'A' List Actors Earning Outrageous Amounts Of Money

March 5, 2023

It’s no secret world-famous actors can command paychecks the rest of us only dream about, but just how much are they earning? It can be hard to tell since so many stars make a large chunk of their money based on how well a film performs as well as through merchandising deals. However, based on Forbes' list of the highest paid actors and actresses in 2015, here are some of the most highly paid performers in the industry.

Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy first gained attention for her role as Sookie St. James on the witty television show, Gilmore Girls. She played the role for all seven seasons and has continued on to become one of the top grossing actresses in Hollywood. Since she was tapped to play Abby Yates on a gender-bent and rebooted Ghostbusters film, she has been the subject of controversy.

Controversy has not kept McCarthy from earning her payday, however. Her 2015 earnings of twenty-three million dollars won her the third spot on the Forbes list of highest paid actresses. She announced several new projects in 2015, including The Memory of Running, Cousin Irv, and Just Do It. McCarthy also returned to Netflix’s revival of the Gilmore Girls series, Gilmore Girls: Year In The Life.

It wasn’t always acting that excited Melissa McCarthy. She studied textiles at Southern Illinois University, and her original move to New York was to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. After she began to find success acting, McCarthy teamed up with Sunrise Brands to manufacture Melissa McCarthy Seven7. The clothing line offers women’s sizes up to 28.

McCarthy is outspoken about the body-shaming she has faced as a plus-sized woman. In interviews, the actress has discussed how individuals do not stop at size 12, and how malls segregate plus sized clothing in separate sections and even stores. Her clothing line debuted on the Home Shopping Network in 2015 and will expand to major retailers.

Amitabh Bachchan

While Americans tend to be familiar with Hollywood, they are only slowly recognizing Bollywood, India's movie industry, as a huge industry. Amitabh Bachchan is one of the biggest stars with the most impressive longevity in Bollywood films. His career began in the 1970s, and last year, he ranked on Forbes highest paid actors list with 33.5 million dollars.

In the forty years of Bachchan’s career, he has appeared in more than 180 films, earning himself nicknames like Shahenshah of Bollywood (similar to calling him the King of Kings), Star of the Millennium, and Big B. He first found an audience in movies like Zanjeer and Deewar, which are Bollywood films that gained international attention.

Over his career, Bachchan has received numerous awards at international award ceremonies and film festivals. He also won four Best Actor National Film Awards. In 2013, he made his Hollywood debut, playing Meyer Wolfstein (a Jewish, non-Indian character) in The Great Gatsby. The French government named him Knight of the Legion of Honor in 2007, citing his exceptional career in film.

Bachchan has received recognition in India for his charitable works. He has used his fortune to clear debts for farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Vidarbha and assist the family of a policeman injured protecting anti-rape protestors. The actor was also declared a UNICEF goodwill ambassador for helping eradicate polio in India. He has worked with PETA and TeachAIDS as well.

Scarlett Johansson

Although Scarlett Johansson has had an active and successful film career for nearly twenty years, her casting as S.H.I.E.L.D. spy Natasha Romanov in the second Iron Man film put her on track to make Forbes’ list. As Black Widow, Johansson commands a higher payday than all of the Avengers other than the Iron Man himself.

Johansson’s value to the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to do with the number of installments Black Widow appears in. Johansson had pivotal roles in Iron Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. She earned 35.5 million dollars last year between Age Of Ultron and her first solo action film, Lucy.

Johansson has also been at the center of much of the frustration around Black Widow being left out of much of the Avengers merchandising. When the first Avengers movie was released in 2012, conversation began about Black Widow not appearing on toys, clothing, or associated merchandise. When Age of Ultron merchandise was released in 2015, #WhereisBlackWidow trended on Twitter.

By the time Captain America: Civil War came out, Black Widow was finally showing up in more toy packs and on more apparel. Scarlett Johansson has also gone on record in support of fans who want a Black Widow solo movie, saying if the fans want it, she wants it. Johansson also noted in 2015 interviews that her contract changed after The Winter Soldier.

