Ranking Hollywood’s Most Valuable Actors: Is the Age of the Leading Man Over?

America loves its movie stars. We'll gladly trek to our local theaters for their big premieres. We'll watch them cavort with each other and take promotional selfies at the Oscars. We'll pick up gossipy glossies at the supermarket that tantalize us with an exclusive look at their "New Man (or Woman)!" or "New Baby!" Movie stars are our royalty -- but some of them rule larger kingdoms than others.

Source: Alan Light via Wikimedia Commons.

Robert Downey, Jr. might have headlined the highest-grossing movies of 2012 and 2013,  but he's not the most consistently bankable box-office draw in the business. Tom Hanks' movies  might have combined to gross more than those of any other living actor, but that doesn't necessarily make him Hollywood's most dependable leading man.

Being a box-office draw is about one thing above all: selling tickets. Ticket prices might change over time, which can give more recent blockbusters a nominal leg up over classics, but the ability to sell millions of tickets will always be invaluable to studios, whether those tickets cost a quarter or $12 apiece.

Let's take a look at the five most popular working actors (some of the top actors on the list of Hollywood's all-time top draws haven't made a movie in decades). This list is ranked in order of the average number of tickets sold in the United States for each movie these actors have appeared in as a starring or supporting character (cameos aren't counted), according to Box Office Mojo . Actors whose rank is almost entirely based on the success of one franchise will be excluded, as a number of Hollywood's top draws found success by dint of the brand they represented rather than on the strength of their name. We'll also exclude everyone who hasn't acted in at least five films in the last 10 years. You'll find the complete list of all of Hollywood's best draws, past and present, franchise-dependent or otherwise, at the end of this article. Let's get started with the fifth most-popular actor in Hollywood today...

Fifth-best draw in Hollywood: Eddie Murphy
38 films, total domestic gross of $3.8 billion: 19.9 million tickets per film

Eddie Murphy gets a major boost from the success of DreamWorks' (NASDAQ: DWA  ) Shrek films, as he's got nine sub-$100-million movies on his filmography since the start of the 21st century, compared to four that finished above that mark domestically. Two of those movies were sequels to remakes, The Nutty Professor II and Dr. Dolittle 2.

Murphy's best days seem to be behind him, as his last film was 2012's A Thousand Words, which couldn't clear $20 million domestically. Murphy owes much of his success to appearances in franchise movies, as the Beverly Hills Cop trilogy led to The Nutty Professor, which led to Dr. Dolittle, which led to Shrek. He's been box office poison for Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) Warner Brothers studio, which gave him starring roles in Showtime and the abysmal flop The Adventures of Pluto Nash, both in 2002, and has avoided him ever since.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Fourth-best draw in Hollywood: Will Smith
21 films, total domestic gross of $2.8 billion: 22.8 million tickets per film

Will Smith's filmography  shows perhaps the least reliance on franchise brand strength out of any actor in our top five. He's starred in 10 different non-sequel films to gross over $100 million domestically, and only four of his movies have failed to clear that hurdle since 1996's Independence Day.

He's also appeared in a more diverse range of roles than anyone else (including Eddie Murphy), as he's been an action star in multiple films, has received Oscar nominations for two dramatic roles (in Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness), and has entertained viewers with his comedic chops in Hitch (and, of course, in his first starring role on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). Smith's latest effort, After Earth, was critically panned and failed to clear $100 million domestically, but he's got several upcoming films  that could easily restore audiences' faith in his acting chops and script-picking skills.

Third-best draw in Hollywood: Mike Myers
15 films, total domestic gross of $2.2 billion: 24.8 million tickets per film

Mike Myers  might be the only leading man on this list who's really built his own fortune, as he wrote  himself starring roles in Wayne's World and Austin Powers before becoming a voiceover star in the Shrek franchise. Myers doesn't have many real flops, and his lack of any indie-film credits also helps sustain his averages -- every one of Myers' 15 films has had a major nationwide opening in over 1,000 theaters.

However, Myers' success has been limited outside of Shrek and its sequels for about a decade, as his last live-action star turn was in the 2008 bomb The Love Guru. He also barely makes the list to begin with, as his last film was 2010's Shrek Forever After, and he's only made five films since 2004, three of which were Shrek sequels.

Source: Georges Biard via Wikimedia Commons.

Second-best draw in Hollywood: Orlando Bloom
16 films, total domestic gross of $2.6 billion: 25.1 million tickets per film
Like our top draw, Orlando Bloom  is a two-franchise draw -- his star-making turn as Legolas in Time Warner subsidiary New Line's The Lord of the Rings contributed roughly a billion dollars  to his total domestic take, and the Hobbit trilogy continues to pad those numbers. However, Bloom's starring role as the straight man opposite Johnny Depp's pirate jester in Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is what solidified his standing as one of Hollywood's most reliable draws.

