A study released yesterday by online database The Numbers reveals a fact that will shock most moviegoers to their very core: the highest-earning actors in Hollywood are drastically overpaid. I'll give you a moment to collect yourself over this staggering bit of news.
We good? Okay, cool. As USA Today reports, The Numbers "Bankability Index" looked at box office revenues and video sales of over 65,000 people working in Hollywood—not just actors and directors, but crew as well—and used a system of graph analysis to estimate the value added to a film by each individual Hollywood player. They quickly find that by their own complicated methodology, the value of the list's top ten doesn't equate even closely to their actual salaries.
The top ten list has nine actors, all male, sitting in the top spots. Steven Spielberg was found to be worth $27.4 million per film, followed closely by Samuel L. Jackson, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, and Tom Hanks. Robert Downey Jr. took the the ninth spot, and Spielberg co-producer Kathleen Kennedy rounded the list out in tenth place. Meanwhile, USA Today points out that the Forbes list of highest paid actors doesn't quite correlate. In its top spot is Downey, followed by Channing Tatum, Hugh Jackman, Mark Wahlberg, and Dwayne Johnson (apparently turning The Rock into the tooth fairy is a lucrative business). The only crossover between either lists top ten is Downey, Cruise and Adam Sandler.
Though The Numbers doesn't address the disparity between salary and worth, the difference is stark—Downey is only valued by the study at $20 million a film, though his going rate as of this summer was $75 million. While its no doubt that blockbuster actors are by far one of the most overpaid minority groups in America, The Numbers gently urges a return to the studio system days of yore, when actors were paid commensurate to their return on investment, like salesmen, which is a rather myopic view of their revenue potential on the whole.
The study only looks at box office yield and video sales, and not at corollory revenue streams such as endorsements, product licensing, and the like, all of which significantly contribute to a studio's overall haul on a specific property. Top earners also represent a box office draw, that could yield to a large payout. The study doesn't really explain how linking those 65,000 workers proves an infallible metric for individual worth, making it hard to say that out of the $409 million Iron Man 3 has taken in from box office alone, only $20 million was due to the audience Downey commanded alone. Factor in that we live in a financially speculative world, where companies valuation can hit the billions before they ever earn a single cent, and couple it with studios ready to do anything to avoid further box office bombs, and those inflated paychecks really start to make slightly more sense.