The fact that women earn less than men in Hollywood is nothing new. Still, they also draw less at the box office because among the 20 most successful actresses there is only one woman, who is logically number 1 as the most successful actress of all time on our list.
But only a handful of actresses appeared on the list of highest grossing movie stars of all time. So we decided to take a look at the highest-grossing female movie stars of all time.
The 20 Most Successful Actresses – Updated 2023
Find out who the 20 most successful women in the film industry are and why they are on our list here:
20. Helena Bonham Carter
TOTAL REVENUE: $2.465 BILLION US DOLLARS
Anyone who has been in a relationship with an eccentric like Tim Burton for thirteen years and has made numerous films with him is unlikely to be one of Hollywood’s well-behaved trophy wives herself. No, Helena Bonham Carter is famous for her often eccentric to completely crazy roles, above all Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter films, the last part of which, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2”, was also her most commercially successful film, with worldwide receipts of 1.342 billion USD.
In “Sweeney Todd – The Diabolical Barber of Fleet Street” and “Les Misérables,” Helena Bonham Carter also demonstrated her vocal talent.
The British actress has starred in 38 feature films, which together have grossed USD 2.465 billion at the global box office, equivalent to an average of USD 91 million per film.
Helena Bonham Carter was nominated for an Oscar twice: for Best Actress in a Leading Role in “The Wings of the Dove” and for Best Supporting Actress in “The King’s Speech,” in which she portrayed Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, better known as Queen Mum.
19. Amy Adams
TOTAL REVENUE: $2.693 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
Amy Adams’ most successful film is Batman v Superman – Dawn of Justice, which grossed USD 330 million in the United States alone. However, the film star is otherwise more likely to be involved in films that strike a quieter note. She feels particularly at home in tragedies (Question of Faith, The Master) or comedies (Cursed, Night at the Museum 2).
She has starred in 29 films, grossing an average of $149 million, or a total of $2.693 billion.
Adams was nominated for an Oscar several times and won Golden Globe awards for the female leads in “American Hustle” and “Big Eyes” respectively.
18. Kristen Wiig
TOTAL REVENUE: $2.792 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
Kristen Wiig has worked as an actress and voice actress in 32 films that have taken in an average of $69 million each in the United States. Her films, of which “I, Simply Incorrigible 2” was the most successful, earning $368.1 million in the U.S. and more than $970 million worldwide, have collectively grossed $2.2 billion in the States alone.
Most of Wiig’s roles fall into the comedy genre, where she also has roots as a former Saturday Night Live cast member. However, she has also established herself as a serious actress in other films such as Mother! Wiigs has also made a name for herself behind the camera: Her “Bride Alarm” screenplay was nominated for an Oscar.
17. Carrie Fisher
TOTAL REVENUE: $3.131 BILLION US DOLLARS
The only deceased actress on our list is none other than Princess Leia herself: Carrie Fisher. Her involvement in five Star Wars films and 14 other feature films brings Carrie Fisher’s box office receipts in the United States to a whopping $2.89 billion. That’s an impressive $152.1 million per film ($521 million worldwide).
Unsurprisingly, her most successful theatrical film was “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens,” with receipts of $936.7 million in the U.S. only. Fisher, who is considered an icon of cinema and a major trailblazer for Hollywood women, struggled throughout her life with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and addiction, though she never made a secret of it. Drug addiction in conjunction with antidepressants may also have played a not insignificant role in her death on December 27, 2016. Carrie Fisher was 60 years old. Her mother Debbie Reynolds died one day after Carrie Fisher as a result of a stroke.
Carrie Fisher was, among others, with fellow actor Harrison Ford, musician Paul Simon and autistic comedian and actor Dan Aykroyd.
16. Michelle Rodríguez
TOTAL REVENUE: $3.259 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
That Lost actress Michelle Rodríguez made the top 20 list may come as a surprise at first. But her filmography of 15 feature films includes the Fast and the Furious series and Avatar, which are among the most successful films of all time. The films starring Rodríguez bring in $2.3957 billion in the U.S. alone. The great success of the actress is even more amazing when you know that she was repeatedly arrested for drinking or drugged driving and spent some time in jail.
Worldwide, her feature films grossed an average of $217 million.
15. Anne Hathaway
TOTAL REVENUE: $3.281 BILLION US DOLLARS
“I dreamed a dream in time gone by, when hope was high and life worth living,” with these song lines, sung in the cinema adaptation of the musical Les Misérables, itself based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, Anne Hathaway secured the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2013.
But the film star is also extremely successful commercially. With her 23 films, she grossed $2.5589 billion in the United States alone. This corresponds to an average of $94.8 million per film (wide: $142 million). Her most commercially successful film, with worldwide receipts of $1.085 billion, was The Dark Knight Rises, in which she played Selina Kyle aka Catwoman.
