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maryann johanson, free spinster

question of the day: Which movie stars are actually overpaid?

I was mystified this week to see that Forbes magazine has named Will Ferrell the most overpaid actor in Hollywood. Not that it was Ferrell at the top of the list — not that it was anyone in particular who was on the list — but it was how Forbes decided someone was overpaid that startled me. Forbes says its list is of stars “who earn more than they’re worth at the box office,” which makes it sound like these are actors who get paid $20 million and then their movies don’t even earn back such an exorbitant salary. But that’s not it at all. Ferrell made the top of the list because, get this:

For every $1 Ferrell was paid, his films returned an average $3.35.

You read that correctly: Forbes considers Ferrell “overpaid” because his movies bring in, on average, “only” more than three times his salary. And remember, Ferrell is considered the worst performing star: the other nine on the list earn their employers even more for ever dollar spent on them. By the time we get down to No. 10, Jim Carrey, he’s bringing in $8.60 for every dollar he’s paid.

How can that be considered overpaid?
Obviously, this is all relative: there are actors who are paid comparatively little for appearing in movies that end up being big hits: for instance, the then-unknown Sam Worthington would have been paid very little for Avatar — probably much less than $1 million — would would make him one of the most underpaid stars ever, when compared to how much the film has earned. But no one was ever going to see Avatar because Worthington was in it (except perhaps his mother), so it’s not quite a fair comparison. But audiences do flock to movies that star Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey because they’re Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey. So how can they ever be considered overpaid if they’re still earning tidy profits for their bosses?

So: Which movie stars are actually overpaid? Forget about actual numbers, just think about prominence and how unwarranted that prominence may be…

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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