How Much Hollywood’s Top-Paid Film and TV Stars Cashed in During the Pandemic

Uncertain times have led to unusual compensation packages in Hollywood. Here are the stars with the biggest ones.

Highest Film and TV salaries
Dwayne Johnson is among the highest-paid stars in all of Hollywood. Frank Masi/NETFLIX © 2021

The entertainment industry is currently trapped in a vortex of attention, skepticism and hard fought negotiations as it pertains to talent compensation, but its highest earners are still cashing colossal paychecks. As the ways in which major studios distribute their biggest products changes, so too must the ways in which Hollywood’s biggest stars are paid. In the pandemic, that has forced both sides to navigate the ever evolving landscape of shortened theatrical windows, premium video on demand, straight-to-streaming, and hybrid releases. This has led to some high-profile headlines surrounding Warner Bros.’ decision to send its entire 2021 film slate to HBO Max and Scarlett Johansson’s ongoing lawsuit against Disney over Black Widow.

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But what does the actual top-tier A-list hierarchy look like in terms of Hollywood salaries? From the outside looking in, pretty darn comfortable! The envy-inducing totals these highly paid stars receive may sour your mood for the rest of the day. But thanks to Variety‘s reports on the biggest film and TV salaries, we at least have an understanding of modern talent compensation at the highest levels. Here’s the Top 10 for both mediums.

Film Salaries:

  1. Daniel Craig ($100 million for two Knives Out sequels)
  2. Dwayne Johnson ($50M for Red One)
  3. Will Smith ($40M for King Richard)
  4. Denzel Washington ($40M for The Little Things)
  5. Leonardo DiCaprio ($30M for Don’t Look Up)
  6. Mark Wahlberg ($30M for Spenser Confidential)
  7. Jennifer Lawrence ($25M for Don’t Look Up)
  8. Julia Roberts ($25M for Leave the World Behind)
  9. Sandra Bullock ($20M for The Lost City of D)
  10. Ryan Gosling ($20M for The Grey Man)

(Note: these sums include streaming backend buyouts)

Netflix (NFLX)’s $469 million acquisition of two Knives Out sequels from filmmaker Rian Johnson netted Daniel Craig a mind-boggling windfall. Who would have thought Benoit Blanc might out-earn James Bond? Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has often been among Hollywood’s highest-paid stars and his upcoming universe-building collaboration with Amazon (AMZN), the Christmas-themed Red One, is no exception.

What’s interesting to note about the film list is that five titles — Knives Out sequels, Don’t Look UpSpenser ConfidentialLeave the World Behind, The Grey Man — all belong to Netflix. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Netflix Model of talent compensation, large upfront sums that buyout the backend, are becoming the norm across the industry.

TV Salaries:

  1. Chris Pratt ($1.4M per episode for Terminal List)
  2. Jeff Bridges ($1M per episode for The Old Man)
  3. Bryan Cranston ($750k per episode for Your Honor)
  4. Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis ($650k-$750k per episode for And Just Like That…)
  5. Kate Winslet ($650k per episode for Mare of Easttown)
  6. Viola Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Gillian Anderson ($600k per episode for The First Lady)
  7. Pedro Pascal ($600k per episode for The Last of Us)
  8. Steve Martin, Martin Short ($600k per episode for Only Murders in the Building)
  9. Alec Baldwin ($575k for Dr. Death)
  10. Brian Cox ($400k-$500k for Succession)

Not a single series among television’s Top 10 salaries hails from broadcast. Instead, the list is dominated by streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video (Terminal List), Hulu (The Old Man) and HBO Max (And Just Like That…) as well as premium cable such as HBO (Mare of EasttownSuccession, The Last of Us) and Showtime (The First Lady). It goes to show you where the small screen power lies these days. Variety also reports that Robert Downey Jr. is rumored to have earned $2 million per episode for A24’s Vietnam War thriller The Sympathizer on HBO, though the outlet did not include this on its official list.

How Much Hollywood’s Top-Paid Film and TV Stars Cashed in During the Pandemic