Graphic of highest-paid actresses in Hollywood

Christina Mack/E! Illustration/Getty Images

The tides of Hollywood are changing—for better and for worse. 

If you want any indication of how actresses are progressing in the industry, follow the money. On the heels of Forbes' annual list of highest-earning female movie stars, it's clear that there are benefits to being an actress in 2016 as opposed to previous periods. 

Leading the pack this year is Jennifer Lawrence who, at 26 years old, has garnered four Oscar nominations, one win, topped the list for the last two years and came in second place for the previous two. However, it's Forbes' runner up that has caught our eye. 

Funny lady Melissa McCarthy secured the second spot after a year of anticipated blockbusters, including the notable Ghostbusters reboot. However, her positioning is particularly notable considering she was once regarded by some as unbankable because of her size. After having launched to stardom as the laughable sidekick in Bridesmaids, McCarthy has defied the traditional expectations of leading ladies by sticking to comedies—often raunchy—in lieu of whimsical romances. Having steadily risen in the highest-earning ranks from third to second place since 2015, it's a clear signal that not all of Hollywood's female elite must come in a size 2. 

Nor must they stick to the serious. Two of the top five ranked actresses, McCarthy and Jennifer Aniston, are predominantly comedic stars. It seems the money flows more freely when hysterical laughter is involved, as opposed to decades ago when the industry was predominantly lead by femme fatales. 


Columbia Pictures

In fact, the ingénue seems to have lessened its demand in favor of more mature characters. Half of the women on Forbes' highest-earning list are above the age of 40—combine that with the fact that Sandra Bullock became People's oldest "Most Beautiful Woman" at 51 years old last year and it's safe to say, Hollywood is loosening its reins on its longstanding ageism and willing to shell out millions in the process. 

While the list highlights women of different sizes, ages and genres—they are still not as diverse in ethnicity. Of the top ten women ranked, only one actress is Chinese and only one is Indian.

There is also a major discrepancy in the actual cash flow. In a year dominated by conversation about equal pay, the women can't even achieve equality within their own salaries. To start, top earner Lawrence's annual salary actually dropped by $6 million since her top salary last year. As for runner-up McCarthy, she pulled in $33 million, but it was still $2.5 million short of last year's second top earner, Scarlett Johansson, and the lowest the second top-earning amount has been in three years. 

Finally, while we hail these women for consistently excelling at their craft, there seems to be little room for new talent. After all, many of the same actresses have been featured on the list for the past several years, albeit rising or dropping in the ranking depending on the year. Lawrence alone has been featured in the top five spots for the last four years, sending the message that Hollywood rarely strays away from proven success. 

However, if this list has indicated anything about the evolution of women in Hollywood, it's "never say never." Until next year!

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