Highest-paid actors of 2020: stars raking it in thanks to Netflix

Anita Singh
·3 mins read
Dwayne Johnson - Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Dwayne Johnson - Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Not so long ago, a Hollywood actor’s worth would be defined by the number of cinema-goers who flocked to their films. But that was before the rise of Netflix.

A new list of the world’s 10 highest-paid actors found that they earned a combined $545.5 million in 2020, and more than a quarter of that was paid out by the streaming service.

They include Adam Sandler, who has an exclusive deal with Netflix and whose recent hit, Murder Mystery, broke viewing records when it was watched by 31 million households in its first three days.

His only film to be released in cinemas in the past year was Uncut Gems, which was critically acclaimed but barely bothered the box office. However, Netflix users have streamed more than two billion hours of Sandler, according to the company.

The list, compiled by Forbes magazine, was topped by Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, for the second year running. He has made $87.5 million in the past year and was paid $23.5 million by Netflix for Red Notice, an action comedy scheduled for release in November.

His co-star in that film, Ryan Reynolds, is second in the list, making more than $20 million from Red Notice and Six Underground. Netflix recently lost a bidding war for Reynolds’ latest project, a musical version of A Christmas Carol. Instead it was picked up by Apple, which is reported to have shelled out $60 million for talent fees.

Mark Wahlberg is third, after his Netflix comedy, Spenser Confidential, became the streaming giant’s third most-watched original film after Extraction and Bird Box.

Others in the top 10 include Ben Affleck, is Vin Diesel, Will Smith and Jackie Chan. Lin-Manuel Miranda made the list for the first time after Disney acquired the worldwide film rights to his Broadway production, Hamilton, for $75 million this year.

The only non-Hollywood star on the list is India’s Akshay Kumar. He is currently working on his first television series for Amazon Prime, The End, for which he will receive $10 million, but Forbes said most of his money comes from endorsements.

Forbes highest paid actors 2020
Forbes highest paid actors 2020

“The economics of star power are the same for Netflix as they have been for the traditional movie studios: if you draw a crowd, you get top dollar,” Forbes said.

“For Netflix, though, the secret isn’t in the blockbuster box office results but in how many monthly subscriptions it will sign up and retain as a result. That’s a figure that is calculated using Netflix’s treasure trove of proprietary data, including the number of times a film is streamed and the number of repeat viewings, as well as a dash of an actor’s social following.”

Netflix’s chief executive, Reed Hastings, explained during his Ted talk in 2018 that the company is interested in what people actually watch, rather than what they would rate highly.

He said: “Everyone would rate Schindler’s List five stars, and then they’d rate Adam Sandler’s The Do-Over three stars. But, in fact, when you looked at what they watched, it was almost always Adam Sandler… it works out much better to please people to look at the actual choices that they make, their revealed preferences by how much they enjoy simple pleasures.”