Thursday, November 19, 2009
Or not. The film ended up costing an estimated $100 million and earned only $65 million at the worldwide box office. Universal studio heads Marc Shmuger and David Linde were subsequently fired. (For more on the movie's origins, see: "A Sleestak Comeback.")
Land of the Lost's dismal box office helped land star Will Ferrell at the top of our annual list of Hollywood's Most Overpaid Stars. Ferrell is no longer the sure bet he seemed after hits like Elf ($220 million worldwide box office) and Talladega Nights ($162 million box office). Ferrell's 2008 film Semi-Pro earned only $43 million. Step Brothers did better with $128 million, but it wasn't enough to help Ferrell--mainly because the star commands a high salary in comedies where he plays his trademark man-child role.
For every dollar Ferrell was paid, his films earned an average $3.29. Compare that to Shia LaBeouf, who topped our list of Best Actors for the Buck in August. For every dollar LaBeouf was paid, his films earned an average $160.
Second-worst? Ewan McGregor. The Scottish actor, best known for his work in films like Trainspotting and Star Wars (where he played a young Obi-Wan Kenobi), doesn't earn as much as some of the higher-profile actors on our list. But his recent movies have performed poorly, making him a terrible investment for producers. For every dollar McGregor was paid, his films earned an average $3.75.
To create our list, we looked at the 100 biggest stars in Hollywood. To qualify, each actor had to have starred over the last five years in at least three movies that opened in more than 500 theaters. (In McGregor's case, we didn't include the 2008 Woody Allen movie Cassandra's Dream, because it played in only 107 theaters.)
We didn't include animated films, because the actors aren't really the draw--and they tend to take pay cuts for voice work.
We calculated each star's estimated earnings on each film, including up-front pay and any earnings from the film's box office receipts, DVD and TV sales. We then looked at each movie's estimated budget (not including marketing costs, which are susceptible to accounting chicanery) and box office, DVD and television earnings to figure out an operating income for each film.
We added up each star's compensation on his or her last three films and the operating income on those films and divided total operating income by the star's total compensation to come up with each return-on-investment number.
Besides Will Ferrell, other big names on our list include Eddie Murphy and Tom Cruise. Murphy (who ranks fourth) has commanded one of the highest quotes in Hollywood for his work in family comedies, thanks to the performance of movies like The Nutty Professor, which grossed $274 million at the worldwide box office.
But lately his return on investment has fallen off a cliff. Last year's Meet Dave was a box office disaster, earning only $50 million worldwide. This year's Imagine That did even worse, bringing in $18 million. Murphy escaped being named the most overpaid star thanks to 2007's Norbit, which earned $160 million. For every dollar Murphy was paid, his films earned an average $4.43.
Cruise ranks sixth with a return on investment of $7.18. The star has worked out unusual deals on past films where he takes nothing up front in return for a large chunk of first-dollar gross--that means on stinkers like Lions For Lambs, Cruise earned even if the studio (in this case, his studio, United Artists) didn't recoup its money. These are just the kinds of deals studios are now trying to avoid.