Forbes Names Hollywood's Real Winners

February 6, 2009 By:
Forbes Names Hollywood's Real Winners

This time of year, Hollywood actors are ranked by the awards they win. As in Golden Globes, Oscars, SAG, etc. But Forbes has come up with a ranking system all of their own. And naturally, it’s based on money.

They’ve tallied the numbers on 100 Hollywood hot shots, and come up with what they call the “rainmakers.”

Unsurprisingly, the two winners of the best actor and actress category go to Robert Downey Jr. and Meryl Streep. Because no matter how you spin it, when it comes down to it, Downey and Streep are always a good return on the investment.

The explanation of the method to the madness is below. Check out Forbes.com to find out the other 98 Hollywood players.

Best Performance by an Actor:

Robert Downey Jr. The 43-year-old staged a classic Hollywood comeback this year with two hit movies, Iron Man and Tropic Thunder. He got a Best Supporting Oscar nod for his work as a pretentious Australian actor in blackface in Tropic Thunder, but he gets a Rainmaker for Iron Man.

Because of a well-chronicled past filled with drug addiction, Downey was shunned by Hollywood for years. With 2003's Gothika he started rebuilding his reputation as a solid worker, but his salary has stayed low. While actors like Will Smith or Brad Pitt might have demanded upward of $10 million to play the lead in Iron Man, Downey was happy to take the role for under $5 million.

When the film went on to earn $580 million at the worldwide box office, Downey gave Paramount a nice return on its investment: $52.60 for every $1 they paid Downey, earning him the top slot among actors in our analysis.

Best Performance by an Actress:

Meryl Streep. At 59, Streep proved this year that women can be a powerful force at the box office. Mamma Mia, the film version of the all-Abba musical, earned $575 million at the box office. For every dollar Streep was paid, Mamma Mia earned $12.

Her return is so much lower than Downey's because she earned a much bigger paycheck and a larger percentage of the film's profits. She also earned an Oscar nod, but it was for her work as a nun in Doubt. That role may bring her gold, but it won't bring in green. So far it has earned just $30 million at the box office.

To come up with our best performing actors, we began by looking at movies that opened in more than 500 theaters between Dec. 1, 2007, and Dec. 1, 2008, in order to be sure each film in our study had been in theaters at least eight weeks.

To determine payback figures, we first calculated the movie's gross income by subtracting the movie's budget (excluding the actor's compensation) from half of each film's worldwide box office (to roughly approximate the studio's cut of each ticket). Then the actor's total compensation was divided into the movie's gross income to get the actor's payback figure for the film. We used gross income rather than net income because the latter figure is easily manipulated by studio accountants with marketing expenses treated differently for almost every film.

We also looked at which movies earned the most after expenses by dividing 50% of the worldwide box office of each film (to reflect the studio's take) by the film's total production budget. The winner: Juno. For every $1 spent on the budget the film earned $15.40. Although the movie about a pregnant teen was released at the end of 2007, it fit under our deadline and made most of its money in 2008.

To determine the most profitable director, we divided the film's return by how many stars were in each movie. No surprise, Juno director Jason Reitman came out on top.

Finally, we looked at the studios. To decide who had the best profitability, we took 50% of the combined box office of all of the films each studio released last year and divided it by the total spent on budgets. Paramount tops our list with a return of $1.73 for every dollar spent thanks to big hits like Iron Man and Indiana Jones.