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10 Actors Who Earned Next to Nothing for their Roles in Successful Films

By Dustin Rowles | Seriously Random Lists | January 15, 2014 | Comments ()


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Granted, in most of these cases (save for the Paranormal Activity actors), the roles for which they were paid very little did help to launch their careers, so the sacrifice was obviously worth it.

George Clooney was paid only $1 for writing, directing, and starring in Good Night, and Good Luck (in fact, he mortgaged his house to help finance it). The film earned $54 million worldwide.

Jon Heder was initially paid only $1,000 for appearing in Napolean Dynamite a role he took as a favor to his friend, Jared Hess. The film earned $46 million worldwide.

Seann William Scott was paid only $8,000 for appearing in the first American Pie film, which earned $235 million worldwide.

The cast of Paranormal Activity were originally paid $500 for their work in the film, which would earn $193 million worldwide.

Harrison Ford was apparently paid only $10,000 to appear in the first Star Wars film, which would earn $775 million worldwide.

Hilary Swank earned $3,000 for her work in Boys Don’t Cry, and despite the risk of reducing her body fat to 7 percent, did not earn enough on the film to quality for health insurance. The movie, however, did earn her an Oscar, and $11 million at the box office.

Mel Gibson was paid only $15,000 for his role in the first Mad Max, which earned $99 million (or $421 million adjusted).

Joshua Leonard, who starred in The Blair Witch Project, earned only $500 for that movie, though it made $248 million worldwide.

Jamie Lee Curtis earned only $8,000 for her role in Halloween, which earned $70 million at the box office in 1978.

Bill Murray was paid only $9,000 to star in Rushmore, which earned $17 million.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • PimpDaddyWiteBoy

    Rushmore sucked...

  • AlanOne7

    According to wikipedia, the entire cast and crew of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre received only $8100 ... divided among 20 people.

  • Nicholas

    Holy sh*t....ouch. Close the thread. Enough said.

  • All the principals in Star Wars were given a 1/4 percent gross point in lieu of a larger salary. It included revenue on re-releases, television and merchandising. Carrie Fisher once said it was worth several million.

  • e jerry powell

    To be fair, with Blair Witch the principals signed for deferred compensation, which they received after it was bought by a distributor.

  • BWeaves

    Steve McQueen was only paid $3000 for starring in The Blob. That was a small amount of money even in 1958 dollars.

  • Guest

    I don't have a problem with this.

  • Kate

    Hmmm...one of these things is not like the other.

    By the time Clooney did Good Night And Good Luck he was already worth close to 100 million. If he mortgaged his house it was because his accountants told him to for whatever reason, not because he didn't have plenty of cash in his bank accounts. Good Night & Good Luck had a budget of 7 million. Clooney was paid almost 3 times that for Oceans Twelve the year before.

  • emmalita

    I think it's more important to note that Good Night and Good Luck was a story that Clooney thought was so important to tell that he put his money, reputation and a lot of work into the project. He is fortunate he had the money and resources to do that, and to survive if the movie had flopped.

  • Sean

    He also got his money on the movie afterward. Probably several million dollars.

  • crispin

    Wow! That is SO good of them to only make what average American's would consider a basic salary!

    Actors are AMAZING!!!!

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I wasn't *going* to comment, but aside from the general taxes and living expenses that everyone has, and you not knowing how long the movie took to shoot, so how can you know if it's average American salary for the time or not, actors lose 10% of their income to their agents, and another 10-20% to their managers, if they have one. You might get a +10s built into your contract, but you general don't get the manager covered.

  • crispin

    Sorry to make you comment.

  • MotoJ

    Well, if Clooney mortgaged his house to finance the film, that must mean he was a producer, which also means he got a cut of the profits. Hardly $1000 straight wages.

  • WestCoastPat

    If Clooney helped finance the film, then he got paid plenty on the back-end if it made $54MM on a budget of $7MM

  • Davis

    clooney had his coffee commercial money

  • The Gaf

    The Bill Murray one, while interesting, is not the same. He clearly didn't do that because he had no bargaining power. He did it for $9k so that he could appear in what he thought was going to be a great indy movie.

  • Ben

    what's more interesting about the Murry one is he actually lost money in the end, cause he ended up paying (From memory) like 25k to book a helicopter to get a shot in the movie that the studios wouldn't pay for out of his own pocket.

    Basically what I'm trying to say is Bill Murray is an amazing person.

  • Same for Clooney. Really, he could have gotten funding just by winking in the general direction of a studio at that point.

  • jthomas666

    Donald Sutherland got $25,000 for what was essentially an extended cameo in Animal House. Universal had countered with a percentage of the profits, but Sutherland held firm.

    Had he taken the points, he would have cleared more than $2 million—for one day of work.

  • BWeaves

    Except we all know how "profits" are calculated. Cue violins for the Tolkien heirs who got screwed out of everything because the LOTRs supposedly didn't make any profit.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    This is an excellent list for actors to pass around to family members convinced that the actor is rich upon booking *A* tv episode or commercial. I know at least half of these were union gigs.

  • bleujayone

    "...Halloween, which earned $70,000 million at the box office in 1978."

    -"$70,000 million"? Wow. Carpenter's been holding out on Curtis... not to mention the IRS.

  • So, what number is $70,000 million? I would like all those dollars, please.

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