The most bankable star in Hollywood? (You’d never guess!)

Whose movies have made the most money in Hollywood? Tom Hanks? Harrison Ford? Daniel Radcliffe? None of the above. The answer: you would never guess!

There are many ways of considering ‘bankability’ in Hollywood. The key for investors is to predict who can ‘open’ a movie – whose name on the poster will make people buy a ticket?

The best predictor of the future is the past. As all movie box office receipts are reported and published, this information is freely available in the public domain. For the purposes of this analysis, we will look at ‘domestic’ (i.e. USA) box office receipts, known as ‘grosses’. Taking worldwide grosses introduces a number of variables that can distort the picture.

But as regular readers will know, at Showbusinessinsights, we don’t like the predictable, we like finding the unexpected and quirky.

According to Boxofficemojo, the highest grossing actors are:

#1 Tom Hanks – $4.26 billion

Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks

#2 Morgan Freeman – $4.06 billion

Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman

#3 Samuel L Jackson $3.99 billion

Samuel L Jackson

Samuel L Jackson

#4 Harrison Ford $3.85 billion

Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford

#5 Eddie Murphy $3.81 billion

Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy

Tom Hanks is the highest grossing actor in Hollywood. However, Tom Hanks is not the highest grossing person in Hollywood.

Is it an actress, therefore? The highest grossing actress is Cameron Diaz, who has grossed $2.91 billion. She is followed by Emma Watson on $2.68 billion, Julia Roberts ($2.64 billion) Helena Bonham Carter ($2.54 billion) and Cate Blanchett ($2.26 billion) Cameron Diaz is only 13th on the ‘on screen’ highest gross list and is, therefore, not the highest grossing person in Hollywood.

Cameron Diaz

Cameron Diaz

The highest grossing star in Hollywood is not an actor. It is an off screen person.

Is it a director, therefore?

#1 Steven Spielberg $4.16 billion

#2 Robert Zemeckis $2.04 billion

#3 James Cameron $1.97 billlion

#4 Michael Bay $1.90 billion

#5 Peter Jackson $1.88 billion

Stephen Spielberg

Stephen Spielberg

Spielberg’s movies have outgrossed every actor in the world but one: Tom Hanks’ have grossed more and we have already established that Hanks is not the winner.

Is the winner a screenwriter? The highest grossing screenwriter is George Lucas with a total gross is $3.38 billion. An amazing total for the Star Wars creator, but not the highest gross.

George Lucas

George Lucas

Perhaps cinematography will give us the winner? The highest grossing cinematographer is Don Burgess, who has shot Spiderman, Forrest Gump and Castaway. His total is $2.11 billion. Impressive, but would only place him 49th on the actor list, with Woody Harrelson above and James Franco below.

Don Burgess

Don Burgess

There is a category in which no fewer than eight people would rank higher than Tom Hanks for highest gross.


Eight composers have written the music for films that have grossed more money than the total gross of Tom Hanks movies.

In ascending order:

#8 John Debney $4.54 billion (The Passion of the Christ)

#7 John Powell $5.18 billion (Shrek)

#6 James Horner $6.15 billion (Avatar)

#5 Danny Elfman  $6.33 billion (Spiderman)

#4 Alan Silvestri $6.65 billion (The Avengers)

#3 James Newton Howard $7.43 billion (Hunger Games)

#2 John Williams $8.87 billion (Star Wars, Harry Potter)

The number one:

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer with a total gross of $9.81 billion at the US domestic box office alone. If international grosses are added, his total exceeds $22 billion.

Zimmer’s movies include The Dark Knight, three Pirates of the Caribbean instalments, Inception, Man of Steel, Lion King and Pearl Harbor.

He heads up the music division at Dreamworks and his signature blending of electronic sounds with classical orchestral arrangements have won him four Grammys, two Golden Globes and an Academy Award. The Daily Telegraph named Zimmer in its list of 100 Greatest Living Geniuses. A fascinating figure, reportedly one of the nicest people in Hollywood and a true modern renaissance man.

Only one person’s biography can start: “Hans Zimmer has scored over 100 films, grossing over $22 billion at the box office worldwide”. 



Photo credits

Tom Hanks – IMDB

Morgan Freeman – IMDB

Samuel L Jackson – IMDB

Harrison Ford – IMDB

Eddie Murphy – IMDB

Cameron Diaz – IMDB

Stephen Spielberg – IMDB

George Lucas – IMDB

Don Burgess – Screenmag

Hans ZImmer – IMDB

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