How Much Do Lead Actors *Really* Earn Per Movie? 

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  • How Much Do Lead Actors *Really* Earn Per Movie?

    Actress Taraji P. Henson breaks it all down…

    (By Carmichael Phillips)

    (Taraji P. Henson in Empire)

    How much do lead actors *really* earn for a movie? And, more importantly, how much do they get to keep? The answer might surprise you. Actress Taraji P. Henson recently offered a breakdown.

    Taraji P. Henson’s biggest claim to fame may be her role as Cookie Lyon on FOX’s hit television drama, Empire, which starred Terrence Howard and ran from 2015-2020. But there’s no doubt she’s a bona fide movie star, having appeared in dozens of successful films.

    She lit up the screen in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She’s also dazzled audiences in movies like Hustle & Flow (2005), Baby Boy (2001), and Think Like a Man (2012).

    But, how much did she ultimately earn from those movie projects? Not as much as you’d think, at least according to her.


    (Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)

    Before it was canceled, Henson appeared on the daytime talk show, The Real. The subject of her movie compensation came up during the show. She explained in detail how, despite the fact that her top line number might be high, the amount of money she gets to keep at the end of the day is quite low.

    “So, let me break this down for you. ‘Cause a lot of people were like, ‘$150,000 (for a movie)? That’s a lot of money!”

    “When you start making that kind of money, Uncle Sam takes 50%! So, let’s do the math. 50%! That leaves me with $75,000, right?” Henson explained.


    “When you start making that kind of money, Uncle Sam takes 50%!”


    “Then, I have to pay another 30% to my team, who did all the work to get me that job. But I don’t pay them 30% of the $75,000 (after-tax dollars). No! No! No!”

    “I pay them 30% of the $150,000 (the original rate for the film). So, what does that compute to?”

    But, as Henson explained, that is not the end of the story. An actor also loses out on potential earnings after they sign on to do a film project.

    “You have 12 months in a year to make your money, right? If you do a film for 5 months, that takes you off the market from getting any other kind of coin until you’re done with that show.”

    For Taraji, the remainder of her money from the film she referenced in this example went to pay for her son’s school tuition. The cost of it was approximately $30,000. The tuition amount essentially wiped out everything she had left from making the film.

    “So, for 5 months, that’s what I literally made. His (referring to her son) tuition.”

    “Now, what? I gotta hit the pavement again. And I gotta scrounge up another check. So, that’s how that works.”

    Here’s a quick breakdown of what she described:

    + $150,000 (earnings from the film)

    – $75,000 (taxes)

    = $75,000 (remaining balance)

    But wait, there’s more!

    – $$$? (Revenue she couldn’t earn while working on the film for 5 months)

    – $45,000 (paid to her representatives)

    = $30,000 (remaining balance)

    – $30,000 (for her son’s school tuition)

    = $0

    Luckily for Henson, she is an in-demand, working actress who was able to quickly “scrounge up” another check. Most actors aren’t so lucky.

    So, how much money do lead actors make? Usually a lot. Sometimes a whole lot. But the real question is, how much do they get to keep and for how long do they get to keep it?


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