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It was just a few short years back when Julia Roberts reigned supreme as the only femme thespian in Tinseltown to take home $20 million per project. Other actresses angled to join her in those lofty ranks, but that was then, and the times, well, they’ve changed. Belt-tightening and cost-cutting tends to make more headlines these days instead of record-setting salaries, and any studio suit will tell you the same. But, that’s not to say there still aren’t any bright spots when it comes to the paydays of today’s top female actresses. While Roberts has been content taking smaller roles for far less than $20 million these days, risk-taking has actually paid off in 2006 for Nicole Kidman, who nabbed a career-best salary for Warner Bros. Pictures’ planned August release “The Invasion” after a roller coaster string of daring choices. Again, check out our guide of what Kidman and her Hollywood cohorts are making at the bank.
Nicole Kidman — $16 million-$17 million
This Oscar winner always eclipses her competition when it comes to the diversity in her choices. From big-budget fare with A-list directors to imaginative projects with quirky auteurs, the Aussie native literally does it all. And 2006 is no different. She hit the big screen in November playing snap-happy Diane Arbus in the offbeat pseudo-bio “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus” for indie distributor Picturehouse, all while lensing a role in the alien-themed “Invasion.” It was her part in the latter that earned Kidman her biggest payday to date and has the potential to put her in good standing with the major studios after a string of boxoffice duds including 2004’s “The Stepford Wives” and 2005’s “Bewitched.” Other upcoming projects include an untitled Noah Baumbach-directed dramedy for Paramount Vantage and New Line’s “His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass” for director Chris Weitz.
Reese Witherspoon — $15 million
On track to solidify her status as America’s new sweetheart in the romantic comedy game thanks to big hits such as 2001’s “Legally Blonde” and 2002’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” Witherspoon proved she’s more than girlish grins that always get the guy when she waltzed into the 2004 period piece “Vanity Fair” for helmer Mira Nair and sang her way into director James Mangold’s 2005 Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line.” Her role as the late June Carter in “Line” landed her a best actress Oscar. Having that kind of gold in her corner will definitely send Witherspoon’s salary past the $15 million mark (which she earned for the sequel to “Legally Blonde,” 2003’s “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde”), though the petite thesp has yet to lens her follow-up to “Line.”
Renee Zellweger — $15 million
The soft-spoken star of 2001’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and 2002’s “Chicago” took a bit of a break from the acting biz and hasn’t had a release on the calendar since summer 2005 when she starred opposite Russell Crowe in the biopic “Cinderella Man,” directed by Ron Howard. The Oscar winner (who nabbed her biggest payday for the “Bridget Jones” franchise) returns to form this winter when she explores the life of author Beatrix Potter in MGM/The Weinstein Co.’s “Miss Potter.” Set for a limited run late this month for awards consideration, the moderately budgeted pic casts her alongside a mostly Euro cast including Emily Watson and Ewan McGregor. She will follow it up with a role in Paramount’s upcoming horror-thriller “Case 39.”
Drew Barrymore — $15 million
Following the smash success of 2004’s “50 First Dates,” the child star-turned-boxoffice heavyweight has only been seen in the Farrelly brothers’ forgettable 2005 romantic comedy “Fever Pitch.” But don’t count out this double threat, who commands a hefty paycheck for both her producing chops and her acting skills. Barrymore rebounds in 2007 with a pair of notable projects: Warner Bros. Pictures’ planned February release “Music and Lyrics By,” featuring romantic-comedy regular Hugh Grant for director Marc Lawrence, and Warners’ “Lucky You,” opposite Eric Bana, which is set for release in March after being pushed several times to break free of competition. She also is attached to play “Little Edie” in an adaptation of the cult docu “Grey Gardens.”
Cameron Diaz — $15 million
She made history by becoming the second female star to earn $20 million a film, following in Roberts’ famous footsteps. But since she cashed that “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” paycheck in 2003, it has been relatively quiet on Diaz’s call sheet. She toplined Curtis Hanson’s critically well-received but poorly attended 2005 release “In Her Shoes,” opposite Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine, and again lent her voice to 2007’s “Shrek the Third” for Paramount. But later this month, she attempts to regain her boxoffice mojo with Sony’s Nancy Meyers-directed “The Holiday,” opposite Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Jack Black, for which she earned $15 million.
