There are many reasons why actors choose to take a film role. Sometimes it’s about the money and sometimes it’s about traveling to a wish-list location. Other times it’s about the opportunity to make their mark or work with their favorite director. Some very well-known actors have chosen opportunity and desire over fortune, and for some, that salary sacrifice led to Oscar nods. These actor pay cuts prove that sometimes it really is more about the art than the money.
Which stars took thousands, as opposed to millions, to play iconic roles? You will be surprised to learn who they are, and the hefty pay cuts they took for substance rather than sustenance.
Which of these financial figures surprised you the most? Let us know, and make sure to SHARE this with your movie-loving friends!
Chris Evans in ‘Captain America’
Chris Evans got the short end of the shield for his iconic starring solo role as Captain America. It was a very un-American wage in Hollywood standards, as he earned just $300,000. He was one of the least compensated superheroes in the Marvel Universe, not to mention the Avengers family. For The Avengers he got into the million dollar club, earning between $2 and $3 million. Still, he must’ve been stung by Scarlett Johansson, who earned between $4 and $6 million as Black Widow. Nothing will ever come close toRobert Downey Jr.’s amount: He made upwards of $50 million in the same film. Did he get $25 million for Tony Stark and another $25 million for Iron Man?
Sean Astin in ‘The Lord of the Rings’
When Sean Astin signed on to portray the iconic role of Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he was giving up years of his life to live in Middle Earth. Astin received $250,000 as compensation for all three films, which is very hobbit-like considering the franchise earned upwards of $5.82 billion. The ever-loyal Samwise is holding out for another Peter Jackson effort despite a possible Amazon version.
“I’m carrying the Samwise banner for the Peter Jackson version of Lord of the Rings. When I saw the Amazon thing, I just sort of thought, ‘What would it be like to see the next Sam there?’ I think it’s an intriguing idea, [but] the devil’s in the details. How would they do it? How? Who?” he told IndieWire.
Matthew McConaughey in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’
Matthew McConaughey is one of the highest-paid movie stars in Hollywood. Some might think he was dazed and confused when he turned down $15 million for the big-screen version of Magnum P.I. Instead, McConaughey took a huge pay cut to appear in Dallas Buyers Club, saying “alright, alright, alright” to the tune of $200,000. It was an opportunity to portray the true story of rodeo-riding electrician Ron Woodroof, who died of AIDS in 1992.
“Taking a year-and-a half off and saying no to things in some form or fashion made me a new good idea. Sometimes the target draws the arrow,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
His career strategy paid off with an Oscar for Best Actor for the iconic role.
John Travolta in ‘Pulp Fiction’
It is said that Quentin Tarantino revitalized John Travolta’s career with the iconic role of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction. The once and future king of movies took a significant pay cut of $150,000 to splatter brains across a car window and show off his famous dance moves opposite Uma Thurman in the cult classic. Travolta actually got the role by default when Michael Madsen — Tarantino’s first choice — chose to appear in Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp instead. It gave Travolta’s career the bad-guy jolt it sorely missed, as he went on to portray similar characters in Get Shorty and Face/Off — for more money, of course.
George Clooney in ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’
George Clooney as a triple threat couldn’t even bring in the big bucks. Good Night, and Good Luck, which he co-wrote, directed and starred in, only brought him $120,000, according to The Hollywood Reporter. This figure is dim compared to what he earned for The Perfect Storm — over $10 million — in 2000.
Instead of a huge payday, Clooney opted to make a statement about American culture, with the story of an iconic television figure who uses his celebrity to make a positive impact. His labor-of-love film earned six Academy Award nominations.
Don’t feel bad for the megastar: His net worth was estimated at $500 million in 2017, according to Celebritynetworth.com.
Jamie Dornan in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’
Charlie Hunnam dropped out of playing Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey, reportedly due to the low salary of $125,000. Jamie Dornan, on the other hand, went lower, settling at almost $106,000 to play the role that would become his most iconic. At the time he was an unknown actor in the U.S. The immense popularity of the film freed Dornan’s agents to ask for a massive increase for the sequels. Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed paid him handsomely: $6.92 million, according to the Daily Star.
“He was about to walk away and leave it all behind,” a source told Hollywood Life. “Then, bosses of the movie franchise came back with the jaw-dropping offer.”
Jonah Hill in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Jonah Hill was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his iconic role as stockbroker Donnie Azoff in the Martin Scorsese-directed film The Wolf of Wall Street. While his co-star, Leonardo DiCaprio, was reportedly paid the wolfish salary of $25 million, Hill grabbed the coveted role for comparably sheepish pay — $60,000. He did it for the opportunity to work with Scorsese.
“They gave me the lowest amount of money possible,” Hill told radio host Howard Stern. “I said, ‘I will sign the paper tonight. Fax me the papers tonight. I want to sign them tonight before they change their mind.’ I got to f—ing be in a Martin Scorsese movie!”
Oprah Winfrey in ‘The Color Purple’
Oprah Winfrey is one of the richest women in show business. Her net worth is $2.8 billion, according to Forbes. Making billions was not her motivation when she played the abused Sofia in The Color Purple. Winfrey was paid $35,000, but the iconic role earned her an Oscar nomination.
How did she get the role? Producer Quincy Jones spotted her on AM Chicago and gave her a shot to audition for her first movie. A call from director Steven Spielberg followed.
“I would like to see you in my office at Amblin tomorrow,’” Spielberg told Winfrey, she told Collider. “I didn’t even know what that was. He said, ‘If you lose a pound, you could lose this part.’ I stopped at the Dairy Queen. I got myself three scoops, just in case I lost a pound, and I went to that audition!”
Harrison Ford in ‘Star Wars’
Harrison Ford only made $10,000 for his iconic role as Han Solo in the first Star Wars film in 1977. That’s a stab in the heart with a lightsaber, considering the film brought in a whopping $775 million worldwide. In fact, he almost turned down the role because of the money before thinking better of it.
“I said, ‘How much?’ And they said, ‘$1,000 a week.’ And I said, ‘No! No!’ But I did. I did it for $1,000 a week. The first one!” he told Good Morning America.
Bill Murray in ‘Rushmore’
The elusive Bill Murray is famous for saying no to projects that he should have green-lighted. He did agree, however, to play the rival of a quirky teenage student in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. Anderson and Owen Wilson wrote the iconic role of Mr. Blume with Murray in mind. It turns out that Murray’s agent was a fan of Anderson’s first film, Bottle Rocket, and he urged the actor to read the script. Murray liked it so much that he agreed to work for scale: a mere $9,000. It established Murray as a respected actor in independent cinema and earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture.
Jim Carrey in ‘Yes Man’
Jim Carrey might be funny, but it was no laughing matter when he took zero money upfront for Yes Man. Rather then request his kingly payday of $20 million plus 20 percent of the film’s gross profit, Carrey declined any cash for the role. Instead, he opted for 36.2 percent of the film’s back-end profits. Hollywood insiders thought it was a huge risk at the time, as he was coming off such flops as Number 23 and Fun With Dick and Jane. Carrey cashed in on the iconic choice, as the film grossed $230 million worldwide. For simply saying “yes,” Carrey took home $30 million.