When Cuba Gooding Jr. won the Academy Award for "Jerry McGuire" in 1997, he popped around the stage like Ricochet Rabbit, yelling his tagline from the film: "Show me the money! Show me the money!" In context, of course, it was sweet. That scene was a feel-good moment in a feel-good movie.
Out of context, it highlights the expectation that we have for the heady moment when Hollywood professionals hear their names called. It's wonderful to be recognized for your work. But even more wonderful is the monetary reward that you'll reap because of the huge boon to your career, right?
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Maybe. Maybe not.
Although having “Oscar-winner” on your resume is certainly a big accolade, winning doesn't guarantee a salary bump across the board. Hard numbers—like exactly how much an actor is paid for a movie—can be hard to come by, but Tinseltown statisticians have pored over the budgets and profits listed on boxofficemojo.com to guess how much may be going to actors. We'll work off those numbers.
Does Hollywood Have a Gender Gap of Its Own?
The honors thesis of a student at Colgate looked at the earning power of actors and actresses in the years before and after their Oscar wins, and found that male actors experience an 81% bump in salary after nabbing an Oscar … while actresses see almost no financial benefit following a win. In fact, their careers may even take a bit of a dive after bringing home a statuette.
Lest we forget the curse of causation vs. correlation, we should point out that we can't say the Oscar win itself is the culprit. It could be simple ageism: The average age of an actress winning her first Oscar is 36—and as Rosanna Arquette noted in her 2002 documentary, "Searching for Debra Winger," 40 is an awkward age for women in Hollywood because they either retire or start playing "The Mom."
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Another factor? In recent years, actors have become more willing to take huge pay cuts to act in low-budget, prestigious dramas commonly known as "Oscar bait." So those male actors who later earn 81% more may have been able to command that cash all along—they just deferred their earning power due to a desire for recognition and a lasting legacy.
Is There Such a Thing as an Oscar Jinx?
It's interesting to note that the top-grossing actors aren't necessarily Oscar winners. Of the top ten stars who've grossed the most money over time, only four are Oscar winners (Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Robin Williams and Michael Caine), and six aren't—Samuel L. Jackson, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis and Eddie Murphy. So while some stellar actors earn Oscars, an Academy win doesn't seem to have any direct bearing on who makes the most in Hollywood.
There's even the concept of an "Oscar jinx," or the idea that, after winning an Academy Award, an actor may face even bigger professional challenges. Goodness knows Cuba Gooding Jr. hasn't had much success in the years following his win.
As intriguing as a jinx may sound, the reality is that these actors are probably just doing what they always did: taking every role they can because they're freelancers who are worried about paying the mortgage. We only notice the stinkers after an Oscar win. Amazing story: Michael Caine missed accepting his Oscar because he was filming another "Jaws" sequel, about which he had this to say, "I have never seen it, but by all accounts, it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific!"
How Do the Oscars Impact Non-Actors?
Director Jessica Yu famously quipped, when accepting her Oscar for Documentary (Short Subject) in 1996, "You know you've entered new territory when your outfit costs more than your film." She has worked steadily since that win—but so have the other directors who competed with her.
Sure, an Academy Award looks nice on a resume. And maybe it helped Yu to secure funding for her next film. But a big payday? More like a better chance at job security.
The movies themselves don't even get a box-office bump from the Academy Awards because, by the time the awards roll around, the flicks have mostly left the theaters. Interestingly, the Golden Globes do have a significant effect on box office numbers, either because the awards show happens earlier or because it tends to honor more blockbusters with more dollar signs than the artsier Oscars do.
What We Can Learn From These Movie Stars
In the end, people in the entertainment industry are basically freelancers trying to balance the demands of living expenses against the realities of a variable income. They need to save up in case they don't get new work quickly after finishing a project or choose to star in a lower-budget flick—and in the event that they fall out of favor with the Hollywood "it" people.
Yes, they may be dealing in millions while most of us are dealing in thousands, but their mortgages and other obligations are often proportionally higher, too. And their struggle not to blow all their cash at once resonates with all sorts of jobs with variable incomes—from freelancers to waiters who can't predict what they'll make in tips.
So the next time that you hear someone mention Jennifer Lawrence or Bradley Cooper, you can smile a little smile and say, "I have a lot in common with him/her, you know."