Actors’ salaries keep increasing over time, but only four actors have ever made $100 million for a single movie. When it comes to how much money actors make, movie stars often get paid more than anyone else involved in the production. That’s because stars are bankable, as certain actors come with a guaranteed audience, meaning that even movies that are negatively received could be hugely successful thanks to the right person in the lead role.
Many actors have a minimum salary demand, and much of a blockbuster movie’s budget goes to its cast. The biggest stars in Hollywood often don’t work for less than $20 million a picture while Daniel Craig was paid $100 million for two Knives Out sequels. It has become increasingly popular in Hollywood for stars to get back-end points, which means they earn a percentage of the movie’s box office gross, and that has led to some astronomical salaries of over $100 million for a single film. Here are the four actors who’ve managed that feat.
Ever since the 1990s, Will Smith has been one of the highest-paid actors of all time, as he consistently makes between $40-$80 million per movie. Smith picks up $40 million checks once or twice a year, and even for King Richard, a movie that had a budget of just $50 million, Smith was paid $40 million. The actor made a relatively modest $5 million for Men in Black, then $20 million plus 10 percent of the box office gross for Men in Black II (via IB Times), which would have been a total of around $64 million based on the movie’s $445 million box office gross (via Box Office Mojo).
It isn’t clear how much was his upfront salary and how much was back-end points, but Smith made $100 million for Men in Black 3 (via THR). He likely had a similar deal to the one he made for Men in Black II. If Smith had his standard upfront salary of $40 million, 10 percent of the $654 million box-office gross (via Box Office Mojo) would amount to just over $60 million, and together those amounts would reach the $100 million mark. Though Men in Black 3 missed an opportunity for its franchise to tell a better story, that didn’t matter when it came to Smith’s salary.
Sam Worthington was completely unknown when he was cast as Jake Sully in Avatar in the 2000s, and while his salary for that movie was undisclosed, it likely wasn’t much given how low profile of an actor he was at the time. However, he wasn’t James Cameron’s first choice. Though actors making over $100 million for one role is an almost impossible landmark achievement, Matt Damon came close to crushing that figure and making almost $300 million for a single performance. Cameron offered Damon 10 percent of Avatar’s box office gross to play Sully, but due to his commitment to the Bourne franchise, Damon was forced to turn down Avatar.
Damon’s schedule conflict led to Worthington getting a bigger payday than almost any other actor. However, it wasn’t until the second movie that he got the big check, and though it still isn’t close to Damon’s original offer, Worthington joined the $100 million club for Avatar: The Way of Water. The sequel unsurprisingly became a huge success, and while it didn’t come close to the first Avatar’s almost $3 billion box office gross, it still made over $2 billion. That means that Worthington’s $10 million salary plus five percent of the box office gross (via GQ India), earned him at least $110 million.
Tom Cruise has been a bankable star for five different decades, as fans were running to movie theaters to see him as early as 1986 in the spectacular and thrilling Tony Scott-directed Top Gun. The sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, helped with the box office recovery in 2022 following the pandemic, as it made close to $1.5 billion worldwide (via Box Office Mojo). The original movie is about fighter pilots, and the relationship between the pilots was as engrossing as the midair action, and Top Gun: Maverick repeated that formula. Though it was fairly derivative of the original movie, it was a refreshing change of pace for blockbusters in the 2020s.
As legacy sequels that arrive decades after the original movie are becoming increasingly popular, Top Gun: Maverick was one that nobody was really asking for. Yet it became a shocking success, even grossing more than any Marvel movie released in 2022. As the movie made almost $1.5 billion, Cruise’s salary for Top Gun: Maverick was more than $100 million, as his deal included a percentage of the box office gross. As if it wasn’t already one of the highest salaries any actor has ever earned for a single movie, Cruise was also given $13 million upfront, which was much lower than Cruise’s standard salary (via Business Insider).
Keanu Reeves’s career trajectory would look something like a rollercoaster if it was mapped out, as he was a hugely bankable star in the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s, but his stardom dropped off quite a bit after that. It wasn’t until John Wick: Chapter 2 that he regained that bankable reputation, but following that, he became massively in demand once again and gained a huge reputation as “the internet’s boyfriend.” But neither he nor anyone else will ever reach the salaries he was given in for the first two Matrix sequels, of which Reeves donated 70 percent to cancer research.
Not including the later sequel, The Matrix Resurrections, Reeves made a total of $250 million for the original Matrix trilogy (via Men’s Health). According to Giant Freakin Robot, Reeves took home $45 million for the first movie, which leaves $205 million leftover. It isn’t clear how much he made singularly for The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, especially as the two movies were shot back-to-back, but he made over $200 million for the two of them. That averages out to more than $100 million per movie, and as both movies were released in 2003, Reeves made that $200 million in just one year.