How Much Do Actors Make and How Do they Get Paid?

In Hollywood, there has often been a disparity in actors’ salaries, though there exists an average salary for everyone in the business. With A-list actors making hundreds of millions per year, multitudes aspire to venture into the profession without knowing the exact amount average actors get paid as actors are pictured as living a dream lifestyle but what the majority of those in the business take home is a far cry from their reported salaries.  Every year, Forbes investigates and lists the highest earners in the film industry which paints acting as a very lucrative profession, whereas little is known of other actors who rarely receive recognition for their work and earn a little above the average salary. Here is a look at how much these actors are paid and the amount they actually take home.

Insights Into Actors’ Average Salary and Payment Structure

Following the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) wage rate which varies with experience, actors earn a specified starting amount stated as $335 per day and $1,166 per week, though a few actors can negotiate a higher payment rate for their acting roles. In the year 2019, the average salary earned by an actor was reported at $40,860. 25 percent of them who were among the best-paid earned $58,580 while the remaining 25 percent that fell into the category of the lowest-paid made $25,180.

Interestingly, that same year, Dwayne Johnson emerged as the highest-paid actor in the world after raking in $89.4 million before taxes. Scarlett Johansson, the world’s highest-paid actress, on the other hand, earned $56 million. For his role in Jumanji, Dwayne Johnson was paid an upfront salary of $23.5 million. He also earned an astounding sum of $700,000 per episode for his role in HBO’s Ballers. In addition to negotiating a higher payment, Hollywood superstars also negotiate for bonuses which include private jet transportation, assistants, and hotel accommodations.

How Do Actors Get Paid?

Actors registered with the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) normally receive their paychecks on Thursdays for the work carried out in the previous week through Saturday, though, there are some few exceptions to the rule. Some big names in Hollywood with remunerative contracts do get paid a specified percentage upfront and get the rest of the payment when production is concluded. There are also other actors who receive an upfront salary and those that get paid when production wraps up.

It’s worth noting that the SAG’s payment structure is usually based on the production budget of the acting project. For instance, the minimum salary per week for actors working on film production with a budget of $2.5 million and above is reportedly $3,488 and $1,005 per day. The union’s minimum pay for low budget movies produced with $700,000-$2.5 million budget is $630 per day and weekly payment of $2,130. Then the SAG wage rate for movies budgeted between $250,000 and $700,000 is $335 daily and $1,166 weekly.

Actors salary
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In addition to the SAG-AFTRA wage rates, actors bump their annual earnings through backend profit negotiation. They can opt not to receive a salary from the major studios or directly from the producers in order to be entitled to the film’s gross points. In 1988, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito opted for percentage profits instead of taking a salary. Although it was a risky bargain, it eventually paid them off big time when the movie grossed $216 million at the worldwide box office and earned the two upwards of $40 million.

Similarly, established actors can also negotiate for a percentage of a movie’s backend profit in addition to earning an upfront salary. For instance, in 2014, Sandra Bullock was paid an upfront salary of $20 million for her role in Gravity and equally walked away with 15 percent of the studio gross of the movie which got her a paycheck of over $70 million. Furthermore, actors’ payments sometimes include residuals. The union coordinates this type of payment as actors get entitled to money realized from the sales of DVDs and airings of a movie on TV networks, as well as streaming services.

In recent times, streaming services have gained ground in movie and TV series productions and are gradually changing the actors’ salary structure. Nowadays, Netflix pays actors a higher salary than what they used to earn from major studios since there are no residuals. Irrespective of the performance of a movie, the streaming giant pays actors the same salary, though they are planning of creating bonuses for high-performing movies.

Regular Expenses That Cut Down The Take-Home of Actors

Although actors are reported to be making millions of dollars in salaries per year, only a little fraction of the money, sometimes half, goes home with them. They normally spend the rest of their paid salaries on:

  • Managers: Following their efforts of getting their clients booked for an acting role, managers often walk away with 15 percent to 20 percent of actors’ gross payment.
  • Publicist: Very important for an actor’s rise in the film industry, a publicist ensures that his/her employers’ image is well portrayed in media, serving as a medium between the actor and the press. As a result of their vital role, publicists earn 5 percent of an actor’s total pay.
  • Agents: Actors’ representatives which include lawyers and accountants also get a cut from their gross pay which is about 5 percent to 10 percent of the total payment.
  • Taxes: This is where a majority of an actor’s reported salary goes into as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) cut 35 percent of the gross pay. In some cases, actors pay taxes in the state where the acting project is shot and also in the state they reside in.

