Just as Alice Through the Looking Glass hit theatres in May, a judge ordered a restraining order against its star, Johnny Depp, after his wife, Amber Heard, alleged he physically and verbally abused her. The couple reached a $7 million divorce settlement in August, but not before the $190 million sequel to Alice in Wonderland crashed at the box office.
Thanks to recent ticket booth losses, Depp is this year’s most overpaid actor: His last three movies returned just $2.80 at the box office for every $1 he was paid on them. While the damning accusations did not impact his earnings during our scoring period, they look set to damage his box office prospects for months to come. It’s the latest bad career news for Depp, who has suffered some high profile misses including last year’s Mortdecai and 2014′s Transcendence.
Will Smith, who ranks second, has had a similarly poor run at the box office: He returned a dismal $5 at the ticket booths for every $1 he earned from his recent films. With Concussion, an Oscar nod evaded him and the movie barely met its $34 million production costs; Focus was a little better. Smith’s outsized paydays, coupled with box office disappointments, translate to poor returns.
This year’s ranking of Hollywood’s Most Overpaid Actors is dominated by established male leads like Depp and Smith whose historic successes allow them to command eight figures, despite ever-more-frequent cinematic washouts. To compile our rundown, we looked at the last three films each actor starred in before June 2016, save animated films, movies where the actor appeared in an insignificant role, or movies that were released on fewer than 2,000 screens.
We did not examine folks unless they had starred in a new eligible movie since last year’s scoring period.
We then deducted the estimated production budget from the global box office for each film according to Box Office Mojo to come up with a limited definition of each movie’s operating income. We took the total operating income from the star’s three most recent significant films then divided by the star’s estimated pay for those films to come up with a final return on investment number.
Some actors, such as third-ranked Channing Tatum, make the cut even though they have scored hits. Magic Mike XXL was a veritable success, notching $122 million on a $14.8 million budget, but Tatum still returns just $6 at the box office for every $1 paid. That’s because his three movie average is dragged down by 2015 flop Jupiter Ascending, which earned just $8 million more than its $176 million production budget.
He barely fares better than Will Ferrell, whose middling returns mean he renders $6.50 at the ticket booth for every $1 he earns. That’s even worse than his $6.80 ROI last year. The dip is due to long-awaited Zoolander 2, which earned a dismal 23% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and managed just $56 million at the ticketing booth–on a $50 million budget.
Rounding out the top five is George Clooney. Once untouchable, his box office returns have waned to $6.70 for every $1 paid. He is still beloved by those who see his films: Hail, Caesar! was enjoyed by critics but fared modestly at the box office; Money Monster performed a little better. But Clooney’s average takes a big hit from 2015′s Tomorrowland, which barely grossed more than its eye-watering $190 million budget.
Such humongous budgets make it difficult to balance the books–even more so when the star commands a hefty chunk of backend profits. Such is the case with Leonardo DiCaprio, whose films earn $9.90 at the box office for every $1 he is paid. The Revenant star’s outsized paychecks means that even when a film performs well–grossing $533 million on a $135 million budget, in this case–his ROI does not seem as impressive. But DiCaprio’s last two films, The Revenant and Wolf of Wall Street, both earned him Best Actor Oscar nods and wide critical acclaim—a different reward valued deeply by some investors. (DiCaprio eventually won an Academy Award this year for the Alejandro González Iñárritu-directed feature.)
These returns might sound good to a bond or stock investors, but Hollywood accounting means they are worse than they appear. Considering studios can keep as little as 50% of global box office, once exhibitors have been paid, and that production budgets do not include the hefty costs of marketing, actor pay can quickly seem disproportionate.
For Depp, much rides on his return as Captain Jack Sparrow in next year’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. If that installment fails, in a franchise has already grossed $3.7 billion, Depp could find it difficult to score roles–in or out of a pirate hat.