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Dotcom Money: The Highest Paid Actors On Streaming Shows

Reese Witherspoon wore a black business suit with a white blouse, while Jennifer Aniston sported a black dress in The Morning Show.
Source: Apple TV Plus

Feb. 6 2020, Updated 6:21 p.m. ET

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If Netflix is known for anything, it's binging. The streaming giant releases 90 original films a year, some with individual budgets of up to $200 million. Last year, Netflix spent $12.04 billion on content, and that figure is expected to grow by $15 billion this year. So it should be no surprise that they are shelling out serious cash for major talent for their television shows. They are not alone.

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Hulu and Amazon are right there with the company that started out as a mail-order DVD service. Even cable heavy-hitters like HBO and Showtime have produced serious amounts of content on their streaming apps, HBO Now and Showtime Anytime. Given the high budgets for the shows and the streaming channels’ simultaneous deep pockets and deep desire to have their shows star the biggest names in the biz, actors and actresses are reaping the benefits of a seismic financial shift as the populous have cut their cords en masse.

MORE: The smartest celebs revealed: Highest SAT scores!

So who is getting paid the big bucks to entertain us? There are Oscar and Emmy winners with through-the-roof quality programming reflective of this platinum age of television — from Emma Stone and Jonah Hill’s profitable pairing to Reese Witherspoon earning a spot on this list twice, banking bucks with Jennifer Aniston on Apple TV+ and alongside Nicole Kidman with HBO Go.

Ellie Kemper

Ellie Kemper, who wore a green sweater over a yellow shirt, had a moment in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Source: Netflix

Pay per episode: $150,000

Show: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Streaming service: Netflix

Total earnings for all 51 episodes: $7.65 million

The scene-stealer from The Office, Ellie Kemper, was the perfect fit for the Tina Fey-created Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Fey had initially pitched the show to NBC, but they passed and that allowed the streaming giant to swoop in and score a show that would support their effort to steal viewers away from the networks. Kemper’s character was rescued from a cult and brought back into the “real world” to comedically hilarious results. With that premise, could there be anyone else except her to embody the main character?

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Elisabeth Moss

The Handmaid’s Tale costume has become iconic, worn by Elisabeth Moss, with its red robe and white headwear.
Source: Hulu

Pay per episode: $200,000

Show: The Handmaid’s Tale

Streaming service: Hulu

Total earnings per season: $2.6 million

Fresh from her triumphant turn on Mad Men, Elisabeth Moss fit into Margaret Atwood’s futuristic and haunting landscape of The Handmaid’s Tale like a glove. The actress has slowly but surely been building a career that is as emotionally rich as it is entertaining. Everyone working on The Handmaid’s Tale needed a central character played by an actress that commands every moment. Moss is perfect.

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Patricia Arquette

Patricia Arquette was seen in a scene from Escape at Dannemora and wore a white and dark grey collared shirt.
Source: Showtime

Pay per episode: $200,000

Show: Escape at Dannemora

Streaming service: Showtime and YouTube TV

Total earnings per season: $1.4 million

Oscar winners do not come cheap! Patricia Arquette starred as the central figure in Escape at Dannemora, Tilly Mitchell. She is romantically connected to two inmates — Richard Matt (Benicio del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul Dano) — and is integral to their escape. Ben Stiller is the show’s executive producer and directed all the episodes.

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus

//highest paid actors julia louis dreyfuss
Source: HBO

Pay per episode: $250,000

Show: Veep

Streaming service: HBO Go

Total earnings per season: $1.75 million

After her run as part of the highest paid cast on television at the time, Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus was one of the most recognizable faces on TV. That recognition made her worth a hefty price tag for HBO. But it had to be her performance as the “unique” vice president turned president that made her salary money well spent.

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Elizabeth Olsen

Elizabeth Olsen looked off into space in a grey hoodie in a scene from Sorry for Your Loss.
Source: Facebook Watch

Pay per episode: $250,000

Show: Sorry for Your Loss

Streaming service: Facebook Watch

Total earnings per season: $2.5 million

After the sudden death of her husband, Leigh Shaw (Elizabeth Olsen) learned that there was a whole lot to her spouse’s life that she was kept in the dark about, and it’s all coming back to haunt her.

