The Highest Paid Actors Of The '90s

What's your favorite decade when it comes to movies? Are you a fan of early silent films that amazed audiences from the turn of the century to the late '20s or silver screen classics from the '40s and '50s? Do you like to watch the trippy tales that came out of the '60s and '70s? Or maybe you prefer the quirky flicks and coming-of-age features that hit theaters in the '80s. 

However, there's no denying that "the '90s were a pretty amazing decade for film," as Marie Claire points out. The outlet backs up that claim by noting that the "rom-com was at its pinnacle (Pretty Woman, You've Got Mail), comedies were truly funny (Home Alone, Dumb & Dumber), critical faves were also crowd-pleasers (Titanic, Forrest Gump), and teen comedies (10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless) were having a heyday, making the years 1990 to 1999 a particularly good time to go to the movies."

The stories that fueled each film during that time were certainly worthy of the laughs, tears, and praise they earned from audiences, but it was the stars who appeared onscreen who brought the captivating characters to life — and also made record-breaking amounts of money in the process. While not every performer was banking serious fortunes during the last decade of the millennium, check out these actors who were the highest-paid Hollywood stars of the '90s.

Jim Carrey's funny films made him a fortune

During the '90s, Jim Carrey's career not only took off, but he was also "consistently one of the highest-paid entertainers in the world," according to Celebrity Net Worth. In fact, with The Cable Guy, he became "the first actor in history to earn $20 million for a single film." No big deal.

The Los Angeles Times points out that the deal also included "15 percent gross participation," which is a "piece of gross receipts without any deductions for distribution fees or expenses or production costs," according to entertainment lawyers Mark Litwak and Associates. One anonymous studio head called the deal "seminal and destructive" to the Times, noting that it "set the pace for actors' salaries." With hits like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber under his belt by 1994, Carrey also starred in The Truman Show and Man on the Moon in the last years of the decade, respectively earning him best actor Golden Globe Awards in drama and comedy ... so it's not like he didn't deserve this massive paycheck.

These days, Carrey's still active (though arguably not at the top of the game) and has $180 million. However, as the star revealed during his 2014 commencement speech for Maharishi University, "I've often said that I wish people could realize all their dreams in wealth and fame, so that they could see that it's not where you're going to find your sense of completion."

Julia Roberts became the first woman to break a money-related boundary

Julia Roberts was one of the biggest stars of the '90s, thanks to roles in films like 1990's Pretty Woman, 1991's Sleeping with the Enemy, and 1997's My Best Friend's Wedding — not to mention Notting Hill and Runaway Bride, which both came out in 1999. By the end of the decade, she was commanding a record-breaking amount of money. 

Erin Brockovich came out in March 2000, which means that by 1999, Roberts signed her deal for the film and "became the first woman to ever get paid $20 million for a movie," according to Newsweek. However, sources cited by the outlet claimed that "Universal was reluctant to pay her $20 million, a figure that's become a benchmark for male superstars," reportedly leading the actress' agent to "gently (or not so gently) [point] out an industry double standard."

These days, Roberts is still working, but isn't hustling as hard as she used to — and she can afford to work as much or as little as she wants, considering Celebrity Net Worth estimates that she still has $250 million to her name. "I've been very lucky. I have family, nice homes, a successful career, money, and people are generally nice to me," Roberts told The Sunday Post in 2016. "I have all I ever wanted so, yes, I am happy."

Tom Cruise told Hollywood to show him the money

A decade after starting in the business, Tom Cruise was being paid wildly impressive salaries for each of his early '90s films. This included his $9 million earnings for 1990's Days of Thunder to banking $15 million for his work on Interview with the Vampire in 1994, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

Beyond that, Entertainment Weekly called Cruise "the king of back-end deal makers," because he apparently "pocketed $70 million for 1996's Mission: Impossible. Reason: As both star and — more important, producer — of the film, Cruise negotiated a chunk of Mission's overall $465 million gross." Frankly, 1996 was a lucrative year for the actor, as it was also the year when fans could see him yelling "show me the money" onscreen in Jerry Maguire, which seems apt. Fun (jaw-dropping) fact: "When taking into account everything he's been in for almost 40 years, supposedly [he makes] as much as $7,091 per word," according to Cinema Blend, who got that staggering financial figure from Casumo.