Tom Cruise

Although Tom Cruise’s career officially kicked off in 1981, his first big starring role was in 1983’s Risky Business. Since his romantic and dramatic roles in the 80s and 90s, he has reinvented himself as an action star. Cruise has played the role of Ethan Hunt in all five installments of the Mission Impossible franchise.

Although Cruise is still a powerful star with a commanding box office presence, he has faced a great deal of criticism in the last decade due to his stance on psychology and psychiatry, his public support of Scientology, and negative tabloid coverage over his breakups with Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes. His first wife, Mimi Rogers, was the person who introduced Cruise to Scientology.

Cruise’s public downfall began in 2006. At that time, film studio Paramount Pictures announced they were severing the fourteen-year relationship they had maintained with Cruise/Wagner Productions. As reason for the split, Paramount said Cruise’s public behavior was creating economic damage. Industry experts suggested the split was due to Cruise’s high percentage of earnings from the Mission Impossible DVD sales.

Cruise and his at-the-time talent agent Paula Wagner announced a take-over of United Artists in 2006, but Wagner left her position as CEO in 2008. Cruise stars in several of UA’s films, and serves as a producer in others. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Edge of Tomorrow accounted for Cruise’s $40 million earnings in 2015.

Adam Sandler

Even though it has been years since Adam Sandler had a box office smash, he continues to see substantial paydays for films like Pixels in 2015. Forbes put him at $41 million for last year’s income. His older movies continue to be popular Netflix And Chill material, which may be why Netflix signed a deal to make four exclusive films with Sandler.

Sandler was born in Brooklyn, is Jewish, and is descended from Russian immigrants. His first role was as Theo Huxtable’s friend, Smitty, before he moved on to doing stand-up comedy. Comedian Dennis Miller recommended Sandler to Lorne Miller, producer of Saturday Night Live. Miller hired Sandler as a writer in 1990, and Sandler began acting on the show the following year.

Throughout the 90s, Sandler starred in a number of slapstick comedies which critics panned but audiences enjoyed, such as Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Wedding Singer. After 2000, he began to play more serious roles, such as Punch-Drunk Love, though he still brought plenty of laughs to scripts like Big Daddy and Reign Over Me.

The first film collaboration between Netflix and Adam Sandler is The Ridiculous Six, which became mired in controversy when a dozen Native American actors walked off the set, citing offensive characterization and degrading treatment of women. Sander said the actors were exaggerating the issues, but critics called the movie lazy and offensive. The film currently holds a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper first got attention for his role in the TV spy thriller Alias, starring across from Jennifer Garner, he has grown into a movie star. He has won several academy award nominations, three for acting, and one for producing American Sniper. While he did star in the fluff comedy Aloha last year, it was American Sniper that earned him $41.5 million.

After Alias, Cooper worked on the big screen, and TV, but got a wider range of attention when he co-starred in the Hangover trilogy with Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis. The first film, released in 2009, was a commercial success, and became the tenth highest grossing movie that year. Part Two was released in 2011, and Part Three in 2013.

More recently, Cooper gave his voice to Rocket Raccoon in the film Guardians of the Galaxy. He has worked with Jennifer Lawrence in three different films: Silver Linings Playbook, Joy, and Serena. Cooper has been public about his choice to abstain from alcohol; during Alias, his substance abuse triggered doubts about his career and thoughts of suicide.

According to Cooper, making the Forbes list and finding broader success hasn’t changed his life all that much. In 2011, after the first Hangover movie had been successful, he said while there were more doors open, it was not as if he could just sit back with a cigar and go over the scripts coming in.

Vin Diesel

Actor Vin Diesel has played a role in several major franchises in the last few years. It was the seventh installment of the Fast & the Furious franchise which made his $47 million check happen, but Vin Diesel also provided the voice of Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy and played Richard B. Riddick in The Chronicles of Riddick.

Vin Diesel’s legal name is Mark Sinclair. He was born in Alameda County and has a twin brother. His mother has European ancestry, and he has never met his father. Sinclair has identified himself as a person of color, and tends to say he is of ambiguous ethnicity when asked in interviews. His step-father is African-American.

