The 20 Most Underpaid Actors in Hollywood

While it’s common knowledge that some Hollywood actors are extremely overpaid for their work, there was a time in most of their lives when they were just happy to have a role to play for the exposure to the public. Some of the people that we see playing our favorite characters have been paid surprisingly little. Even some of the bigger actors and actresses who have starred in major roles in high grossing blockbusters have been shockingly underpaid for the parts that they’ve played. It’s too easy to assume that being an actor means raking in the big bucks, especially for the men and women we see so often on television and in film. A little research into the pay gap in Hollywood has revealed some surprising disparities in pay. Some of the highest paid actors today were paid peanuts for big roles they’ve played in the past, and although they are sitting on top of piles of cash currently, there was a time when the compensation that they received was beneath what they are pulling in now. Here are the 20 most underpaid actors and actresses in Hollywood.

Bill Murray

Actor Bill Murray is one of the most well-known actors who has brought his career full circle. While he is currently making bank on the projects that he chooses to accept, there was a time in his acting career when he was grossly underpaid. Most of us remember him in the movie “Rushmore.” Would you believe that he was only paid $9,000 for his work? It’s true. Bill Murray is a unique professional who doesn’t seem to be concerned as much with the amount of pay he receives as he does with the enjoyment of performing his craft. An example of this is the film “Groundhog Day. When he signed the contract to play the lead role in the movie, he agreed to perform for the Screen Actor’s Guild lowest rate. While Murray probably could have squabbled over the amount, it wasn’t a big deal to him. The man has achieved the status of legend in Hollywood for his brilliant performances throughout the years. He could name his price and would be likely to get it, but that isn’t what it’s all about for Murray. Yes, he’s been underpaid for some roles, when compared with what some of the other mega stars in his class make, but don’t worry about Bill Murray. He’s made his fortune and can afford to pick and choose his projects without concern about the pay scale.

Matthew McConaughey

It’s hard to imagine that superstar Matthew McConaughey was ever underpaid for anything. He’s right up there in the group of stars with the high dollar value for his work. His presence is worth a million or better for just showing up and saying a few lines. He may have won an Oscar award for his part in “Dallas Buyers Club,” but would you believe that he was only paid $200,000 for the work? It’s true. While the pay was low, the part gave him some valuable exposure to Hollywood execs and to the public. It was the opportunity that he needed to show off his skills as an actor and it was instrumental in launching his now astronomical career. He excelled in his romantic comedies and the ladies fell in love with the handsome and personable actor. He’s in high demand for a variety of different film genre roles because he’s proven that he can do it all. He is also the perfect representative for luxury automobiles and fragrances for which he’s been highly sought after. McConaughey has that something special and he’s paid his dues in the early days of his career. We hope that he’s enjoying his spot at the pinnacle of great success.

Lindsay Lohan

Actress Lindsay Lohan has had her shares of ups and downs, but the often troubled, yet popular actress started here acting career by choosing exposure over pay. She worked for a remarkably low salary for an actor. It was during the peak of her most controversial years with her partying lifestyle and brushes with law enforcement. When offered thee part of Tara in the movie “The Canyons,” Lohan realized that it was time for her to make a few wise decisions about her acting career. Her participation in the film wasn’t about making the big bucks, it was about gaining what she considered to be the right kind of exposure that would showcase her true acting skills. She agreed to a contract that compensated her in the amount of $100 per day for her work, for a total of 23 days. This made her total pay for the film just $2,300. It was an attempt on her part. Rumors suggest that the unsuccessful film didn’t earn more than $5,000 over the cost of production and that Lohan would often show up late on the set, and was difficult to work with. This was a far cry from the days when she was a child actress, starring in “The Parent Trap,” “Freaky Friday” and her other major successes.

Ryan Gosling

You can’t say that Ryan Gosling is currently underpaid as an actor, but there have been times in his career that he was, even when he was rising in popularity with the public. He was a real sweetheart in “The Notebook,” and women were absolutely in love with him as he appeared with Rachel McAdams. The movie was a huge success, but his next role in “Half Nelson” didn’t exactly pay what he was worth at the time. Gosling was paid a measly sum of $1,000 per week for his work in the film. He was brilliant in his performance as an inner city school teacher and he truly shined in the role. Sometimes actors who are on their way up to the top still must make the decision to accept lower paying gigs in order to further build their reputations. Although by comparison with some other actors of his stature, the pay was quite low, his role furthered his career in a meaningful way and in the end, he made a wise choice. Gosling doesn’t currently have this issue as he is considered to be one of Hollywood’s hottest male actors.