Cruise's earning power hasn't slowed down as time's gone on, and thanks to his big paydays, he has a whopping fortune of $570 million. "I get paid because I'm worth it and they should pay me that much. But I've never done work for money, ever," Cruise told Vanity Fair in 2000 (via The Uncool). "... It is my life, it is what I do, it is what I love to do."

Jodie Foster turned roles in serious dramas into serious cash

The Silence of the Lambs hit theatres in 1991, and its success helped kick off a decade of intriguing roles in money-making movies for former child star Jodie Foster. It also probably didn't hurt that the film earned the star an Oscar for best actress. "At the peak of her career between the mid-1990s and late 2000s, Jodie earned over $100 million in base film salaries alone," according to Celebrity Net Worth. A bulk of that came from paychecks ranging from $5 million for 1994's Maverick to the impressive $15 million she scored for her work on Anna and the King at the end of the decade.

In 2016, Foster talked about continuing to work in the film industry as she ages, and while she acknowledged that it's "true" that there are fewer parts for women as they get older, the star told Time that she's "still excited about making movies" and "about having a different kind of career as an actor now." Foster explained, "I'm excited about being 60 or 70 and playing interesting parts where I'm not fighting the expectation of carrying the movie or looking glamorous. I think it'll be nice to really do the work." 

That work will add to the fortune she's already made, which Celebrity Net Worth figures sits at $100 million.

It wasn't acting that first made Arnold Schwarzenegger a millionaire

Arnold Schwarzenegger cemented his superstar status in the '90s by staying super busy, appearing in both action movies and comedies. And while he was becoming increasingly famous, he was also taking in a fortune. "At the peak of his career, he consistently earned $20-30 million per movie," according to Celebrity Net Worth, who also noted that he has $400 million to his name these days.

Throughout the decade, Schwarzenegger's staggering salaries began with $11 million for 1990's Total Recall and $12 million for Terminator 2 the following year, in which he "only had 700 words of dialogue" — meaning he made about "$21,429 per spoken word." Wow. After taking in between $15 and $20 million for his next batch of films, which included 1994's True Lies, the actor's salary jumped up to $25 million for his work on 1997's Batman & Robin. His pay only continued to go up from there, which is why he's "earned at least $400 million from film salaries alone, before taxes."

While the A-list actor was obviously a success in Hollywood, Schwarzenegger told CNBC in 2017 that he "did not rely on [his] movie career to make a living" at first, and instead "became a millionaire from [his] real estate investments." Does this mean that it's possible to have the terminator as your landlord? ("I'll be back ... to pick up the rent check.")

Whoopi Goldberg knows what her 'money is doing'

EGOT-earning Whoopi Goldberg may be working on The View these days, however, during the '90s, she appeared in movies like Ghost, Sister Act, Corrina, Corrina, and Girl, Interrupted. Her films were not only popular with the public, but her role as a fake-psychic-turned-legitimate-medium in Ghost resulted in the star taking hom an Academy Award in 1991 for best actress in a supporting role.

That talent and popularity are perhaps why, according to HuffPost, Goldberg's earnings for 1993's Sister Act 2 landed somewhere between $7 and 12 million, which made her "the highest-paid actress at the time." The investment into the actress paid off at the box office, considering the "sequel grossed about $60 million in the U.S. and almost $100 million worldwide." Nowadays, Celebrity Net Worth puts Goldberg's salary at $8 million per year, while she's thought to have a $60 million fortune.

"Know what your money is doing. There was a time when I didn't pay attention and my money disappeared," Goldberg told Black Enterprise in 2016. The star, who obviously knows a thing or two about formidable finances, explained that "you can't just assume that a company or financial adviser has your best interests at heart," and "if you're not looking at something, then you don't know what's going on." It's clear that this is one celebrity who knows exactly what's going on — at least when it comes to her money.

Harrison Ford explained why he's sometimes 'in it for the money'

Despite once being told that he'd never be a star, Harrison Ford became one of the most successful actors in Hollywood, and by 1977, was being paid $10,000 for Star Wars, which is "around $42,000 after adjusting for inflation," according to Celebrity Net Worth. From there, he earned $100,000 for The Empire Strikes Back and $500,000 for The Return of the Jedi, which is "the same as around $1.6 million in today's dollars." 

