20 Actors Getting Paid the Most to Say the Least

November 30, 2017 by Evan Comen

Film is a visual medium. While talking pictures, or films with sound, have been around for nearly a century, roles in many of today’s biggest blockbusters have relatively little dialogue. Despite saying just a few lines, many of these actors are highly paid.

Whether playing a hard-boiled loner, a humanoid robot, or an alien experiencing human contact for the first time, many talented actors have created memorable characters with just a couple lines of dialogue — and are paid accordingly. In other cases, high-profile celebrities can demand large paychecks for minor film roles with relatively few scenes and little dialogue. Whatever the reason, there are a number of roles in Hollywood that have paid more than $10,000 per word.

To determine the actors getting paid the most per word, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed salary data and word counts for about 2,000 movies. Actors were ranked by the ratio of their total earnings to the number of words of dialogue written for their character or characters in a given screenplay.

Click here to see the full list of actors getting paid the most per word.
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology.

Source: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

20. Angelina Jolie as Jane Smith
> Movie: “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” (2005)
> Total pay: $6,850 per word
> Word count: 1,794
> IMDb user rating: 6.5/10

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Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

19. Jennifer Aniston as Dr. Julia Harris
> Movie: “Horrible Bosses” (2011)
> Total pay: $7,715 per word
> Word count: 856
> IMDb user rating: 6.9/10

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

18. Johnny Depp as Will Caster
> Movie: “Transcendence” (2014)
> Total pay: $10,633 per word
> Word count: 1,907
> IMDb user rating: 6.3/10

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

17. Brad Pitt as Joe Black
> Movie: “Meet Joe Black” (1998)
> Total pay: $12,204 per word
> Word count: 1,434
> IMDb user rating: 7.1/10

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Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

16. Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne
> Movie: “Batman” (1989)
> Total pay: $12,243 per word
> Word count: 793
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

15. Eddie Murphy as Slide
> Movie: “Tower Heist” (2011)
> Total pay: $12,759 per word
> Word count: 647
> IMDb user rating: 6.2/10

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Source: Courtesy of FilmDistrict

14. Ryan Gosling as Driver
> Movie: “Drive” (2011)
> Total pay: $13,797 per word
> Word count: 116
> IMDb user rating: 7.8/10

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

13. Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken
> Movie: “Escape from L.A.” (1996)
> Total pay: $14,216 per word
> Word count: 1,076
> IMDb user rating: 5.7/10

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

12. Keanu Reeves as Neo
> Movie: “The Matrix” (1999)
> Total pay: $14,451 per word
> Word count: 995
> IMDb user rating: 8.7/10

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Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

11. Sean Connery as John Patrick Mason
> Movie: “The Rock” (1996)
> Total pay: $14,557 per word
> Word count: 1,261
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10

Source: courtesy of 20th Century Fox

10. Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands
> Movie: “Edward Scissorhands” (1990)
> Total pay: $14,889 per word
> Word count: 185
> IMDb user rating: 7.9/10

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Source: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

9. Will Smith as Captain Steven Hiller
> Movie: “Independence Day” (1996)
> Total pay: $14,969 per word
> Word count: 509
> IMDb user rating: 7.0/10

Source: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

8. Leonardo Dicaprio as Hugh Glass
> Movie: “The Revenant” (2015)
> Total pay: $17,422 per word
> Word count: 1,148
> IMDb user rating: 8.0/10

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

7. Johnny Depp as Frank Tupelo
> Movie: “The Tourist” (2010)
> Total pay: $19,209 per word
> Word count: 1,146
> IMDb user rating: 6.0/10

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Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

6. Angelina Jolie as Elise Clifton-Ward
> Movie: “The Tourist” (2010)
> Total pay: $20,934 per word
> Word count: 999
> IMDb user rating: 6.0/10

Source: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

5. Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley
> Movie: “Alien: Resurrection” (1997)
> Total pay: $23,128 per word
> Word count: 712
> IMDb user rating: 6.2/10

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Source: Courtesy of TriStar Pictures

4. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator
> Movie: “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)
> Total pay: $30,687 per word
> Word count: 861
> IMDb user rating: 8.5/10

Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

3. Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter
> Movie: “Alice in Wonderland” (2010)
> Total pay: $66,606 per word
> Word count: 661
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

2. Keanu Reeves as Neo
> Movie: “The Matrix Reloaded” (2003), “The Matrix Revolutions” (2003)
> Total pay: $159,393 per word
> Word count: 638 per movie
> IMDb user rating: 7.0/10

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Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

1. Jack Nicholson as the Joker
> Movie: “Batman” (1989)
> Total pay: $166,101 per word
> Word count: 585
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10

Established actors often require a minimum salary to appear in a movie, and can command large paychecks for relatively small roles. Johnny Depp, for example, was paid an estimated $20 million for his portrayal of the Mad Hatter in “Alice in Wonderland,” despite having just 661 words of dialogue. For his portrayal of the Joker in 1989’s “Batman” — a role with just 585 words of dialogue — Jack Nicholson was given a salary of $6 million and a share of the film’s box office earnings that, when adjusted for inflation, are now worth approximately $100 million.

Some important film roles may require little dialogue. In the Terminator franchise, for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a T-800 humanoid robot who speaks with minimal, pragmatic efficiency. Schwarzenegger speaks just 861 words of dialogue in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” far less than his human counterparts in the film.

Many of the characters on this list are gruff, hard-boiled types who speak in minimalistic film noir-style dialogue. Examples include Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken in “Escape from L.A.,” Sean Connery as John Patrick Mason in “The Rock,” and Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne in “Batman.” In 2011’s “Drive,” Ryan Gosling’s character is nameless and communicates mostly non-verbally, speaking just 116 words.

Paying actors high salaries may have hurt the profitability of a number of films. For their roles in 2010’s “The Tourist,” for example, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie were paid $20 million and $19 million, respectively. While the cast salaries account for roughly 20% of film budgets on average, the two lead actors’ salaries in “The Tourist” comprised roughly 40% of the film’s total $100 million budget. While the film was able to eke out a profit because of strong international sales, “The Tourist” grossed just $68 million domestically.

To determine the actors getting paid the most per word, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed salary data and word counts for approximately 2,000 movies. Actors were ranked by the ratio of their total earnings to the number of words of dialogue written for their character or characters in a given screenplay. Salary data came from “George Lucas’s Blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success” by Alex Ben Block and Lucy Autrey Wilson as well as a number of additional sources, and was adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data on word count came from “The Largest Ever Analysis of Film Dialogue by Gender,” a project by Hannah Anderson and Matt Daniels hosted on the website The Pudding, as well as analysis by 24/7 Wall St. Word counts reflect dialogue in a film’s screenplay and may not be representative of the actual word count in a film’s theatrical version. Only roles in which actors speak fewer than 2,000 words were considered. Actors for whom reliable salary and word count data could not located were not considered. As a result, actors who would have likely made the list — Matt Damon for the role of Jason Bourne in 2016’s “Jason Bourne,” Henry Cavill for the role of Superman in 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and Scarlett Johansson for the role of the Female in 2013’s “Under the Skin” — were excluded.