SANDRA BULLOCK OVER MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY IN A TIME TO KILL
After his work on True Detective, no one would be surprised at Matthew McConaughey featuring in a crime drama. His role as Cohle stole the show for many in the first season of the series, and provided high expectations for season two. But near the start of his career, and even for a long time afterward, he was primarily known for his good looks, and for featuring in comedies. A Time to Kill was a serious departure for him, so his co-star Sandra Bullock was viewed as the bigger name.
Bullock already had over a dozen films to her name, including a couple big hits like Speed, so it was a safe bet that her momentum would continue to build in future films. The tables would turn somewhat as McConaughey grew in prominence, and in 2015 he was at one point named one of the year’s top paid actors at over $25 million. Bullock got called one the year’s top paid actresses, though only at $8 million.
4 TOM CRUISE OVER NICOLE KIDMAN IN FAR AND AWAY
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman have done several movies together, starting with Days of Thunder, where Cruise out-earned Kidman once already. But as her fame grew, the two eventually became a couple, and they went on to do another movie together, you’d expect they’d be on more equal footing the second time around. And yet, we have the case of 1992’s Far and Away, where Cruise once again out-earned his one-time wife.
Cruise is said to have made around $13 million for the tale of Irish lovers, with his wife making significantly less. The first two experiences of unequal pay didn’t deter Kidman from acting opposite Cruise a third time in their most well-known film together, Eyes Wide Shut. She once again got the shorter end of the stick, close to $7 million compared to his $20 million, but at least her pay was pretty respectable on its own by that point.
3 RICHARD GERE OVER JULIA ROBERTS IN PRETTY WOMAN
Julia Roberts eventually got to the point of being the one to earn more than her co-stars, like she did in Closer. When her film career was still starting out, however, she got a taste of being the one having to settle for a lower salary. Pretty Woman was a breakout role for Roberts, and became one of the most well-known and popular romantic comedies of all time. And like most romantic comedies, both characters in the romance share pretty equal screen time. But due to Richard Gere’s more extensive acting career at the time, the salaries weren’t quite as equal.
Roberts was paid just $300,000 for her role as Vivian Ward, a surprisingly small sum especially considering the film went on to make over $400 million. It’s fitting that Richard Gere played the wealthy businessman and Roberts played the struggling young worker since that mimicked their real life circumstances somewhat. And Gere almost missed his chance to have the role to top it all off. Julia Roberts had to beg Gere to take the part after he initially rejected it.
2 KEVIN SPACEY OVER ROBIN WRIGHT IN HOUSE OF CARDS
The latest battle in the fight for equal pay among actors and actresses took place among a pair who are used to wars of words on screen. In the early seasons of Netflix’s breakout hit House of Cards, it’s been revealed that Kevin Spacey was earning more than his on-screen wife, Robin Wright. Spacey reportedly earned $500,000 per episode, while Wright earned around $420,000 per episode. But unlike many of the entries on this list, Wright was able to eventually match her co-star’s pay.
Being one of the only TV series on this list, House of Cards has the distinguishment of not being some one-off production. So when Wright was left unhappy with her pay from past seasons, she could still renegotiate for her future role in the series. She made the case that Claire Underwood was just as big a part of the series as Frank Underwood, and was even more popular at one point. So it became a question of whether the produces were willing to let Wright go, or pay a bit more to keep her on board. Fortunately for her, she succeeded in making sure this isn’t the kind of list she’ll be featuring on again in the future now that her salary has been matched with Spacey’s.
1 ROBERT DOWNEY JR. OVER EVERY MARVEL ACTOR
With Captain America: Civil War recently raking in over a billion dollars, it’s just the latest reminder that superhero movies are big money. That feels like old news at this point, but it wasn’t even that long ago that films like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man were struggling to try and start a franchise. So the Marvel Cinematic Universe owes a lot to the first Iron Man film for laying the groundwork for all the interconnected Marvel films it ushered in.
Marvel Studios knows how to show gratitude to the man that put them on the map, so Robert Downey Jr. is paid quite well to ensure he continues to stick around. So well, in fact, that he’s the highest paid actor even among the star-packed Avengers films. The pay breakdown for Avengers: Age of Ultron revealed that Downey’s $40 million salary for the flick was twice as much any of the other actors in the movie were paid. Downey's real personality has been compared numerous times to Tony Stark's, and with the salary Marvel Studios pays him, he probably doesn't have to stretch his acting chops too much to know what it's like to afford to throw money around.
Which co-star not getting paid as much as another actor surprises you the most? If you can think of any other films where a co-star got the short end of the stick, tell us about it in the comments!
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