Although their salaries fluctuate some each year because of changing projects and endorsement deals, the highest paid actors in movies and television are uniformly making a lot of money for their work. The majority of these thespians are American, and there continues to be some difference in pay between male and female actors. Some entertainers are multimedia threats who dabble in both types of media as well as in music, making it more difficult to determine the exact sources of their incomes.
It is also important to note that most television actors are paid per episode, which can be difficult to compare directly to movie stars who get their pay for their work on an entire film. Nevertheless, there is clearly a top tier of performers in movies and television that encompasses the highest paid actors.
The Highest Paid Actors in Movies and Television
1. Dwayne Johnson – $64.5 Million
This former professional wrestler has parlayed his catchphrase into a multimillion-dollar empire through his charisma and humor. Since his acting debut as the Scorpion King in 2000’s “The Mummy Returns,” The Rock has become one of the highest paid actors in movies and television. From his continued work in “The Fast and the Furious” franchise to his HBO comedy “Ballers” to his voice-over role in the recent Disney pic “Moana,” Johnson has become a real force in the entertainment industry. He even continues to receive paychecks from his occasional visits to WWE and WrestleMania.
2. Jackie Chan – $61 Million
Although he is rarely headlining movies in the United States, Jackie Chan is still working in the film industry in his home country of China. With voiceover work in China and the United States in “Kung Fu Panda 3” and in “The Lego NInjago Movie,” Chan has expanded his martial arts efforts into other realms of performance. In addition, he has several Chinese films in post-production as well as a couple of Chinese/American movies with Johnny Knoxville and John Cusack. Chan is also expected to star in the upcoming sequels to “Karate Kid” and “Rush Hour.”
3. Matt Damon – $55 Million
Since his beginning writing and starring in “Good Will Hunting,” Matt Damon has amassed quite a group of hit projects that also make him a lot of money. He recently returned to the “Jason Bourne” franchise as both an actor and a producer, earning him an estimated $25 million for that film alone. It is Damon’s ability to command production rights and royalties that have really provided him with stability in his career. Damon has produced a reality television program promoting unknown directors, and he has several films released each year that keep him occupied and earning.
4. Tom Cruise – $53 Million
Even now, at age 54, Tom Cruise continues to headline blockbuster movies that earn him impressive take-home payments. From the sixth installment of the “Mission Impossible” films to his new “Jack Reacher” projects, Cruise continues to make movies that spawn sequels. He has an upcoming version of “The Mummy, “and there are always rumors of a “Top Gun 2” possibility, both of which will undoubtedly give him plenty of income.
5. Johnny Depp – $48 Million
Although he has been called on over-payment due to some of the lackluster films he did, Johnny Depp continues to bring in a hefty premium. His recent turns as the Mad Hatter in “Alice in Wonderland” and its sequel, “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” did not make an impact in the United States, but both films performed well globally. Depp also continues his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, adding more films that do well commercially.
6. Jennifer Lawrence – $46 Million
The first woman on this list, Jennifer Lawrence is the rare Oscar-winner who is also part of franchises. Her work in the “X-Men” series as Raven/Mystique and in “The Hunger Games” trilogy as heroine Katniss Everdeen provides a lot of her income. Even with these high-grossing films, Lawrence continues to take other types of roles for which she got a handsome reward, including the 2016 movie “Passengers,” which alone gave her $20 million.
7. Ben Affleck – $43 Million
In his role as superhero Batman, Ben Affleck earned much of the money that has put him on this list. From his lead in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” his cameo in “Suicide Squad” and his upcoming debut in two Justice League films, Affleck is using the Batsuit to his full advantage. However, this versatile performer is also earning a lot of his income from his Oscar-winning writing and directorial career, talents that allow him to act in more independent dramas and thrillers, such as “The Accountant.”
8. Sofia Vergara – $43 Million
The first television actor on this list, Sofia Vergara earns about $7.7 million, or $350,000 per episode, for her work on “Modern Family.” However, it is her other roles and her endorsements from Head and Shoulders and Cover Girl that give her the most compensation for her work. As with many other actors, it is difficult to completely separate her acting in television and movies from her other opportunities, including commercial acting and print ads.
9. Vin Diesel – $35 Million
Vin Diesel continues to draw on “The Fast and the Furious” franchise for the majority of his income, and with the eighth film in the series dropping in 2017, little is standing in his way from continuing this trend as the ninth and tenth films have already been announced. Diesel is also the voice of Groot in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise, and his “xXx” character, Xander Cage, also has another sequel in the works.
10. Melissa McCarthy – $33 Million
Since her standout role in 2011’s “Bridesmaids” film, Melissa McCarthy has improved her earning power tremendously. She recently reprised her role as Lauren Graham’s best friend in the continuation of “Gilmore Girls” on Netflix, and she continues to film movie roles in high-earning movies like “Identity Thief” and the recent all-female reboot of “Ghostbusters.” Although her sitcom, “Mike and Molly,” was cancelled recently, McCarthy continues to find supporting and lead roles that allow her to use her physicality and her comedic timing perfectly.
11. Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki – $25 Million
Probably the highest-earning actor on television is Jim Parsons, who still gets a staggering $1 million per episode. That means that all together in one year, with a few additional endorsements and voiceover work, Parsons took home quite a lot of money for his work on the popular CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” His costars, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco, also earn $1 million per episode, but Cuoco does not have as much income from side projects that include film roles.
12. Mark Harmon – $20 Million
Although Mark Harmon earns considerably less than “The Big Bang Theory” stars, at $525,000 per episode, he does very well. Harmon has been part of the cast of “NCIS” on CBS for many years, and he commands one of the highest salaries of anyone on television as the face of this long-standing and popular series. Harmon also appears in supporting roles in films and on other series, and it is his recognizable look that earns him a place on this list as one of the highest paid actors.
13. Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel – $750,000 Per Episode
In 2016, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel came back for their roles as mother-daughter duo Lorelai and Rory Gilmore on the Netflix continuation of “Gilmore Girls.” The four 90-minute episodes had their release simultaneously on the streaming giant, and the two women were reportedly paid $750,000 for each episode for a total of $3 million each. This income for each episode puts these two women in the conversation for the highest paid actors per episode in television. Both have other television and film projects that also contribute to their incomes.
14. Cast of “Game of Thrones” – $500,000 Per Episode
The principal actors of “Game of Thrones” earn a reported $500,000 each per episode of the critical and commercial hit for HBO. Those actors include Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke and Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau. The sprawling drama would not be complete without these important characters, but they come at a hefty price tag for the already ambitious program.
15. Kevin Spacey – $500,000 Per Episode
Another film actor who has crossed into television is Kevin Spacey. With an already successful movie career, Spacey has taken on the role of the president in Netflix’s drama “House of Cards.” With a payout of half a million dollars per episode, Spacey is well-compensated for carrying much of the narration and acting on the show.
It can be difficult to completely understand how much pay actors really get for their work in television and movies because many of them earn income beyond their pure acting work. This includes through music deals, side projects, and endorsements. Even with these different activities, most movie stars earn significantly more money than those actors who stick to television roles.
What do you think of this discrepancy in compensation? Comment below, and let us know whether you think movie stars earn their right to be the highest paid actors over their television counterparts.