What does it take to be a big box office star? Some actors find enormous paychecks through tentpole franchises like the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the long-running “Fast & Furious” series, which leads to both steady work and a lot of audience interest. Pop culture sensations like the multi-film “Hunger Games” and “Twilight” series also result in big box office numbers and paychecks for their stars. But other actors pulling in the big bucks do so after many years working to establish themselves as reliable and professional, showing up to sets with lines memorized and making it an easy choice for directors to want to hire them again and again. And some stars break through in certain calendar years, with rising star power and luck making them the face of Hollywood and bringing in box office dividends.
Stacker has compiled the biggest box office stars since 1980 by using data from The Numbers. To determine the rankings, the highest-grossing star in each year is based on domestic box office sales of the movies in which they had a leading role, plus ticket sales for films in the two preceding years. Each “Star Score” below represents the number of points (as assigned by The Numbers), based on how well the movies performed at the box office. A fair number of actors and actresses appear more than once, thanks to movies and sales that span multiple years. While each slide's title and image indicate the top star of that year, the copy on each slide goes in-depth for one of the top three stars of that year, not necessarily #1.
The list demonstrates the gender and racial pay gaps in Hollywood: White men dominate the top three spots of three highest-grossing stars throughout the ’80s, and while more women and actors of color found top spots in the 2010s, they still don't reach parity with their white, male counterparts, and there are no women of color on this list. Openly LGBTQ performers are also a very small minority of top box office stars. Institutional and structural systems suppress wages for actors from historically marginalized populations, and while the latest figures on this list show Hollywood is slowly inching in the right direction, they also show how much further the industry still has to go.
Think you know who appears on the list? Keep reading on to find out.
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