Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Power Rankings: Most Bankable Hollywood Actors

Seeing how Moneyball is set to make a scorcher at the box office for no reason other than the fact that Brad Pitt is the lead, it got me thinking about who the most bankable actors are in the industry currently. By bankable, I am referring to box office guarantee, in terms of return on investment. The actors on this list can appear in almost anything and turn it into a box office smash. Every one of them has at least one flop, though, proving that it is impossible for anyone to be a complete guarantee. I am not holding independent films or supporting roles against them, since those films are reliant more on distribution and other actors than their own contribution to the film. For each actor, I will do a rundown of the past ten years or so, and I will give what I think is their single most impressive box office gross of their career as well as a notable flop. Note: I am only including actors (not actresses) because it would just be too difficult to combine them (meaning putting Sandra Bullock on the list).

Others receiving votes: Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tyler Perry, Seth Rogen, Denzel Washington

10. Tom Hanks

Most Impressive Box Office: Forrest Gump: $673 million ($55 million budget)

Notable Flop: Angels and Demons: $133 million ($150 million budget)

Ten years ago, Tom Hanks might have been topped this list. Now, however, since he is doing a lot more production work and less acting, his star has fallen a bit. Still, whenever he makes a movie, people want to see it. Larry Crowne had a decent run at the box office, despite not being all that good. His last big hit was The Terminal (excluding Toy Story 3), and that was 7 years ago. Angels and Demons was nowhere near as big as Da Vinci Code, but I feel like if he started making one or two movies per year again, he could be right back up there near the top.

9. George Clooney

Most Impressive Box Office: Ocean’s Eleven: $450 million ($85 million budget)

Notable Flop: Leatherheads: $31 million ($58 million budget)

George Clooney seems to be a lot more reliable in determining what is going to be awards-friendly than what is going to make a lot of money, but it is obvious that when he does appear in a movie, there is hype around it. His stardom has gotten to and perhaps surpassed Cary Grant-territory. His persona on and off screen has turned him into one of the most beloved celebrities around, and in all cases other than Leatherheads and The Good German (neither are good movies), he can pull in a $100 million box office in his sleep.

8. Jim Carrey

Most Impressive Box Office: Bruce Almighty: $484 million ($81 million budget)

Notable Flop: The Majestic: $37 million ($72 million budget)

Some of you may have a problem with my inclusion of Jim Carrey on this list, but it is undeniable that he can still pull the audiences in by the truckload. His star may not be as bright as it was 10-15 years ago, but Yes Man still pulled in over $200 million, and that was all him. Nothing about that movie could have been sold without his name attached to it. Mr. Popper’s Penguins is another example ($170+ million). These movies would not be made without Carrey. He is still as big of a star as anyone. I am not holding the horrible marketing of I Love You Phillip Morris against him. The Majestic is his only real flop, which only recovered about half of its budget. That was more of a problem with the fact that the movie is misunderstood than poor. Carrey is going to continue to make his movies and continue to tear up the box office as long as he wants to.

7. Ben Stiller

Most Impressive Box Office: Night at the Museum: $574 million ($110 million budget)

Notable Flop: Envy: $12 million ($40 million budget)

It is always interesting to see who actually the biggest stars in Hollywood are. Ben Stiller has to be on that shortlist. He does not have the movie star looks, voice, or persona. He is like the normal guy who cannot make a movie without people wanting to see it. Everything he does is a hit, and he always is playing more or less the same character. Night at the Museum is his single most impressive hit, mainly because it is the Ben Stiller show the entire time. Plus it got a sequel. His flops were Envy and Duplex, the two lame romantic comedies he tried to make in the middle of last decade that no one really saw and that never really got advertised. Now, however, even something as small as Greenberg gets its audience. He definitely deserves his spot on this list.

6. Shia LaBeouf

Most Impressive Box Office: Transformers: $706 million ($151 million budget)

Notable Flop: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: $70 million ($52 million budget)

Why does everyone love Shia LaBeouf? No, really that was a question. I can’t figure it out, but it would be ignorant to not include him in this conversation. Everything the guy touches turns to gold. Holes, Disturbia, Transformers, Eagle Eye. Everything he appears in gets a huge audience. The only one that didn’t was by far his best movie, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which I think was just too smart for mass audiences. The fact that Transformers pulled in over $700 million with that first film was probably 25% subject matter, 25% Michael Bay excessive advertising, and the rest was split between LaBeouf, the reviews, and Megan Fox’s midriff. It was he who got the audiences in the seats, because let’s face it, if the movie was animated or starred some other young actor, not everyone would want to see it. LaBeouf is just one of those unique personalities that people can relate to, even when he is as pissed off and annoying as he is in all three of those ridiculously loud and obnoxious movies.

