But what do you mean by “value”?

Lainey Posted by Lainey at September 2, 2010 08:38:52 September 2, 2010 08:38:52

Written by Sarah

I have a friend who’s so rich he has no money. His bank statements reflect an amount he can never access. Where I could go into my bank and walk out with a check for my net worth, JJ would probably cripple Wall Street for a couple days if he tried a similar move. He refers to his quarterly dividends as “Monopoly money” because he never sees real cash. Just numbers ticking over in a column. Before meeting JJ, I thought numbers were absolute and money never lies. Since knowing JJ, I understand that numbers are meaningless and money is easily manipulated. After learning about film studio accounting practices, I am even more convinced that numbers and money mean absolutely nothing.

So I was not impressed with Forbes’ list of “best value” actors (value determined by revenue generated for every dollar paid). Strictly speaking, in the most basic mathematical sense, this list is true. Shia LaBeouf is the “best value” because his average salary weighed against the average box office/home video revenue of his films is $81 in earnings for each $1 he is paid. But this is exactly the kind of numbers-wrangling that means nothing, because also featured on this list is Sarah Jessica Parker. While Sex and the City 2 was one of the more successful movies of the summer (though not matching Sex and the City’s $100 million-plus box office), did anyone see Did You Hear About the Morgans?

This list only tells us the names that sell movies, not the names who deliver value. And there isn’t much arguing that these names do sell movies—Shia, Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, Robert Downey, Jr., Meryl Streep, Nicolas Cage. Except for Cage, I’d go see a movie if any one of these people were in it.

Anne Hathaway is a surprising number 2 on the list, pretty much for the success of Alice in Wonderland earlier this year. As much as I like Hathaway, I do not see movies just because she is in them. Ditto for Daniel Radcliffe, who is number 3 because of Harry Potter. Especially ditto for Jennifer Aniston. How is she a value? Her movies aren’t good.

And that’s the problem with this list. “Value” denotes some sense of worth to me. In order for this list to be really accurate, Forbes needs to factor in critical reception of films. SJP and Aniston get dropped from the list because their movies are bad. Daniel Radcliffe is out because all he’s got is Harry Potter and there is a difference between a value franchise and a value actor (although I do think Radcliffe will deliver after Potter). Shia is probably out, too, because he’s really here for Transformers, which is terrible, and “Indiana Jones and the Say It Ain’t So, George”, which was a) sold on Indy’s name and b) also terrible (let’s pretend it never happened).

While several of the names on the list (Depp, Blanchett, Downey, Streep) are really good values—profits *and* quality—where is Will Smith? He sells on his name alone to the point that people will go see a movie just because his kid is in it. And Adam Sandler—as annoying and unfunny as he’s become almost every movie he’s made in the last dozen years has earned over $100 million. Are they all quality? No. But there is almost no one else who both makes movies so regularly and so regularly delivers nine-figure profits. See what I mean? You can make the numbers mean anything.

Consider this: an average salary that is very reasonable, movies that typically get made in the mid-level range of $30-50 million and are usually good, and a consistently delivered profit.

Who is this “best value” actor?

Paul Rudd.

To see the full Forbes Best Value List, click here.

Written by Sarah
Photos from Wenn.com

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