7 Big Stars Who Earned Next To Nothing For Successful Movies

Published on January 12, 2015. Updated August 16, 2017

Sometimes well-known actors and actresses accept really small paychecks to take part in movies. This can be at the start of their careers or later on. When actors and actresses are first starting out, it is pretty common for them to take a small paycheck because any job is an opportunity to launch their careers. Later on, it can be because they want to work on small indie projects that don’t have large budgets. These indie roles can sometimes end up shooting them to superstardom, which means big paychecks in the near future. We have 7 well-known actors and actresses have earned very little for successful movie gigs.

7. Mel Gibson – Mad Max

For a while, Mel Gibson owned Hollywood. He made loads of money and he did whatever he wanted – both on and off screen. That eventually came to an end thanks to his well-documented racist and violent outbursts. Now he doesn’t have much a career. Back before he became the huge star that we remember, he wasn’t exactly well established or well paid. Like many actors, he had to prove himself.

Take Gibson’s role in “Mad Max.” He only made $15,000. This was way back in 1979, so it may sound like a lot of money; however, it really wasn’t considering that the film’s budget was $400,000 and it ended up bringing in $5 million at the box office. This just goes to show you that all actors and actresses have to start somewhere. Taking a little paycheck at the beginning can mean bigger paychecks later, if you prove yourself.

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6. Jonah Hill – Wolf of Wall Street

Jonah Hill revealed that he received $60,000 for his role in the “Wolf of Wall Street.” According to him, he chose to work for that price because he really wanted to work for Martin Scorsese. “I would sell my house and give all my money to work for him. This isn’t what you make money for. I would’ve done anything in the world. I would do it again in a second. This sh*t isn’t about money. You should do things that you care about,” he told Howard Stern.

The film itself had a budget of $100 million and made $392 million at the box office. For his performance, Hill was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Although he was super excited about working with Scorsese and for being nominated for an Oscar, he didn’t end up winning. At the very least, now the “Superbad” star can consider himself a serious actor.

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5. Seann William Scott – American Pie

Seann William Scott was reportedly paid only $8000 for the original “American Pie movie.” That isn’t very much considering that the film had a budget of $11 million and ended up taking home over $235 million at the box office. He seemed to learn his lesson when it came time for negotiating his salary for the film’s fourth installment. He ended up receiving $5 million to reprise his role Steve Stifler in “American Reunion” plus a small slice of first-dollar gross – way more than he received for the initial film.

We really think Scott should have received a bonus or something for his work in the first film. It only seems fair given how much it earned at the box office. Outside of the “American Pie” franchise, Scott doesn’t seem to have much of a career. We hope he can stretch out his salary from the last film so that it lasts until a fifth installment appears.

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4. Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry

For her role as Brandon Teena – a trans man who is raped and murdered by a couple of male acquaintances – Hilary Swank only earned $75 a week. At the end of filming, she brought home a total of $3000, which was too low to qualify her for health insurance. She did a lot of work to prepare for the role. She dressed and lived as a man for a month. Part of this included wrapping her chest in bandages and putting socks in the crotch area of her pants. She also reduced her body fat to seven percent.

Part of the reason for Swank’s low pay is probably due to the fact that she was an unknown actress at the time. The director, Kimberly Peirce, wasn’t interested in a well-known actress taking on the role of Teena. Swank ended up blowing everyone away with her performance. She earned a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Actress, which really put her on the map in Hollywood.

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3. George Clooney – Good Night, and Good Luck

George Clooney is one of the biggest movie stars of this age. Because of this, he is paid the big bucks – for the most part. Sometimes things just don’t work out as planned. For “Good Night, and Good Luck,” he took on three major roles – screenwriter, director and lead actor. When he applied for insurance, he wasn’t able to qualify because of an injury he incurred on the set of “Syriana.” To finance the film, which cost $7 million, he had to mortgage his house to help pay for associated costs.

Lucky for Clooney, the film ended up doing pretty well at the box office. It brought in $56.5 million worldwide, which meant he could finally pay himself for his work. He decided to take a $1 million paycheck for each of his roles, which ended up totaling $3 million. The Oscar-winning actor is generally used to getting paid a lot more than that, so this was quite the sacrifice.

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2. Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey gave the performance of a lifetime in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Before that role, many of us only knew the gorgeous actor for his work in romantic comedies. He had yet to prove that he was a serious actor who was capable of taking on really gritty roles. To play Ron Woodroof, he was paid only $200,000, plus backend participation. With a budget of $5 million, the film ended up bringing in just over $55 million at the box office. McConaughey earned an Academy Award for Best Actor for is stellar performance.

Before McConaughey had signed onto the role, a few other actors were interested. Woody Harrelson was initially attached; however, he left due to financing issues. Brad Pitt then took over the lead role. When he was no longer attached, Ryan Gosling was up for the part, but that fell through. It was only in 2009 that McConaughey got involved in the film.

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1. Tom Cruise – Magnolia

Tom Cruise may have been one of the biggest stars in the’90s, but he wasn’t always paid like he was. For his role in “Magnolia,” he was reportedly only paid $100,000. The film had a budget of $37 million; however, it really struggled at the box office, only bringing in just over $48 million.

Strangely, Cruise was one of the first to be cast in the movie. He was such a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie “Boogie Nights” that he asked the direct-screenwriter to keep him in mind for his next movie. When Anderson finished the script for “Magnolia,” the two got back in touch. Cruise was offered the role of Frank T.J. Mackey. While he was interested in the role, he didn’t initially take it. It took some convincing, but eventually he was on board. The “Eyes Wide Shut” star was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, but he didn’t win. He makes way more money now for his roles, but he has never been nominated for another Oscar since.

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