14. Cate Blanchett
TOTAL REVENUE: $3.326 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
And once again, a great character actress with a role in the MCU. However, since Cate Blanchett’s involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is limited to her portrayal of Hela in Thor: Judgment Day, that alone can hardly have earned her the #2 spot. Much more serious, in fact, is her involvement in all six parts of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations, i.e. the three parts of The Hobbit and the three parts of The Lord of the Rings.
The last of The Lord of the Rings films, The Return of the King, is also Blanchett’s most financially successful film, grossing $1.12 billion worldwide. The two-time Oscar winner (Aviator, Blue Jasmine) has worked on 44 films that have grossed a combined $3.326 billion in the U.S., an average of $75.6 million per film.
13. Lupita Nyong’o
TOTAL REVENUE: $3.634 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
Certainly, Lupita Nyong’o is also a name that you will find on this list with great surprise, which is probably because you don’t even get to see her in her most famous role. Nyong’o, in fact, played the character Maz Kanata, brought to life with the help of performance capturing, in the sequel trilogy of Star Wars.
“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” is also her most commercially successful film, with worldwide box office receipts of more than $2 billion. Another box-office hit with Nyong’o was Marvel’s “Black Panther.” In addition, she also starred in “12 Years a Slave.” Thus, with only 8 films, the actress earns USD 3.634 billion, corresponding to USD 454 million per film.
12. Meryl Streep
TOTAL REVENUE: $4.366 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
Meryl Streep is considered something of a Hollywood queen, with her three Oscars (out of an unmatched 21 nominations). The in-demand character actress has starred in 55 films that have grossed a total of $2.241 billion in the U.S. alone, which equates to average earnings of over $40 million per film. Streep’s most commercially successful film was the adaptation of the Abba musical “Mamma Mia!”.
Streep’s career began in the theater before she had her breakthrough in the late 1970s with the TV multi-part “Holocaust” and the feature films “Manhattan,” “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Going Through Hell.” Streep received her Academy Awards for “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Sophie’s Choice” and “The Iron Lady,” in which she portrayed former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
11. Natalie Portman
TOTAL REVENUE: $4.815 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
Natalie Portman has been in the movie business since her teenage years. She starred in major motion pictures and also played mentally disturbed women in independent films, for which she won several awards, including an Oscar and two Golden Globe Awards.
Portman began her acting career at the age of 12 as a young protégé of a hit man in the action-drama film “Léon: The Professional” (1994). She gained international recognition for her role as Padmé Amidala in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) and the Star Wars prequel trilogy (2002, 2005). In 2004, Portman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and won a Golden Globe Award for playing a mysterious stripper in the romantic drama “Closer.”
Other major motion pictures included “V for Vendetta” (2006) and the horror film “Black Swan” (2010), for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress. She then starred in the romantic comedy “No Strings Attached” (2011) and starred as Jane Foster in the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero films “Thor” (2011) and “Thor: The Dark World” (2013), which established her among the highest-paid actresses in the world. Since then, she has appeared in the biopic Jackie (2016), which received her third Oscar nomination, and the science fiction film Annihilation (2018).
On average, her feature films grossed $150 million at the worldwide box office.
10. Julia Roberts
TOTAL REVENUE: $5.207 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
Julia Roberts is considered the woman with the most charming smile in Hollywood, which is certainly her most important trademark. After her first successes in romantic comedies such as “Pretty Woman”, “My Best Friend’s Wedding”,” Notting Hill” and “The Bride Who Wouldn’t Dare,” Roberts was able to establish herself as a serious character actress, winning an Oscar with the title role in Erin Brockovich.
In her film career, Roberts has starred in 44 films, whose combined box office takings in the U.S. amount to $5.207 billion, or an average of $157 million per film. Roberts’ most commercially successful film was “Ocean’s Eleven,” which grossed $450.7 million worldwide. By the way, Roberts’ acting talent runs in the family, as her siblings Eric Roberts and Lisa Roberts Gillan and her niece Emma Roberts are also actors.
9. Sandra Bullock
TOTAL REVENUE: $5.373 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
Feeling Sandra Bullock’s most successful times may belong to the past, but in truth her most commercially successful films were also some of her last: Gravity grossed $716.3 million worldwide and Minions, in which she was the original voice of Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Carolin Kebekus in the German version), grossed a whopping $1.159 billion.
The 32 feature films in Bullock’s career bring her to $5.373 billion at the U.S. box office, an average of 167 million per film. In addition, the German-American actress is also an Oscar winner. She received the coveted award in 2010 for “Blind Side – The Big Chance.”
8. Cameron Diaz
TOTAL REVENUE: $5.829 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
Cameron Diaz made a reputation for herself early in her career as the stereotype of the pretty blonde in numerous comedies. Her first cinema role was the female lead in “The Mask.” This was followed by romantic comedies such as “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “Crazy for Mary”, with which she finally became a big Hollywood star. But she also made excursions into the action genre, for example with the two parts of “3 Angels for Charlie”. Later, she also starred in more serious, problem-oriented films such as “Gangs of New York” by Martin Scorsese and “Minority Report” by Steven Spielberg.