Halle Berry — $14 million
Berry won a best actress Oscar in 2002 for her work in the indie “Monster’s Ball,” and her big-screen choices since that breakthrough have been fodder for many industryites since then. Instead of picking awards-worthy projects with high-caliber auteurs, Berry instead signed on for roles that tested the limits for actresses of color courtesy of genre films (2003’s “Gothika”) and possible franchises (2004’s “Catwoman”). And while they didn’t work, what her choices did do is push her quote up to $14 million. More recently, she donned her Storm attire to reprise her role in Fox’s latest “X-Men” installment, May’s “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Audiences can next expect to see her return to more challenging fare with Sony’s upcoming adult thriller “Perfect Stranger,” opposite Bruce Willis, and Paramount’s tear-jerker “Things We Lost in the Fire,” co-starring Benicio Del Toro. She also has recently signed on for another race-breaking role, playing a white woman in Paramount’s “Class Act.”
Charlize Theron — $10 million
One of those who was quoted as criticizing Berry’s choices was none other than Theron. A best actress Oscar winner herself (for 2004’s “Monster”), Theron’s biting remarks didn’t do much to elevate her own projects. The native South African stumbled with a post-award potential franchise in the 2005 release “Aeon Flux,” which landed Theron a career-best $10 million payday but didn’t deliver a hit. While a follow-up Oscar nomination for 2005’s “North Country” helped her rebound a bit in terms of salary boosters, Theron has been pursuing smaller roles in such upcoming films as Bill Maher’s “Ferris Wheel,” “The Battle in Seattle” (directed by real-life beau Stuart Townsend) and Picturehouse’s “The Ice at the Bottom of the World.”
Angelina Jolie — $10 million
Teaming up with Brad Pitt — off-screen and on — has changed the face and fortunes of this Oscar winner’s career. First, playing the Mrs. to Pitt’s Mr. in the 2005 Doug Liman-directed “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” helped Jolie rebound at the boxoffice to a worldwide gross of $380 million following a string of big-screen bombs (think 2003’s “Beyond Borders,” 2004’s “Taking Lives” and “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”). Jolie followed up the marital meltdown actioner “Smith” with a role in Universal’s Robert De Niro-directed “The Good Shepherd,” set for release Dec. 22, and then has two Pitt-peppered projects on her upcoming sked: playing widow Marianne Pearl in Paramount Vantage’s “A Mighty Heart” and Lionsgate’s ambitious adaptation “Atlas Shrugged,” though neither commanded a paycheck near her reported $10 million sum for “Smith.”
Kirsten Dunst — $8 million-$10 million
It was probably 2002’s “Spider-Man” that helped tip the scales in Dunst’s favor when it comes to her take-home pay. But it was actually 2005’s “Elizabethtown” that took her to the $8 million range per film. Sources say that she earned in the same neighborhood for her most recent film, Sony’s ambitious costume piece “Marie Antoinette,” which reteamed her with 2000’s “The Virgin Suicides” helmer Sofia Coppola. The film has failed to meet expectations — grossing less than half its budget since its release in October — but don’t count Dunst out just yet. Her next big-screen outing? Well, that is the highly anticipated third installment of the web-slinging superhero “Spider-Man” of course, due in theaters in May.
Jennifer Aniston — $8 million
Segueing to silver-screen star status has been relatively easy for the former “Friends” star. But it hasn’t come without its pitfalls. The former Mrs. Pitt lensed five pics in the past three years, striking gold with 2004’s “Along Came Polly,” opposite Ben Stiller, and Universal’s June comedy “The Break-Up,” opposite Vince Vaughn, while striking out in 2005 with “The Graduate”-inspired “Rumor Has It” and Mikael Hafstrom’s gritty “Derailed.” In 2006, Aniston transitioned to the director’s chair, helming the short “Room 10” as part of Glamour magazine’s Reel Moments competition.
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