17 Movies That Gave Actors Their Biggest Paydays

Whether or not you think actors are overpaid, it's impossible to pretend you're not interested in knowing what some of those sums are. Celebrities making boatloads of money is nothing new, but truth be told, it's one of the reasons the public is so invested in watching their rise. Perhaps nothing demonstrates that rise more than what an actor gets paid for their latest or last project. According to a Hollywood agent interviewed in Cosmopolitan, salary negotiations are often predicated by what an actor made on their last project, and often come with additional perks, including flights and accommodations for their entire family to the film set, dedicated drivers, a cut of the box office, or even just paying for a stylist. Most top actors get paid ridiculous amounts of cash for their appearances in films. Let's take a look at those earnings and where some of that money goes after they get it. 


Idris Elba - Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Ever since breaking out in the U.S. with his role as Stringer Bell in "The Wire," Idris Elba's star has continued to rise. In one of his most impressive roles as a superhuman villain in "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw," Idris also pocketed a superhuman paycheck. His $8 million salary for that movie added significantly to his estimated $40 million fortune. Not to be outdone, his foray into video game-themed movie territory included a role as another otherworldly villain, Knuckles, in "Sonic the Hedgehog 2," a role which garnered him an even higher sum estimated to be in the range of $10 million. At this stage in the game, that makes Sonic 2 Elba's highest-paying film to date.


According to The Richest, Elba spends that money on a seriously high-end collection of unique cars, a successful music and deejaying empire, philanthropy, business ventures like his film and streaming production company Green Doors Pictures — currently boasting a first-look deal with AppleTV+ — and investments in fashion and plant-based food manufacturer, Huel.

Zendaya - Challengers

Zendaya is the youngest person on this list, which takes nothing away from her earning potential. The successful model, actress, and Disney Channel alumnus has eked out an incredible career in a short time that includes lucrative endorsements, music, and a $1-million-per-episode lead role in Euphoria adding to multiple streams of income. While the $10 million in bonuses alone for her appearance in Marvel's "Spider-Man" franchisees is impressive, it still falls short of her latest salary increase.


Her upcoming romantic comedy "Challengers" will reportedly rain an estimated $11 million payday on the actress so famous she doesn't need to use a last name. Directed by "Call Me By Your Name's" Luca Guadagnino, the highly anticipated film was pushed back during the Sag Aftra strikes but has a tentative release date of April 26, 2024. It will be the most money Zendaya has made on a film project yet.

Henry Cavill - Superman: Man of Steel

Henry Cavill is the undisputed goat of the DCEU and has the credentials and cash flow to prove it. Although his upfront check for "Superman: Man of Steel" earned him a paltry $300,000, backend deals with the studio elevated his final earnings on that movie to around $14 million. While there is some speculation that Cavill was paid more on "Justice League" than his first foray into the DCEU cinematic universe, the actual salaries for his subsequent movies aren't currently known.


As for what Cavill chooses to spend his fortune on when not swinging around swords in "The Witcher" or donning red capes as Superman, Cavill is quoted in an interview with Man of The World as saying, "When I'm making money I'm spending it on nice stuff, whether that be lavish holidays for me and my friends or just seeing something and going in a shop and saying, 'Yeah, I want that for the house,' and buying it. Spending money on my friends, buying dinner for everyone, drinks for everyone, it's a nice place to be, and I like people to feel cared for."

Jason Momoa - Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Another actor making big bank from the DCEU is Jason Momoa, whose career has been on a steady climb since his Khal Drogo days on "Game of Thrones" turned eyes and hearts his way. Firmly ensconced in rugged heartthrob territory, Momoa's new-age Aquaman, with his gruff exterior, sensitive eyes, and a sense of humor that doesn't take the character too seriously, was a major studio hit.


The billion-dollar success of the first Aquaman film gave the actor some leverage when it came to negotiating his salary for the second. "Aquaman and the Lost World" will reportedly garner the actor $15 million, apparently twice as much what he was paid for the first Aquaman film. Newsweek reports this as triple the original salary. Aside from acting, it appears Momoa also earned writing credit on the upcoming film, which, while not discussed in any detail, could reasonably be assumed to put more money into the actor's hands on the backend if the film is as successful as the first.

Tom Hardy - Venom 3

Tom Hardy has had an eclectic career, acting in both small indie films and blockbusters like the "Mad Max" remake with Charlize Theron. It seems like the quickest route to super salaries is to attach yourself to a superhero film. After throwing his name behind the "Venom" franchise as the main character and alter-ego Eddie Brock and Venom, each successive film made more than the last. The last iteration of the character in 2021's "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" made $822 million at the global box office, paving the way for an upcoming third film.


Although there are no details about the film yet, what we do know is Hardy's return to "Venom 3" will cost the studio an estimated $20 million, and that's not including writing or production credits which could add significantly more to that amount if the next film follows the same trajectory as the last. 

