Hollywood paycheques: Men vs. Women

Jack Sparrow

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow

A colleague of mine pointed out something interesting yesterday.

In the top 20 of Vanity Fair’s list of the top 40 earners in Hollywood there are only two women. In the entire top 40? Only six. Six out of 40. And not one in the top ten.

Reese Witherspoon was the lowest lady on the list at number 36 with R106-million earned in 2010. Katherine Heigl clocked in at 33 with R117-million, America’s sweetheart Sandra Bullock claimed 22 with R160-million and was pipped to the post by Angelina Jolie, who earned R171-million.

In the top twenty former Friends star Jennifer Aniston (seriously, how does this girl keep getting movie deals?) who raked in R179-million last year. And the highest rated woman? Twilight Saga star Kristen Stewart, who snatched 13th place on the list of the top earners in 2010 with R208-million.

Let’s put this in perspective. The top earner was James Cameron, who earned R1.8-billion last year. Granted he lucked out with that tiny movie he made about blue people last year, but my mind actually warps when I try to picture having that amount of money in my bank account. (Jim, if you’re listening – I’m putting my younger brother through university and I could happily use one hundred thousandth of your earnings. Seriously.)

But comparing Cameron and Stewart isn’t helpful. He wrote, directed and produced Avatar, so naturally he’d have a claim to a lot more money than any of the actors he cast in it. So the highest actor on the list? Johnny Depp, at position two. Captain Jack Sparrow himself earned a massive R729-million last year – he scooped R291-million for starring in Alice and Wonderland.

So the divide between the highest paid actor and the highest paid actress? A cool R521-million.

The great divide

Yes, I know it’s Johnny Depp and he’s, well, Johnny Depp. I love the guy to pieces. But the Twilight Saga is the thirteenth highest-grossing film franchise of all time. And The Twilight Saga: Eclipse? The third film in the franchise was the sixth-highest grossing movie of 2010. It’s not like Kristen Stewart and company aren’t raking in the cash!

If we’re looking at big names, there are no two bigger on the list than Angelina Jolie and Depp. And hey! They starred in a movie together – The Tourist – which the critics absolutely loathed. And she earned a whole million dollars less than he did for the film. And it’s Angelina-freaking-Jolie!

Surely there’s something wrong here, right? It’s clear that women are getting paid a whackload less than men are – whatever the “official” reasons are, I have no idea. Not being a Hollywood bigwig myself, I can’t provide justifications for why this happens. If you do know, then let me in on the secret please.

But the numbers really, really don’t lie. Where Johnny Depp earns a R255-million fee for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Kristen Stewart earns a combined R182-million fee for both parts of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. And at the moment, I’d feel they are both ridiculously bankable stars. (Just ask the millions of Twi-hards chomping at the bit for the next vampire love fest).

It’s the Hollywood Boys’ Club, I’m afraid. Much as women don’t get paid nearly as much as their male counterparts, they also don’t get nearly as many award nominations when it comes awards season – particularly for directing … which is a rant for another day.

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