From Alison Brie to Zach Randolph, and everything in between.
Almost a year and over a billion dollars after its release date, The Avengers has become one of the biggest movies ever. The mass appeal of this ragtag team is simple- there’s a hero for everyone. Perhaps you wish you were the brash, playboy billionaire Tony Stark. If not, you may identify with the freak outcast with hidden rage issues. Or you could just be really good at archery.
The actors who played these heroes are stars in their own right, and were paid like it– Robert Downey Jr. made $50 million(!) for the first movie thanks to slick negotiations for a cut of all Iron Man–licensed products after his franchise started in 2008. If you do the math, that’s approximately $250K every time his character says “tessoract” (source unverified). This number is even more absurd when you consider half his scenes are just voice-overs added in post. Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson made approximately $4-6 million plus bonuses for their smaller roles, while Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth and Jeremy Renner made a pathetic $2-3 million each. But which of these really is the biggest draw? Captain America, Hulk and Thor could all give Iron Man a run for his money in a fist fight, so why are they paid less than one tenth Iron Man’s salary? And why is Scarlett Johansson paid twice as much as the boys for doing a decent Milla Jovovich impression? Certainly director Joss Whedon deserves plenty of credit for the movie’s success, but I wanted to try to determine which of these actors/actress was the biggest star, and if Marvel was getting any bang for their buck for any cast member.
I attempted to create a metric to measure Star Power, which turned out to be a combination of an actors’ box office dollar success, critical acclaim, and social media following. Because I don’t have the luxury of Stark Industries technology at my fingertips, it’s a simple formula based on readily available online data. I found each actor’s movie history (excluding cameos as determined by Box Office Mojo– sorry Sam Jackson) and took each movie’s opening weekend box office dollars (then divided by 1,000). I multiplied this by the Rotten Tomatoes % score for each movie, thus exacting revenge on Chris Hemsworth for tainting Red Dawn. Finally, I multiplied the product by the number of likes on each actor’s primary Facebook page (divided by 10,000). The formula looked like this:
I calculated the Star Power for each movie, and came up with the average Star Power (SP) for each of the 7 leads. The results were as follows:
It’s obviously a very small sample, but thanks to Thor, the underrated Cabin in the Woods and box office success Snow White & the Huntsman Chris Hemsworth (1) is quickly becoming a legitimate lead actor. After his next film, racing biopic Rush (no, not the Premium kind), he’ll head the sequels to Thor, Snow White, & Avengers. On top of all that good fortune, according to an unofficial poll of 7 female friends, he’s the best looking Avenger by a landslide, with only 1 vote each for Chris Evans and Samuel L. Jackson (I have diverse friends). However, his sister-in-law is Miley Cyrus, so…can’t have it all Thor.
Of course, Downey Jr (2) and Jackson (3) have a much larger sample size than the rest of the cast. It’s a bit surprising Jackson didn’t have the highest Star Power, given his appearances in all-time box office hits including the 3 crappy Star Wars movies, Jurassic Park and The Incredibles. Then you remember he can’t say no after seeing fluff like The Spirit, The Man and the XXX franchise in his credits.
Chris Evans (4) only has 3 movies “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes under his belt- Sunshine, Captain America & the fantastic Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, in which he played a minor role. Thanks to the Fantastic Four franchise and his 458K Facebook fans (3rd in the cast behind Downey Jr. & Jackson) Evans ranks ahead of Renner and Ruffalo despite appearing in critically-panned films averaging 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, 15 points below the average for the entire collection of movies in this study of 55%. Meanwhile, if you remove Scarlett Johansson’s (5) highest grossing opening weekend, Iron Man 2 ($128M), her average opening weekend gross is $6M, less than half the cast’s average opening weekend of $12.5M. Historically she’s chosen smaller, critically acclaimed films like Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Lost in Translation & Ghost World. Have her well-documented personal relationships and appearances at the top of every years’ “Sexiest” lists overshadowed her acting chops? Unfortunately, probably.
Jeremy Renner (6) is an interesting case, as his breakout in Best Picture Oscar winner The Hurt Locker is mitigated by an extremely poor opening weekend. If you exclude the recent turd that was Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and his first movie, a National Lampoon film that garnered a straight 0%, his average Rotten Tomatoes score is 69%, 14 points above the cast’s average of 55%. His star power will rise after he appears in David O. Russell’s next film alongside Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and…Louis CK, sure to show off his wide range of emotions.
Personally, I thought Mark Ruffalo (7) was the first actor to finally nail the Hulk and was the standout performance of the movie. His score was hurt thanks to his page earning the least Facebook likes at about 82,500. He needs to attend more fracking conferences to connect with his fans.
To try to judge if they were worth their weight in gold, I divided each actor’s salary by their average Star Power:
In theory, the lower the multiplier, the more value Marvel is getting for their investment. To simplify, say Chris Evans brings in 20 fans, at a salary of $2.5 million, it would mean Marvel is paying him $125,000 per fan. This is more valuable than if Robert Downey Jr. brings in 50 fans at $50 million- more fans, but at a much higher cost ($1M per fan). Using their Star Power number here is an attempt to articulate this value while taking into account a wider range of variables.
The results are interesting, as the two Chris’ rank significantly ahead of the rest of the cast. Despite Jackson’s higher salary, he still ranks 3rd, justifying Nick Fury’s presence in every single Marvel movie until Captain America 7, where Cap spends the entire movie battling an Apple store employee who’s just trying to explain to him how an iPhone works. Unfortunately for Ruffalo-Hulk fans, there are no plans for a Hulk standalone movie yet- which, according to this data, could be a wise decision by the studio. Marvel tried to cut costs by replacing Ed Norton with Ruffalo in the first place- he may not have the draw of the rest of the cast, but when playing a giant green CGI monster half the time, it doesn’t matter.
So what do you think? This is not at all meant to be an all-inclusive ultimate study, so don’t accuse me of it. Vote in the poll below and/or leave a comment.