Winning an Oscar is a major artistic accomplishment for actors and actresses professionally, but how much does it affect their wallets? I mean, wouldn’t you expect an Oscar winner to demand a higher salary on his or her next film just so the producers can put “Academy Award Winner” above his or her name on the poster?
Well, not always, but especially if you happen to be female.
An honor’s thesis by Colgate student Kevin Sweeney looked at the earning power of actors and actresses in the years before and after winning an Oscar. It isn’t surprising that actors on average received an 81% bump in salary after winning an Oscar, since many of them become household names. And while it isn’t surprising that actresses don’t receive the same bump — unfortunately, there is an obvious gender bias in Hollywood — what is surprising is that Sweeney’s findings discovered that actresses on average receive no financial benefit — in fact, it can be argued that Oscar wins could hurt their careers more than help!
Of course, not everything can be blamed on a golden statue. The average age in which an actress wins an Oscar is 36 — and along with the gender bias, there is a long history of middle-aged and senior actresses having difficulty finding quality work in Hollywood. That glaring issue might be far more to blame than winning an Oscar is.
In addition, those findings don’t apply to everyone. Tom Hanks certainly had no issue getting high paychecks after winning back-to-back Best Actor Oscars in 1994 and 1995. On the other hand, the last time I saw Cuba Gooding, Jr. (1997 Best Supporting Actor winner) in a movie it was in a direct-to-DVD action flick alongside Dolph Lundgren (and trust me, Lundgren had the better role). Quality role choices might have something to do with it, too: Famously, Michael Caine skipped out on the Oscars in which he won Best Supporting Actor for Hannah and Her Sisters, one of his best roles, because he was filming Jaws: The Revenge, one of his worst.
And naturally, anyone can point to the fact that Oscars don’t always go to movies with high grosses — especially over the last two decades. The Artist might have won five Oscars in 2012, but the film wasn’t even in the top 50 at the U.S. box office in 2011. In fact, one reason why actors might have such a significant jump in salary after winning an Oscar is that many take a major pay cut to star in a low-budget Oscar-winning film instead of the salary they would earn for one of their usual blockbusters. For example, I doubt Christian Bale made as much in salary in The Fighter, for which he one Best Supporting Actor, than he did for one of the Batman movies or Terminator: Salvation.
Ultimately it’s not just an Oscar that pushes an actor or actress into the next tax bracket. There are a lot of factors, including gender, age, and, perhaps most importantly, follow-up role choices that go into whether or not an Oscar winner will end up the equivalent of a one-hit wonder.