Other minor expenditures those in the acting profession make regularly include;

  1. Union dues which is about $222 and 1.6 percent of the actor’s total payment that is up to $500,000.
  2. Security expenses – $500 to $1500 per day.
  3. Drivers pay – $350 per day.
  4. Assistants pay – $200 per day.

Do TV Actors Make More Money Than Movie Actors?

With TV actors getting paid per episode of TV shows, on a few occasions, lead actors walk away with more money than movie actors who are paid based on a movie role (except for those that negotiate for a percentage of backend profit which is hard to come by these days). Most times, cast members of a TV show negotiate for staggering fees in the final seasons of the show. This was evident when the stars of Friends negotiated for $1 million per episode in the final two seasons of the show which was a far cry from the $75,000 they earned in the third season.

In like manner, Seinfeld stars negotiated for $600,000 per episode in the final season of the TV show, with the show’s creator Jerry Seinfeld pocketing $1 million per episode. More so, many established TV actors have negotiated jaw-dropping payments in the past years. Ashton Kutcher was paid $750,000 per episode for his role in Two and a Half Men while Mark Harmon pocketed over $500,000 for an episode of NCIS. Even though lead actors command an impressive paycheck for TV roles, many unknown actors mostly get paid between $15,000 to $25,000 per episode.

The Differences in Actors Salaries in The US and Other Parts of The World

Most of the acting projects are shot in California, thus, the state has been regarded as the headquarters of production. Though California is considered as one of the highest paying states for actors in the United States as they earn an average salary of $69,480, the salary still doesn’t count as high income due to the high cost of living. Other states that pay actors the highest average salary include:

  • Arizona – $73,200
  • Wisconsin – $60,260
  • New Hampshire – $59,240
  • Tennessee – $57,600

Actors equally earn the highest average salary in some US cities such as:

  • Los Angeles (California) – $72,600
  • New York (New York) – $70,560
  • Denver (Colorado) – $64,980
  • San Francisco (California) – $55,400
  • New Haven (Connecticut) – $55,020

In some countries across the globe, average film actors earn the following gross salaries;

  • Australia – $70,108
  • Canada – $59,845
  • United Kingdom – £31,978
  • France – €43,662

Actors’ Average Salary vs Musicians’ Average Earnings

According to Business Insider, an average actor makes almost $50,000 per year. On the contrary, a musician’s average income is not fixed as it is dependent on several factors which include the settlement of songwriters, music labels, and publishing companies. Afterward, the music artist will be left with a trifling sum of the reported revenues made from songs and album sales. Several artists signed with a major record label normally pocket 10 cents per copy of a single sold. So if the CD was sold for $30, the artist only gets $3 while the remaining will be split among the music labels, publishing firms, and songwriters.

This explains why many recording artists have chosen to be releasing their songs and albums independently without assistance from record labels or publishers. However, a good number of musicians who have set up their own record labels through which they release their songs and albums often make it big in the music industry. Beyoncé, for example, who owns Parkwood Entertainment makes up to $500,000 per platinum-certified single whereas an ordinary artist signed to a record label might be getting $1,000.

Interestingly, platinum album fetches 10 times more money than platinum singles. No wonder, Queen Bey raked in over $40 million from the sales of her triple-platinum album, ‘Lemonade’ in two weeks, as she made over $3 million a day. Also, musicians make a vast majority of their total wealth from tours, live shows, and house concerts. In the year 2017, U2 emerged as the highest-grossing musical act of the year after raking in $54.4 million of which over 90 percent of the income ($52 million) came from tours and the rest from streaming and album sales.

Chioma Uchenwoke
Chioma Uchenwoke
Apart from content writing in the area of entertainment, personal finance and celebrity net worth, Chioma’s main interests are movies, football, music and books. She has been writing professionally for about 2 years in these fields


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