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Hollywood's Most Overpaid Actors

Earlier this week Forbes came out with its annual list of the Most Overpaid Movie Actors in Hollywood. By giving American readers the opportunity to bash celebrities without being reduced to buying a newstand tabloid, Forbes list of shame has great curb appeal but for all the buzz it creates the methodology of Forbes’ list leaves much to be desired. 

According to its website Forbes creates its ranking by dividing the box office for a star's last three films by his or her total pay. By this math Forbes declares Adam Sandler the most overpaid star in the world with his most recent movies bringing in only $3.10 for every dollar that went to Sandler.

In the attached clip OptionMonster.com’s Jon Najarian helps breakdown the flaws in Forbes system to in effect rank Forbes top (bottom?) five and present a new formula for determining how much value actors are really adding to the bottom line. Applying these modified standars and using my long-dormant BA in film studies I then present the real list of overpaid movie stars.

Forbes List:

5. Kevin James:  $6.10 of box office for every $1 paid

If you’ve even heard of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” you already know the problem with Forbes’ system. James stars as a Segway-driving asthmatic rental cop who finds himself defending a suburban mall from skate-punk terrorists. Think Die Hard only really, really horrible. Released in 2009 and therefore not counted by Forbes, ...Mall Cop earned $150 million worldwide. It was number one in Germany, a nation not known for a sense of light whimsy. James should earn a lifetime pass for that achievement alone.

HIghlighting another flaw in Forbes methodology: animated films weren’t counted. I’m not sure what Kevin James and Adam Sandler (see below) were paid for Hotel Transylvania but that animated feature made almost $350 million. That’s more than Twitter booked in all of 2012. 

4. Nicolas Cage:  $6.10 per $1 of salary

He’s anchored the National Treasure franchise, carried one of the great undrerated action movies of all time (Face/Off) and lives large enough to have ended up owing the IRS $13 million despite banking more than $150 million in salary during his career. He’s made some clunkers but gets credit for being unfailingly interesting in everything he’s done. Cage doesn’t just chew scenery, he scrapes it with his teeth like a kid with an Oreo cookie.

You can’t buy that kind of on-screen charisma Nic Cage will let you rent it for $10 million and 1% of the back end. You don’t even need a script.

3. and 2. Reese Witherspoon & Katherine Heigl:  $3.90 and $3.50 respectively

Financially speaking Forbes may have a point on these two rom-com staples. Emotionally Witherspoon deserves massive credit for two accomplishments outside the purview of an income statement. First she broke the glass ceiling on “actors being violently obnoxious towards arresting officers” in a much viewed clip that also established her as one of the all-time most violent significant others this side of Alec Baldwin.

Witherspoon also deserves credit for being the first celeb to explicate the common-sense celeb rules for enjoying the freedom of sexting without ruining your career: “When I came up in the business, if you made a sex tape, you were embarrassed and you hid it under your bed. And if you took naked pictures of yourself on your cellphone, you hide your face, people! Hide your face!”

If Anthony Weiner had watched the 2011 MTV Movie Awards he could be sending Carlos Danger texts from Mayor Bloomberg’s office this very moment.

1. Adam Sandler:  $3.40 per $1 salary

Adam Sandler movies have grossed a total of more than $2.3 billion without a single action film franchise in the mix. For the sake of comparison Leonardo DiCaprio's lifetime take is $2.2 billion and he was in Titanic.

The Real Top 5

Using my own black box ranking system that takes into account not just box office by diversity of parts played, creative ambition and degree to which a perfomrer seems to be mailing it in (think Brando getting fed lines through an earpiece in Superman). Here’s Breakout’s Official Overpaid Actor list as created by the Yahoo Finance team and your’s truly.

5.  Morgan Freeman

In 1994 at the age of 57 Morgan Freeman  played Red in the Shawshank Redemption. He was so good that no one even wondered how the character went from a red headed Irishman to a wizened man of color in the transition from book to film.

Freeman's "rehabilitated" speech is one of the best cinematic moments of the 90's. It's a perfect mesh of great script perfectly suited for an actor at the height of his considerable powers. Try to imagine it being delivered by Charlie Sheen or Emillio Estevez. It almost happened; the brothers spent years trying to get the Stephen King novella made into a movie.

Freeman seems to agree on the perfect fit between his skill set and roles involving wise older gentlemen with a gift for oration. In the 20 years since Shawshank Freeman has barely tweaked the basic Red character whether he was "Driving Miss Daisy," making toys for Batman or playing the President of the United States.

Freeman / Red has actually played God not once but twice. Not a God-like figure but the actual God. Even when playing The Lord Freeman was Red; slightly bemused by the failures of mankind but resigned to the limits of his power.

You'd think anyone who can hold their own playing God opposite Jim Carry would take the occasional stab at something a little different. Nope. The closest Freeman has come to mixing things up was last week when woefully ignorant members of the Twittersphere used pictures of Freeman in tributes to Nelson Mandela.

4.  Julia Roberts

Got her Oscar and started showing up as oddly miscast eye-candy in George Clooney movies. 

3 - 1: Three way tie:  Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro & Al Pacino

“Are you looking at me because you need me on that wall and everytime I try to get out you drag me back in.”

Three of the greatest film actors in history. All three have earned the right to coast into their golden years but that doesn’t mean DeNiro gets a pass for playing Gaylord Fockers father-in-law three times for a total of $60 million.

Up next for De Niro is “Grudge Match” in which the 71 year old plays an Irish pug facing off against Sylvester Stallone (presumably cast as a Welshman) in a battle to determine who has the best human growth hormone connection.

All ten of these actors deserves all the credit in the world for their ability to get paid enormous sums of money for drifting aimlessly from role to role secure in the knowledge that their legacies are unassailable.  That doesn’t mean anyone’s going to be lining up on Chrismas night to see them box (unless of course Morgan Freeman plays DeNiro’s world weary trainer).