Who are decade's highest grossing actors?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the highest grossing actress of the aughties 2000s I-don’t-know-what-to-call-‘ems is Emma Watson. All six of her live-action films this decade just happen to be the six Harry Potter films, which have conjured $5.4 billion worldwide, or roughly $900 million per film. (Guinness actually only measured the first five Potter films, but PopWatch is a full service pop-culture blog. You’re welcome.)

But if you want to know who Guinness believes is Ms. Watson’s male counterpart as the decade’s highest moneymaker, you’re out of luck. For some reason, the famed record keeping crew simply proclaims Samuel L. Jackson as the world’s Highest Grossing Actor, full stop, no time-frame included.

Even if this is true for all time, the idea that Jackson was tops for the last ten years seemed…doubtful to me, so I crunched the numbers, courtesy Box Office Mojo. (We’re full service, I tells ya!) Indeed, thanks in part to the fact that he’s starred in practically every other movie released in the last ten years (okay, more like two dozen films, but that’s still more than two flicks a year), Mr. L. Jackson’s movies (excluding voice-over work) have raked in a most impressive $3.3 billion in global box-office. But that does not make him the decade’s highest grosser — not even close. Johnny Depp — a.k.a. Capt. Jack Sparrow, a.k.a. Willy Wonka, a.k.a. Sweeney Todd, a.k.a. EW’s Best of the Decade cover boy — has pulled in $4.2 billion in box-office doubloons this decade, but he isn’t tops either. Neither is Sir Ian McKellan, even though his work helped The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the X-Men trilogy, and The Da Vinci Code rake in an astronomic $4.8 billion worldwide.

Nope, best I can figure, the highest grossing male actor is…drumroll please…Alan Rickman. Factor in his roles in, among other films, Love Actually and Sweeney Todd, and the cinema’s Severus Snape edges past Harry Potter co-stars Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint with a grand total of $5.9 billion in global box office. Of course, by this logic, Harry Potter‘s Dame Maggie Smith is the decade’s box office queen, due to the $88 million and $74 million global gross of Gosford Park and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, respectively. But who’s counting?

So there you have it: A completely silly assessment of box office power based essentially on how lucky an actor is to find him or herself with a recurring role in a highly lucrative live-action franchise. Are you surprised by the outcome? Do you think I’ve missed actors whose films have somehow made more money this decade than Ms. Watson, Ms. Smith, and Mr. Rickman? And does this mean anything at all beyond the obvious fact that to really succeed in Hollywood, you need to be British and have a knack for magic?

UPDATE: I stand corrected. Thanks to astute reader Josh, who quite rightly pointed out that Orlando Bloom‘s presence in both the Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean trilogies makes him nigh unbeatable in the decade’s box office showdown, with some $6.5 billion in box office coin to his name. Bully for him, and for Josh.

Image Credit: Kent Miller/PR Photos

Comments (45 total) Add your comment
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  • Jennifer

    Are you implying that somehow Alan Rickman doesn’t deserve to be the highest grossing actor of the decade? ‘Cause if anyone does, it’s him.

    • Elizabeth


  • crispy

    I know I rushed right out to see Harry Potter because Alan Rickman was in like 2 scenes.

  • Matthew

    Emma had Tale of Desperaux as well as the Harry Potter movies BTW. The world record was an average of how many movies made and amount it made at the box office.

    • Celia

      True. A lot of people seem to be under the impression that this is how much money Emma has earned over the past decade. I’m sure all the HP actors are rolling in the dough, but there’s no way they’ve made billions of dollars. The same goes for the other actors on the list. I hope Emma continues to act in the future. She’s pretty amazing and I will definitely support whatever she does in the future. :D

  • Diane R

    How did Mr. Will Smith do? I’m under the impression that his movies make zillions.

    • mscisluv

      I crunched the numbers for Will Smith at the same website, but the numbers are surprisingly low: he grossed $1.6 billion in the 00’s and just under a billion in the ’90s (with Independence Day and Men in Black making up over half of that). His movies do relatively well, but they don’t have the type of family appeal as Harry Potter.

