9 Times A-Listers Were Paid Next to Nothing for Iconic Roles

Every budding actor or actress has to start somewhere. Fans love to hear about the few thousand dollars an iconic star made on their first film and how they grew to commanding millions per film.

A-listers of the Hollywood elite are accustomed to earning millions but at times, a specific script leads them to take less money for a role, or maybe in an effort to work with a desired director a famous face is led to accept less than a top-notch contract.

Still, other films have become the focus of unequal pay for male and female roles or one has agreed to a below average salary, only to find the film becomes an unexpected blockbuster, making far more than anticipated.

9 Jonah Hill- The Wolf of Wall Street -$60,000

In 2013, Hill had already established himself as a comedian, making millions. However, when director Martin Scorsese offered Hill a spot in The Wolf of Wall Street, Hill jumped at the chance. Leonardo DiCaprio reportedly made $25 million for his role, but Hill wasn’t so lucky. According to Brightside, Hill didn’t even balk about the small salary, he simply wanted to be a part of the film. He received his second Oscar nomination for the role.

8 Brad Pitt – Thelma & Louise – $6,000

He was just getting started and the film was one of his pathways to stardom, though it still seems strange that the man that commands $30 million or more per film today, played his iconic role in the female-led film and made a mere few thousand dollars. It just goes to show that most stars had to start somewhere before they hit the big time.

7 Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry – $3,000

She won an Oscar for her role in the true story of an American trans man falling victim to a brutal hate crime. However, according to ScreenRant, it was this 1999 film that Swank found her niche in small, indie films versus large, budgeted movies that could tank at the box office. The meager earnings for the role, led to bigger and better pay, as her next film, The Affair of the Necklace, earned her $3 million but Swank has shown throughout her career, that sometimes, less is more.

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6 John Candy – Home Alone – $414

It’s true that Candy’s role was a small cameo in the now famous holiday favorite. We all know Candy from hits like, Uncle Buck, The Great Outdoors and Spaceballs, however, who could forget the polka playing band, led by Candy’s character that gives Kate, played by Catherine O’Hara a ride to Chicago on her journey back to her son? Director Chris Columbus confirmed to Insider in 2020 that Candy made it known he was “displeased” by the primarily improvised role in the hit film.

5 Ryan Gosling – Half Nelson – $1,000 per week

According to Insider, Gosling was coming out of massive success with The Notebook, and chose an indie film about a history teacher, struggling with addiction and serving as a mentor to a young student. The film may not have paid as much as other films the star has been involved with, but it did earn Gosling his first Oscar nomination.

4 Jamie Lee Curtis – Halloween – $8,000

Horror movies are notorious for low budgets and often physically demanding work. Though early in her career, Curtis earned just $8,000 for the first in a long-running franchise. Once future directors like John Carpenter and Wes Craven came along, establishing the genre as worthy of big box office numbers, those that followed Curtis were able to bring in much larger salaries for very similar work.

3 Sean Astin – The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – $83,000 per film

The famous trilogy was an anticipated hit, but those that signed on to the film series knew they’d be locked in for an extended period of time. Hundreds of actors and actresses spent 438 days for the original shoot, plus re-shoots over the next several years. It’s estimated many of those with small roles didn’t make much over this time, but even with a budget of $400 million, famous actor, Astin only walked away with $250,000 for all three films.

2 Michelle Williams – All the Money in the World -$625,000

Over half a million dollars isn’t something to sneer at, however, what makes Williams’ experience important is the news that followed the film shooting. Her co-star, Mark Wahlberg made a reported $5 million for the movie, the difference, never earning an explanation. When the actors were asked to come back for reshoots, Williams made $1,000 while Wahlberg (with the help of a superior contract) made far more. Williams made a point of speaking to women’s rights organizations about equality and fair compensation for all.

1 Bill Murray – Rushmore – $9,000

The iconic comedian can pretty much accept any role he wants after years of classic films. For Murray, the role of a mentor turned protagonist as he vies for the attention of an elementary school teacher with many admirers, was worthy of his comedic chops. As long-time friends with director Wes Anderson, Murray complimented the script and said Rushmore was the first film he has seen in a long time that was “completely whole”.

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Sources: Brightside, Insider, ScreenRant

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