Not only was the titular “Napoleon” Jon Heder’s first film, but it was an indie film with a budget of a mere four hundred thousand dollars – almost nothing compared to what movies cost, even back when it was made. As such, Heder commanded a whopping one thousand dollar salary for his star-making role.
He was fully aware that the movie was small-budget, but when MTV picked the movie up, it ended up making more than a hundred times its budget back. Due to all the good press and acclaim over his role, Heder suddenly had some clout, and his salary shot up for future products.
Ryan Gosling in “Half Nelson”
While this actor might be one of the more famous in the world now, it was only thanks to an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks book, “The Notebook,” that got him on his path to true stardom. So you'd think he earned big in his next film, “Half Nelson.”
He played an inner-city teacher with a substance problem who forms a special bond with one of his students. For that, he only earned a thousand bucks a week, even after the runaway hit that was “The Notebook.” Gosling was able to use the movie to continue moving up the Hollywood ladder, even if he didn't make much from it.
John Boyega in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
One of the reasons a film's star might not make as much as you think – even for a huge blockbuster film like a Star Wars movie – is exposure. When a studio pays out big, they want to make sure they're getting their money's worth. This is why, despite Finn appearing far more often than Han Solo, John Boyega earned a hundred thousand dollars compared to Ford's twenty-five million in “The Force Awakens.”
Boyega didn't have as much negotiating power as a more established actor would, and since everybody wanted to be in the next Star Wars, Boyega took what he could. Thanks to Star Wars, he's now worth a lot more.
Tom Cruise in “Magnolia”
As soon as Cruise just his first starring role, you'd think that he would be earning millions for each and every film. It wasn't always the case, however. Even though he was already a well-known actor in 1999 when his film “Magnolia” came out, he earned only a hundred thousand dollars.
That's a far cry from these days when he does all his own stunts and plenty of great acting and will often net upwards of forty-five million dollars per film. Of course, there are always times when an actor will feel strongly about a project and agree to a lower salary.
Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct”
For her role as the stunning femme fatale in “Basic Instinct,” Stone has said that she didn't earn anything near the fourteen million dollars that co-star Michael Douglas made.
She's never revealed how much she got in her paycheck, but she has relayed that while she was famous and up for awards, she could barely afford a dress to the Oscars. She called it a weird limbo. Thankfully, however, her stellar performance made it much easier for her to negotiate a better price in future projects.