Movie fans often hear stories of outrageous salaries for well-known Hollywood actors. For every actor that gets a $20 million dollar payday, however, there are many more actors who make far less, when they can find work at all.
Actor salaries can run the spectrum, so it is difficult to compare them or determine what the average salary is. While major movie stars always take home a healthy paycheck, even less recognizable actors can do well if they get steady work.
An 'Average' Actor Salary?
According to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the union for actors, its average member working in film makes $52,000 a year. That number is deceptive, however, because SAG also reports that nearly 2/3 of their members earn less than $1,000 a year, usually because they are retired or choose not to work. The "average" is skewed due to the high salaries earned by a small number of actors.
A List Actors
The "A List" is an unofficial ranking of Hollywood's elite actors who are popular with moviegoers and have established a solid box office record. Actors on the "A List" tend to command salaries of $10 million or more.
According to news reports, "A List" actors like Will Smith, Russell Crowe, and Julia Roberts have earned $20 million a picture in recent years, and while Sandra Bullock used to get $10 million per film, that rate went up after she won an Oscar for "The Blind Side" in 2010.
Actor's Scale Salary
The Screen Actors Guild negotiates base salaries for actors, the equivalent of a minimum wage. It adjusts every year, and as of June of 2010, movie actors are guaranteed a base salary of $809 per day. This rate is usually applied to actors who only work for one to three days a week. Actors who work for an entire week get a base salary of $2808 per week.
While that rate may sound appealing to many, consider that most actors may go weeks, or even months, between jobs. Each actor must also pay a percentage of their salary to agents, lawyers and publicists, so finding steady work is important.
Making a living
Some actors may be well-known, but may earn far less than many fans expect. For the right role, however, the pay can be much larger. Veteran actors that may be recognizable, but are not household names, could earn between $25,000 to $100,000 for a supporting role in major productions.
Young actors like Joaquin Phoenix can see their pay rise as their popularity rises. Phoenix earned only $1 million for his role in "Signs," but earned $5 million for a lead role a year later in "The Village."
Adrien Brody earned $2.5 million for a supporting role in "The Village" after earning an Oscar nomination. He saw his pay skyrocket to $10 million for the lead role in "King Kong."
Working for 'Points'
As Hollywood tightens its belt, some high-profile actors take a reduced salary in exchange for "points," which is a percentage of a film's profits. Such pay agreements are risky, but can be lucrative if a film is successful. In 2009, Tom Hanks earned $19 million based on the box office revenue of his film "Angels and Demons."