The trend of spending barrels of cash, just to make high-end TV series like The Mandalorian or Game of Thrones feel more like the movies, probably won’t be slowing down anytime soon — and the reason isn’t just because special effects and set design cost gobs of money.
It's not just dragons that breathe real fire or lifelike CGI from a galaxy far, far away that cost money. Increasingly, we can also thank the box office-crushing name cachet of huge genre stars like Chris Pratt and Harrison Ford — not to mention the newfound prestige that comes with headlining a bespoke, conversation-grabbing streaming show. As the streaming field becomes more crowded than ever with new and upcoming entrants like Disney+, Apple TV+, and HBO Max, TV studios are betting big that having big names toplining their hot new series will be more than worth the cost.
Variety put together a report on just how much streaming and premium TV studios are spending to land (or keep) the big names, and it’s fair to say that the million dollar per-episode celebrity club may be set to expand quite a bit before it stabilizes or retracts. Five actors sit at the top of the seven-figure list so far (with Ford at the top for Annapurna’s upcoming docudrama The Staircase), but even small-screen stars with established hit shows are commanding big per-episode prices.
Per the report, Millie Bobby Brown takes home $350,000 for every turn as Eleven in Stranger Things — the same as David Harbour as chief Hopper and Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers. Coming in close behind are ST costars Natalia Dyer (Nancy), Charlie Heaton (Jonathan), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas), Finn Wolfhard (Mike), and Noah Schnapp (Will) — all of whom earn a reported $250,000 per episode (Sadie Sink reportedly takes home $150,000 per episode as Max.)
By comparison, the reported $60,000-$75,000 that Ruby Rose makes per Batwoman episode may seem light — though the report notes that over-the-air networks like The CW rarely cough up the kind of money for star power that streaming and premium cable networks do.
Sure, the kind of moolah Netflix spends to keep the Stranger Things gang together appears huge — especially spread across an ensemble cast. But those kind of numbers pale in comparison to franchise-making names like Patrick Stewart and Jason Momoa, both of whom are entwined with the identities of their streaming shows (Stewart for CBS All Access’ upcoming Star Trek: Picard, and Momoa for Apple TV+’s See). Stewart reportedly will receive $750,000 for each Picard episode, while Momoa walked away with $600,000 per episode for See.
That sort of spending gets Stewart and Momoa near the rarefied $1,000,000 per-episode haul that The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus, as well as key members of the Game of Thrones cast, worked their way up to as their shows increasingly became appointment viewing.
But landing an iconic big-screen star, and polishing up a boutique TV project that pairs well with their name, appears to be a growing trend that could push the per-episode spending spree even higher. “Chris Pratt is believed to be shopping a project that would pay him $1.4 million an episode,” reports Variety, quoting one industry insider who believes that even the top of the celebrity A-list isn’t off the table if the TV project — and the price — are right.
“I wouldn’t even take someone like Leonardo DiCaprio off the table,” the unnamed agent said. “Why wouldn’t Leo do an eight-episode limited series? It’s as good as a movie.” And for fans conditioned to salivate at the next installment of a slow-release series like Game of Thrones, or binge through the weekend when a new season of Stranger Things appears, it may even be better than that.