There are basically two ways to A-List fame in this great country of ours - either work really hard and be super-talented and make movies that lots of people want to see or let someone film you getting pissed on. Shockingly, we’re here today to discuss the former, those A-List souls who have a reputation for being big time movie stars of the non-pissing variety. Only, we’re doing it with a little twist. The A-List superstars on this list all have one thing in common: they rake in tens of millions of dollars and bask in the glow of fame even though most of their movies suck and nobody bothers to go see them. Why are they famous then? Well, some are desperately clinging to the fame they earned decades ago while others, well, it’s a mystery really. But let us not quibble over reasons. Instead, let us point fingers and condemn them, for they are the most overrated and overpaid movie stars of them all.
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When’s the last time Robin Williams was the lead in a movie anybody actually watched and enjoyed? Think really hard. You can’t tell me, can you? That’s because Robin Williams hasn’t made anything that anyone has watched in a decade. He’s always been a dude whose movies have run the gamut from Oscar bait to hideously awful, but lately he seems to have forgotten about the Oscar part. The low point for Robin Williams was probably 1999’s Bicentennial Man. It wasn’t the biggest bomb on his less than impressive filmography, but here’s what sets it apart – Robin Williams was paid twenty million dollars for that turd. Twenty million dollars for Bicentennial Man! In the end, the movie never even made back its budget and while Williams has largely been exiled from the land of leading men ever since – and rightly so – he still enjoys a reputation as an A-List star. But here are his last five movies: Happy Feet 2, Old Dogs, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, World’s Greatest Dad and Shrink. I haven’t even heard of a couple of those and I’ve watched exactly zero of the rest. At this point he’s basically Danny DeVito with better press. Actually, that’s not fair to Danny DeVito.
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To be fair, Nicolas Cage is just as well known for making terrible movies as he is for anything else these days, but that still doesn’t stop people from giving him piles of money to make them. The most egregious example of this came just this past year when he was paid twelve million dollars to star in Seeking Justice. You all know Seeking Justice, right? What’s that? You’ve never heard of it? But how can that be? After all, it stars A-List superstar Nicolas Cage! You just must not see a lot of movies because it made… oh, oh Jesus. It only made $390,000? Where are the rest of the zeroes? $390,000! That’s it! Look, that’s the sort of thing that winds up with an executive living on the street, dumpster diving, while his business partner ends up buried in the Las Vegas desert. Nicolas Cage pretty much robbed that studio. He stole from them. Sure, he occasionally sprinkles in a blockbuster that people actually go see like National Treasure (which is the only thing keeping him from being higher on this list) and the kids go wild but for the most part his movie choices look a lot more like Seeking Justice or Stolen or Trespass or Season of the Witch or… I think you get the point.
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I know, I know, it’s sacrilege to put a legend like Al Pacino on this list but the facts don’t lie, dudes and lady dudes. Like Robin Williams, Pacino hasn’t made a movie anyone has wanted to see in years. The only exception was his piggybacking on the success of Clooney, Pitt, Damon and company with his appearance in Ocean’s Thirteen. Aside from that? Nothing. Righteous Kill, 88 Minutes, Two For the Money… the list of crap goes on and on. Hell, he even showed up in Gigli. That is not the sort of filmography befitting a legend. The worst example of Pacino’s shameless profiteering off of his once golden name is probably 2002’s dud S1m0ne, for which he was paid eleven million dollars. The movie made nine million dollars. Yeah. I’m just glad Fredo didn’t have to live to see what became of his kid brother.
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Sean Penn is kind of a weird case because most of his movies rank pretty high on the respectability scale. He’s constantly nominated for awards and he is undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s alpha dogs. So what in the hell is he doing on this list? Well, the thing is, is that, well, nobody actually watches any of his movies. That’s kind of an important ingredient in the A-List recipe, you know? Don’t believe me? Fine. Take a look at this – for his career, Penn’s movies have averaged a gross of $16,218,072. To put that in perspective, that ranks Penn 1,718th on the all-time list of average box-office success. I’m not joking. That’s a real number, I looked it up like a responsible writer and everything. That’s… that’s horrible. To put that in further perspective, Chris Penn, Sean’s less successful and, uh, deader brother, ranks 1,493rd. That’s right, Chris Penn has a higher average box office gross than Sean. Other names ahead of him on that list? Tom Arnold and, wait for it… Pauly freakin’ Shore. Now, I know money isn’t everything, but Sean Penn is an A-List star and he gets paid like one even though Pauly Shore of all people has historically been a bigger draw. The only reason he isn’t number one on this list is because his critical acclaim saves him, because the money part, well… Pauly Shore! Jesus.
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Jennifer Aniston is really, really famous and for the past decade or so she has hauled in somewhere between eight to ten million dollars for every movie she’s made. What I want you to do is stop and think about all the hit movies she’s made in that time. I’ll wait, but not too long because honestly, I’ll be waiting forever before you actually come up with one. I guess Horrible Bosses was kinda funny and… and… look, that’s all I’ve got. And that role was damn near a cameo. It is mystifying why Jennifer Aniston not only continues to land roles given her track record but that studios actually pay her like one of the biggest, most successful stars in the world. Yeah, yeah, I know Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie sullied her honor and the tabloids love her but nobody actually pays genuine paper money to see her do anything. Look, the reality is this: she was a successful sitcom actress and that’s about it. That sitcom ended eight years ago. She is basically Kirstie Alley, only she gets paid like she’s, well, Angelina Jolie.
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Jude Law is considered an A-List leading man. He’s certainly paid like one, like Aniston raking in somewhere between eight to ten million dollars every time he makes a movie. Here’s the problem – he’s never – NEVER – actually been the leading man in a movie that’s been a hit. Sure, he’s played second fiddle in the Sherlock Holmes movies but for ten million dollars, you kinda expect to get someone who can carry a film, which Jude Law never has. Not once. I guess The Holiday sort of counts but even that was sold as a Cameron Diaz/Kate Winslet vehicle. Seriously, look at his filmography. There’s nothing there. Maybe a bit part here or there in something people have actually seen, like The Aviator, but nothing that was sold as being a Jude Law flick. Nothing even remotely successful anyway. So you tell me why he’s paid like he’s Matt Damon or one of those dudes because I honestly don’t have a clue.
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I’m just going to list some figures here and let them speak for themselves, because, honestly, they don’t just speak, they scream that Nicole Kidman is hilariously overpaid and overrated – for Australia, she was paid thirteen million dollars. The movie made fourteen million dollars in the U.S. For The Invasion she was paid more than sixteen million dollars, for The Golden Compass fifteen million dollars, for The Interpreter fifteen million dollars, another fifteen million for Birth and then fifteen million more for The Stepford Wives. And to top it all off, for Bewitched she was paid more than seventeen million dollars. Either she’s got the most powerful agent in the world or she actually is a witch.
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Poor Eddie. Like anyone else could be number one on this list. After all, this sort of shit is basically what Eddie Murphy is known for now. He gets paid dump-trucks full of money and gold bullion to star in hilariously awful movies that nobody ever goes to see. A Thousand Words, Meet Dave, Imagine That, Norbit… I could go on forever. But all you really need to know about how big of a money suck Eddie Murphy is relative to the size of his fame is that he was paid that magical megastar salary of twenty million dollars to star in… The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Let that knowledge penetrate the deepest, darkest places of your brain and then try to argue that anyone else should be number one on this list. You can’t and so here he is.
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(Previously published on November 13, 2012.)