Few get rich: What Hollywood actors really earn


Updated on 03/22/2022 15:32

  • Walking the red carpet at the Oscars gives the impression of fame and fortune.
  • But most actors can only dream of the high salaries that superstars earn.
  • We reveal what regular actors in Hollywood earn.

You can find more star news here

Year after year, the Oscars (March 27) are a show of the rich and beautiful. World stars such as Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Kristen Stewart and Nicole Kidman have a good chance of being presented with the world’s most famous film prize on the night from Sunday to Monday.

Actors and actresses of this magnitude no longer need to worry about money anyway. Will Smith is said to be loud statista.com earned around 44.5 million US dollars between summer 2019 and summer 2020 alone. The top earner is Dwayne Johnson with earnings of around $87.5 million.

But it would be wrong to assume that every actor in Hollywood is a big earner. If you look at all the performers running from audition to audition in California dreaming of a big break, the opposite is actually true.

Only about two percent of Hollywood actors make a living from their jobs

Hollywood agent Ian Roumain once told Castmag magazine, “I’d be surprised if more than two percent could make a living from acting alone.”

Born in Berlin, Rudolf Martin is one of the few German actors who has regularly appeared in front of the camera in US productions for many years. His CV includes guest roles in hit series such as “CSI: On the Trail of the Criminals”, “Buffy – The Vampire Slayer”, “24” and “Navy CIS”.

He has also worked on major Hollywood films such as “Password: Swordfish” with John Travolta or most recently “Le Mans 66 – Against Every Chance” with Matt Damon. However, he has never seen the millions of fees that the world stars collect.

US actors’ union negotiates minimum wages

In fact, only very few can negotiate high fees. Most actors are practically paid according to tariff. “The union negotiates the minimum wages,” reveals Martin in an interview with our editors.

You have to know that there is a strong actors’ union in the USA, namely the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA for short) with around 160,000 members.

All payment modalities are regulated by this union. Some examples: For feature filmswho have a minimum budget of $2 million have a minimum daily fee of $1,065 per day and a minimum weekly fee of $3,664.

For series formats, the fee depends on the roll size. The sentences mentioned also apply to a smaller episodic role. However, if the lead role is an episode, it will earn at least $5,808 per week in a half-hour series format. With a one-hour format, the weekly fee already amounts to at least $9,293.

Added to this are the repeat fees for television. “They ensure that actors continue to benefit from their work years later. In some cases, you earn more that way than from the daily and weekly wages,” says Martin.

Netflix & Co. ensure more job opportunities

Overall, the film and television industry has undergone a transformation in recent years. “The years between 2000 and 2010 were rather difficult for actors because all the middle productions stopped. There were only the big mega productions or low-budget productions,” he explains.

However, this has changed for the better with online video stores such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. “There is so much production in America and to some extent in Europe that there are more paid acting jobs than ever before. Although you can earn a little less money with the streaming providers than with the big US television stations, it is still significantly more than with the low-budget productions.”

Apart from the few top stars, actors in Hollywood don’t earn more money than actors in Germany. According to the Bundesverbandes Schauspiel (BFFS) in Germany, the starting fee for actors in Germany is at least 850 euros per day of shooting, and for Netflix productions it is 1,000 euros.

“Only five percent of the actors can sleep a little easier because they earn 100,000 euros or more a year,” explains board member Heinrich Schafmeister in an interview with our editors. “However, about 55 percent of German actors and actresses earn less than 20,000 euros a year and therefore cannot live from their job.”

So that means: only very few actors collect high fees. It’s no different in Hollywood than in Germany.

Sources used:

  • statista.com: Highest paid actors worldwide by income 2020
  • sagaftra.org: SAG-AFTRA Television Agreement Wage Tables
  • sagaftra.org: SAG-AFTRA Theatrical Wage Table
  • Interview with Rudolph Martin
  • Interview with Heinrich Schafmeister
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