One of the most anticipated movies of the upcoming fall season is “Australia,” Baz Luhrmann’s epic mash note to his home country, which stars Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman as Outback lovers. Kidman, more than anyone, is likely hoping it’s a hit. Despite winning an Oscar for her performance in 2002’s “The Hours,” Kidman has become the most overpaid celebrity in Hollywood.
According to our second annual ranking of the most (and least) bankable actors in Hollywood, Kidman’s films earn a mere $1 for every dollar Kidman was paid, compared with $8 in 2007. “The Invasion,” a second remake of the 1956 classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” actually lost $2.68 for every dollar Kidman earned.
To compile our list, we looked at each star’s last three films that opened wide before Jan. 1 (in order to give each film time for a DVD release). We didn’t count animated movies, supporting roles or anyone consistently earning under $5 million per movie.
To calculate our payback figures, we took half of each film’s worldwide box office (to roughly approximate the studio’s cut of each ticket). Then we added the first three months of DVD revenues and subtracted the budget to derive the film’s gross income. After that, the actor’s total compensation (upfront pay plus any money earned from sharing in the film’s profits) was divided into the gross income to get the actor’s payback figure for the film. The payback for the last three movies for each actor was averaged to calculate ultimate payback. We deliberately used gross income rather than net income in our analysis because the latter figure is so easily manipulated by studio accountants, with marketing expenses treated differently for almost every film.
Our list of the top 10 overpaid celebrities is rife with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Tom Cruise ranks third with a $4 return for every dollar he was paid mostly because of last year’s stinker “Lions for Lambs,” which Cruise’s studio, United Artists, produced. For every dollar the star earned the film returned only $1.88.
Cameron Diaz may be the highest-paid actress in Hollywood, with $50 million in income between June 2006 and June 2007, but studios might want to question whether she’s worth the money. Her films returned a lowly $4 for every dollar Diaz earned.
In general, actors who earned under $10 million per picture did better on our list. The one exception was Jennifer Garner. Her recent big-budget films, like “The Kingdom” and “Catch and Release,” have underperformed at the box office so badly that even her low salary couldn’t offer a good return on investment. For every dollar Garner was paid to star in the 2006 romantic comedy “Catch and Release,” the film earned 34 cents.
Aussie Russell Crowe wins this year’s award for most improved. The actor was the most overpaid celebrity last year, earning movies like “Cinderella Man” $5 for every dollar he was paid. (Kidman came in second.) This year Crowe was the 18th best earner on our list with a return of $6.88 for every dollar he earned.
The bump can be attributed to last year’s “American Gangster,” which grossed $265 million in worldwide box office. Crowe returned a healthy $10.80 for every dollar he was paid on the film, bringing his ultimate payback number up to $6.88. Countryman Kidman could use a little of that good mojo this fall.