Earlier today, Variety reported the estimated salaries of the highest-paid actors in television shows. The narrative surrounding this report is all about how television can be more lucrative than ever before for popular talent, and that actors and actresses are doing very well financially on the small screen. One interesting takeaway from all of these lists is the fact that horror genre talent is almost entirely missing out on this phenomenon.
Geena Davis ranked #44 on the drama list, earning an estimated $100,000 per episode of The Exorcist. The only other performer on any of the lists with strong ties to the horror genre is Sarah Wayne Callies, formerly of The Walking Dead. She ranked #32 on the drama list, earning an estimated $175,000 per episode of Prison Break. That’s all, folks!
Sarah Paulson consistently earned critical and fan acclaim in her performances in this year’s seasons of American Horror Story and American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, but she’s nowhere to be found on the list. Neither are other big horror names like Emma Roberts or Evan Peters. Even Jamie Lee Curtis is strangely missing from the list despite her starring role in Scream Queens. The Walking Dead actors have some of the most rabid fanbases in all of the genre, yet no one was featured in Variety’s lists.
There can only be two explanations: Either everyone who acts in horror shows is tight-lipped when it comes to paydays; or everyone who acts in horror shows is not making as much per episode as their colleagues working in the action, comedy and drama genres.
Variety does state that their estimates come from various surveys and research techniques, so it is possible that the data simply wasn’t available for actors in any of the popular horror shows currently airing. However, the inclusion of Geena Davis’ salary for The Exorcist seems to discredit this theory.
On the big screen, the horror genre has never been a place to make money as an actor. Studios often pick up and distribute these films after they’ve already been made on a shoestring budget. Other times studios will develop their own low budget horror films in house with the intention of making a quick buck during the opening weekend. Both of these paths translate into big paydays for studios… but not much of that trickles down to the actors.
For decades, the horror genre has been a proving ground for up and coming actors and actresses. Recently, Natalie Dormer, Lauren Cohan, and many others have taken the plunge into PG-13 horror films in hopes of showing studios that they can hold their own in the lead role of a studio film. Heck, even Jennifer Lawrence performed in The House At The End Of The Street just before she became the most in-demand (and highest paid) actress in Hollywood. The draw of the horror film for a performer is that if things go well there, maybe more opportunities will open up down the line. Actors and actresses see it as a way of paying their dues so they could hopefully someday get paid the big bucks.
However, this year numerous horror films earned triple or quadruple their budgets while the tentpole action and drama films made by their respective studios flopped hard. Movies which cost multiple times the amount of the average horror film have a much greater risk of not earning money based on their budget and advertisement costs alone. An example of this can be found in big budget television this year, too. The first season of HBO’s Vinyl reportedly cost $100 million to produce. It’s ratings were decent, but not where HBO wanted them, and it has since been cancelled.
Hopefully the studios will begin to pay attention to the fact that the horror genre is usually “the little engine that could” in the volatile world of ratings and financial uncertainty. Over the past several years, the bar for horror television has consistently been raised. Hopefully the studios will pay the actors and actresses of these shows appropriately so they could continue to perform in the genre instead of searching for a much more lucrative role in the next cookie cutter spy show that gets announced by one of the major networks.