Are CEOs and Celebrities Worth the Big Bucks?

Experts say CEOs, celebrities protect their salaries even during bad times.

ByABC News
January 14, 2009, 2:56 PM

Jan. 15, 2009— -- For people who have lost much of their savings in the ongoing financial meltdown, the exorbitant salaries of corporate CEOs seem outrageous, especially when some of their companies have performed miserably.

Whatever happened to a salary based on performance? And what about the entertainers who earn astronomical salaries despite launching box-office bombs?

Forbes magazine tracks the salaries of celebrities, athletes, CEOs and other top earners throughout the year. Senior editor Matthew Miller follows the money of entertainers and says that between June 2007 and June 2008, author J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter series topped the list.

"J.K. Rowling is actually the highest-paid celebrity in the world. She made $300 million," Miller told ABC News. "The last book of the Harry Potter series was a best-seller, so she earned every penny of it."

"After that, Oprah Winfrey. Oprah Winfrey is the highest-paid personality in the world," he said. "Oprah banked $275 million."

Will Smith was the highest-paid actor. Cameron Diaz, the highest paid actress.

For A-list movie actors, the number-crunchers at Forbes use salaries, box-office receipts, DVD sales and film budgets to calculate a star's return on investment, or ROI, to see if he or she is worth the big bucks. Miller said Vince Vaughn has one of the best returns on investment because his salary isn't yet in the stratosphere of stars like Will Smith and Johnny Depp.

"Vince Vaughn and Tobey Maguire have the two highest returns on investment," Miller said. "They bring in about $14 per dollar paid for a movie."