Who Is Hollywood’s Highest-Paid Actress?

And what does her salary mean for the industry?

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Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Angelina Jolie arrives at the 84th Annual Academy Awards at the Hollywood & Highland Center Feb. 26, 2012, in Hollywood, Calif.

A few weeks after determining that Robert Downey Jr. is the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, Forbes has announced that Angelina Jolie is his female counterpart, the highest-paid actress in the biz. The magazine estimates that she earned $33 million in the year that ended in June of 2013.

Jolie has been more visible recently as an activist and a health advocate, having recently told the world  in a New York Times op-ed that she opted for a preventative double mastectomy, than as an actress. But, after a few years away from the on-screen limelight—The Tourist and Salt came out in 2010 and her 2011 roles were a voice in Kung Fu Panda 2 and behind the cameras with In the Land of Blood and Honey—she earned enough starring in next year’s Maleficent to top the list. Forbes‘ list looks only at “entertainment-related revenue,” which includes both new projects and continuing payment for older projects, but does not consider fees and taxes.

The rest of the top earners are:

  • Jennifer Lawrence ($26 million)
  • Kristen Stewart ($22 million)
  • Jennifer Aniston ($20 million)
  • Emma Stone ($16 million)
  • Charlize Theron ($15 million)
  • Sandra Bullock ($14 million)
  • Natalie Portman ($14 million)
  • Mila Kunis ($11 million) and
  • Julia Roberts ($11 million)

(MOREIt’s Official: Robert Downey Jr. is Hollywood’s Highest-Paid Actor)

Here’s one take-away: there’s big money in Snow White-related projects.

And here’s another: though the observation may be approaching broken-record territory, it’s worth looking at Forbes‘ actor list next to the actress list. Most of the top-ten actors made well over $33 million, with nine and ten on the list (Denzel Washington and Liam Neeson) making the same amount or less than Angelina Jolie made; both of them made more than everyone else on the actresses list. That means that, were the list gender-blind, we’d see that nine out of ten of the top earners in Hollywood this past year were male. (And not by just a hair: the top male earner made more than twice what the top female earner did.)

Now compare that factoid to another Forbes list, the ranking of the most powerful celebrities, a metric that takes into account both hard dollars and inchoate fame. This year’s list was woman-heavy, with Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, Beyonce Knowles, Madonna, Taylor Swift and Ellen DeGeneres all making the top ten. Actors and actresses don’t dominate that list, but it’s clear that the entertainment industry is far from a bastion of male domination. When it comes to television personalities and musicians, women are more powerful. Measured strictly in dollars, a woman—Madonna—comes out on top with $125 million in earnings. (Number two is Steven Spielberg at $100 million; he was ranked third overall.)

So there’s no question that women can be just as famous and rich as men can. It’s just that they’re not paid as much in Hollywood. Part of the reason is the movies in which they star, with female-led action franchises (Twilight or The Hunger Games, for example) tending to trend toward teen markets and make less worldwide, on average, than male-led comic-book franchises (Iron Man), though they also cost less to make. But it’s not just franchises (that’s not how Denzel Washington got on the list, for example) and there’s no easy formula by which a film’s budget or gross can be plugged in to get the star’s appropriate pay quote. The Forbes lists are news because it’s hard to figure out exactly what these people earn and why and how—but, while the lists reveal the how the numbers add up, the list alone can’t reveal what went into those figures.

And because there’s no easy explanation, these numbers are even more worth watching and thinking about. There’s a difference between earning $75 million in a year and earning $33 million, even though it may seem like nobody should complain about either: even if the salary difference between Robert Downey Jr. and Angelina Jolie were the same as the national gender pay gap (again, according to Forbes) she would have made more than $60 million, nearly twice as much as she did.

(MORE: Angelina Jolie’s Public-Image Turnaround)

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