While that's not bad, things really took off in the '90s, when Ford started making between $10 and $12 million for his acting gigs. By the end of the decade, the actor was banking $20 million for movies like The Devil's Own and Air Force One.

These days, Ford has an estimated net worth of $300 million, which you'd think would mean that he wouldn't need to work anymore. However, despite claiming that he "didn't want to become an actor to become rich and famous," according to the Glasgow Times, when he reprised his role as Indiana Jones, he told the Independent that he was "in it for the money." Ford explained, "I mean that in the nicest possible way. This is my job ... I want to get paid to do it because, otherwise, I'm not being responsible and I'm not valuing what I do for a living."

Meg Ryan was one of Hollywood's highest paid actors

"From the late '80s through the '90s, Meg Ryan shone about as brightly as any star in Hollywood," according to The New York Times Magazine. Thanks to 1989's When Harry Met Sally, she became one of the top actresses in the game, going on to appear in the likes of 1993's Sleepless in Seattle and 1994's When a Man Loves a Woman. The latter was the same year she "earned $5 million to appear in the historical drama I.Q.," according to Celebrity Net Worth. Starring opposite Tom Hanks in 1998's You've Got Mail brought in a salary of $10.5 million — and her combined earnings that year amounted to $19 million (which is about $30 million these days when adjusted for inflation), making Ryan one of Tinseltown's highest-paid actors.

Thanks to that earning power, Celebrity Net Worth points out that she has $85 million to her name, which is good considering Ryan's mostly stepped away from her performing career. "I didn't really aim to be an actor," Ryan told Gwyneth Paltrow at the "In Goop Health" event in 2018 (via E! News). Eventually, she said, "I wanted to go back out into the world and figure out who I was — am — in relationship to other things and other people and other environments." 

What Ryan is happens to be a very rich woman.

Tom Hanks scored 'one of the largest acting paychecks in Hollywood history'

Who doesn't love Tom Hanks? Known as the nicest guy in Hollywood, he's also "by far one of the most famous, highest-regarded, and best-paid actors," according to Celebrity Net Worth. That statement is proven by the fact that You've Got Mail and Saving Private Ryan came out in 1998, and Hanks, who starred in both, was paid $20 million for the former film and $40 million for the latter.

But let's back up to 1992. When production on Forrest Gump went "significantly over budget," Hanks apparently saved the day — and the movie — by "offer[ing] to give up his [$7 million] salary in exchange for 'first dollar' backend points." While that sounds like he might have lost out on a lot of money, the film "went on to be an enormous box office hit," which is how the star ended up making "around $70 million" in the first year alone, "which is the same as around $120 million today." Wow. Frankly, Celebrity Net Worth notes, it's "still by far his biggest acting paycheck and one of the largest acting paychecks in Hollywood history." That contributed to his current net worth that sits at $400 million.

"I'm not in this for power, although I have some," Hanks told People in January 2020, adding, "I'm [also] not in this for money, although man am I rich."

Macaulay Culkin protected his fortune

While other actors were making more than Macaulay Culkin in the '90s, his earnings were undeniably notable due to the fact that he was just a kid. According to sources cited by Express, the young actor reportedly nabbed $100,000 for his popular starring role in 1990's Home Alone, but banked $1 million for My Girl the following year. Talk about a pay raise. After making $4.5 million for Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, Culkin made $8 million apiece for Getting Even With Dad and Richie Rich in 1994.

That might seem like a fortunate situation to be in, but the money caused problems when the actor's parents split up in 1995. They engaged in a "bitter custody battle," according to the Los Angeles Times, which included a fight over which parent would continue to manage Macaulay's career: "[Patricia Brentrup and Christopher Culkin], as Macaulay's co-managers, split a 15 percent commission on their son's earnings (the remainder [was] put into a trust). The practice is legal but controversial."

In February 2020, Macaulay talked to Esquire about how he protected himself, saying, "I legally took my parents' names off of my trust fund and found an executor, someone who would look over my finances, just in case anyone wanted to stick their f**king pinkie in the pie." Perhaps because of that, Celebrity Net Worth figures that he still has $18 million. Not too shabby, Kevin McCallister!