Life can be hard for actresses in Hollywood. Good roles are few and far between, and their paychecks are usually smaller than those of their male co-stars. It seems that no number of female-centric hits (like “Mamma Mia” and “Sex and the City”) can convince studios to treat the ladies better.
And if you’re a woman over 40, you might as well just play a grandma. The roles are even scarcer.
But last year Sandra Bullock bucked the trend in a big way. First her romantic comedy “The Proposal” grossed $320 million on an estimated budget of $40 million. That would be impressive enough, but then “The Blind Side” hit theaters five months later. Based on a true story about a white family that took in an African-American football prodigy, the film earned an amazing $310 million at the box office on an estimated budget of only $30 million.
Bullock cut her usual fee to star in the movie and reaped a large share of the film’s profits in return. Between her earnings on “The Proposal” and “The Blind Side,” Bullock earned $56 million between June 2009 and June 2010, tops among Hollywood’s leading ladies. Add in a messy divorce that had her on the front of tabloids almost every week, the adoption of a baby that she will now raise on her own, and her first Oscar, and Bullock had one hell of a year.
To figure out actresses’ earnings we talked to agents, managers, producers and lawyers to determine what the stars earned as upfront pay on movies they are currently shooting, as well as back-end pay earned after a movie hit theaters. We also looked at any money actresses might have earned from perfume and clothing lines and from ad campaigns.
Reese Witherspoon ranks second on out list of Hollywood’s best-paid actresses with a take of $32 million over the past year. Witherspoon hasn’t been seen on screen since 2008’s “Four Christmases” (she lent her voice to the animated film “Monsters Vs. Aliens”). But she sits close to the top of our list this year thanks to upfront pay from two movies: “How Do You Know” from director James L. Brooks and the film adaptation of “Water for Elephants.” Witherspoon also earns as an “ambassador” for Avon.
Cameron Diaz ties for second with $32 million. The actress is one of the highest paid in Hollywood for films like the recent “Knight & Day.” She’ll also be able to count “Shrek” money well into her retirement years. Those films have earned a total $2.8 billion at the global box office.
Jennifer Aniston ranks fourth with $27 million despite a few box-office duds like “Love Happens,” which earned only $36 million at the global box office (though it did have a modest $20 million production budget). Aniston is still the go-to girl for romantic comedies. Her upcoming movies include “The Switch,” a comedy about a woman who has a baby on her own, and “Just Go With It,” co-starring Adam Sandler. Aniston also still gets money from “Friends” and recently launched her own perfume line.
In fifth place: Sarah Jessica Parker with $25 million. “Sex and the City” is the gift that keeps on giving for Parker. Not only does she earn from the show’s syndication, but this year’s sequel film, “Sex and the City 2,” earned $280 million at the global box office. Her perfume line, which includes scents like NYC, Lovely, and Dawn, is also a big seller.