Let's call a spade a spade. Striptease, the 1996 film adaptation of Carl Hiaasen's novel about a plucky stripper battling dirty politicians and a slimy ex-husband, is not that memorable. The reviews were terrible, the box office take was pretty weak, and the Razzies were as plentiful as the g-strings were skimpy. But there's one thing worth remembering 20 years after the film's release: the money. Demi Moore was paid $12.5 million for the role of Erin Grant, which, at the time, was the most a Hollywood actress was ever paid for a single film. According to the US Inflation Calculator, $12.5 million in 1996 amounts to $19.1 million today. That's a lot of bank. Two decades later, how many women are actually making it? It's a short list. Jennifer Lawrence, who reportedly commanded a $20 million paycheck for her upcoming film Passengers, topped Forbes' 2015 list of the World's Highest-Paid Actresses with $52 million in earnings last year. Scarlett Johansson, whom industry sources claim was paid "roughly the same" as Avengers costars Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth, came second with a $35.5 million take. Melissa McCarthy's $23 million income secured her the third-place spot. Natalie Robehmed, an entertainment reporter for Forbes, cites the three actresses as Hollywood's reigning rainmakers. But, she notes, their earnings don't simply reflect their salaries for individual films. Those sums also include payment for endorsement deals for brands such as Dior (Lawrence) and Dolce & Gabbana (Johansson), while McCarthy's fashion line contributes to her $23 million. It's these endorsements that nudge female stars higher up the pay scale. Another factor are the types of movies actresses are choosing. It's no coincidence that Lawrence and Johansson have three major action film franchises between them (Hunger Games, X-Men, and Avengers), while McCarthy is poised to secure her own legacy with the release of Ghostbusters next month. These blockbusters shell out major money, and, where multiple films are involved, allow cast-members to renegotiate their salaries.
The catch is that there simply aren't as many roles in these superhero/action-adventure flicks available for women as there are for men. Avengers has five leading men and one woman, and 2017's Justice League only has Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman as its one major non-girlfriend female role. Racking up endorsements and signing on for blockbusters aren't the only ways to secure serious scrilla. Part of the reason Robert Downey, Jr. is the highest-paid actor on the planet is the fact that he has a deal that gives him points on the backend for the Iron Man and Avengers films. What that means is that, in addition to an eight-figure salary delivered upfront, certain celebrities can push for a percentage of the film's profit. This is less lucrative than the old practice of giving actors a percentage of a film's box office gross — that's why Tom Cruise made $70 million for Mission: Impossible, which he also produced, the same year as Demi Moore's big payday — but it remains the best way to milk money out of a role. Robehmed says that Jennifer Lawrence could probably command a double-digit points deal, but she's a rarity. Though stars like Emma Stone and Charlize Theron have the potential to rise higher in the pay ranks, it'll most likely be down to Revlon and Dior endorsement deals and roles in blockbusters like Fast 8. "I would like to think that women’s salaries are on rise," Robehmed says. "I think they definitely are if you’re named Jennifer Lawrence, Melissa McCarthy, and Scarlett Johansson. I think for women who haven’t yet negotiated themselves into those favorable positions, because they haven’t had huge box office success, it’s hard to earn the same as a male counterpart." Will we be in the same spot 20 years from now — or will the #LeanIn generation finally break through?