Wed, February 25, 2009
Entertainment > Movie > 81st Annual Academy Awards

The value of an Oscar

2009-02-25 09:31:36 GMT2009-02-25 17:31:36 (Beijing Time)  Forbes

What kind of return on investment do studios get from Oscar winners?

When Sean Penn and Kate Winslet won their Oscars, they joined the exalted club of actors who have received the industry's highest award.

But what type of returns do Oscar winners generate for their studios? And, perhaps more importantly, how do the Oscar winners stack up against each other? We went to our database of the 100 biggest stars in Hollywood and looked at those who had won Oscars since 2000 to find out who offered the best returns.

At the top of our list: Morgan Freeman. He won Best Supporting Actor in 2004 for his role as Eddie Dupris in Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby. Since then his even-tempered work in movies like The Bucket List and Wanted have made him a reliable box office draw. For every dollar Freeman was paid, his movies earned an average return of $20.

To calculate our payback numbers, we looked at the last three films for each star. First, we halved the box office of each film (to approximate the studio's share of ticket sales) and added those numbers to calculate gross box office. Next, we added all of the budgets (minus the actor's up-front compensation) for those same movies to calculate gross budget.

Next we subtracted gross budget from gross box office to derive gross income. We then divided gross income by each actor's total compensation for the three movies to come up with return on investment.

Freeman benefited from his role in The Dark Knight. In both of the new Batman movies he has played Lucius Fox, the man behind the gadgets that help Bruce Wayne become a superhero. By taking a relatively low salary in the year's highest-grossing film, Freeman dramatically increased his overall return on investment.

For the sake of this list we only looked at Oscar winners who had starred or co-starred in three films over the past five years. That means Freeman, who wasn't the biggest star in Batman, made the list while Helen Mirren, Best Actress for 2006's The Queen, was left out because she hasn't had major roles in enough recent movies.

Coming in second place is Cate Blanchett. For every dollar the actress was paid on her last three films the movies earned $9. Her highest grossing film was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which brought in $786 million at the worldwide box office. Like Freeman in Batman, Blanchett was playing a second lead (as the villainous Irina Spalko) in a popular franchise. That meant a relatively low salary in a high-grossing film, which helped boost her payback.

Rounding out our top five: Julia Roberts returned $5.75 for every $1 she was paid. Charlize Theron ranks fourth with a return of $5.50, thanks to her role in last year's hit Hancock.

In fifth place is Adrien Brody. He won best actor for 2004's The Pianist and ranked on our payback list because of his work in the blockbuster King Kong. For every $1 Brody was paid, his films earned $4.

(Dorothy Pomerantz, Forbes.com)

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