Movie Article

Face Value

An inside look at star salaries -- Who's overpriced, who's a good deal, and who's teetering on the edge

In most parts of the world, it's considered rude to ask people how much money they make. In Hollywood, you might actually offend someone if you don't already know. This is a town where stars are regarded as commodities and their salaries quietly obsessed over like stock prices (Tom Cruise and Will Smith: Buy! Buy! Harrison Ford and J. Lo: Sell! Sell!). After decades of seemingly unlimited star paydays, studios are fretting over declining audiences and rising production costs, and taking a hard new look at those eye-popping price tags — so we thought it would be a good time to do the same. Pinning down exact salary figures is trickier than ever these days, given the back-end points, producing fees, and DVD proceeds that increasingly pump up an actor's compensation. (In most cases, the numbers listed here represent the star's basic salary for a major studio film.) But we've canvassed the industry, spoken with agents, managers, execs, and producers, pored over all the available reporting, and come up with our own estimates to determine who is making how much and separate Hollywood's bargains from its money pits.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

$25 MILLION
TOM HANKS
His box office invincibility took hits with the back-to-back disappointments The Ladykillers ($40 mil) and The Terminal ($78 mil). But he remains one of the most bankable brand names in the world — which The Da Vinci Code should demonstrate later this month.

$25 MILLION
WILL SMITH
Almost everybody in Hollywood agrees that the Fresh Prince offers the biggest bang for the buck today. He's one of the few stars who consistently fills seats — Hitch hit $178 million despite so-so reviews — and he isn't shy about promoting his movies. A bargain, even at this price.

$20 MILLION
BRAD PITT
He's huge in the U.S., sure, but even bigger overseas. Troy nearly tripled its $133 mil domestic take in foreign markets, a common occurrence for this actor's movies. Breaking Jennifer Aniston's heart hasn't seemed to turn off his fans at all.

$15 MILLION
REESE WITHERSPOON
She's the only actress today pulling in droves of young female moviegoers (for films like Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama, if not Just Like Heaven) while also winning an Oscar for the more grown-up hit Walk the Line.

SOLID INVESTMENTS

$20 MILLION
RUSSELL CROWE
His movies sometimes fizzle — Cinderella Man, Proof of Life — but filmmakers know that nobody pours more talent into his pictures. In other words, his name above the title adds priceless prestige.

$20 MILLION
BEN STILLER
His track record in '04 (Meet the Fockers, Dodgeball, Starsky & Hutch, Along Came Polly) is virtually unrivaled, and his films' $185 million average global take is impressive for a comic. Studios should keep paying him top dollar...and just hope it's not for another Envy.

$17 MILLION
JOHNNY DEPP
Pirates of the Caribbean boosted him into the upper tier, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory showed his broad appeal. That rep could take a hit if more Libertine's come along, but Pirates 2 should help keep his price tag high.

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