A few weeks back, a story was doing the rounds about Harrison Ford’s mammoth payout for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The UK’s Daily Mail posted that Ford had been paid $23 million pounds for his appearance in the juggernaut sequel. That works out to about $33 million US. Variety walked that number back a little two days later, to somewhere between $10 and $20 million. At the other end of the spectrum, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley were paid in the range of $100,000 to $300,000 for their roles in the film. Ouch. Before young thesps the world over cry out in outrage, is the discrepancy totally unfair? Hell no. Time for some fun with numbers, the Millennium Falcon edition.
First up, these numbers come from BoxOfficeMojo.com, a site that’s great for digging into just how big those blockbuster homers really are. They’ve also got a specialized set of breakdowns, for things like studios, franchises and actors. Digging into the career of the illustrious Mr. Ford, it’s pretty easy to see why the guy’s so highly valued. Taking the forty-one films where Harrison Ford had a starring role, the cumulative box office is $4,699,470,780, and counting. Really counting. (I hear that new one’s doing pretty well.) That’s well over four billion dollars. Adjust that figure for inflation, seeing as more than half those movies are pretty old, and you get a whopping $9,367,759,500. Averaged over those forty-one films, that’s over $228 million a movie in gross box office. There’s a few stinkers in there, sure. At $12 million lifetime gross, Extraordinary Measures probably should’ve pulled the plug before it hit theatres. But for so many movies, there’s amazing consistency. From the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises to Air Force One to even romantic affairs like Sabrina, Harrison Ford delivers. And those are just domestic U.S. numbers. Global numbers are harder to come by, but adding up the grosses for thirty-one of those movies comes to over eight billion dollars, without adjusting for inflation. Even taking the last ten films Ford’s made in the past five years, not including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the average gross box office for those movies has been $99 million per. He might be lying about the Kessel Run, but to a studio exec, Harrison Ford is money in the bank.
Now it’s hardly fair to look at the careers of actors fifty years Harrison Ford’s junior, but hey those news guys started this. John Boyega’s twenty-three. His filmography stretches to three films, and some TV. One of those films, the virtually unseen Half a Yellow Sun, made $53,000 in the U.S. I didn’t miss some zeroes. That’s $53 grand. Another, Attack the Block, was a well-recognized cult film. It did $1 million box office in the States, and $5 million worldwide. Then there’s his most recent picture. A weird little sci-fi flick known as much for its toys as its story, that one’s made over $1.5 billion and counting. Considering he wasn’t the star of Half a Yellow Sun, we’ll just average the last two. So, carry the one, that’s an average of $750 million per movie. Nice work, Mr. Boyega. What about Daisy Ridley? Aside from a little TV, she’s basically got a filmography of one, that same flick she’s in with John Boyega and our man Harrison. So carry the uhhhh nothing, that’s $1.5 billion grossed. WTF Disney? These kids are mondo box office.
Of course it doesn’t work that way. What about Ford’s original costars? Mark Hamill’s found a lot of success doing voice work and on TV. The eleven films he’s had starring roles on have had a cumulative gross of $2 billion, or a little over $4 billion adjusted for inflation. Take the Star Wars franchise out of that group and it’s a different story. You end up with $175 million for domestic gross. And almost all of that is from one movie, Kingsman: The Secret Service, where he’s hardly the focal point. What about Carrie Fisher? She’s had success in ensemble roles, and of course as an author. Her lifetime gross for seventeen films is also just over $2 billion, or around $4.5 billion adjusted for inflation. Again, taking out the Star Wars movies, that drops dramatically to $261 million domestic box office for thirteen films. The biggest movies on that list include When Harry Met Sally, Hannah and Her Sisters and The Burbs, none of which could be said to be a central starring vehicle for her. Now both Hamill and Fisher have been paid well for their Star Wars: The Force Awakens appearance, reportedly each earning in the low seven figures for their appearances, with salaries expected to rise as the series continues. Low sevens is not Ford money, for those keeping track.
For a more likely yardstick of our young heroes’ potential future performance, why not take a look at Hayden Christensen? He’s got ten films he’s starred in, racking up $867 million in domestic gross, or about $1.1 billion adjusted for inflation. Again, losing his pair of Star Wars movies leaves $176 million grossed by eight films. Jumper is actually the best of that lot, having made about $80 million, which isn’t even break even for the film’s estimated budget. So not counting Star Wars (-SW), Christensen’s films have on average made $22 million. The -SW average for Mark Hamill is similar, just shy of $22 million. And Carrie Fisher’s -SW average is just a little over $20 million. Which is to say they’re all okay, but not enough to support a Hollywood tentpole feature with a budget in excess of $100 million.
What about Harrison Ford’s -SW average? Take the Star Wars movies out of the picture, including the latest, and where does Captain Solo end up? $2.8 billion over thirty-seven movies makes for an incredible $77.7 million per movie on average. The global numbers are undoubtedly more ridiculous. That’s $80 million a movie, a movie every year for nearly forty years, not counting the four movies that make up the other half of his box office worth. The man is simply incredible.
All the cast of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has bonuses that kick in once the film passes a billion dollar in gross revenue. So nicely done gang. Ford probably swung the best deal there, too, with a rumoured half-a-percentage-point kicking in. Now 0.5% might not sound like much, but slap that on $1.5 billion, and it’s $7.5 million. He’s a canny one, our Harrison. He even scored $1 million in compensation for breaking his leg on-set, sly bastard. But really, the best point of comparison is what did Harrison Ford earn for his original role, back in 1977? What did Han Solo get for being Han Solo, in Star Wars: A New Hope? Ford was apparently paid $10,000 for the role, which in today’s dollars would be about $40,000. All things considered, John and Daisy, you’re doing pretty good. The odds are extremely high you simply will never do anything as significant as the franchise you’re in now, but that’s okay. There’s two more totally monster films in your future. And the unfathomable merchandising rights (don’t pull a Carrie Fisher, and give those away for almost nothing). As for Mr. Ford, you sir can kick back. Smoke ’em if you got ’em, whatever ’em tickles your fancy. You are the #1 earner on BoxOfficeMojo.com, better than Tom Cruise, better than Tom Hanks, Samuel Jackson or even Eddie Murphy. You are peerless, and worth every penny. Great movies, kid, one in a million.