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Jason Bateman & Laura Linney

Jason Bateman wore an olive casual collared shirt and grey slacks, as Laura Linney stared back at him in all black in a scene from Ozark.
Source: Netflix

Pay per episode: $300,000 each

Show: Ozark

Streaming service: Netflix

Total earnings per season: $3 million

Perhaps streaming shows are trend setters beyond their entertainment quality, subject matter and production value. In an extraordinary move, the shows have been paying their male and female costars the same — like Jason Bateman and Laura Linney with Ozark. The dramatic thriller is intriguing and keeps you guessing as it progresses, and with those two as the leads, it is firmly must-see TV.

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Jessica Biel

//highest paid actors jessica biel
Source: Facebook Watch

Pay per episode: $300,000

Show: Limetown

Streaming service: Facebook Watch

Total earnings per season: $3.5 million

Jessica Biel stars as journalist Lia Haddock, who has been tirelessly trying to solve the massive and mysterious disappearance of over 300 people at a Tennessee-based research establishment that focused on neuroscience. When it was decided to bring the popular podcast to life with Limetown, producers didn’t blink at shelling out some serious cash for Mrs. Justin Timberlake, especially after the success and raves she garnered for her recent work on USA’s The Sinner.

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Billy Bob Thornton

Billy Bob Thornton wore a dark suit with a blue tie in Goliath.
Source: Amazon

Pay per episode: $350,000

Show: Goliath

Streaming service: Amazon

Total earnings per season: $2.8 million

Billy Bob Thornton is an Oscar winner and, as such, commands a certain respect in acting circles. Given what Amazon wanted as a leading man for its show Goliath, Thornton was a perfect fit. It is difficult to imagine anyone else in the main role other than the Arkansas native. The show stars a former top-of-his-game lawyer turned alcoholic and ambulance chaser — that is a true Thornton character if there ever was one.

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Emma Stone & Jonah Hill

Jonah Hill and Emma Stone wore matching grey uniforms in Netflix’s Maniac.
Source: Netflix

Pay per episode: $350,000 each

Show: Maniac

Streaming service: Netflix

Total earnings per season: $3.5 million

Costars of different genders earning the same amount? Finally! This is groundbreaking since historically actresses have earned less than their male costars. Emma Stone and Jonah Hill star in the mind-bending episodic drama as two strangers who find themselves in the final stages of a pharmaceutical experiment.

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Drew Barrymore

//highest paid actors drew barrymore
Source: Netflix

Pay per episode: $350,000

Show: Santa Clarita Diet

Streaming service: Netflix

Total earnings per season: $3.5 million

The actress who first wowed us as a child thespian continues to deliver explosive performances. In Santa Clarita Diet, Drew Barrymore plays a suburban vampire who is married to the always awesome Timothy Olyphant, who aids and abets her bloody urges in the dark comedy.

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David Harbor, Winona Ryder & Millie Bobby Brown

//highest paid actors millie bobby brown david harbour
Source: Netflix

Pay per episode: $350,000 each

Show: Stranger Things

Streaming service: Netflix

Total earnings per season: $2.8 million

It is fitting that the highest paid stars on Netflix’s breakaway hit Stranger Things are the big three — Jim Hopper (David Harbor), Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and our favorite supernaturally gifted child of the ‘80s, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). These three drive the drama, the comedy and the oddity factor of what is one of the most thrilling and compelling shows on TV.

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Reese Witherspoon & Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman wore a grey business suit with a white blouse, while Reese Witherspoon sported a pink flower spotted dress in Big Little Lies.
Source: HBO

Pay per episode: $350,000 each

Show: Big Little Lies

Streaming service: HBO Go

Total earnings per season: $2.45 million

We are in the platinum age of television. Therefore, it seems like a no-brainer to give two Oscar winners, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, a whopping heap of cash to do a television series based on the darkly comedic bestselling book about moms, husbands, rumors and innuendos centered around the beautiful beachside town of Monterey, California.

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Henry Cavill

//highest paid actors henry cavill
Source: Netflix

Pay per episode: $400,000

Show: The Witcher

Streaming service: Netflix

Total earnings per season: $3.2 million

For fans of sci-fi and fantasy, anticipation could not be higher for Netflix’s The Witcher. There are many reasons for this, but a large one is that the Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) is playing its lead. The show is based on a series of beloved novels and short stories that were penned by Andrzej Sapkowski. Cavill’s character is a monster hunter, and over the course of his adventures, he learns that human beings might be more dangerous than anyone else he encounters.

