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Top 10 Actors Who Were Underpaid For Big Roles

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Matt Wende They were guaranteed fame, but not necessarily fortune. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Actors Who Were Underpaid for Big Roles. For this list, we're looking at actors who were underpaid for roles in major films. The actors must have been relatively well known at the time of filming and they must have received reported salaries that were considered low compared to regular Hollywood standards. Special thanks to our user MattW128 for submitting the idea on our Interactive Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest.
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Script written by Matt Wende

Top 10 Actors Who Were Underpaid For Big Roles


They were guaranteed fame, but not necessarily fortune. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Actors Who Were Underpaid for Big Roles.

For this list, we’re looking at actors who were underpaid for roles in major films. The actors must have been relatively well known at the time of filming and they must have received reported salaries that were considered low compared to regular Hollywood standards.

#10: Chris Evans: $300,000
“Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011)

He fights for freedom wherever there’s trouble, and he does it for a bargain! Chris Evans made a name for himself by appearing in several acclaimed films, and by playing a role in another Marvel comic book adaptation, “Fantastic Four,” early on in his career. For taking up the stars, stripes and shield though, he received a relatively low salary of $300,000. It was of course based on a contract that he would receive increasingly larger paychecks throughout his appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe…but still!

#9: Jamie Dornan: $125,000-$250,000
“Fifty Shades of Grey” (2015)

Bringing this international sensation to life was quite an endeavor, and who better to play the titular über-handsome Mr. Grey than a former model? The price for securing said model: between $125,000 and $250,000 depending on your source. Not bad considering the highly anticipated film adaptation of E.L. James’ erotic romance novel pulled in a modest $85 million domestically during its opening weekend. We’ll leave you to decide whether Mr. Dornan’s work deserved more. Whether he’ll be back for adaptations of the following two books, and whether he’ll be getting a pay raise though… only time will tell.

#8: Barkhad Abdi: $65,000
“Captain Phillips” (2013)

When it was announced that Tom Hanks would help bring the true story of Richard Phillips’ hostage crisis to the screen, many believed he could easily garner an Oscar nod for his work. Instead, it was his costar Barkhad Abdi, who portrayed the Somali pirate leader, that earned the Academy Award nod! But prior to this and several other nominations, Abdi was paid only $65,000 to play the big screen role. It’s true that this was the non-actor’s first film appearance, and he was being paid close to the minimum rate as specified by SAG, but c’mon! It should go without saying that he’s one we’ll be looking out for for a long time.

#7: Sean Astin: $250,000
“The Lord of the Rings” franchise (2001-03)

Who among us has never wished for a trip to Middle-Earth? Well, when Sean Astin got his chance, he took a relatively low salary for his work just to make it happen. Earning roughly a quarter of a million dollars for all three films, Astin enthusiastically brought the faithful and heartwarming hobbit, Samwise Gamgee, to life. Surprisingly, despite having to live in the shadows of larger than life characters like Gandalf and Aragorn, Sam is known today to be one of the great heroes of the series.

#6: Jonah Hill: $60,000
“The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)

Ask any actor in Hollywood and most will tell you that they would give their left arm to work with Martin Scorsese. Even after Jonah Hill proved he had dramatic chops with “Moneyball,” he still took a considerable pay cut for his role as the Wall Street executive in this black comedy, settling on the SAG minimum of $60,000. Not a bad choice considering the film’s widespread critical success though, and that it earned Hill his second Oscar nomination. Oh, and by the way, it’s rumored that Leonardo DiCaprio earned in the neighborhood of $10 million for his role.

#5: Matthew McConaughey: $200,000
“Dallas Buyers Club” (2013)

Matthew McConaughey followed in the footsteps of many actors looking to revive their careers by taking on more indie projects in the 21st century. After years of being cast in romantic comedies and a few action duds, he earned an Oscar for his critically acclaimed performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.” For his role as the AIDS-stricken Ron Woodroof, McConaughey earned only $200,000. Doesn’t seem like much for all the work he put in and all the weight he lost, but you can’t put a price on shaking your old reputation (and winning an Academy Award!), right?

#4: Arnold Schwarzenegger: $0
“Maggie” (2015)

After he became a living icon for playing action-packed roles in “The Terminator” and “Predator,” no one expected Arnie to take on a role as endearing or quite as thoughtful as the one he does in “Maggie.” Here, he plays a widowed father coming to terms with his daughter's growing infection with an incurable zombie disease. Even more surprising perhaps was his willingness to do the movie for exactly zero dollars. Stating that it was the script that drew him in, Arnold commits fully to the role and gives one of the most dramatic performances of his career.

#3: Ryan Gosling: $1,000 per week
“Half Nelson” (2006)

After the smashing success of “The Notebook,” Ryan Gosling was clearly on his way up. Like many before him though, this actor heard the calling of small thoughtful roles, and decided to take on the part of a drug-addicted schoolteacher in “Half Nelson.” For his portrayal of the complicated protagonist, Gosling accepted a salary of one thousand dollars a week. The Oscar-bait indie ultimately earned him an Academy Award nod, and reminded the world that Gosling could do serious roles just as well as other kinds.

#2: Jeff Daniels: $50,000
“Dumb and Dumber” (1994)

Unlike many other entries on this list, the role taken on by Jeff Daniels was not in an underground indie flick. Daniels was no stranger to the acting scene, having appeared in such dramas as “Terms of Endearment” and the smash hit “Speed.” For appearing in the eventual cult classic “Dumb and Dumber” though, Daniels took a relatively small salary of $50,000. This may have been because he wasn’t yet considered a comedy heavyweight, but the film went on to gross almost $250 million worldwide.

Before reveal our number one pick, we have one honorable mention:
- Shia LaBeouf: $500,000
“Transformers” (2007)

#1: Bill Murray: $9,000
“Rushmore” (1998)

To this day, Bill Murray maintains his status as one of the true mysteries of Hollywood. In spite of his obvious star power, box office draw and status as a comedy legend, he continues to be unpredictable in his movie roles. He’ll go from blockbusters to indies at the drop of a hat, and in the case of “Rushmore,” he took the role of Herman Blume for merely $9,000. This did begin the longstanding relationship between Murray and Wes Anderson, which continues to this day, so no complaints there. Hats off to Bill for taking a pay-cut in the name of good cinema!

Do you agree with our list? What actors did you think should have been paid more for their work? For more entertaining Top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.

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