Some of Hollywood's most popular actors are not just charismatic and gifted screen stars; they are also savvy entrepreneurs. These stars understand that their stardom is fleeting: For no apparent reason, celebrities can become irrelevant overnight.

In order to capitalize on the wealth and status they've already achieved, some actors have become entrepreneurial by starting media businesses, production companies, and brands. Others have learned to capitalize on their fame by becoming the face of other brands or investing in other companies.

Key Takeaways

  • In order to capitalize on the wealth and status they've already achieved, some actors have become entrepreneurial by starting media businesses, production companies, and brands.
  • As a result of their savvy business decisions, these actors have been able to exercise more creative control over their projects and earn greater returns for their contributions.
  • Jack Nicholson, Kevin Hart, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tyler Perry, Reese Witherspoon, Brad Pitt, and Jennifer Lopez have all demonstrated an ability to make money on and off the screen.

Jack Nicholson

When Jack Nicholson accepted the role of the Joker in the 1989 movie "Batman," he accepted a salary of $6 million, even though his average salary at that time was $10 million. The contract that he signed included a stipulation that Nicholson would earn a percentage of the film's total earnings, including sales of the film's merchandise. "Batman" was an overwhelming success at the box office, grossing $411 million worldwide (the equivalent of over $847 million in 2020). Nicholson ended up earning more than $50 million for the role ($103 million in 2020).

Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart is an American comedian, actor, and producer. Hart founded a production company, HartBeat Productions, and in 2018, HartBeat released its first film, "Night School." In October 2018, HartBeat signed a deal to develop and produce live-action, scripted kids' content for the television network Nickelodeon. Hart now says that he wants to be a businessman first and foremost.

Hart's media brand, Laugh Out Loud, features the work of comedians, artists, and entertainers with a focus on diversity. So far, Laugh Out Loud has produced content for social media, mobile apps, websites, radio, and cable and has partnered with Lyft, Old Spice, Pepsi, AT&T, and Viacom. In January 2020, NBCUniversal's streaming service, Peacock, signed a multiyear contract to distribute all of the network's catalog on the streaming service, in addition to taking an equity investment in Laugh Out Loud.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio started his own production company, Appian Way Productions, after a very lucrative acting career. As of 2019, DiCaprio's films had earned $7.2 billion worldwide, and he had placed eight times in annual rankings of the world's highest-paid actors. Appian Way has produced some of DiCaprio's films and the documentary series "Greensburg," which aired from 2008 to 2010. 

More recently, DiCaprio has shifted his focus to investing. He's made investments in startups such as Rubicon Global, a trash hauling broker, and Runa, a beverage company that aims to empower Ecuadorian farmers. In early 2019, he became an investor and advisor to an environmentally-friendly financial company called Aspiration. Aspiration aims to provide consumers with a socially-conscious alternative to traditional banks. As of March 2019, Aspiration had raised more than $100 million with DiCaprio's investment and through venture capital and individual investors.

Tyler Perry

In 2011, American actor, writer, producer, comedian, and director Tyler Perry was named as one of the highest-paid men in entertainment by Forbes, earning $130 million in one year (between May 2010 and May 2011). Perry is best known for his "Madea" movie series, beginning with the 2005 movie "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." The franchise has now brought in over $650 million.

In 2005, Perry launched Tyler Perry Studios, now one of the largest film studios in the nation. Perry co-produces and distributes his films through Lions Gate Entertainment, although he retains full copyright ownership and places his name in front of all the titles. On June 14, 2017, Perry signed a deal with ViacomCBS for the rights to short video content and film concepts. The television deal began in fall 2019 with The Oval, Sistas, and BET+, a new streaming service for Black Entertainment Television (BET).

Reese Witherspoon

In 2010, actress Reese Witherspoon co-founded a production company, Pacific Standard. (Pacific Standard later became a subsidiary of another production company Witherspoon co-founded, Hello Sunshine). In 2014, Witherspoon produced two major movie hits, "Gone Girl" and "Wild." Gone Girl grossed $370 million at the box office in 2014.

Witherspoon went on to produce the HBO drama series "Big Little Lies" from 2017 to 2019 and the Apple TV+ drama series "The Morning Show" in 2019.  In November 2019, Apple TV+ paid both Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, Witherspoon's co-star in "The Morning Show," a reported $2 million per episode to air the show on their content streaming service. As of 2019, Reese Witherspoon was among the highest-paid actresses in the world.

Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt's production company, Plan B, has produced three movies that have won the Academy Award for Best Picture: "The Departed," "12 Years a Slave," and "Moonlight."

In January 2020, Pitt began a new business with his ex-wife, Angelina Jolie, to produce rosé champagne. They already have a successful wine label called Miravel that produces rosé wine. Pitt and Jolie purchased the Miraval winery in the south of France for $31 million in 2011. The vineyard broke a record when a magnum of its rosé wine sold at a charity auction for almost $3,000 in June 2019.

Jennifer Lopez

In addition to being a wildly successful singer and actress, Jennifer Lopez has also established herself as an astute businesswoman. The clothing line that she founded in 2004 earned $300 million in revenue that same year. In 2011, she topped Forbes' list of the 100 most powerful celebrities in the world.

In 2019, Lopez launched her twenty-fifth fragrance, called Promise. (Her fragrance franchise alone was worth over $2 billion in 2019.) Lopez was also announced as the global face of the Coach brand in 2019.

George Clooney

In 2017, Forbes reported that George Clooney earned almost a quarter of a billion dollars that year. This was largely the result of the sale of his tequila company, Casamigos Tequila. In 2013, Clooney co-founded the company with Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman because they wanted a personal supply of high-quality liquor. They ended up selling it to multinational corporation Diageo for an initial price of $700 million in 2017. In 2018, Clooney topped Forbes' list of the world's best-paid actors, having earned $239 million that year.

Exercise More Creative Control and Earn More Returns

It's difficult to make a name for yourself in Hollywood; these eight actors have gone one step further by making savvy business decisions and becoming successful entrepreneurs. As a result, they have been able to exercise more creative control over their projects and earn greater returns for their contributions.