The Most Valuable Actors of All Time

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There are movie stars, and then there are actors whose involvement appears more important than the movie itself. Some are so critical to success that studios will pay them tens of millions of dollars to be in their pictures. Johnny Depp just signed a contract to make a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean, and some members of the press are speculating that Depp could earn as much as $95 million. That’s a big paycheck when the most recent Pirates movie grossed roughly $1 billion worldwide.

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There are a small number of actors whose involvement in movies has resulted in billions of dollars in tickets sales. Because of their continued popularity and success, some careers have stretched over decades. Based on a review of films’ gross box office sales, adjusted for ticket price inflation, from online movie data resource Box Office Mojo, 24/7 Wall St. identified the most valuable actors of all time.

In order to make this list, an actor needed to star in multiple hits, and not just a single powerful franchise. For example, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, who starred in all eight installments of the extremely successful Harry Potter series, are both among the top 20 actors based on the gross sales of films in which they have starred. However, they have only appeared in five other movies between the two of them. At this point, they may be typecast as one-franchise wonders, unable to break out of the role they have gained their fame through.

Nearly all the actors that made our list have starred in several high-grossing franchises. Harrison Ford, who is among the most valuable actors according to our measure, was in two, the Star Wars trilogy and the four Indiana Jones movies. However, all of these actors were also in multiple standalone films, showing their versatility by playing very different characters.

Sean Connery, for example, starred in seven different James Bond films, all of which grossed more than $100 million adjusted for ticket inflation. This would alone be enough to put him top 100 grossing actors, but Connery also starred in such hits as “The Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October,” each of which grossed well over $200 million adjusted for inflation.

Success in the box office is not the same as success with the critics. A look at the top actors on this list makes that clear. While a few are decorated actors, such as Tom Hanks who has won two Academy Awards for acting, most on this list have received little positive attention from critics. Harrison Ford, among the highest grossing actors of all time, has never won an Oscar for acting. Meryl Streep, who is the 43rd highest-grossing actor of all time, has won three.

To identify the most valuable actors of all time, 24/7 Wall St. ranked nearly 700 leading actors in Box Office Mojo’s database. Actors ranked higher if they starred in more films, if the films they starred in averaged high ticket sales, and if they had among the highest combined box office gross adjusted for ticket price inflation. This last component was weighted more heavily. All film gross numbers are based on U.S. ticket sales only, and, unless otherwise noted, are adjusted for ticket price inflation, as calculated by Box Office Mojo. Awards, such as Oscar wins and nominations, came from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

These are the most valuable actors of all time.