The simplest answer to why actors are paid so much is that people pay so much to watch them.
Most people associate acting with wealth, and for good reason.
The world’s most successful actors can make tens of millions of dollars for a single film.
Still, one has to wonder how it’s possible to make so much money just pretending to be someone or something else.
Let’s explore 10 reasons actors are paid so much.
Why Are Actors Paid So Much?
1. So Many People Are Willing To Pay So Much
On the most basic level, actors are paid so much because people pay so much to see them.
Now, you might be thinking you don’t pay more than a couple of dollars for your Netflix subscription or to buy the latest blockbuster movie.
However, you are willing to pay $10.
Most of your friends and family are probably willing to pay that much, too.
If you and 100 of your friends and family are willing to pay $10 each, that’s $1,000.
With hundreds of millions of people around the world all agreeing to pay $10 a piece, the numbers add up fast.
People like to be entertained and they are willing to pay to enjoy themselves watch great actors on screen.
It doesn’t seem like much, but most people are spending a fair amount of money to watch actors work.
In the United States, the average household spends $47 per month on streaming service subscriptions.
With more than 120 million households, that’s roughly 5.7 billion dollars every single month.
As you can see, the numbers add up pretty quickly.
Like many businesses, the film industry will compensate workers according to how much income they generate for the company.
If people are willing to pay to see a particular actor, that actor will be compensated commensurately.
It’s the same reason that people in finance tend to earn so much money.
If you can generate income, you’re going to earn a higher income.
There’s a saying in the business world that you’re not paid by how hard you work, but by how hard you are to replace.
That rings especially true in acting, and as a result, the great actors come with a hefty price tag attached.
Not to worry, though, because the companies and agents that represent them are making that money back several-fold.
2. They’re Talented
Acting is something of an art, one that requires talent, practice, and training.
If you thought actors just waltzed onto a set and started shooting, you’d be sorely mistaken.
Most highly paid actors are formally trained from a young age, and they have spent decades honing their craft.
It takes a lot of skill to transform what the director wants into a real-life film.
Actors have to work with directors and movie staff to get their lines just right.
It’s not just about memorizing the lines and regurgitating them on camera.
Actors also have to use body language, facial expressions, gestures, and more.
In many films, actors will also have to learn a new skill.
Sure, there are stunt doubles for many films, but that doesn’t always cut it.
An actor might have to learn to play basketball in one film, dance salsa in another, and ride a motorcycle in a totally different movie just a few months later.
Most actors have diverse skill sets that are always growing, and they rarely get to choose which skills they use.
The talent and commitment it takes for these actors to succeed in their roles is nothing to sneeze at.
They’re paid a lot of money for their ability to get all of these things done with little notice.
3. They Monetize Beyond The Big Screen
While actors, like athletes, are often paid to perform in front of fans, they also monetize outside of the work they’re typically known for.
Actors are great at leveraging their celebrity status to make money outside of acting.
This could be as simple as appearing in a short commercial (technically still acting).
Actors are often paid brand ambassadors, endorsing companies and their products.
Some actors have used their reach to create a business since they have a massive following to which they can advertise for free.
Given their unique experiences, actors have also written books and become speakers.
Again, actors can use their status with the public to sell just about anything.
From speaking engagements and paid social media shout-outs to birthday parties and autographed merchandise, there’s no shortage of ways for actors to monetize themselves and their brand, leveraging their status to get paid.
4. They Work Hard
To the average person, acting might seem like a walk in the park.
However, to anyone who’s ever tried to act, they’ll attest to the fact that it’s far from easy.
Actors have to live up to very high expectations, and they are often asked to do things most of us would deem insane.
When you see an actor on screen, everything looks perfect.
What you don’t see is all the hard work they put in to prepare for the end-product the audience enjoys.
Actors often have to memorize thousands of lines, practicing over and over again until they’re perfected.
It’s not uncommon for the script to change at the last minute, leaving actors little to no time to adapt.
Actors also have to do dozens, if not hundreds of takes until the director is satisfied with the scene.
Can you imagine having to do your work hundreds of times, making tiny adjustments until your boss is content?
Besides having to memorize lines, actors often have to live a completely different life.
If a film is shooting overseas, actors are expected to up and leave their everyday lives behind for the duration of the filming.
That could mean months away from home, living in an unfamiliar place.
Can you picture having to go live in the middle of nowhere for an unspecified period of time?
Actors have to sacrifice a lot, and they are often working on someone else’s schedule and in someone else’s world.
Finally, perhaps the hardest part of an actor’s work is physically becoming the character they’re portraying.
Perhaps the most shocking example of this is Christian Bale.
In 2004, Bale lost 63 pounds to play a troubled factory worker in The Machinist.
According to some accounts, his extreme diet consisted of many days where he would have nothing more than black coffee, an apple, and a can of tuna.
Just one year later, Bale took a 180, quickly gaining 100 pounds in preparation for Batman Begins.
As if to add insult to injury, director Christopher Nolan decided Bale’s gains were too much for the role.
He told the actor to quickly shed 20 pounds.
Yes, actors work hard, and I think we can all agree that you couldn’t pay us enough to lose 60 pounds, put on 100 pounds of muscle, and then shed 20 pounds of fat, all in the course of a year.
5. They’re Unique
In the world today, and in most of history, people have always prized that which is unique.
Great actors are rare, and many of them have very unusual, interesting personalities.
