How Much Do Actors Make? A Guide to Getting Paid to Perform

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Photo Source: “Breaking Bad” Credit: AMC

Robert Downey Jr. was paid $75 million to play Iron Man in “Avengers: Endgame,” but much of the cast of “Orange Is the New Black” were only paid $900 per day for their parts in the Emmy-winning show. With such a large pay gap, you’re likely wondering how much actors make on average.

An actor’s salary is different depending on the medium (film, television, or theater) and the type of role (lead, supporting, or background). It also depends on the experience level: An experienced performer can ask for a higher actor salary than someone who is fresh out of school. Read more to find out how much you can expect to earn as an actor.


How much do actors make a year?

$56,903/year: According to ZipRecruiter, in 2024, the average actor salary is $56,903, with a range from $15,500 to $139,500. Unless they’re employed regularly on a television show, actors tend to work on a project-by-project basis, which means they may not work at all for some years. 

$36.06/hour: The U.S. Department of Labor reports that 54,160 actors made a mean pay of $36.06 per hour in 2022 (the figures have not since been updated). The figure varied based on mediums: Screen actors had an hourly mean wage of $38.92, while stage actors had an hourly mean wage of $34.10.

How much an actor makes also differs by location. New York’s hourly mean wage for actors was $63.39 and Georgia’s was $50.53 in 2022—two of the highest state wages. Not surprisingly, both states are booming in film and television production.

How do actors get paid?

Actors are paid differently based on their chosen medium. 

Generally speaking, screen actors are paid a day rate and stage actors a weekly rate. If screen actors are needed for more than five days, however, they will be paid a weekly rate. Rates vary if actors are needed for the entirety of the film shoot or the entirety of a television season. Television actors can also be paid per episode. 

Film and TV actors are paid residuals for traditional projects distributed beyond the original scope. The latest SAG contract also guarantees residuals for actors working on streaming projects. Those involved in high-budget subscription video on demand (HBSVOD) projects receive revenue residuals based on upfront pay per episode, the streaming service’s subscriber count, and a depreciating percentage of years the project has been streamed. A production that has 20% or more of its platform’s domestic subscriber base viewing it within 90 days of its release also earns performers a bonus equivalent to the exhibition year’s total residuals. Seventy-five percent of a $40 million/year fund will be allocated to these performers.

How much do actors make per movie?

Brad Pitt in 'Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood'

Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood” Courtesy Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures

How much you can expect to make per movie depends on how many days you are needed on set and how much your agent can negotiate. A film shoot can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months. 

SAG rates are based on the budget of the film, which projects must pay union actors. Every major film and television studio in Hollywood operates under a SAG-AFTRA contract, so those minimums apply; agents negotiate more for their clients if necessary.

Actors start out at a day rate, and if they are needed for longer, the payment scheme is bumped up to a weekly rate, and then to a run-of-the-picture rate. The following rates are a result of the newly negotiated theatrical contract; they will increase by 4% in July 2024 and by another 3.5% in July 2025. 

Leads and supporting players: $80,000/shoot. As a lead or supporting player, your role likely extends the length of the entire shoot, and you’re making a minimum of $80,000 (the run-of-the-picture rate). 

Performers: $1,158/day. On a film with a budget of at least $2 million, under the SAG-AFTRA theatrical contract, the minimum day rate is currently $1,148 per day and $4,019 for the week.

Extras: $208/day. Background actors make $208 a day, although they will be paid more if required to get wet or work in a smoke-filled environment, personally provide props, have body makeup or oil applied to more than half their body, or use special skills. 

Stand-ins: $243/day. Stand-in and photo-double actors earn $243 a day. 

Generally, the smaller the role and the earlier you are in your career, the smaller the paycheck. For example, Brad Pitt made just $6,000 in the 1991 film “Thelma & Louise,” his first major role. Fast-forward to 2019, Pitt was paid $10 million for “Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood.” The lesson: There’s no shame in starting small.

How much do actors make on a television show?

An actor’s pay on a television show depends on how many episodes they are contracted for. The following rates will also increase by 4% in July 2024 and 3.5% in July 2025.

