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Hollywood's most overpaid stars

By Dorothy Pomerantz

Eddie Murphy is in desperate need of some career rehab. The "Saturday Night Live" alum used to be a sure thing in Hollywood. His family-friendly comedies like "Doctor Dolittle" and "The Nutty Professor" earned more than $250 million globally each and helped make Murphy one of the highest-paid stars in the industry.

But over the past few years the comedian has struggled. Two of his most recent films, "Imagine That" and "Meet Dave," were colossal failures. Murphy was paid millions up front to star in the films, but neither one earned back its production budget at the box office.

Bing: Eddie Murphy quitting family films?

Those disasters turned Murphy into the second most overpaid star in Hollywood by our calculations. For every $1 Murphy was paid in salary we found that his recent films have returned an average $2.70. To put that in perspective, Nicole Kidman, who ranks 10th on our overpaid list, returns $6.70 for every buck she is paid.

So it's no surprise to see the 50-year-old Murphy in career-building mode. It helps that he has director Brett Ratner on his side. Ratner helmed Murphy's latest film, "Tower Heist," which hits theaters Friday. Murphy stars as a thief who helps Ben Stiller and a motley crew of amateurs rob a Bernie Madoff-like financier who has stolen their pension money. Early reviews have been decent. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter says that "however far-fetched [the film] is all but irresistible in its criminal legitimacy and its promise of just desserts."

If the movie is a hit, it will go a long way toward improving Murphy's reputation and his ability to offer studios a better return on investment. Murphy is also slated to host the Oscars ceremony (which Ratner is production) next February.

Another consolation: compared to Drew Barrymore, Murphy is a financial superstar. The actress tops our 2011 list of Hollywood's Most Overpaid Actors, returning just 40 cents (not a misprint) for every dollar the studios spend on her. Barrymore doesn't earn as much as someone like Murphy but her recent films have performed horribly at the box office. Her 2009 film "Everybody's Fine" earned only $16 million globally and her 2007 film "Lucky You" brought in only $8 million.

See the full list: Hollywood's Most Overpaid Stars

To create our list we looked at the 40 highest-earning actors in Hollywood. To qualify, each had to have starred in at least three movies in the past five years that opened in more than 500 theaters. Movies that opened after May 1 of this year were not counted.

We also didn't look at animated films because the stars aren't really the draw. So Murphy doesn't get credit for the "Shrek" movies where he voiced Donkey. Those films have brought in a total $3 billion at the global box office.

We used data gathered for our annual Celebrity 100 list to calculate each star's estimated earnings on each film (including up-front pay and any earnings from the movie's box-office receipts and first year sales of DVDs). We then looked at each movie's estimated budget (not including marketing costs, which are susceptible to accounting chicanery) and box-office and DVD earnings to figure out an operating income for each film.

More: 'The Rum Diary': One of Johnny Depp's biggest career flops

We added up each star's compensation on his or her last three films and the operating income on those films, and divided total operating income by the star's total compensation to come up with a return-on-investment number. The final number represents an average of how much a studio earns for every dollar paid.

Will Ferrell, who topped our list of overpaid celebrities for the past two years, ranks third this time with a $3.50 return for every $1 he was paid. Ferrell's number improved thanks to his 2010 comedy "The Other Guys" which brought in a total $170 million at the global box office. Unfortunately for Ferrell, he still has to live with "Land of the Lost" which earned only $70 million on a $100 million budget.

Just behind Ferrell is actress Reese Witherspoon. The Oscar winner can't seem to score a hit lately, returning just $3.55 for every dollar she gets paid. A big reason for her low number: last year's "How Do You Know." The romantic comedy (which co-starred Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson) cost an estimated $120 million to produce and brought in only $50 million worldwide.

Rounding out the top five: Denzel Washington. For every $1 Washington was paid his films earned an average $4.25. Looking at the box office of Washington's last three films it might be hard to see how he made our list. "Unstoppable" earned $167 million and "The Book of Eli" earned $157 million. But Washington is an actor who can command as much as $20 million per film. At those prices, movies have to do much better than Washington's have at the box office in order for him to offer a solid return on investment.

Related articles on Forbes:
The Top-Earning Dead Celebrities
Hollywood's Highest-Paid TV Actors
The World's Highest-Paid Musicians

Nov 3, 2011 9:39AM
Every single actor out there is grossly overpaid. 
Nov 3, 2011 10:30AM

They are all overpaid! We are idiots for letting them get away with it. Actors, entertainers and pro athletes all need to step in line for a more realistic paycheck. It's ridiculous and disgraceful.


It is so absurd! Go idolize a doctor, a surgeon, or a scientist. They are the real heroes in this world.

Nov 3, 2011 1:13PM
All movie stars are overpaid this whole article is a bunch of b.s.  You can throw in almost all sports stars as well.  We in America for some reason worship these false idols and they continue to make ungodly amounts of money. 
Nov 23, 2011 6:47AM

I am starting a campaign to nationalize Hollywood--Just think about it--the industry earns billions and billions of dollars--to begin with California will be debt free--all the overflow can go into the federal cesspool --it should be easy since all the powers that be in Hollywood think there is need for a redistribution of wealth for the rest of us-they are always preaching to us about our faults and blaming us for every problem in the world-it's time they put their money where their mouths are--we can make laws to make sure top salaries for motion picture "stars" can't top $300,000 with lesser players on a sliding scale--also no bonuses, no nepotism, no cronyism, etc.  They will have to abide by the rules they proclaim are necessary for all of us--they will have to take staff and production companies with seniority and racial equality to work on their films and TV shows--no more of this "artisitic license" or talent excuse--after all these actors "stars" as they call themselves are only "playing and pretending" much like children--we can have laws to make sure their staffs are chosen by panels set up to determine necessity--and definitely no tax breaks or government grants allowed--producers and directors should have ceilings placed on all earnings which should never exceed $500,000--any spectulators will not earn more than "cost of living" percentages on their money--it's time Hollywood starts eliminating all the poor and homeless-they should be required to live in average homes-they also should be required to serve for 2 years in the military before being considered for work-Hollywood is the most wasteful group in the world--lavish lifestyles have to stop!! They are the first ones to tell us to live as sparingly as possible--no pools and airconditioning and big cars for us--it's time a law is passed to outlaw their lifestyles--heavy prison time for all that disobey!!!




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Nov 22, 2011 12:28PM
Everyone of these idiots are overpaid!!!  All TV bimbos, and sluts are highly overpaid, and they need to be taken down a peg or two... We as americans are giving in to all of this media idiocy, buy help paying for their fancy cars, and elaborate houses, and not to mention the way they eat, and party, and take vacations, off of our money!!!!  Wake up people, stop all the lunacy on TV, and movies, with these idiots...  Let's start putting these people into a higher tax level, and maybe we can all get back to making a decent living.... I refuse to watch TV, with a bunch of idiotic, and overpaid bimbos, and no-talent people occupying my screen, that I have to pay outrageous cable rates for... I think music today is also nothing but sleaze, and the lyrics, if you can call them that, need to be cleaned up, as well as some of these artists!!!  I feel sorry for parents today, as they have no control over their children, from what they are putting on TV, parents are not needed, and the children revert to bullying, and bitchiness, as they see on tv.... Remember what they say about food.... You are what you eat, well on TV, and movies, you see it, and you become it!!!
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