Chris Hemsworth - Extraction 2 and Thor Love and Thunder

Chris Hemsworth has made a name for himself in the action-adventure lane, probably having something to do with his athleticism, imposing stature, and good looks. Of course, looks are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, and to make it you need equal parts talent, looks, and business savvy. Hemsworth must have all those traits in spades


Unquestionably, the role that made him a household name in America was his first Marvel outing as the son of Odin, Thor, which put about $150,000 into his pocket. Nothing to sneeze at but in the realm of Hollywood salaries, not much to get excited about, either. However, each of the four Thor movies made in the last 12 years earned successively higher box office sales and salaries, all the way up to $20 million for 2022's "Thor: Love and Thunder". In a tie, Hemsworth's upcoming "Extraction 2" on Netflix will offer the actor another cool $20 million for his participation. 

Ryan Reynolds - 6 Underground

It wasn't the role of one of the Marvel universe's most recognizable characters that netted Ryan Reynolds his highest-paying gig. Reynold's most lucrative film role to date was a 2019 Michael Bay-directed Netflix original that the director himself has called a failure because it didn't quite hit its creative mark. Whether a creative failure or not, as the character "One" in the non-linear action movie, Reynolds netted himself a blockbuster payday of a cool $27 million. Not bad for a Netflix movie that was harshly critiqued by its director.


Reynolds has been extremely successful with business ventures Aviation Gin and Mint Mobile, deals speculated to have made him around $360 million, and that's on top of the estimated $350 million he was already worth. According to Vancouver is Awesome, as a noted philanthropist, Reynolds received a 2023 humanitarian reward for his generosity, which includes donations to environmental causes, support for refugees fleeing conflict, and initiatives to address food insecurity through food banks. 

Ryan Gosling - The Gray Man

There's a second Ryan on the list who received his highest salary for a film from yet another Netflix project, and like Zendaya, also got his start as a card-carrying member of the Disney Acting Academy. Although Ryan Gosling's most recent outing as co-lead to Margot Robbie in 2023's mega-hit "Barbie" netted him $12.5 million without bonuses, that high pricepoint pales in comparison to what he made in his role as a CIA assassin in the 2022 Netflix original "The Gray Man".


Gosling reportedly made $20 million for that gig, which is about 62% more than what he made on "Barbie," a far bigger movie than "The Gray Man," which has gone on to earn 1.44 billion U.S. dollars at the worldwide box office. Aside from the usual trappings of fame like extravagant real estate, a vintage car collection, luxurious vacations, and a Morroccan restaurant in Beverly Hills, Gosling uses his time and money to support charities involved in disaster clean-up and non-profits that support refugees.

Scarlett Johansson - Black Widow

Scar Jo is another in a long list of actors that can now point to a superhero franchise as handing them their biggest payout. Scarlett Johansson got her start in the MCU as one of the original members of The Avengers, which spawned the entire MCU as we know it today. As the Black Widow, an elite spy, and assassin in the group, Johansson grew a rabid fanbase who all demanded a solo film for the comic book character she made popular with international flash mobs and a trending 2015 Twitter (now X) hashtag directed at parent company Disney.


According to box office numbers, they got their wish in 2021 and put their money where their mouths were. The film grossed just over $379 million around the world. Even better for her, the film also earned Johansson a sweet $20 million paycheck for the role. This happened after she accused the company of breaching her contract and diminishing her earnings by simultaneously putting the film out on Disney's streaming platform and theatres. Despite the legalities, Johansson was eventually paid her highest salary yet. 

Jennifer Lawrence - Don't Look Up

Jennifer Lawrence co-starred with Leonardo DiCaprio in the Netflix original "Don't Look Up" about a scientist's efforts to alert the world about an asteroid hurtling towards Earth, as a metaphor for climate change. Its impact — no pun intended — was huge for Netflix and J-Law's pocketbook. The movie was intended as a heavy-handed satire, and its important underlying message was obvious from the start (especially for those familiar with DiCaprio's passion projects outside of acting).


Lawrence is most well-known for her roles in obvious blockbuster franchises like "The Hunger Games" and "X-Men," which have all contributed to her $160 million net worth. However, Lawrence can point to her "Don't Look Up" acting gig as her best-earning gig to date. A hefty sum of $25 million ensures that whatever direction Lawrence looks, there will be a bag of money in front of her.

Margot Robbie - Barbie

The "Barbie" movie's massive success ensured billion-dollar earning power. As the lead role, Margot Robbie's star continues to rise right alongside her acting salary. Robbie is currently worth about $60 million all-in, but it's questionable whether that still stands after her payday on Barbie. Cosmopolitan breaks down her pay as an upfront $12.5 million for her time on set, which is equivalent to her co-star Ryan Gosling's take on Ken. However, Robbie also received bonuses on the backend for her lead role, totaling an estimated $50 million payday for the Aussie actress.


