By Sarah Sluis
I'm all about cute statistics, but Forbes' list of actors that deliver that most bang for their buck doesn't really say much. It uses the ratio (actor's salary: total gross of movie) to determine what stars deliver the most money for their performance. If only it were that simple. First, the low-hanging fruit: correlation does not imply causation.
Take the topper on that list, Shia LaBeouf. He was in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. A movie directed by Steven Spielberg starring Harrison Ford and one of the most famous franchises out there. Of course his salary was low compared to the movie's total gross! He wasn't the main draw in the movie. He wasn't paid that much because he didn't matter that much.
LaBeouf also starred in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Another news flash: no one cared about LaBeouf, they cared about seeing those toys turned into giant heroes and villains in the most confusing, terrible movie to make over $800 million (I'm still bitter about the two hours I lost because of that movie).
What would show the star power of an actor would be a performance in a star-driven vehicle, like a generic action movie or romantic comedy. You would have to exclude performances in huge franchises, control for the effect of having co-stars that were bigger than them, or a huge director. But it's kind of hard to find such movies.
Anne Hathaway, who placed second on the list, comes close to a "star power" movie with Bride Wars, a so-so flick that she starred in with Kate Hudson. The real reason that Hathway placed second, though, was because of a supporting role in Alice in Wonderland, where she played the White Queen. Actor Johnny Depp was a bigger draw, and her influence is somewhat lost in the 3D-driven spectacle adaptation directed by Tim Burton. She contributed to the movie's success, she didn't cause it.
The third-place finisher, Daniel Radcliffe, is also third mainly because he's cast in the behemoth franchise Harry Potter.
It's only when you go lower down the list that actor performances actually start to come into play. Although Iron Man 2 is a comic book franchise, Robert Downey Jr. helped sell tickets, as did his performance in Sherlock Holmes (another adaptation of a well-known property).
Whether an actor is a "value" depends on a lot more than salary and total gross of the movie. If anything, this list confirms that being part of a franchise or known property gives a greater probability for success than an original film. Yet another reason there are so few Inceptions out there and so many Transformer 2s. Also, a note to actors: if you want to game the system, land some supporting roles in really big films, and your fractional salary will boost your ratio and lead everyone to believe you're a great value.