Take Robin Williams, for instance.
The late actor was quirky, likable, intelligent, and creative.
There was no one quite like him, nor will there ever be anyone who can do exactly what he did.
The distinguishing personality traits are a large part of the reason actors are paid so much.
Despite being a computer-generated fish, Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres’s) voice and famed lines are hard to imagine belonging to anyone else but Dory.
The little fish is immortalized by Ellen’s voice, and audiences would be terribly upset if Dory’s voice ever changed.
How about Oprah Winfrey?
Even if someone had a show just like Oprah’s, it wouldn’t be the same.
Oprah has become a living legend, and her unique way of doing things has earned her billions during the course of her 35-year career.
Every actor who is highly compensated has something unique about them.
Can you imagine someone besides Arnold telling you to “get to the chopper?”
How about an actor who isn’t Marlon Brando making you an offer you can’t refuse?
Even after 80+ years, we still remember the voice of Dorothy Gale saying “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
The uniqueness of these actors means that they’re impossible to replace.
When you’re impossible to replace, your value goes way up, and so does the amount you’re paid.
6. Most Actors Don’t Get Paid Very Much
Most actors don’t make very much money at all and actually struggle to get by.
While some actors make huge amounts of money, the average actor makes far less.
In 2019, the median salary for an actor was $40,860.
That number leaves actors slightly ahead of the median for the entire U.S., which is right around $36,000.
You’ve most likely heard of people referring to “the one percent”—the elusive status of the ultra-wealthy.
These one percent of top earners account for 30 percent of the wealth in the country.
The same principle applies to actors, in that the top one percent are a rare breed.
As with every industry worldwide, the distribution of wealth is uneven.
Some people make enormous amounts of money, while others make very little.
This is part of the reason certain actors are paid so much.
If every actor made the same amount, the wage for an actor surely wouldn’t be so handsome.
However, because most actors will only make around $40,000 annually, those at the top of their game have the opportunity to make significantly more.
In essence, the lower and middle incomes your average actors earn allow the top earners to make many millions.
7. They Have the Best Representation Money Can Buy
Most people who start with wealth find it a lot easier to make money than others.
This is the reason that lawyers who cost a lot of money often win court cases.
Having money usually means you can afford the best of everything.
In the case of Hollywood, that means the best makeup artists, the best directors, producers, choreographers, and more.
For actors, that translates to the best publicists, personal trainers, and agents.
These people are there solely to support the success of the actor.
Agents occupy themselves with negotiating on behalf of the actor, and they are often paid on commission.
Naturally, it is in the agent’s best interest to get the highest-paying deal for their clients.
These agents have the connections and the experience to help their clients get paid.
An average actor won’t be able to afford an agent.
As with other industries, having money quickly opens doors to making more money.
With skilled experts working tirelessly to make sure the actor is successful, it’s no wonder they’re able to make so much money.
8. The Internet Has Enabled Global Followings
Actors didn’t always make so much money.
With the explosive growth of the internet, actors now have a truly global reach.
Having a larger audience means more money for the actors.
The internet is the perfect platform for reaching billions of people worldwide.
Many other markets require complex logistics to reach most of the world’s population.
Actors can get to just about anyone in one way or another.
With so much exposure to a paying audience, actors can make a lot of money.
The internet has also paved the way for faster, broader advertising.
Thanks to the internet, there’s an easy way for movies and TV shows to be sold to just about anyone, and for actors to drum up an enormous following.
9. We Idolize The Characters They Play And Get Attached To Them
Why are people so enamored of actors?
Without the association between actors and their roles on screen, these people would never be loved by so many.
Screenwriters are professionals paid to dream up these incredible characters.
Actors are the ones who bring those characters to life.
If a real-life flying superhero existed, they wouldn’t need to act to be incredibly popular.
Audiences love their actors so much because they’re attached to the characters they play on-screen.
While we know these people probably aren’t actually like the characters they play, we are an emotional species.
We get attached to the actors we love and begin to idolize them.
We want to analyze them, to be more like them, and we can’t get enough of them.
People are always paying money to try to better themselves.
Whether it’s losing weight or learning a new language, we pay for self-improvement.
In a way, many people see actors as idols and role models.
It goes beyond entertainment in a way that’s often illogical.
We need to see more of these characters so we can be more like them.
We hang onto their every move, the clothes they wear, and the inflection in their voices.
Actors are usually cool, and we want to be more like them.
They can often represent the idealized versions of ourselves, or maybe just the flaws we can relate to.
In one way or another, we’re connected and attached to the actors we see on screen, and we feel the extreme need to be close to them, no matter what the cost.
Having a loyal, paying audience like this is another reason actors make so much money.
10. We’re Addicted To TV
On a very hedonistic level, we’re addicted to TV and movies.
Watching something on the television brings us pleasure, and it’s an easy, relaxing activity for most of us.
Like anything else that triggers the pleasure receptors in our brains, we can get addicted to whatever brings us those good feelings.
For one reason or another, we can get addicted to TV, and to the actors playing on the screen.
Chemically, we are drawn to these actors and to the pleasure sensors they activate in our brains.
When we’re addicted, and when we’re chasing a feeling of joy or pleasure, we’re willing to pay.
Actors, being the reason for these good feelings, are on the receiving end, and they are compensated for being able to provide us with this gratification.NEXT: How Hard Is It to Get A 4.0 In College? (7 Things To Know)