Mila Kunis, Vanessa Hudgens

Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage; Duff-Maire/Amoult//=WireImage

How did Mila Kunis manage to get more famous and respected than Vanessa Hudgens? I don't get it.
—WarChild, via the inbox

Right, right. Because so many other High School Musical grads are being pelted with Oscar and Globe nominations. No doubt Ashley Tisdale is meeting with Darren Aronofsky right now about his next indie auteur character thriller.

Yes, both actresses are young, hot, brunette and loved by millions of teens. But there's a very good reason why Hudgens hasn't reached Kunis' heights:

Money. But not in the way you might think.

First, let's take a look at what we've seen from each super-sylph.

Hudgens got her first TV credit in 2002, and her inaugural big break four years later with the original High School Musical TV movie. One small-screen sequel followed, along with a movie based on the same franchise and a bunch of television guest appearances. Since then, Hudgens has scored a few more leading lady roles, albeit still in the tween ghetto: Bandslam—which flopped—Beastly—another box office disappointment—and Sucker Punch, due out March 25.

Now let's examine Kunis's career.

She's been famous since 1998, when she debuted as a teen on That 70s Show. This was the same long-running sitcom that launched Ashton Kutcher and Topher Grace, as well as a gig that allowed Kunis to build her fame, audience and acting chops for seven years. To a lesser extent, Kunis also has won even more fans via a similarly lengthy stint on Family Guy.

In 2008 came Kunis's big movie break: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which she essentially stole from Kristen Bell and That Guy What's His Name Does It Really Matter. Kunis' movie career has been on the upward swing ever since, with projects appealing to not just teens and tweens, but also first-daters, horny dudes and everything in between.

So why has Kunis managed to achieve so much more than Hudgens? Well, that sitcom, for one. That 70s Show was on primetime network television—for a long time. Compared with Hudgens, more people, in a broader demographic, knew who Kunis was by the time her series wrapped.

Hudgens? Well, her first big gig was on the Disney Channel, for a relatively short time, and it was aimed at a smaller, more specific audience. If Hudgens wants to extend her brand into bigger movies, she'll have to have a bigger audience. And she doesn't. Not yet.

And now we come to the money part.

There's a good chance that Kunis is richer than Hudgens, thanks to residuals she continues to get from reruns of That 70s Show. We're talking a lot of reruns, and a lot of money. Kunis has even told me that the residuals have freed her from having to work on anything for the foreseeable future; she can take her time picking only the best roles for her.

Did Hudgens make that kind of scratch as a young punk starring in two TV movies and one big-screen adaptation of a teen franchise? Not likely. In other words, Hudgens probably can't wait around for the Aronofsky prestige roles—and all the additional fame and respect that entails.

But give Hudgens time.

If she has Kunis-level talent, you'll surely see her running her own Oscar campaign. Someday.

WATCH NOW! Mila's Oscar dress gets the Fashion Police treatment

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