Dec. 7, 2011 -- The Twilight movies are more than a cultural sensation, they're a financial phenomenon. The latest, Breaking Dawn, has ranked No. 1 at the U.S. box office for the past three weekends and has already earned $588 million worldwide. The entire franchise has brought in $2.4 billion so far and there's still one more movie set for release next year.
It's been a lot of reward for relatively little outlay. The first two movies were produced for $37 million and $50 million, respectively. The current film is the most expensive to date with an estimated budget of $110 million. Part of the reason the budget has risen is that stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson are getting paid more for playing Bella and her vampire boyfriend Edward, but they're still not getting the $20 million paychecks that some big stars can command.
That's why the Twilight stars land so high on our list of Hollywood's Best Actors for the Buck, with Kristen Stewart at No. 1. For every $1 Stewart is paid her films earn an average $55.83. Pattinson ranks third with his films bringing in an average of $39.43 for every dollar he is paid.
How does Stewart beat Pattinson when they earn virtually identical salaries on their Twilight films? For the purpose of this list we look at each star's last three major releases in the last five years, and Pattinson has been busier than Stewart. He starred in two non-Twilight projects in the past two years: Remember Me and Water for Elephants. Neither film performed particularly well and that pulled down the average return on investment for Pattinson.
To create our list we looked at the 40 highest-earning actors in Hollywood. To qualify, each had to have starred in at least three movies in the past five years that opened in more than 500 theaters. Movies that opened after May 1 were not counted. We also didn't look at animated films because the stars aren't really the draw.
We used data gathered for our annual Celebrity 100 list to calculate each star's estimated earnings on each film (including up-front pay and any earnings from the movie's box-office receipts and first-year sales of DVDs). We then looked at each movie's estimated budget (not including marketing costs, which are susceptible to accounting chicanery) and box-office and DVD earnings to figure out an operating income for each film.
We added up each star's compensation on his or her last three films and the operating income on those films, and divided the total operating income by the star's total compensation to come up with a return-on-investment number. The final number represents an average of how much a studio earns for every dollar paid.
Sandwiched between the Twilight stars, Anne Hathaway ranks second on our list with an average return of $45.67 for every $1 she's paid. Most of that comes from Alice in Wonderland, which was a massive hit, earning $1 billion on a budget of $200 million. Bride Wars also did well enough on a relatively low budget to help keep her average numbers up.
Ranking fourth is another actor who has benefited from a massively successful franchise: Daniel Radcliffe. The young star earned a hefty salary for the last few Harry Potter movies but the films are such massive moneymakers (the franchise has pulled in $7.7 billion in global ticket sales) that his paycheck is relatively insignificant. For every $1 Radcliffe was paid his films earned $34.24.
Rounding out the top five is Shia LaBeouf, who topped our list last year. LaBeouf faltered a bit this year because of Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The film did OK, bringing in $135 million on a budget of $70 million, but that's hardly Transformers money. For every $1 LaBeouf was paid his films earned $29.40.