Anne Hathaway is the embodiment of an all-around movie star. She’s appeared in big-grossing films like "Get Smart" and the recent "Alice in Wonderland." She’s been nominated for an Oscar for 2008’s "Rachel Getting Married," and she’s appeared in a line of ads for Lancome perfumes and cosmetics.
But unlike many movie stars, Anne Hathaway still doesn’t cost that much if you want her in a movie. She’s an affordable lead in romantic comedies like "Bride Wars," which helps her films turn a tidy profit.
Thanks to her still low (by Hollywood standards) payday, Hathaway tops our list of Hollywood’s Best Actresses for the Buck — the women who offer studios the best return on investment. For every dollar she was paid, Hathaway’s movies returned an average of $64 in profit.
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That’s well below the $81 Shia LaBeouf returns for every dollar he gets paid, but LaBeouf has the advantage of starring in multiple installments of blockbuster franchises like "Transformers 2" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Hathaway’s highest grossing movie by far is "Alice in Wonderland," which brought in $1 billion at the box office worldwide. Her next highest-grossing film, "Get Smart," earned $230 million.
The best way for an actress to get to the top of this list is to appear in high-grossing films while earning a modest salary. In order to create our list we looked at the top-earning actresses in Hollywood. To qualify, each actress had to have starred in at least three movies in the past five years that opened in more than 500 theaters. Movies that opened after June 1 of this year are not counted. We did not include animated films because the actors aren't really the draw and they tend to take pay cuts for voice work.Story: Actresses take center stage on Oscar watch list
We used data gathered for our annual Celebrity 100 list to calculate each actress’ estimated earnings on each film (including upfront pay and any earnings from the movie's box-office receipts, DVD and TV sales). We then looked at each movie's estimated budget (not including marketing costs, which are susceptible to accounting chicanery) and box-office, DVD and television earnings to figure out an operating income for each film.
We added up each star's compensation on her last three films and the operating income on those films and divided total operating income by the star's total compensation to come up with a return on investment number. The final number represents an average of how much a studio earns for every dollar paid to the actress.
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Coming in second behind Hathaway is Cate Blanchett, who gives studios an average $27 return for every dollar she gets paid. Blanchett's ranking was boosted by appearances in two solidly performing films opposite two very expensive co-stars. In "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "Robin Hood," Blanchett earned less than Brad Pitt and Russell Crowe. That means her return on investment is higher. The actress is not slated to be in any big movies in the next few years unless she revisits her "Lord of the Rings" role as Galadriel in the upcoming film version of "The Hobbit."
Jennifer Aniston (on this page) and Meryl Streep (on this page) tie for third place with returns of $21 for every dollar they each get paid. Aniston’s movies often open weak but perform over the long haul. "The Bounty Hunter" was derided for its $20 million opening weekend, but the $40 million film went on to earn $136 million at the global box office. Streep has appeared in much higher-grossing films, like "Mamma Mia!", which earned $610 million, but her average is weighed down by "Doubt," which earned only $37 million.
In fourth place: Sarah Jessica Parker (on this page) . When she appears in "Sex and the City" movies, she earns every penny she gets paid. Her return isn’t as good in movies like :"Did You Hear About the Morgans." On average, Parker returns $17 for every dollar she's paid.
© 2012 Forbes.com