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Benicio del Toro

//highest paid actors benicio del toro
Source: Showtime

Pay per episode: $400,000

Show: Escape at Dannemora

Streaming service: Showtime Anywhere

Total earnings per season: $2.8 million

Benicio del Toro is the second Oscar winner attached to this thrilling drama (after Patricia Arquette). Del Toro is now making twice the money that Arquette makes per episode, which is different than what we have seen on Netflix or Apple TV+ where costars are given equal contracts.

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Anthony Mackie

//highest paid actors anthony mackie
Source: Netflix

Pay per episode: $475,000

Show: Altered Carbon

Streaming service: Netflix

Total earnings per season: $3.8 million

The man behind Captain America’s sidekick — Falcon — is also one of streaming TV’s highest paid actors. Anthony Mackie stars in Altered Carbon, which takes place three centuries in the future. What’s changed? Well, for one, death is no longer the end for us because human bodies have become interchangeable. The show comes from the pages of Richard K. Morgan’s dark novel of the same name.

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Julia Roberts

//highest paid actors julia roberts
Source: Amazon

Pay per episode: $600,000

Show: Homecoming

Streaming service: Amazon

Total earnings per season: $6 million

Everyone’s favorite “girl next door,” Julia Roberts, made the leap to television from the silver screen for the military-centric drama, Homecoming. The Pretty Woman star stars as a caseworker for the Department of Defense, working to aid in the rash of PTSD illnesses that have gripped the service and even simply to help soldiers adjust to their Homecoming. She leaves the institution and, years later, the DOD arrives on her doorstep wondering why she left. It appears that there is much more to the facility where she worked than she ever envisioned.

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Steve Carell

//highest paid actors steve carell
Source: Apple TV Plus

Pay per episode: $600,000

Show: The Morning Show

Streaming service: Apple TV+

Total earnings per season: $6 million

Apple and producers needed an actor of the stature of Steve Carell to play Mitch Kessler. Carell was welcomed into millions of living rooms while portraying the lovable baboon Michael Scott on The Office. That endearing quality lay at the heart of his characterization of Kessler, the man accused of the #MeToo sexual impropriety at his network that caused him to get fired on the pilot episode of The Morning Show. It was worth his large salary to score the beloved actor for the Apple TV+ show and to keep us turning in, week-after-week to see what happened to him and his entire Morning Show family after his allegations.

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Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Johnson starred in Ballers and looked the part in a grey three-piece suit.
Source: HBO

Pay per episode: $650,000

Show: Ballers

Streaming service: HBO Go

Total earnings per season: $5.2 million

Dwayne Johnson is one of the biggest blockbuster stars on the planet, so it again speaks to the quality (and financial rewards) of television that he anchors the HBO hit show about a financial planner (and former football star) and his NFL star-laden client list.

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Lauren Graham & Alexis Bledel

//highest paid actors Lauren Graham Alexis Bledel
Source: Netflix

Pay per episode: $750,000 each

Show: Gilmore Girls

Streaming service: Netflix

Total earnings per season: $3 million

If you’re going to “bring back” the beloved Gilmore Girls, you have to put your hands in those deep Netflix pockets to get the original mother-daughter duo that made the beloved show so terrific, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel. Even Melissa McCarthy returned.

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Reese Witherspoon & Jennifer Aniston

Reese Witherspoon wore a black business suit with a white blouse, while Jennifer Aniston sported a black dress in The Morning Show.
Source: Apple TV Plus

Pay per episode: $1.1 million each                                                                  

Show: The Morning Show

Streaming service: Apple TV+

Total earnings per season: $11 million

By all accounts, Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon has commanded audiences’ attention with her long list of stellar cinematic work. That has remained true with her shift to television. She and Jennifer Aniston rule the roost on this Apple TV+ television gem that finds the two stars portraying hosts on The Morning Show in the aftermath of a Matt Lauer-type scandal. The pair are also producers on the 10-episode series that shatters the glass ceiling and shines a spotlight on the power of women when they stand together.

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David Letterman

David Letterman wore a black suit with a navy tie and sat across from President Obama in a black suit with a white shirt and no tie in a scene from Letterman’s Netflix talker.
Source: Netflix

Pay per episode: $2 million

Show: My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman

Streaming service: Netflix

Total earnings per season: $12 million

David Letterman used to usher in all his guests on his NBC and CBS late night talk show with the phrase, “My next guest needs no introduction.” It’s now the title of his Netflix-housed talk show that has had an incredible guest list from President Barack Obama to Kanye West. The show finds the interviewer getting close to an hour of talk time with some of our culture’s most interesting folks.

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