Throughout the century-long history of cinema, film production has changed from being a means to make profits, sometimes at the expense of anyone in its employ, to a time where it must conform to union rules and regulations to allow for a fair working environment for both the cast and the crew. Despite this and because of various factors like budget, bad negotiations, or simply for being a newcomer in the field, many actors sometimes don’t find themselves paid as well as they hoped for or as they should be. This discrepancy is even more pronounced when the actors find themselves underpaid for significant roles like the ones mentioned below.
1. Barkhad Abdi made only $65,000 for Captain Phillips (2013) for which he was nominated for Oscar even though he never acted before.
The Somali-born actor was chosen to play the pirate leader, Abduwali Muse, along with two others for different roles from over 700 people who auditioned worldwide. One of the most famous lines that Muse says, “Look at me. Look at me. I am the captain now.” was actually improvised by Abdi at the time. For his role, apart from being nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, he was also nominated for Screen Actors Guild and a Golden Globe Award and won BAFTA for the same role. Despite being a critical success, the film was also a commercial success, grossing $220 million against a budget of $55 million. However, that success was not reflected in Abdi’s pay. (1, 2)
2. Jeff Daniels was paid only $50,000 for the movie Dumb and Dumber (1994) for his role as Harry while Jim Carrey was paid $7 million.
When casting for the characters Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne happened, Jim Carrey was still at the beginning of his career and Jeff Daniels was known for playing dramatic roles. But Bobby Farrelly, the writer of the film, wanted Daniels after watching him in Something Wild. The studio, however, didn’t. So they just offered him the $50,000 expecting him to reject, which he didn’t.
Jim Carrey, on the other hand, was offered $350,000 but wanted $400,000. Negotiations with him were still ongoing when his film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective came out. After it raked in large amounts of money at the box office and went on to stay at the top for a long time, his salary went up to $7 million, while the actual budget of the movie was $16 million. Released in December that year, Dumb and Dumber went on to become a huge hit grossing over $247 million at the box office. The film established Carrey’s career as a comedic actor and launched the careers of the Farrelly brothers, who went on to make well-known comedies like There’s Something About Mary, Me, Myself & Irene, and Shallow Hal. (1, 2)
3. In order to work with Martin Scorsese, Jonah Hill took the lowest possible SAG pay of $60,000 for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), while Leonardo DiCaprio was paid $10 million.
In 2007, Leonardo DiCaprio and Warner Bros. purchased the rights for the memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street, by Jordon Belfort, motivational speaker, and former stockbroker. At that time, Martin Scorsese was to direct the film, but when it wasn’t greenlit by the studio for months, left the project to work on Shutter Island. Warner Bros. eventually abandoned the project, and it was picked up by the independent company Red Granite Pictures, giving Scorsese complete creative freedom and the film an R rating.
When the film was in the development stage, Jonah Hill was only too eager to join the cast stating in an interview he would pay to work on a film by Scorsese. Hill received Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination along with DiCaprio who was nominated for Best Actor. The film went on to become Scorsese’s highest-grossing and earning $392 million worldwide. (1, 2)
4. Despite the immense success of Power Rangers, the original set of actors were only paid $600 per week even though they did their own stunts.
The original Power Rangers show, “Mighty Morphin Power Ranger,” that premiered in 1993 on Fox Kids starred five young actors who were cast because they all had some form of physical training like martial arts, dance, or gymnastics. At the time, the show was a non-union project and the actors did not have any agents or lawyers. Because of that, they did not have any legal support system that could have helped them negotiate their pay or working conditions.
Amy Jo Johnson who played the Pink Power Ranger and David Yost who played the Blue Power Ranger once caught fire while shooting. Due to the poor working conditions and low pay, only as much as they could have made while waitressing or working at McDonald’s, they left the show one by one. Whoever left was written off the show and replaced with another actor. Yost was the last to leave. Being gay, he had to endure homophobic attitudes, teasing, and mocking from the production staff. He was so affected by that, he even underwent unsuccessful conversion therapy after leaving. (source)
5. The lead actor of The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980) was paid just $300 even though the film grossed over $200 million.
Nǃxau ǂToma was a Namibian bush farmer who did not know much beyond the life he had and hadn’t seen more than three White people until then. According to Jamie Uys, producer, director, and writer of the movie, he was flown back home every three or four weeks to prevent culture shock. His first cash payment of $300 was reportedly blown away by the wind because he did not understand its value. N!xua was was later given 12 head of cattle and $100 a month after filming commenced. However, for the series of sequels, he was able to negotiate $500,000. (source)