    • Celia

      His big blockbuster films tend to make a lot of money but when you average in films like Seven Pounds and Ali then his gross for the decade is not that high.

  • visa

    yay!!! EMMA WATSON is THE BEST :D :D :D

  • sosgemini

    I love the idea of Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman being the highest grossing. If only the public would agree.

    • Rose Hovick

      This fact made me happier than it probably should have.
      Ah, if only…

    • jamie

      i UNDERSTAND! harry potter movies are the best! if only people wouldn’t think harry potter is just for kids! it’s not! and i am **, or not willing to say my age!-ha ha! but peole like josh and jo and cebellas! awww, i hate IT that people are more concerned about their precious celebs in magazines than family movies and child stars!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Josh

    I hate to say it but I think it might be Orlando Bloom. Just counting Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Kingdom of Heaven and Troy I get 6.3 Billion (approximately). I’m not sure he’s the one I would have picked, but being in the 2 biggest trilogies of the decade make him almost unbeatable.

    • Josh

      Add in Black Hawk Down and Elizabethtown and it’s more like 6.5 billion.

      • Matthew

        Elizabeth town didn’t do well so that would hurt his average. Guiness based it off an average. Nobody seems to get that. Box office flops hurt.

    • Adam B. Vary

      Thanks for pointing this out, Josh — I’ve amended the post above.

    • JackAttack

      I was going to say something if no one else did – glad you did Josh! And don’t forget Kingdom of Heaven too. I mean, it was not LotR, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt…

      And what about Christopher Walken? He was probably in more movies than Samuel L. Jackson anyway…Hairspray, Wedding Crashers…ok, actually maybe not. He wasn’t in a lot of HIGH-GROSSING films, he just SEEMS like he’s everywhere…..

    • jo walker

      Why do you hate to say its O Bloom. He has been the most sought-after name in film and is the most charismatic figure….He deserves the accolade for humility…

    • jamie

      CAN’T BELIEVE YOU! Totally all the harry potter stars make the most! They are awesome! If you don’t beleive me- watch the movies! I wish they made ten! Anyone want to challenge that? Bring it!

  • Josie

    LOVE Alan Rickman. If he’s pulling in big money then good for him. I’d watch him in anything.

  • Ceballos

    I wouldn’t completely dismiss the contributions of Rickman, Jackson or McKellen, but the answer appears to be Depp.

    He’s the guy who has fronted and carried pretty much every movie that qualified for this list.

  • edge221978

    Hugo Weaving has to be up there too. 2 Matrix sequels, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, V for Vendetta and Transformers 1 @ 2.

    • edge221978

      and Happy Feet.

  • dizzy

    Yay for Emma! Love her! Love Orlando too but I didn’t think he was the decade’s highest grossing actor. I had heard somewhere else that it was actually Daniel Radcliffe.

    • Marcus

      Dan had a poor showing with December Boys. As somebody pointed out, this record is based on the average success of each movie. For Watson it was the 5 Harry Potter movies (since it was based on 2008 figures) and The Tale of Despereuax. So she does rule just ahead of Keira.

      • dizzy

        I didn’t even think of Keira, who did have a spectacular career this decade. But I do think Emma deserves the title.

  • dan

    shia la beouf? transformers 1 & 2 PLUS indy 4, eagle eye and others?

  • someone

    Famke Janssen is also pretty high on the list with Taken and The X-MEN Trilogy

  • Luke

    I’d like to see a list of highest grossing actors with name above the title, or gross/salary ratio

  • Joanna

    How is Emma Watson the highest grossing female actress? If Maggie Smith was in all the same movies, and then some, wouldn’t she by definition have made more?

    • Dave

      I think it’s because they take it as an average for each film. Emma’s average is 900 million per film. Maggie’s would be the same if she only did the Harry Potter films. But because of her other films, which have relatively low grosses, her average is somewhat brought down.

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