Barkhad Abdi

Barkhad Abdi is another actor who was underpaid for his performance in “Captain Phillips.” He was compensated a mere $65,000 for his outstanding delivery and realistic depiction of the character that he played. Abduwali Muse, the Somalian pirate was perhaps his greatest performance, and when you consider that the film had a $55 million budget, this was just $5,000 above the minimum contract amount that the Screen Actors Guild allowed for. Barkhad received critical acclaim for his role in the movie, yet there were no fair or equitable adjustments for compensation offered. He still remains an actor who is having money problems, even though he more than proved his worth in “Captain Phillips.”

Jon Voight

Actor Jon Voight has been in the business for many years, and although he’s reached a high level of fame, and has built his fortune in the acting business, there was a time when he was seriously under-compensated for his contributions to the film industry. He co-starred alongside Dustin Hoffman in the hit movie “Midnight Cowboy” in 1969. He played the part of Joe Buck who had big dreams of going to New York City and making it big as a male prostitute. His portrayal of a guy that was way down on his luck and wandering as a drifter with perfection. Neither he, nor Hoffman had yet achieved the super-stardom that was awaiting them just down the road. Although they were terribly underpaid for their work in this film, it would be a type of breakthrough that would lead to bigger and better roles and the pay would soon follow. It’s kind of ironic that Jon Voight received a bill for $14.73 for the coffee he enjoyed while on the set of “Midnight Cowboy.” If this isn’t being cheap and chintzy, we’re not quite sure what is.

Jim Carrey

Canadian actor Jim Carrey rose to the pinnacle of success as one of the funniest comedic actors to ever hit the silver screen. He churned out one funny and highly successful movie after another, and even enjoyed some success in a few serious roles, and a few movies that bombed. He’s made some big bucks, like others who have achieved his level of success, but there is one movie that he was so incredibly underpaid for that it’s almost scary. He starred in “Yes Man,” a comedy film, but was paid precisely $0. That’s right! He wasn’t paid one cent for his work. Instead of going for the sure deal and negotiating a pay rate, Jim would only do the movie with a contract that stipulated that he would get a cut of the box office take. This meant that if the movie was a total flop that didn’t even make budget, he still wouldn’t get a dime. He took a big risk, but much to his and everyone else’s pleasure, the movie was a big hit that drew in a gross of $225 million. The contract that Carrey agreed to awarded his 36.2 percent of the profits which gave him the tidy sum of $35 million.

Brad Pitt

Superstar Brad Pitt also joins the ranks of a movie star that was once grossly underpaid. When he starred in the film “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” with Angelina Jolie, he easily commanded $30 million for his work. Looking back at an early role that he played in the movie “Thelma and Louise,” his compensation was pitiful. He was paid only $6,000 for his work at that time. Of course, the Ridley Scott film that starred Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis was a leg up for him in his new acting career, and his role wasn’t a lead, but rather, a secondary part. It still gave him some much needed recognition, but $6,000 seems to be one heck of a low ball check.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is well-known as one of the most successful and famous women in Hollywood. She has amassed a large fortune, and is in a position to donate generously to worthy causes. The rumors suggest that she makes upwards of $285 million per year, but this hasn’t always been the case for her. When she first started out in show business, Winfrey wasn’t that well paid. Her performance alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover in the Steven Spielberg film, “The Color Purple” only brought in a paltry $35,000. The film had a budget of $15 million and the amount that she was paid was definitely on the cheap side. She earned a nomination for an Academy Award and proved her worth as an actress, and while this worked in favor of her budding career, even though the movie was a success, she wasn’t paid a dime more for her stellar performance.

Jamie Dornan

Heart throb Jamie Dornan made it to the top when he starred in “50 Shades of Grey,” and the sequel, but most fans are not aware that he was not the casting crew’s first choice. Neither do people know that he was only paid $125,000 for his work in the first film. The actor that they really wanted for the part was none other than “SOA” star Charlie Hunnam. Since he wasn’t available for the part, they went with Dornan at a low rate of pay, considering the success of the film. It was worth the low pay to establish himself as a strong actor who is popular with the public and currently enjoying amazing success. He did well enough to command a salary of $12 million for the second movie in the series.

Tom Cruise

American actor Tom Cruise has been in show business so long that it’s hard to imagine that there was a time in his career that he was sorely underpaid for his work as an actor. Sure, now he’s one of the biggest names in the business and He’s paid roughly between $20 and $70 million for the movies that he stars in. When we look backwards in time to his part in “Magnolia,” he was only paid $100,000. This was peanuts compared to the salary that he receives now. The studio that hired him certainly got their money’s worth and then some.

