Success: Money Or Acclaim Part 2 – Actors

Actors in Hollywood are adored the world over for their good looks or their charm, and this takes them a long way regardless of their acting chaps sometimes. We look at which actor takes top spot on the ladder for highest gross earnings and how these figures correlate to critical reviews. This is Part 2 of our investigation into the success of Hollywood’s biggest stars. 

Robert Downey Jr. was the highest earning actor of the past year according to Forbes.
Robert Downey Jr. was the highest earning actor of the past year according to Forbes.


Forbes magazine has placed Robert Downey Jr as currently the highest earning actor in Hollywood. He has enjoyed a windfall of $80 million in the past year and his status doesn’t appear like dropping any time soon with ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ due out early next year. However, he doesn’t take top spot on the all time grossing list and nor is he the highest rated critically. Let’s see who takes the honours, according to Box Office Mojo and Metacritic.

10. Johnny Depp – A star from a very young age this heartthrob has barely seemed to age in the past decade, all the while continuing to deliver zany and polarising performances. His work as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has helped him deliver $3.23 billion at the box office, which you’ll notice is already higher than No. 1 Cameron Diaz on the actresses list, hmm.

9. Michael Caine – A very lengthy career has certainly helped this outstanding English talent make his way to this lofty position. He’ll long be remembered as everyone’s favourite Alfred in ‘Batman’. He takes home $3.26 billion.

8. Robin Williams – The late comic was loved by all of Hollywood it seemed and his adored fans adored him even more. He managed to shine throughout the 90’s, and keep on shining into the new millennium, an ability that enabled his films to make $3.28 billion at the box office.

7. Tom Cruise – There hasn’t been many more successful action stars, but his dramatic roles can’t be understated either. Cruise has iconic 80’s films like ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Rain Man’ to his name, and along with his long-running Mission Impossible sequence they have gifted him with $3.5 billion. Read our take his latest film now.

6. Robert Downey Jr. – This years highest earner comes in a little lower on the all time box office list with $3.53 billion. Always regarded as a skilled performer his earning potential skyrocketed when he signed on to star as Iron Man, an integral part of the Marvel universe.

5. Eddie Murphy – An undisputed comedy star of the 90’s, Murphy has been less active in recent years but who could forget his turn as Donkey in the Shrek films. His movies have averaged a massive $100 million at the box office to net him $ 3.81 billion.

4. Harrison Ford – A most respected actor, Ford has rarely erred throughout his career. He’s managed to ride the wave of success that roles as Indiana Jones and Han Solo in Star Wars have brought him almost to the top.

3. Tom Hanks – Consummate professionalism abounds in the nature of Tom Hanks and it has allowed him star in some of the most popular films ever to hit screens, most notably Toy Story and it’s sequels. Toy Story 3 was a major success, making $415 million alone as well as being lauded over by critics. Hanks has grossed $4.26 billion at the box office.

Tom Hanks is one of Hollywood's good guys
Tom Hanks is one of Hollywood’s good guys


2. Morgan Freeman – The man with the greatest voice ever heard on film. He could narrate an accountants daily activities and make it interesting. He’s embossed with such a stature he’s played both God (‘Bruce Almighty’ ) and the President of the United States of America (‘Deep Impact’). In fact he has undertaken both those roles twice, in separate films. While he didn’t have a starring role, ‘The Dark Knight’ remains his highest grosser contributing $534 million to his $ 4.32 billion box office total.

Morgan Freeman has the ability to repel nightmares with his dreamy and dulcet tones. Credit:
Morgan Freeman has the ability to repel nightmares with his dreamy and dulcet tones. Credit:

1. Samuel L. Jackson – The undisputed king of the box office with 66 titles to his name averaging $69.5 million to total $4.59 billion. Any movie you can think of Jackson has a good chance of being in. He’s starred in cult classics like ‘Pulp Fiction’, to standard action flicks such as ‘Jumper‘, to his current blockbuster role as Nick Fury in the Marvel universe.

As with the actresses I can assure you No.1 here will not be boasting the highest critical rating. For all his enthusiasm, Jackson has appeared in some pretty horrible films, and he’s not the most diverse actor in the world. The difference between his highest metacritic score (94 for Pulp Fiction) and his lowest (19 for ‘Kite’) showcases this. He levels at an average of 54.

One has to wonder if Samuel L. Jackson ever turns down a script. Credit:
One has to wonder if Samuel L. Jackson ever turns down a script. Credit:

The highest critically rated star of this list is in fact Tom Hanks with an average metacritic score of 64, three points ahead of Michael Caine. Jackson comes in second last, just in front of Robin Williams.

Of the modern day crop of actors Daniel Day-Lewis clearly surpasses these with an average score of 73. Another to beat the top earners is George Clooney (65). Actually a top ten of most critically acclaimed would basically only include Tom Hanks doubling up.

So, more so than the actresses list, the men don’t have to be the greatest actors of their time to be the biggest earners. While no top actor is a pauper, the list would look very different if based simply on the merit of performance. This is a comment on the type of entertainment the majority of audiences look for today. With average age of cinema-goers dropping due to the abundance of superhero movies, on top of animated films and action blockbusters, the gap between the most skilled and dedicated actors and the top earners at the box office will probably continue to grow. This year may see an exception with The Revenant, as reported by us, looking good to reward two outstanding talents in Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.

Who is your favourite actor and who is one you think deserves more credit? Take a look at Part 1: Actresses here and stay tuned for Part 3: Directors.

Daniel Day-Lewis has consistently pleased critics.
Daniel Day-Lewis has consistently pleased critics.