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?
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.