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Image: Anne Hathaway in "Alice in Wonderland"
Leah Gallo  /  Disney
Anne Hathaway starred as the White Queen in Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland."
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updated 10/31/2010 6:08:08 PM ET 2010-10-31T22:08:08

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

Photos: Meryl Streep through the years

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  1. Monte Cristo Award

    Actress Meryl Streep speaks after receiving the Monte Cristo Award, which celebrates a theater artist who exemplifies the spirit of the legendary Eugene O'Neill, at the Edison Ballroom in New York on April 21, 2014. It's just one of a multitude of honors received by Streep, who is considered by many to be one of the nation's finest actresses. (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. The selfie seen around the world

    Streep was one of the famous faces who made history in Ellen DeGeneres' famed most-retweeted selfie, taken Oscar night, March 2, 2014, in Los Angeles. She's hiding behind host DeGeneres' shoulder. (Ellen Degeneres / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 'August: Osage County'

    In the 2013 film "August: Osage County," Streep plays the mother of three daughters whose mean streak and personal struggles haunt her entire family. Both Streep and Julia Roberts received Oscar nominations for their roles. (Claire Folger / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Golden night

    Streep presented Daniel Day-Lewis with his best actor Oscar for "Lincoln" at the 2013 Academy Awards. (Christopher Polk / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Power pair

    Streep takes a photo of herself with Hillary Clinton following a dinner for Kennedy Center honorees at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, on Dec. 1, 2012. (Pool / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 'Hope Springs'

    Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star in the 2012 romantic comedy film "Hope Springs." (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Golden girl

    Streep poses with her best-actress Oscar for "The Iron Lady" during the 84th Academy Awards in Los Angeles, on Feb. 26, 2012. (Joel Ryan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Cover girl

    Streep graced the January 2012 cover of VOGUE. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. High honor

    Streep, center back row, was one of five recipients of the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors. Also honored were musician Yo-Yo Ma, singer Neil Diamond, musician Sonny Rollins; and actress Barbara Cook. (Ron Sachs / Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Portrait of a 'Lady'

    Even before any reviews had been released, there was plenty of Oscar buzz surrounding Streep's performance as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 2011's "The Iron Lady." (The Weinstein Company) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Graduation day

    Streep and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter speak after Streep was presented with an honorary degree during Harvard University Commencement, in Cambridge, Mass., on May 27, 2010. (Josh Reynolds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. 'Julie & Julia'

    Streep received a best actress Oscar nomination for playing beloved chef Julia Child in 2009's "Julie & Julia," about a blogger who's inspired to cook her way through Child's most famous cookbook. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. 'It's Complicated'

    In the 2009 film "It's Complicated," Streep and Alec Baldwin play a long-divorced couple who find they're falling for each other again now that the kids are grown and their finances are secure. (Melinda Sue Gordon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. With James Bond

    Pierce Brosnan and Streep wave to the crowd at the world premiere of the movie version of "Mamma Mia!" on June 30, 2008, in London. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. 'Mamma Mia'

    In "Mamma Mia!", the movie musical based on the ABBA stage musical, Streep plays the rebellious single mother of a bride-to-be who never met her father. The daughter invites three likely paternal candidates to her wedding, and the ensuing conflict triggers the performance of 22 ABBA hits including "Dancing Queen," "Take a Chance on Me" and "The Winner Takes It All." (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 'Doubt'

    Streep plays a nun and Philip Seymour Hoffman a priest in 2008's "Doubt," an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play. (Andrew Schwartz / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Cash for charity

    Streep holds up phones on the trading floor of ICAP, an international broker in financial markets, at the company's offices in Jersey City, N.J., on Dec. 10, 2008. Streep and other celebrities joined ICAP brokers for the day when all company revenues were to be donated to charities around the world. (Mike Derer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A prince and a vice-president

    Streep and former vice-president Al Gore present Britain's Prince Charles with Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment's 10th Anniversary Global Environmental Citizen Award at the Harvard Club in New York on Jan. 28, 2007. The prince received the award for his outstanding work toward protecting the global environment. (Mike Segar / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. 'Lions for Lambs'

    Streep starred with Tom Cruise and Robert Redford in 2007's "Lions for Lambs," about war in the Middle East. Cruise plays a senator who hopes to enlist the help of Streep's character, a TV journalist. (MGM Studios) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Mother and daughters

    Streep and her daughters, from left, Louisa Gummer, Grace Grummer and Mamie Gummer attend the premiere of "The Devil Wears Prada," on June 19, 2006, in New York. (Bryan Bedder / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. 'The Devil Wears Prada'