Diesel’s first film appearance was a brief, uncredited appearance in 1990’s Awakenings. He wrote and produced two films which found success at film festivals before being cast in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Providing the voice of a talking tree wasn’t his first foray into voice work; he also gave voice to the title character in The Iron Giant.

2015 saw Diesel acting in The Last Witch Hunter along with acting and producing Furious 7. In the next few years, he expects to reprise Toretto in Fast 8, voice Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and revisit the xXx series as Xander Cage. He has talked in the past about playing another character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well.

Jackie Chan

As one of the premiere martial artists and actors of his generation, Jackie Chan has realized tremendous success in both his native Hong Kong as well as Hollywood. In 2015, Forbes estimated Chan earned $50 million, mostly from back-end profits on his recent movie Dragon Blade. He has received stars on both the Hong Kong Avenue of Stars and Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Chan was born in 1954 in British Hong Kong. As a child, Chan trained both in martial arts and in operatic singing. He has actually released several albums in both Cantopop and Mandopop, and has sung the themes of several of his movies. His acting career began with small parts when he was just five years old.

At 17, Chan was a stunt man on Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon and Fist of Fury, using the stage name Chan Yuen Lung. His first starring role in Hong Kong came two years later in 1973’s Little Tiger of Canton. In 1980, Chan made his first Hollywood film, The Big Brawl. He got some attention in the American market with 1995’s Rumble In the Bronx.

When Chan co-starred with Chris Tucker in Rush Hour in 1998, he finally gained the Hollywood acceptance he had been seeking. Chan has always been known for performing his own stunts, but in 2012 he announced he would need to take better care of his body. He has also moved away from his typical characters, bringing more emotional depth to his recent roles.

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence truly is a girl on fire. With roles in two major franchises – Mystique in the rebooted X-Men films and Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence was the most highly paid actress in 2015, according to Forbes. Born in Kentucky in 1990, Lawrence’s first regular role was on the Bill Engvall Show, with her movie debut in 2008’s Garden Party.

Lawrence is famous for her just-another-girl approach to fame; shortly after her role in The Hunger Games was announced, she said woke up one day, went to the store for groceries, and was followed by two dozen paparazzi and caused a three-car pile-up. She frequently works with controversial director David O. Russell, and has caused talk because she plays characters much older than she is.

Lawrence frequently uses her star power to support causes she believes in, both financially, and with her impressive screen presence. In 2015, she wrote an essay for the Lenny Letter discussing the gender pay gap in Hollywood, and her frustration with realizing she had negotiated smaller deals than her male co-stars. She said she blamed herself, but also the industry.

While acknowledging her problems were hardly relatable, and one factor was knowing she didn’t need the money, she also discussed feeling she needed to be liked. With The Hunger Games movies complete, Lawrence is set to appear with Chris Pratt in 2016’s Passengers, as well as Steven Spielberg’s upcoming adaptation of It’s What I Do.

Robert Downey Jr

When news broke in 2007 that Robert Downey Jr. would play the title role in Iron Man, fans wondered if Downey would be able to handle the stress. In 2001, his attempt to resuscitate his career with a recurring role on TV’s Ally McBeal had ended with him wandering in a Culver City Park and being sent to rehab yet again.

Fast forward to 2016, and Downey has been Forbes’ number one highest paid actor for three years running (2012-2015). Forbes estimates he earned $80 million last year, in large part due to back-end on Avengers: Age of Ultron. Many critics have said Downey’s inspired performance of Tony Stark drove the Marvel Cinematic Universe to its current success.

Downey began to use drugs as a young child with his father, Robert Sr. Kicking the habit was hard, Downey has said, because using had been an emotional bond between himself and his father. He had a successful career in the 80s and 90s, but began to run into legal trouble because of substance abuse in the mid to late 90s.

Now, Downey says he has been clean and sober since 2003. Iron Man director Jon Favreau said Downey found a lot of his own life experience in the character of Tony Stark, from the addictive behavior to the difficult relationship with his parents. Favreau was convinced that Downey could be to Iron Man what Johnny Depp was to Pirates of the Caribbean.

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