When you're a top star, you earn a lot of money--but along
with that bigger paycheck comes bigger expectations. You're supposed to be able
to "open" a movie--meaning you can guarantee a decent opening weekend
box office draw.
If you're a star and your movie flops, it looks that much
worse when you're earning a paycheck north of $15 million.
That's what happened to Will Ferrell with Land of the
Lost. The big-budget film based on the '70s kiddies cartoon was supposed to
be a big hit. But with an estimated $100 million budget, it earned only $69
million total at the global box office. That flop puts Ferrell at the top of
our list of Hollywood's
Most Overpaid Actors. For every $1 Ferrell was paid, his films returned an
This is the second year Ferrell has topped our list, but things could
turn around for the funny man next year. His last film, The Other Guys, hit
theaters well after our June 1 deadline for this list, so we didn't include it
in our calculations. But the movie did pretty well at the box office, earning
$160 million on an estimated budget of $100 million.
And this weekend Ferrell's newest
movie, Megamind, topped the box office with $48 million. Ferrell's star power
definitely helped the DreamWorks Animation film open strong but it won't help
him in future over paid lists. We don't count animated features, since stars
tend to take pay cuts and are not the real draw.
To create our list we looked at the 36 highest-earning
actors in Hollywood. To qualify, each had to have starred in at least three movies in the past five years that opened in more than 500 theaters. Movies that opened after June 1 of
this year are not counted.
We used data gathered for our annual Celebrity 100 list to
calculate each star's estimated earnings on each film (including up-front pay
and any earnings from the movie's box-office receipts, DVD and TV sales). We
then looked at each movie's estimated budget (not including marketing costs,
which are susceptible to accounting chicanery) and box-office, DVD and
television earnings to figure out an operating income for each film.
We added up each star's compensation on his or her last
three films and the operating income on those films, and divided total
operating income by the star's total compensation to come up with a
return-on-investment number. The final number represents an average of how much
a studio earns for every dollar paid.
Comedians fare particularly badly on this list because it's
very hard to translate humor overseas. Ferrell's The Other Guys earned
$119 million in the U.S.
and only $41 million abroad. Compare that to a movie like Angelina Jolie's recent
thriller Salt: That film also earned $118 million in the U.S.
but brought in an additional $173 million overseas. There's no language barrier
when it comes to kicking butt.
Our list features six actors who are best known for their
work in comedies. Eddie Murphy ranks second with a $4.45 return for every $1 he
gets paid. The comedian once seemed like a sure thing in family-friendly flicks
like Doctor Dolittle and Daddy Day Care. But his more recent
films have been real flops. In 2008 Meet Dave brought in only $51
million at the global box office. The next year Imagine That did even
worse, earning just $22 million.
Don't cry for Eddie Murphy, though. Thanks to his voice work
as Donkey in the Shrek films, he'll be raking in the dough for years to
come. But his pay day on live-action flicks is sure to take a hit.
Funny man Seth Rogen ranks fourth with $6.75. The actor, who
still doesn't earn anywhere near the Eddie Murphys and Will Ferrells of the
world, takes a hit on our list because of a movie called Funny People.
Films from producer Judd Apatow are usually catnip for Hollywood, because they
don't cost much to make and usually earn gobs of money at the box office. Funny
People was an exception to the rule. It cost an estimated $75 million to
produce and earned only $71 million at the global box office. (Only about 28%
of that box office came from overseas.) That hurt Rogen and his high-paid
costar Adam Sandler, who ranks ninth on our list. For every $1 Sandler was
paid, his films earned an average $8.45.
Sandler is sure to crawl off of our list next year thanks to
the movie Grown Ups, which came out after our deadline. The comedy
starred Sandler and all of his (lower-priced) funny best friends, including
fellow Saturday Night Live alums David Spade and Chris Rock. It cost an
estimated $80 million to make, but earned a healthy $270 million at the box
Rogen might have a tougher time in the coming year. His next
big film is the superhero movie The Green Hornet. The film was
originally scheduled for a Christmas release but has since been pushed back to
Jan. 14 (never a good sign). Sony is also working to convert the film into 3-D,
which could be a problem. A bad conversion could hurt box office revenue, and
if Sony decides the 3-D isn't good enough and then opts to release the movie in
2-D only--as Warner Bros. just did with the newest Harry Potter
movie--the extra expense will put even more pressure on the film to do well.