Performers in one episode: $1,158/day

  • $1,158/day
  • $2,933/three-day period‍
  • $4,019/week

Major role performers in one episode: $6,369–$10,190/week

  • $6,369/week‍ for half-hour programs
  • $10,190/week for one-hour programs

Performers in multiple programs: $2,979–$4,126/week

  • $2,979/week for half-hour programs
  • $2,979/week for one-hour programs
  • $3,501/week‍ for 90-minute programs
  • $4,126/week for two-hour programs

Series regulars: $4,019–$5,364/week

  • $4,019/week for 13 episodes in half-hour programs; $4,836/week for one-hour programs
  • $4,601/week‍ for seven–12 episodes in half-hour programs; $5,395/week‍ for one-hour programs
  • $5,364/week for six episodes in half-hour programs; $6,310/week in one-hour programs

Wages vary depending on what agents are able to negotiate and the actor’s influence on the show. For example, the cast of “The Big Bang Theory” were mostly unknown when they started out on the long-running CBS comedy. As their characters became more beloved, the cast became integral to the show’s success and their salaries adjusted accordingly. Jim Parsons made a total of $60,000 for Season 1 of “The Big Bang Theory.” By Season 12, he was making $1 million per episode.

How much do theater actors make?

Actors performing on stage

Pavel L Photo and Video/Shutterstock

The salary for a theater actor varies depending on how long a show has been running, which can be anywhere from a few weeks to a month to years. 

Like screen actors, theater actors have their own union, Actors’ Equity Association, which dictates the minimum salary its members must be paid. Every major professional theater in the U.S., including Broadway and Broadway tours, operate under an Equity contract. Theater actors are paid on a weekly basis. The following rates will increase 2.5% in July 2024, 3% in June 2025, and 4% in June 2026.

Broadway performers: $2,439/week. On Broadway, under the production contract, the minimum weekly salary for an actor is $2,439 a week; pay increases are also available depending on the requirements of the role. A chorus member who also plays an individual role gets paid at least $25 above the weekly minimum, for example. If you are understudying a principal role, you get a small weekly pay bump of at least $60. If you are a dance captain, you get paid an additional $464.60 a week. Actors also get a bonus if they are with a show for more than a year, usually around $2,600. There’s also a small bump if the production recoups its costs and starts turning a profit (that amount varies).

While the minimums are set, actors can negotiate for a higher fee—especially if they’re a celebrity. In 2012, Al Pacino was paid a headline-generating $125,000 a week to star in “Glengarry Glen Ross.” And it’s not just household names. Broadway actor Nik Walker told “The Financial Diet” he was making around $240,000 a year—with a pay bump if the show sold well at the box office—while playing the lead role in the Broadway musical “Ain’t Too Proud.” 

​​Off-Broadway performers: $689–$1,526/week. Off-Broadway actors working for a theater with an annual budget over $4.25 million can be paid anywhere from $689 to $1,526 per week, based on the number of seats in their theater. So, an actor performing in a 400-seat theater will make more than an actor performing in a 99-seat theater.

These amounts also vary depending on how much an actor’s agent can negotiate.

How else can an actor make money?

Actors can be paid for more than just film, television, and theater. You can make money doing commercials, doing corporate and educational videos, appearing in music videos, and doing voiceover work. All of those jobs, if you are a union actor, have a minimum base pay.

Commercials: $783.10–$2,939.09/session. For example, if you have a speaking role in a commercial, wages can range from $783.10 for one-time use to $2,939.09 for a six-month option. 

Voiceover: $340/session. If you’re doing voiceover for an upcoming TV show’s promo announcement, the minimum is $340 for one eight-hour recording session.

If you are an actor just starting out, you can expect to make the minimum salary as stipulated by SAG-AFTRA or Equity. Once you land an agent, they can walk you through how much you can expect to make and where you might see a pay bump.

As you move up the entertainment ladder and get more credits on your résumé, you (or your agent) will be able to negotiate a higher pay rate. And perhaps one day, you too can ask for $1 million an episode.

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