Poor Eddie Murphy desperately needs a comeback. Remember back in the day when he was so funny on "Saturday Night Live" and in movies like "Trading Places" and "Beverly Hills Cop"? His voice work has helped make movies like "Shrek" and "Mulan" tolerable for adults, and even his family-friendly movies, like "Norbit" and "Dr. Dolittle," were good for some chuckles.
But lately, Murphy's career has just collapsed. "Imagine That," "A Thousand Words" and "Meet Dave" were colossal flops. Last year's "Tower Heist," which was supposed to be something of a return to form for the comedian, failed to wow at the box office, earning $153 million on an estimated budget of $75 million. (In order to even come close to turning a profit, a movie has to earn twice its production budget in ticket sales, plus the millions spent on marketing.) Murphy then backed out of hosting the Oscars, which didn't help his reputation.
His string of flops lands Murphy at the top of our Most Overpaid Actors list for 2012. We estimate that for every $1 Murphy was paid for his last three films, they returned an average of $2.30 at the box office.
To compile our list, we used data on actors' earnings gathered for our Celebrity 100 list. Box office grosses and budget estimates are from Box Office Mojo. We looked at the last three films each actor starred in over the last three years that opened in more than 2,000 theaters, calculating the return on investment for the studios who pay his (or her) salary.
Ranking second behind Murphy is a newcomer to our list: Katherine Heigl. For every dollar she was paid on her last three movies, they earned an average of $3.40.
After hits like "Knocked-Up," "27 Dresses" and "The Ugly Truth," Heigl's quote shot up to the $12 million range. Unfortunately, the films she's made at that price point have failed to deliver. Her most recent film, "One For The Money," earned only $37 million on an estimated $40 million budget. Heigl needs to step away from the expensive star vehicles and rebuild her career. Her next release is the ensemble pic "The Big Wedding," which hits theaters in April. Featuring Robert DeNiro, Susan Sarandon and Amanda Seyfried, the movie could give Heigl a chance to show how funny she can be when the pressure is off.
In past versions of our overpaid actors roundup, we looked at each actor's films over the last five years. This year, we cut back to the last three years to give the list a more contemporary focus.
That dropped Drew Barrymore from the top 10, but not because she has anchored any smashes lately. Barrymore was our worst-performing actor last year — her films earned only 40 cents for each $1 she was paid. However she hasn't starred in three big releases over the last three years. We don't count ensemble films where there is no clear star like Barrymore's 2009 film "He's Just Not That Into You," which was actually a hit.
Reese Witherspoon ranks third on our list with an average $3.90 return for every $1 she was paid. Witherspoon is one of the most popular actresses in Hollywood, but her choices lately have been questionable, like 2010′s "How Do You Know." With a ridiculously high budget of $120 million — a big chunk of which went to salaries for Witherspoon and big-name co-stars Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson and Owen Wilson — the romantic comedy never had a chance of turning a profit. It grossed just $49 million at the box office, making it one of the worst-performing films of 2010.
Her most recent film, "This Means War," didn't help much. The $65 million action comedy did OK, earning $157 million worldwide, but it wasn't enough to get Witherspoon off of our most overpaid list.
Sandra Bullock makes a surprise entry in fourth place with a $5 return for every $1 she was paid. In 2009 Bullock starred in one of the biggest films of the year, "The Blind Side." Not only did it earn $310 million at the box office globally, it was made for just $30 million, making it one of the most profitable films of the year. It was also a big earner for Bullock, who had a profit-sharing deal on the project. But her two other films of the last three years were stinkers: "All About Steve" and "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close."
Rounding out the top five is Jack Black, whose films returned only $5.20 for every $1 he was paid. Last year's comedy "The Big Year" barely registered at the box office. Big-name stars like Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson couldn't overcome poor reviews and a less than sexy topic — birdwatching. It earned only $7 million.