Unfortunately for Bloom, his filmography has produced minimal earnings outside of these two blockbusters -- his only non-franchise film to gross over $100 million domestically has been Troy, which was released a decade ago. He hasn't made much effort to choose blockbusters since then -- he has two action-film flops to his name since Troy, and has starred in five barely there indie films that no one saw.

The top draw: Harrison Ford
38 films, total domestic gross of $3.9 billion: 26 million tickets per film
Septuagenarian Harrison Ford  has been a bona fide action star since 1977, when he lit up the screen as renegade space pilot Han Solo in Star Wars. Since then, he's appeared in a number of blockbusters, including the Indiana Jones series, The Fugutive, Air Force One, and Clear and Present Danger, which have helped sustain his per-film take as the highest in Hollywood.

At an age when most actors (like contemporary Clint Eastwood) retreat behind the director's lens, Ford continues to choose films that will play well -- since the latest Indiana Jones entry Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, he's appeared in two $100-million movies (Cowboys & Aliens and Anchorman 2) and one that nearly crossed the nine-figure line, the $95-million-grossing Jackie Robinson biopic 42. He's no longer a swashbuckler, but Ford can still help draw a big crowd.

The next step for you
You can see which way the wind is blowing in Hollywood. A film's more likely to drive ticket sales from its brand and its story than it is to pull in fans of a big star. This isn't the only place where branding now matters more than celebrity -- success in business (and in investing) will depend more on leveraging strong brands than it will on the appeal of a single big name or product.

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Actor

Total Ticket Sales (Millions)

Movies

Tickets Per Movie

Top-Grossing Film

Mark Hamill*

387.3

9

43

Star Wars

Jackson Rathbone*

165.5

5

33.1

New Moon

Daniel Radcliffe*

361.1

11

32.8

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Lenny Kravitz*

122.7

4

30.7

Catching Fire

Emma Watson*

378.3

13

29.1

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Carrie Fisher*

435.6

16

27.2

Star Wars

Rupert Grint*

354.1

13

27.2

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harrison Ford

989

38

26

Star Wars

Orlando Bloom

401

16

25.1

Dead Man's Chest

Mike Myers

371.6

15

24.8

Shrek 2

Taylor Lautner*

172.5

7

24.6

New Moon

Julie Andrews

314.2

13

24.2

Sound of Music

Tom Hiddleston*

141.3

6

23.6

The Avengers

Will Smith

478

21

22.8

Independence Day

Jack Davenport*

182.4

8

22.8

Dead Man's Chest

Robert Pattinson*

230.8

11

21

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Marlon Brando

224.2

11

20.4

The Godfather

Barbra Streisand

303.1

15

20.2

Meet the Fockers

Eddie Murphy

755.2

38

19.9

Shrek 2

Tom Hanks

821.8

42

19.6

Forrest Gump

Tom Cruise

659.9

34

19.4

Top Gun

Paul Newman

379.4

20

19

The Sting

Liam Hemsworth*

132.6

7

18.9

Catching Fire

Ron Howard

75.6

4

18.9

American Graffiti

Tobey Maguire

244.5

13

18.8

Spider-Man

Tyrese Gibson

257

14

18.4

Transformers 2

Sally Field

466

26

17.9

Forrest Gump

Robert Redford

465.6

26

17.9

The Sting

Zachary Levi

88.9

5

17.8

Alvin and the Chipmunks 2

Chris Hemsworth

159.2

9

17.7

The Avengers

Chris Tucker*

141.5

8

17.7

Rush Hour 2

Jim Carrey

458.1

26

17.6

The Grinch

Ashley Greene*

176.4

10

17.6

New Moon

Sacha Baron Cohen

175.2

10

17.5

Madagascar

Karl Urban

256.3

15

17.1

Return of the King

Jaden Smith

64.8

4

16.2

The Pursuit of Happyness

Leonardo DiCaprio

380.9

24

15.9

Titanic

Kevin James

143.5

9

15.9

Hitch

Sean Connery

584.6

37

15.8

Thunderball

Billy Burke*

221.6

14

15.8

New Moon

Macaulay Culkin

170.2

11

15.5

Home Alone

Steve Carell

308.2

20

15.4

Despicable Me 2

Seth MacFarlane

46.3

3

15.4

Ted

Tim Allen

305.9

20

15.3

Toy Story 3

Sam Worthington

152.8

10

15.3

Avatar

Hayden Christensen*

136.7

9

15.2

Revenge of the Sith

Dustin Hoffman

588.9

39

15.1

The Graduate

Arnold Schwarzenegger

392.7

26

15.1

Terminator 2

Cameron Diaz

464.8

31

15

Shrek 2

Shia LeBeouf

285.7

19

15

Transformers 2

Source: Box Office Mojo. All ticket sales figures in millions.
Italics denotes no longer regularly appearing in films. Asterisk denotes franchise-dependent.


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