Forbes Magazine just came out with its annual list of the most overpaid stars in Hollywood, which it generates via a somewhat complicated metric that looks at their last three films and compares their paychecks, the films' budgets, and the money those films brought in via theatrical, TV, and DVD release. The list isn't a snotty, opinion-laden "Why does Keanu Reeves still get paid to make movies?" dig at actors who stink up the screen; it's a cold-blooded return-on-investment comparison that calculates which stars are least profitable to the studios.
Naturally, big stars getting massive paychecks for recent big-budget movies that turned out to be major flops wound up toplining the list, which is how Will Ferrell ended up at No. 1, after the $100 million Land Of The Lost crapped out in theaters, and Step Brothers and Semi-Pro underperformed. Also high in the rankings: Ewan McGregor and Eddie Murphy. The latter is apparently selling his soul to terrible kids' comedies for less return than ever; Imagine That and Meet Dave both flopped, bringing down his ROI rate.
When it comes to those ROI numbers, these actors might not sound so bad; for instance, for every dollar spent on Ferrell in his last three movies, the films brought in $3.29. Which sounds like a pretty amazing rate of return, at least for common folk more used to earning .03 interest on the dollar via bank accounts and CDs. But that doesn't take marketing costs into account, or all the other costs of making the films—it doesn't imply that his films made a profit, just that they made enough money to cover his salary three times, and nothing else. And compare it with Forbes' Best Actors For The Buck list from earlier this year; Shia LaBeouf tops the list with a ROI of $160 per $1 spent on his salary.
Which probably means he'll start commanding steadily bigger salaries, and we'll probably see him on the most overpaid stars list in some future years, since that's how these things tend to go.
Incidentally, the old "Women make 75 cents for every dollar a man earns" rubric seems to help women a little when it comes to this list; since men tend to get bigger paydays than women in Hollywood, the ladies don't show up as much on the overpaid list. The only woman in this year's top 10 is Drew Barrymore.