Amanda Seyfried

Actress Amanda Seyfried who is known for her talent in the rom-coms and romantic dramas joins the list of actors who have been seriously underpaid for their contributions. Most of her roles have either been as equal to her male co-stars, or perhaps even with an edge over them regarding the larger share, but her pay has not always been equal. Although putting in just as much screen time, and often more, the men have usually received higher compensation amounts, which is truly unfair. It’s really an outrage that a firmly established actress is paid one tenth of the salary that an equally cast man received. Hollywood should be ashamed of this travesty.

Diane Keaton

You may find it hard to believe that this classy and seasoned actress has been on the low end of the pay scale in Hollywood, but it’s true. She co-starred with famed actor Jack Nicholson in the rom com film “Something’s Gotta Give” in 2003. When the dust cleared on the final numbers for the profits that the movie made, Nicholson was awarded back pay. This is additional payment that is based on a percentage of the profits that the film made. Keaton was not given a cent more. The Oscar winning actress was treated unfairly by the studio who cheaped out on her, but she did have a knight in shining armor who showed true class. Nicholson didn’t agree with the tight fisted chintzy actions of the studio and two years after the initial release of the film, he cut her a very large check from the proceeds that he received. This is much to his credit, and to the discredit of the studio that gave in to unfair compensation practices.

Jennifer Lawrence

Yes, the lovely Jennifer Lawrence has also been the victim of wage discrimination and embarrassingly low compensation for her acting work when compared to her male counterparts. This was discovered when Sony pictures was hacked, and private financial information was leaked. It’s shocking to find out that when she co-starred in the movie “American Hustle,” her salary was locked in at five percent of the total take of the film. The real issue is that the male actors participating in the film were guaranteed a nine percent cut. This is nearly twice as much as Lawrence received. Although she did okay on the 2013 film that grossed $150 million, it’s still terribly unfair that the guys were paid almost twice as much as she was. What’s up with that?

John Boyega

Actor John Boyega is another actor who has been wretchedly underpaid for doing a great job for his role in the newer “Star Wars” installments. In “The Force Awakens,” seasoned actor Harrison Ford, who had a smaller role than Boyega, was compensated at a rate of fifty times more than John. Sure, Ford is a superstar, but what’s up with Boyega getting $100,000 and Ford getting $20 million? The one good thing about Boyega’s gig in the film is that it helped to establish him as a serious actor and his value on the set is worth much more. We haven’t been told exactly how much he is earning from the second installment, but it is rumored to be significantly more.

Daisy Ridley

Daisy Ridley co-starred with Boyega and Ford in “The Force Awakens.” She is in much the same boat as Boyega. Her pay was significantly less than Ford’s, but she had more screen time, which meant a lot more effort on her part. the good news for Ridley as well as Boyega is that it gave her the opportunity to showcase her acting skills and her wild success and popularity means that her work in the next film will be much higher.

Hilary Swank

Hilary Swank hit the big tie when she earned $3 million for her role in “The Affair of the Necklace.” By this time, she had proven her worth and was compensated fairly for her work. This wasn’t always the case, however. Her role in “Boys Don’t Cry,” only paid her a ridiculously low salary of $3,000. this seems a fairly ridiculous rate. Never mind the fact that the film launched her into super stardom and success, it was still embarrassingly low and shows a lack of conscience on the team writing the paychecks. Swank didn’t even have any kind of medical insurance at the time. Cheap!

Dustin Hoffman

When Dustin Hoffman starred in the movie “The Graduate,” the pay that he earned was terribly low. The 1967 film was a huge success, but Hoffman only received a meager $17,000 for his hard work and time. It did give him enough cash to square his debts. The other good thing that came from his role in “The Graduate” is that he got the exposure as an actor that he needed, and the next role that he was offered in “Papillon,” paid him a lot more, to the tune of $2.35 million.

Harrison Ford

It’s true that seasoned actor Harrison Ford was paid fifty times more than either Daisy Ridley or John Boyega. He’s one of those amazing actors who is in high demand. For his role in “Episode IV,” Ford turned down their offer of $1,000 per week initially. He settled on a paltry $10,000. Considering the phenomenal success of the film, this is downright disgraceful. For the next film, “Return of the Jedi,” his check was a little healthier at $500,000, and by the time that the “Force Awakens” came along, he was earning $25 million for his efforts.

Robert Pattinson

Joining our list of actors who have been grossly underpaid for their work is Robert Pattinson. Most know him best from his role in the popular vampire film series, “Twilight.” The first film grossed more than $190,000. Pattinson’s compensation was just 2 million dollars. While this is truly a lot of money for anyone to have earn, the execs were still being cheap because when you look at what is truly going on, the profits were sky high but the pay didn’t go upwards.

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