In her most commercially successful film, however, Diaz is not seen at all, but only heard: as the dubbing voice of Fiona in Shrek 2. The second part of the cult animated film series around the green ogre Shrek grossed USD 919.8 million worldwide. In total, Cameron Diaz starred in 34 feature films, which together grossed USD 5.829 billion at the U.S. box office alone. This means that a Cameron Diaz film grossed an average of $208 million.
7. Jennifer Lawrence
TOTAL REVENUE: $5.997 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
Jennifer Lawrence is the next successful actress on our list and one of the youngest Oscar winners in history. Lawrence has grossed $5.997 billion (an average of $285 million per film) at the box office in just 20 films in the U.S. alone, thanks in no small part to her starring roles in no less than two highly successful film franchises: The Tribute to Panem and X-Men. As Katniss Everdeen, she was particularly successful, as Part 2 of The Tribute to Panem, Catching Fire, grossed $865 million worldwide.
However, Lawrence received her Oscar, at which she tripped over her dress to the amusement of the audience because it was unusually long, for the film Silver Linings.
6. Gwyneth Paltrow
TOTAL REVENUE: $6.152 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
Anyone who can land a role in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe – i.e. the entirety of Marvel’s own adaptations of its comics) is well off in Hollywood. So it’s hardly surprising that Pepper Potts, the actress who plays Iron Man’s love interest, has also made it into the 20 most successful actresses. Avengers: Infernal War alone was a successful MCU flick, grossing over 2 billion US dollars worldwide.
After playing the female lead in Seven, Paltrow became world famous primarily for her role in Shakespeare in Love. She has starred in 34 feature films, which together have grossed $6.152 billion at the U.S. box office. That was an average of $341 million per film. In addition to her commercial success, Paltrow has enjoyed both a Golden Globe and an Oscar.
5. Elizabeth Olsen
TOTAL REVENUE: $7.489 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
Elizabeth Olsen made her breakthrough in 2011 when she starred in the thriller drama “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” for which she was nominated for the Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Actress and the Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead, among others.
She then starred in the films “Silent House” (2011), “Oldboy” (2013), “Godzilla” (2014), “Ingrid Goes West” (2017) and “Wind River” (2017), among others.
She gained international recognition for her role as Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch in superhero films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015), “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) and “Avengers: Endgame” (2019).
14 of her films have been released in theaters, generating a total revenue of 7.489 billion U.S. dollars. This is equivalent to US$534 million per film.
4. Karen Gillan
TOTAL REVENUE: $7.636 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
Karen Sheila Gillan is a Scottish actress and director. She became known for the role of Amy Pond in the BBC One series Doctor Who (2010-2013). She received international recognition for her role of Nebula in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019), and for her starring role in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) and Jumanji: The Next Level (2019).
Gillan’s 11 feature films have grossed $7.636 billion at the box office. That equates to an average of $694 million per film.
3. Emma Watson
TOTAL REVENUE: $9.261 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
Quite Hermione, Emma Watson has long outstripped her two Harry Potter co-stars Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, as none of the eight Harry Potter films is her biggest success in the U.S. Instead, the live-action remake of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” grossed $504 million (the most successful Harry Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2,” grossed only $381 million in the U.S.).
Worldwide, however, “Beauty and the Beast” was less successful than the eighth Harry Potter film with USD 1.264 billion compared to USD 1.342 billion. Overall, the huge successes of the film series based on J.K. Rowling’s novels are definitely the main reason why Emma Watson can place so high in our ranking. With just 18 feature films to her credit, Watson grossed $9.261 billion at the U.S. box office alone (an average of $617 million per film).
Away from her film career, Watson is involved as a UN ambassador for women’s rights and fair trade.
2. Zoe Saldana
TOTAL REVENUE: $10.922 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
As mentioned earlier, if you can land a role (in this case, Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and 2 and Avengers: Infinity War) in the MCU, you’re set in Hollywood. Add to that starring in Avatar, the most successful film of all time for a long time (worldwide box office receipts: $2.788 billion), and portraying Lt. Uhura in the Star Trek reboot, and you easily come in at No. 3 on the list of most successful actresses of all time. Saldana’s 27 theatrical films have grossed $10.922 billion at the U.S. box office alone, an average of 404 million per film.
1. Scarlett Johansson
TOTAL REVENUE: $13.663 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS
And now everyone: whoever was able to land a role in the MCU is set in Hollywood. Johansson embodied the role of superhero Black Widow in “Iron Man 2,” “Marvel’s The Avengers,” “The Return of the First Avenger,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “The First Avenger: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War” like “Avengers: Endgame.” The latter was also her most commercially successful film, grossing $2.788 billion worldwide.
Although Johansson had already starred in “The Horse Whisperer,” her international breakthrough came five years later with the tragicomedy “Lost in Translation” alongside Bill Murray.
Johansson has starred in 42 movies, which together have grossed $13.663 billion at the U.S. box office – an average of $471 million per film.