You know who they are. Or rather, you know what they look like, you may know their names, but you almost certainly know what films they’ve been in. But would you be surprised to know how much those films made? Well, here they are; those under-the-radar, secretly-bankable stars.
Lifetime Gross: $1 billion
Did you know Marisa Tomei won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for My Cousin Vinny? The directors who hire her will take note, sure, but that eight-figure sum probably helps too. A great example of an actor whose name might mean less than her face, Tomei has never quite reached the stardom that her talent deserves, but a solid twenty-five year career has put her firmly in the bankable category. Chaplin, What Women Want, and The Wrestler top up box offices totals that vary from just $6,300 to $182 million. Tomei is proof that unrealised potential doesn’t always mean a chilly artist’s garrett – sometimes, it can even mean a billion dollars.
It’s no surprise that Gregg’s box office gross is as high as it is considering his central role in the Marvel universe, but in truth his first reliably mainstream movie role was Iron Man in 2008 – before that, bit parts in films like The Usual Suspects, Magnolia, and A.I. that were so small they don’t even count towards his total. Gregg’s bankability translated to television rather than film, seeing him star in Marvel spin-off series Agents of Shield, but not only does Gregg have his face to thank for an impressive total; he’s a writer too. His very first credit as screenwriter came on What Lies Beneath, a creepy ghost story starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer that took almost $300 million worldwide. With that and Iron Man representing his dual first forays into film…not bad for a first timer, eh?
Michelle Rodriguez? You know Michelle Rodriguez. She got a DUI that got her chucked off the cast of Lost and nowadays she hangs around with Cara Delevingne – but if that’s all you know of Miss Rodriguez then you’re doing her a disservice. DUI aside, Rodriguez has made a string of clever choices that put her in not one, not two, but four of Hollywood’s recent franchises – and the highest grossing movie ever. After blowing up zombies in Resident Evil and Resident Evil: Retribution, playing with knives in Machete and Machete Kills, and kicking ass and driving cool cars in the Fast franchise, Rodriguez bagged herself a part in Avatar, where she got to kick ass and drive a cool helicopter too.
Lifetime Gross: $1.8 billion
Tyrese is a a man who knows how to choose a franchise. After appearing in his first feature, Baby Boy, in 2001, Gibson hopped back into the movie game with 2 Fast 2 Furious in 2003, and has pretty much been set ever since. Between appearing in three instalments of the Fast series and set to return for its seventh instalment in 2015, he’s even had time to appear in the first three Transformers films, a combination that has rocketed him up the list of total box office gross. Not one of Gibson’s 14 feature films has debuted in less than 1000 theatres, and the one ‘underperformer’ on his CV is Black Nativity – and that grossed $7 million.
Queen Latifah’s movie career is a real mix and match. Perhaps most recognised by mainstream audiences for her role in Chicago (which, incidentally, brought in $179 million), Latifah has curated a CV that allows her creative freedom, fun, a few undeniable duds – and some serious bankability. Whilst her early work was mostly anchored in slapstick studio comedies and her most successful in Dreamworks’ Ice Age franchise, Latifah has managed to sample a little bit of everything. Along with an Oscar-winning musical, Latifah can boast The Bone Collector, Stranger Than Fiction, and The Secret Life of Bees.
Elizabeth Banks has had a pretty good 21st century. After starting off in Shaft in 2000 ($70 million at the BO, if you’re wondering), Banks grabbed a couple of walk-on parts in the first two Spider-Mans before getting together (professionally) with Judd Apatow and, from there, leapfrogging into a Kevin Smith movie, producing and cameo-ing in Pitch Perfect and, oh yeah, starring in one of the biggest YA franchises of all time: The Hunger Games. Her latest film Walk Of Shame didn’t quite dazzle, doing a mere five figures, but with two more instalments of The Hunger Games to go it looks like Banks can only go up from here.
Lifetime Gross: $2 billion
Ah, Sally Field. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that the woman who told us life is like a box of chocolates ranks highly on this list, but Field has always been one of those actors who pops up to give solid and stupendous performances on film before slinking away to TV (she’s starred in both ER and Brothers and Sisters). But it’s that reliability and assurance of amazing performances that has made Field such a box office success. Favoured by directors like Spielberg, her filmography boast a creative and quirky combination of the large and small that sees her flipping between the $47,000 gross of Two Weeks and the $757 million made at the box office by The Amazing Spider-Man.
Having played The Unsinkable Molly Brown in James Cameron’s behemoth of a blockbuster Titanic, Kathy Bates has proven herself just as unsinkable when it comes to the box office. Pulling in more than twice the lifetime gross of considerably bigger star Helen Mirren, Bates has a filmography as long as a tall man’s arm and the longevity to go with it. From the success of Misery in 1990 to The Blind Side in 2009, her ascent to a place as one of the world’s most bankable names is demonstrably made up of hard work and perseverance – and, yes, a little help from Molly Brown along the way.
So, what’s the lesson we can learn here? Franchises. Lots and lots and lots of franchises.
All numbers taken from Box Office Mojo.