Forbes List: Oprah Winfrey Still Highest-Paid Celeb

By: Forbes Email
By: Forbes Email

Oprah Winfrey may have wrapped up her syndicated talk show last year after a 25-year run, but her empire sails on. Through her Harpo productions, Winfrey still has her hand in Dr. Phil, Rachael Ray and The Dr. Oz Show. There’s her magazine, O,and her satellite radio station.

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And then there’s OWN, the struggling cable network that’s currently occupying most of Winfrey’s time. She’s trying to boost ratings with shows like Oprah’s Lifeclass and Oprah’s Next Chapter. Winfrey has the time to nurture the network now that she’s done with her syndicated show, and she also has the money. We estimate that Winfrey earned $165 million between May 2011 and May 2012.

That puts her at the top of our Highest-Paid Celebrities list for the fourth year in a row.

But her reign might not last much longer as this is the last year we’ll count any of her syndication money. Winfrey beat director Michael Bay by only $5 million. Thanks to Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Bay had a spectacular year financially. The 3-D movie (the third in the Transformers series) was panned by the critics but audiences around the world flocked to see it, spending $1.1 billion on tickets. Bay has a great deal on the films that gives him a healthy share of the profits and money from Transformer toys. We estimate Bay earned $160 million between May 2011 and May 2012.

Like Winfrey, Bay might earn a lot less next year. His next movie, slotted to hit theaters in April, is Pain & Gain, a relatively low-budget film that stars Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a pair of body builders who turn to a life of crime.

To determine who the highest-paid celebrities are, we considered upfront pay, profit participation, residuals, endorsements and advertising work. We talked to manager, agents, lawyers and other in-the-know folks to come up with our estimates. We did not deduct for things like agent fees or the expenses related to being a celebrity.

The most surprising celebrity in our top 10 is Dr. Dre in fifth place. The record producer regularly earns millions of dollars every year. But between May 2011 and May 2012 we estimate he brought in $110 million.

Dre didn’t earn that money from the recording industry, though — it’s from his Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. Last August handset maker HTC paid $300 million for a 51% stake in the company, which he co-founded with Interscope Chief Jimmy Iovine in 2006. It’s a pretty good haul but one that Dre is unlikely to repeat next year.

Our third-ranked celebrity, however, has a very good chance of making the list again. We estimate that Steven Spielberg earned $130 million between May 2011 and May 2012. Much of that money comes from residuals from Spielberg’s classic films, which are shown again and again on TV all over the world.

Spielberg also gets a consistent cut of the ticket sales at Universal Studios amusement parks in addition to the money he earns at DreamWorks studio and his directing fees. Last year Spielberg had two films in theaters at the same time: War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin. Both were nominated for Oscars. With films like Lincoln and Robopocolypse in the pipeline, the director should continue earning Oscar nods and big bucks for many years to come.

Rounding out our top five is producer Jerry Bruckheimer in fourth place with $115 million. Last year’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, grossed $1 billion at the global box office, making it the highest-earning film of the series. But even Bruckheimer has to rein it in sometimes. His next film, The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, was almost derailed by its huge budget. To help get it made, everyone agreed to take salary cuts.


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