5. Tom Cruise

Most Impressive Box Office: The Firm: $262 million ($42 million budget)

Notable Flop: Lions for Lambs: $14 million ($30 million budget)

That’s right. He will not go away. It doesn’t even matter what the movie is about. Nazis, aliens, assassins… He makes everything a box office smash. It was difficult to find both a most impressive box office and a notable snub. I had to settle with Lions for Lambs, which was definitely not his fault, and I went with The Firm, mainly because it is the one film that would not have been anything without him in the lead role. It was 154 minute Tom Cruise show, and it became a huge $250+ million hit. Even now, he does Knight and Day, Valkyrie, a small part in Tropic Thunder. Each one of them nearly doubled their money. It is pretty smart of him to not make so many movies anymore, since people tend to not like him. But when he finally puts out another movie, people cannot avoid it. He leaves everyone wanting more.

4. Brad Pitt

Most Impressive Box Office: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: $329 million ($150 million budget)

Notable Flop: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: $3 million ($30 million budget)

So, the man of the hour finally comes up. The decisions that this guy makes astound me. He works with every major director, turning each one of their films into one of the most talked about movies of the year. He had a very public Hollywood breakup with America’s sweetheart, and that does not touch his popularity like it would any other actor. In fact, people love him so much that they just blame it on the girl instead. It couldn’t have been his fault. Benjamin Button is his most impressive box office because that subject matter is so strange that I am not sure if anyone else could have made it that big. Jesse James was one of the worst advertised movies I have ever witnessed, so that had one horrible and short run at the box office after about 2 years of previews. But, he can still churn out movie after movie and make each one interesting. He is the definition of bankable. It is almost like directors cast him to ensure that their movie will be seen. Not a bad idea, actually…

3. Johnny Depp

Most Impressive Box Office: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: $652 million ($140 million budget)

Notable Flop: The Tourist: $67 million ($100 million budget)

One of the obvious choices on this list was the inclusion of Johnny Depp. Every time anyone sees him in a preview, it is hard to not want to see what he is up to. He has done everything from a Willy Wonka remake, a bloody musical about a demon barber, to an animated movie about a lizard. He has done it all, and everything he touches is monumentally popular. That is except The Tourist, which oddly got no audience despite Depp and arguably the second most marketable actress Angelina Jolie. Depp will continue to make his own strange movies and turn them all into worldwide hits. He is unstoppable.

2. Adam Sandler

Most Impressive Box Office: Big Daddy: $163 million ($34 million budget)

Notable Flop: Little Nicky: $39 million ($80 million budget)

Before you jump on me, just think about this. It is true. Adam Sandler has a massive army of fans who will go see whatever movie he makes no matter how horrible it is. He has made 6 movies in the last 4 years that have all been just Sandler and his buddies acting like little kids. And they all made money. His only movies that do not break even are his good movies (Funny People, Punch-Drunk Love, and Spanglish). But those are not Sandler movies. Those are signs that he actually wants to be an actor, not just a funny movie star spewing out fart jokes in dumb movies twice a year. But hey, he can keep making more and more of these movies and people will see them. As horrifying as Jack and Jill looks, I can assure you that it will get a critical thrashing and open to $30 million or more in the opening weekend. That’s just the way it works.

1. Will Smith

Most Impressive Box Office: The Pursuit of Happyness: $304 million ($55 million budget)

Notable Flop: Ali: $87 million ($107 million budget)

Yeah, no surprise here. It is crazy to think about how far Will Smith has come since being on Fresh Prince. He had that incredible $200+ million streak that ended with Seven Pounds, which somehow still made a bunch of money. Seriously, Will Smith can do whatever he wants. He is the coolest guy out there, and he is probably the most likable and down to earth celebrity on this list. His divorce may take a bit of his charm away, but it cannot touch his box office success. In the words of Tom Luginbill (and almost any other ESPN football analyst), “what he has been able to accomplish is remarkable”. The Pursuit of Happyness is a movie that exists solely because Smith wanted to make it. Place any actor in that role, and it is just an indie flick that no one sees. Insert Will Smith, and we have a $300 million monster hit and an Oscar nomination. It is astonishing. Ali is his only movie to not break even, but that is one of his acting roles, not his entertainment pictures. And it was before his streak started. Try to argue with Will Smith being the top of this list. I dare you.

So, what do you make of this? Did I miss anyone? What is your top 5? Let me know.


  1. Honorable mention for Leo. Flops like Body of Lies, Blood Diamond, and basically every movie not made by Scorsese, Nolan, Clint, Spielberg, etc. do not come close to breaking even. He is very bankable, but probably just #11 or #12 for me.

  2. I love Tom Cruise and will watch him in anything!

    Nazis, Agents, Nuclear Weapons, Rockstars, Musicals, Aliens I DON'T CARE even if he's only the narrator. I bought his narrated Space Station 3D DVD.

    I admire his acting and when he is on the silver screen there's so much charisma and he never disappoints.

  3. I am right with you on that Stacey. Well said.

  4. Wish Tom Cruise to be on top

    1. I hear that. Wouldn't have any issue with someone putting him first, especially since After Earth appears to be Smith's biggest flop ever. Cruise might be the top guy now...or again I should say.

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