Jennifer Lawrence has topped the annual Forbes list of the highest paid female actors in the world for the first time, thanks to lucrative roles in the Hunger Games and X-Men movies.
Lawrence’s estimated $52m haul over the past 12 months puts her way out ahead of the second-placed actor, Scarlett Johansson, who made $35.5m during the same period. As well as the lead role of Katniss Everdeen in the post-apocalyptic Hunger Games saga and mutant Mystique in the X-Men films, the 25-year-old will reunite with director David O Russell and co-star Bradley Cooper on the awards season-friendly Miracle Mop biopic Joy later this year.
Lawrence’s rise to prominence has been stratospheric: it is just five years since her Oscar-nominated breakthrough as a teenager struggling to keep her family afloat while searching for her missing father in the Ozark highland backwoods in 2010’s Winter’s Bone. Since then she has picked up a best actress Oscar for 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook and a best supporting actress nomination for 2013’s American Hustle, both also featuring Russell and Cooper.
“Jennifer Lawrence has been able to negotiate very favorable deals on the back end of the Hunger Games films,” said Forbes’ Natalie Robehmed. “No other actress could play Katniss Everdeen and for that reason she can command a substantial cut of profits.”
Johansson, who was seventh on last year’s list, picked up her lucrative payday thanks to a supporting role as Black Widow in Marvel Studios superhero epic Avengers: Age of Ultron, as well as her lead in the Luc Besson science fiction romp Lucy, about a woman who develops godlike powers.
Third place went to a relative newcomer, Melissa McCarthy, who has seen success with her comedic turns in films such as Bridesmaids, The Heat and this year’s Spy and will next be seen in the forthcoming female-led remake of cult 80s film Ghostbusters. McCarthy, 44, made $23m between June 1 2015 and June 1 this year. She overtakes such prominent Hollywood figures as Jennifer Aniston (fifth with $16.5m), Julia Roberts (sixth with $16m) and Cameron Diaz (11th with $11m). Sandra Bullock, who was 2014’s highest-paid female actor with $50m (thanks to a lucrative back-end deal for the Oscar-winning blockbuster Gravity) drops to joint 13th this time around with just $8m. And 2013’s list-topper, Angelina Jolie, slips to seventh with $15m following her shift towards a future behind the cameras.
Said Robehmed: “Melissa McCarthy has proven herself to be a kind of triple threat - she can write, produce and act. Her solo vehicles, like Tammy and Spy, have performed well at the box office and seeing as she is the only talent in them, she benefits substantially from their success.”
This year’s Forbes list took into account the earnings of non-Hollywood actors for the first time, but only one made it into the top 20. Fan Bingbing, a Chinese megastar who has also appeared in small roles in Hollywood fantasy spectaculars such as Iron Man 3 and X-Men: Days of Future Past, landed in fourth place with $21m in estimated earnings.
The impressive earnings of Lawrence and Johansson mean both would have made it onto a combined list of male and female actors. Forbes published its male equivalent list earlier this month, with Robert Downey Jr taking top place with a staggering $80m in earnings; Lawrence would have landed in second spot, with Johansson in eighth. But no other female star would have made the top 15, highlighting the continuing controversy over gender pay gaps in Hollywood and the wider global film industry.
Screen International chief reporter Andreas Wisemann told The Guardian the disparity between male and female pay remained an “embarrassment”. He said: “If those writing the cheques are predominantly men that doesn’t help. Some say agents could push harder. Some say the parts aren’t being written for women, perhaps in fear of not being commissioned.
“A male-oriented culture has existed for such a long time that it will take a long time to change, and that’s not only in the film business, of course. Progress is being made but it is slow. The success of stars such as Lawrence and Johansson prove that audiences want to see great actresses in all sorts of roles every bit as much as men.”
Forbes top 15, June 2014 to June 2015
1. Jennifer Lawrence ($52m)
2. Scarlett Johansson ($35.5m)
3. Melissa McCarthy ($23m)
4. Fan Bingbing ($21m)
5. Jennifer Aniston ($16.5m)
6. Julia Roberts ($16m)
7. Angelina Jolie ($15m)
7. Reese Witherspoon ($15m)
9. Anne Hathaway ($12m)
9. Kristen Stewart ($12m)
11. Cameron Diaz ($11m)
12. Gwyneth Paltrow ($9m)
13. Meryl Streep ($8m)
13. Amanda Seyfried ($8m)
13. Sandra Bullock ($8m)
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