How Much Do Actors Make?

The earnings of actors can vary widely based on factors like experience, union membership, location, the medium (film, television, theater), and the size and nature of the role. Here's a general overview:

1. Beginning Actors: Those who are just starting out and don't have notable experience or fame often earn modest amounts. They might get roles in local theater, small independent films, or commercials. In the U.S., the median wage for actors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is around $20.43 per hour, with many earning less.

2. Union Actors: In the U.S., many actors are members of unions like the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). These unions have minimum wage rates for their members. As of early 2022, for example, SAG-AFTRA mandates a minimum daily rate of around $1,030 for a principal performer in a motion picture. However, these rates can vary based on the project's budget and the nature of the production.

3. Television Actors: Earnings in television can range significantly. A lesser-known actor might earn the SAG-AFTRA minimum for a small role on a TV show, while lead actors in popular primetime series can earn from $20,000 to over $1 million per episode, depending on the show's budget and viewership.

4. Film Actors: The movie industry sees vast disparities in earnings. A-list stars in big-budget films can command salaries ranging from $10 million to $20 million or more for a leading role. On the other hand, actors in indie films might earn much less, sometimes even working for a nominal fee in hopes the film gains recognition.

5. Theater Actors: Broadway and West End actors tend to earn more than those in smaller, regional theaters. A leading actor on Broadway, under the Actors' Equity Association agreement, can earn over $2,000 per week, while actors in smaller productions or regional theater might earn significantly less.

6. Commercials: Commercial work can be lucrative for actors, especially if they land a national ad or sign a contract for a recurring character or spokesperson role. Payments can range from a few hundred to several thousands of dollars.

7. Royalties and Residuals: Established actors can also earn money through royalties or residuals. For example, actors in a TV show that goes into syndication can continue to receive payments long after the show has originally aired.

It's important to remember that acting can be an unstable profession, with periods of unemployment between jobs. Additionally, actors often need to invest in training, headshots, travel, and other professional expenses. While stories of multi-million dollar movie deals and hefty TV salaries often make headlines, many actors work in less glamorous settings and earn modest incomes.