We're pretty sure nobody's happier about Robbie's success than her mom, who had her mortgage paid off by her superstar daughter after she made her first real money. Of course, real estate comes into the picture but something truly unique is Robbie's skincare product regimen which reportedly runs into the thousands of dollars. Considering what that face has done for her bank account, the investment is entirely understandable. 

Leonardo DiCaprio - Inception

Leonardo DiCaprio, aside from taking over from DeNiro as Scorcese's favorite muse, is also a cash cow for studios who have been lucky enough to have him take on a leading role. Although his co-star and another member of this list, Jennifer Lawrence, earned the most money she's ever made for the film "Don't Look Up," that isn't the situation for DiCaprio. Much like the lines uttered by his famous role in the now classic Titanic, DiCaprio might as well be king of the world for what he was paid for acting in "Inception."


Thanks to some savvy contractual negotiations where the actor got a percentage of the backend, including DVD sales and pay TV, "Inception" earned DiCaprio an incredible $60 million for a single movie. Inception is a movie about a guy who enters peoples' subconscious minds to steal their treasure and DiCaprio is a guy who enters your subconscious through his movie roles and walks off with a whole lot of money. Art imitates life. 

Michael B. Jordan - Without Remorse

If you've ever asked the question, "Where's Wallace?" then you're probably a super fan of this next actor. Michael B. Jordan has come a long way from his ill-fated role in "The Wire" as a teenage drug dealer who met his end in an abandoned house at the hands of his friends. In real life, he has been much more celebratory. Nowadays, he's probably better known for his role opposite Chadwick Boseman in the MCU's "Black Panther" or any of the "Creed" series of films.


That said, it turns out Jordan's largest payday came from Amazon Studios film "Without Remorse" which paid him $15 million for his time. For perspective, that's three times what he was paid upfront for "Creed III", a film he produced, directed and acted in. Since Jordan negotiated backend profits from the "Creed III" it's possible he could outdo his Amazon Studios payday, but for the time being, his salary for "Without Remorse" is the one to beat. 

Dwayne The Rock Johnson - Red One

Dwayne "The Rock” Johnson's story is widely known by this point. The World Wrestling Federation champion and superstar transitioned into a Hollywood megastar due to his magnetic personality, imposing presence, and natural action-hero athleticism. This giant with leading man looks has been crowned Hollywood's highest-paid actor on several different occasions, and it doesn't even seem to matter that some of his movies haven't done as well as anyone would've liked. It appears like 2023 will be more of the same. 


According to The Direct, Johnson secured a $50 million upfront salary from the deep pockets of Amazon Studios for his upcoming video game-inspired film "Red One" with co-star Chris Evans. This number is more than double the amount paid for past films including "Black Adam", "Red Notice", and "Jumanji", which were all in the territory of just over $20 million for each role.

Robert Downey Jr - Avengers Endgame

RDJ has climbed a lot of mountains to get to where he is today. Robert Downey Jr.'s bouts with addiction almost got the best of him in the late '90s, hitting his lowest point in 2001 when cops found him wandering the streets of Culver City, California barefoot and on intoxicants while on parole. This only makes his comeback story that much more incredible, and America loves a comeback story.


Fast forward to 2008, just five years after his future wife's ultimatum to get his life together or risk losing her finally got him to kick his habit, when Marvel came knocking to offer him a chance to play Iron Man. The first $2.5 million he made for the first movie would eventually pale in comparison to the $81 million he would make for "Avenger's Endgame" which capped off a decade-plus journey with the MCU with his biggest payday to date. A comeback story for the ages. 

Keanu Reeves -The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions

The saying goes, you should never meet your idols. However, if your idol is Keanu Reeves, you should probably adhere to the other saying that states, there are exceptions to every rule. Reeves has earned a reputation as being the nicest guy in Hollywood for random acts of genuine kindness and philanthropy.


Reeves has done well for himself, and the The Matrix series has a lot to do with that. Reeves' steady climb began in his first feature film role "Youngblood" back in 1986, where he made a paltry $3,000. Although he did consistently better with each new film project, it wasn't until "The Matrix" that he made his real fortune. Thanks to a backend deal he negotiated after the success of the first film, he scored a $120 million salary for both "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions." In a world that seems to reward the worst characters, it's nice to know that sometimes nice guys finish first.  

Tom Cruise - Top Gun: Maverick, War of The Worlds, and Mission: Impossible 2

Tom Cruise has been a superstar for at least 30 years, which is about the length of time between the first "Top Gun" movie and the second which he directed and starred in. It's not often that the sequel to a cult classic stands up to the first but as the first post-pandemic film, "Top Gun: Maverick" was a homerun for the elder statesman of Hollywood. Earning a percentage of the film gross helped Cruise cash out $100 million richer.


However, this isn't the first time he's done that well financially for his work in a movie. In 2005, "War of The World's" earned him his first $100 million on a film. That would be impressive enough, but Cruise added to that number by making another $100 million with "Mission Impossible 2". So Cruise has essentially tied himself for top earnings on a film three times throughout his career.