By Dorothy Pomerantz
Although studios often spend hundreds of millions of dollars on blockbusters full of explosions and computer-generated destruction, a small movie like "Black Swan" can often be a much better bet.
True, "Black Swan" won't spawn any lines of Nina and Lily dolls or a spin-off TV show. But the film made an enormous profit. It was produced for an estimated $13 million and grossed $329 million at the box office worldwide.
Not only did the film help Natalie Portman win her first Best Actress Oscar, but the fantastic financial return helped land her at the top of our list of Hollywood's Best Actors for the Buck. We estimate that for every dollar Portman is paid by the studios, she returns $42.70. Compare that to Eddie Murphy, our most overpaid star, who returns $2.30 for every dollar he gets paid.
To compile our list, we used data on actors' earnings gathered for our Celebrity 100 list. Box-office grosses and budget estimates are from Box Office Mojo. We looked at the last three films each actor starred in over the last three years that opened in more than 2,000 theaters, calculating the return on investment for the studios who pay his or her salary. We didn't count movies where the actor was in a supporting or large ensemble role, and we didn't count animated movies. The actors who score well on this list tend to have small paydays and star in highly profitable movies.
Also on Forbes.com: Photo gallery: Best Actors for the Buck
For Portman (who recently took a break from the big screen to be with her new son), we included "Black Swan," "No Strings Attached" and "Your Highness." Even though "Your Highness" was a flop, earning only $25 million on an estimated $50 million budget, that ding wasn't enough to seriously hurt her return-on-investment number when we included her other two hits. We did not count "Thor," since Portman was a supporting player in that movie.
"No Strings Attached," a romantic comedy co-starring Ashton Kutcher, was a film that most people probably don't realize was a hit. It earned a respectable $150 million at the box office globally, but that return was on a tiny budget of $25 million. Like "Black Swan," the film was another example of Portman starring in a movie with a low budget and a high box office, and because Portman doesn't demand a giant payday (yet), she's a fantastic investment.
Ranking second on our list is Kristen Stewart. For every dollar she gets paid, Stewart returns an average $40.60. Stewart is in the unusual situation of ranking high on this list and topping our Highest-Earning Actress list. Usually, if an actor is earning more than anyone else in Hollywood, it's hard for him or her to be considered a bankable investment. That high salary means the films have to do spectacularly to offer profitable returns to the studios.
Stewart was able to earn a ton over the last three years and offer a healthy return thanks to the "Twilight" franchise. Even though she was paid $25 million to star in the last two films, she was clearly worth the money. The "Twilight" films have grossed $3.3 billion at the global box office, and the final film, "Breaking Dawn -- Part 2," is still in theaters.
Her co-stars Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner also make our list. Pattinson ranks fourth, producing a $31.70 return for every dollar he is paid. Lautner ranks sixth with a $29.50 return.
All three of the actors were paid the same for the final "Twilight" movies. The differences in their return numbers comes from their other projects. This year Stewart had "Snow White and the Huntsman," which turned a nice profit, grossing $400 million on an estimated budget of $170 million.
Pattinson's other movies this year, "Bel Ami" and "Cosmopolis," weren't released in enough theaters to count for this list. The only other film we looked at for Pattinson was "Water for Elephants," which grossed $118 million at the global box office on a $38 million budget.
Lautner's one non-"Twilight" film was "Abduction," which didn't do great. The film cost only $35 million to make, but it grossed just $82 million at the box office worldwide, which means it probably turned just a small profit.
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