Richest to Poorest Characters of the 2014 Oscars

by Andrew Osborne

So, a few weeks ago, during awards season, I submitted the following writing sample  to a (fairly cynical) website devoted to wealth…though, ironically, the editors seemed very hesitant about telling me exactly how much $$$ they’d actually pay me per article.  As such, I eventually just bailed on the non-negotiations, but their loss is the Screengrab in Exile’s gain as I (belatedly) present the Richest to Poorest Characters of the 2014 Oscars!

In real life, most people aspire to be healthy, wealthy and wise.  But happy, well-adjusted individuals rarely make for great drama, which is why actors seeking Oscar gold frequently gravitate towards darker roles.  And why not?  It works.

As the endless red carpet coverage of awards season amply demonstrates, rich A-list movie stars are nice enough people, but (with notable exceptions like the ever-peculiar Matthew McConaughey) they’re not especially compelling as themselves.  Their lives are simply too perfect, with stylists, publicists and assistants buffing away the rough edges of common existence, i.e., all the mistakes and hardships that theoretically “build character”.

But stick a posh dame like Judi Dench into the frumpy housecoat of a humble Irish housewife or bury Christian Bale’s good looks beneath the flab and hideous comb-over of a ‘70s con man and vulnerability replaces celebrity, Hollywood glamour temporarily submerged within commonplace frailty.

And so, like most years, the 2014 class of Best Actor and Best Actress nominees scored major accolades for stepping briefly into the shoes of “ordinary” people before returning safely to their lives of extraordinary fame and fortune.  Yet, as the following list demonstrates, some had steeper climbs than others.

1. JORDAN BELFORT (The Wolf of Wall Street)

According to Forbes, Leonardo DiCaprio earned $39 million in 2013, which is actually less than his Wall Street swindler character Jordan Belfort, who tell us, “The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars…which really pissed me off, because it was three shy of a million a week.”  (Though, after getting busted for securities fraud, the real Belfort’s down to his last couple of million, while Leo continues living very large indeed.)

2. & 3. IRVING ROSENFELD & SYDNEY PROSSER (American Hustle)

Hollywood accounting is notoriously shady, yet reports that Christian Bale has roughly ten times more than Amy Adams’s estimated $8 million fortune seem plausible thanks to Bale’s starring role in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Bat-trilogy.  On the other hand, the con artist partners played by the co-nominees of American Hustle prefer to split things 50/50, whether scamming big bucks or trying to go legit as art gallery operators (a racket that can generate revenues in the neighborhood of $2 million a year in major cities, though probably not quite as much in 1970s Manhattan).

4. DR. RYAN STONE (Gravity)

According to industry estimates, America’s sweetheart, Sandra Bullock, scored somewhere between $10-20 million dollars just for pretending to be an astronaut in Gravity.  That seems a tad unfair, considering an actual astronaut (like her character, Dr. Ryan Stone) is lucky to crack six figures per annum, even with years of specialized training and the added job hazard of potentially spinning off into space.

5. VIOLET WESTON (August: Osage County)

By all accounts, Meryl Streep is much beloved and extremely nice (and, by some accounts, she also has a net worth in the neighborhood of $45 million).  By comparison, the nasty, pill-popping matriarch she plays in August: Osage County only has a big, stuffy house in Oklahoma and a safety deposit box stuffed with thousands in cash and jewelry to keep her company once her toxic personality finally drives her family away.

6. PHILOMENA LEE (Philomena)

Though she’s unlikely to accumulate the estimated $16 million possessed by the woman who portrayed her, Philomena Lee’s association with Judi Dench and the film bearing her name has generated considerable political capital.  After the story of her search for a son forced into adoption by Catholic nuns hit the silver screen, the working-class Irish housewife began fighting for legislation to reunite families facing similar struggles.  So, after Philomena, Lee’s fortunes definitely seem to be on the upswing.

7. WOODROW “WOODY” GRANT (Nebraska)

After decades in the film business, it’s speculated that Bruce Dern has approximately 10 million bucks.  His broken down (and nearly broke) character in Nebraska would be happy with just 1/10th of that, and thus sets off to claim a dubious sweepstakes prize before eventually realizing the truth of the old saying: ‘mo (fake) money, ‘mo problems.

8. RON WOODROFF (Dallas Buyer’s Club)

Unlike Matthew McConaughey (who may be worth as much as $65 million), the fast-talking, rodeo-riding redneck Ron Woodroff wasn’t very good with his money.  But after years of self-destructive trailer park bacchanalia, the protagonist of Dallas Buyer’s Club is diagnosed with AIDS and quickly remakes himself into a sharp businessman.  Selling “memberships” to his popular, quasi-legal treatment clinic at $400 a pop nets Woodruff big bucks, though most of it goes to legal fees as he struggles to keep himself and his clients alive.

9. SOLOMON NORTHRUP (12 Years A Slave)

By some estimates, Chiwetel Ejiofor is worth about $8 million, and his earning potential will surely increase thanks to his celebrated performance in 12 Years A Slave.  Sadly, the earning potential of the man he portrays, Solomon Northrup, was severely impeded by his years in captivity.  After regaining his freedom, Northrup lost a civil suit against the men who sold him into bondage, yet he managed to earn a modest living as a carpenter while lecturing and promoting the memoir that became his ultimate claim to fame.

10. Jeanette “Jasmine” Francis (Blue Jasmine)

Sure, Cate Blanchett may be worth as much as $45 million now…but as her rags-to-riches-to-designer-rags character in Blue Jasmine discovers, wealth can be fleeting.  After “Jasmine” Francis’s husband is busted in a Madoff-style Ponzi scheme, the mentally unbalanced socialite finds herself on the verge of utter destitution with no skills, no connections, and no money at all.  Good thing it’s just a movie, right?

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