    In the 2006 film "The Devil Wears Prada," Streep played Miranda Priestly, the vicious fashion-magazine editor who torments underling Andy Sachs, played by Anne Hathaway. (Barry Wetcher / Twentieth Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Honor for 'Angels'

    In 2004, Streep won the Golden Globe for best actress in a miniseries or television movie for her work in the AIDS epic, "Angels in America." She played four roles, including that of executed communist Ethel Rosenberg. (Chris Haston / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. 'The Manchurian Candidate'

    Streep and Liev Schreiber starred in the 2004 remake of 1962's "The Manchurian Candidate." (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. 'The Hours'

    Streep starred with Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman in 2002's "The Hours," based on Michael Cunningham's novel about three women connected by the work of writer Virginia Woolf. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. 'Adaptation'

    Streep played writer Susan Orlean in 2002's "Adaptation," based on Orlean's book "The Orchid Thief" and the battle to adapt it into a film. (Ben Kaller / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. 'Music of the Heart'

    Streep's best actress nomination for 1999's "Music of the Heart" made her the second most nominated actress in history, after Katharine Hepburn. (Kerry Hayes / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Family portrait

    Streep married sculptor Don Gummer in 1978. They have four children, including son Henry, seen here with his parents in this undated photo. Of their three daughters, two are actresses. (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. 'The Bridges of Madison County'

    Numerous critics thought that the movie version of "The Bridges of Madison County," which came out in 1995 and starred Streep and Clint Eastwood, was better than the syrupy best-selling book. Streep was again nominated for a best actress Oscar but did not win. (Online Usa / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. 'Ironweed'

    Streep was nominated for best actress for her role as Helen Archer in 1987's "Ironweed," but did not win. (Liaison) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. 'Out of Africa'

    Streep starred with Robert Redford in 1985's "Out of Africa," based on the life of author Karen Blixen, who wrote under the name Isak Dinesen. The film won seven Oscars, including best picture and director, and its opening line, "I had a farm in Africa," became famous. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. 'Silkwood'

    Streep, seen with Kurt Russell and Cher, played Karen Silkwood in 1983's "Silkwood." Karen Silkwood died in a suspicious car accident while trying to blow the whistle on actions at the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant where she worked. The real Karen Silkwood was just 28 and a mother of three when she died in 1974. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. 'Sophie's Choice'

    Streep won the best actress Oscar for the title role in 1982's "Sophie's Choice," about a Polish immigrant haunted by the horror that came upon her while in Auschwitz. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. 'The French Lieutenant's Woman'

    Streep starred with Jeremy Irons in the 1981 drama "The French Lieutenant's Woman." (Hulton Archive / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Golden girl

    Meryl Streep is seen at the 1980 Oscars, where she won the best supporting actress honor for "Kramer vs. Kramer." (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. 'Kramer vs. Kramer'

    1979's "Kramer vs. Kramer" won the Oscar for best picture that year. Streep and Dustin Hoffman play divorcing parents fighting over their son, played by Justin Henry, top. The film was widely praised for tackling the topic of divorce and nationwide ideas about mothers receiving custody. Streep's character is awarded custody because she is the boy's mother, but in the end, tells her husband the boy is best with him. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Royal reception

    Streep met Queen Elizabeth II after the ruler was treated to a showing of "Kramer vs. Kramer" in London in 1979. (Graham Turner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. 'The Deer Hunter'

    Streep, seen with Robert De Niro, had a small role in 1978's "The Deer Hunter," which was much talked about for its scenes of prisoners of war in Vietnam forced to play Russian roulette. The film won five Oscars, including best picture. Director Michael Cimino reportedly let Streep write her own lines. (Mary Evans & Ronald Grant / Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Bright college days

    Streep is seen in the 1974 Yale Repertory Theatre production of "The Idiots Karamazov" when she was an acting student at Yale School of Drama. Streep earned an M.F.A. from the college, after earning her B.A. from Vassar College in 1971. The Yale Drama dean reportedly said, "It was immediately apparent that she was destined for greatness." (Yale School of Drama/Yale Repertory Theatre) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center Presents Meryl Streep With The 14th Annual Monte Cristo Award - Inside
    Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (38) Meryl Streep
  2. Premiere Of Lifetime's "Call Me Crazy: A Five Film" - Arrivals
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    Slideshow (49) Jennifer Aniston
  3. Slideshow (35) Sarah Jessica Parker

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