Angelina Jolie raked in $30 million last year? Really? Is she worth that, and is she worth more than Jennifer Aniston, who earned $28 million?
—Jean V., via the inbox
Well! Someone wants me to keep the whole Homewrecker-vs.-America's Sweetheart feud alive and well, doesn't she? I'll pass, thanks.
But I will tell you exactly why Hollywood deems Angelina Jolie—and Jennifer Aniston, and Reese Witherspoon, and Sarah Jessica Parker, all of whom Forbes just ranked among the industry's highest paid—to be worth every cent. And why those figures may, in fact, be on the low side:
And we need look no further than the grosses, the amount of money these women bring in, worldwide, every time they report to a set. Take The Tourist, that film that was, apparently, supposed to be a thriller. Despite Johnny Depp serving as a costar, critics loathed the film and, as Forbes points out, it "initially looked like it was going to be a flop after a paltry opening weekend box-office haul of $16 million."
But then came the rest of the planet.
"Thanks mostly to the overseas market," Forbes notes, "the film went on to earn $280 million, cementing Jolie's appeal abroad."
So, $30 million may seem like an obscene amount of money to make, until you put it next to $280 million. Then, $30 million seems a tad more reasonable.
According to E. Barry Haldeman, a former Paramount executive and current entertainment lawyer, we're talking only about major A-list stars here, people who can, in old-timey feel-good parlance, "open a picture."
Only those folks can still demand, and receive, say, $20 million per picture against another 20 percent of the gross income.
"These are actors who, the studio perceives, will put butts in seats and bring people in," Haldeman tells me. "When you're putting together a movie, everyone wants to know who you have attached before they go ahead and spend the money. It's really based on audience appeal."
As for Aniston, she's likely earning slightly less because her films are earning less. Last year's tired baby comedy The Switch has brought in less than $45 million worldwide; The Bounty Hunter earned a more respectable $131 million, but still: That's not $280 million. Sure, the Jolie movie also had Depp, as opposed to Gerard Butler, but less money all around generally means less pay for the principles involved.
As for Sarah Jessica Parker, she appears to be earning money not only from her films (no comment) but also her beauty brand. Per Forbes, her scents Lovely, Covet and NYC, earned $18 million of her $30 million income for 2010.
One last fact: The figures reported by Forbes may be low.
"These stars get a list of perks that would choke a horse," Haldeman tells me. "Think 10 round-trip airfares for them and their entourages, suites or houses on location, personal chefs. So their actual pay may not be $20 million. It may be $21.5 million because the perks cost you a million five."
$1.5 million in perks just because you're Angelina Jolie? Yes.
Then again, that amount isn't $280 million either, is it?