The highest-paid Western actor isn’t who you think

The highest-paid Western actor isn’t who you think

There was plenty of money to be made from Westerns back in the day, but the top earner from the genre may not be who you think it is.

When it comes to the biggest Western stars, there are a few names that come to mind quicker than the fastest draw in a good ol’ fashioned gunfight. For many, that’ll include John Wayne — the genre’s father, essentially — and Clint Eastwood, the machismo icon who dominated for decades.

And far before the days of the MCU, Westerns were the goldmine of Hollywood. It’s been revived several times over throughout cinematic history, making it one of the most successful genres there ever was. So, they were successful, and more importantly, profitable — but which actor made the most money from taking on the gunslingers and exploring the American West?

Well, it might shock many to learn that it wasn’t Wayne or Eastwood who had the most financial gain while appearing in classic Westerns. In fact, it was a man who’s found fame in the genre even today: Kevin Costner.

That’s right — Yellowstone’s Kevin Costner is the top dog when it comes to earning the most in the genre. All in all, his Westerns have grossed over $551 million, with $424 million coming from a single film, Dances With Wolves.

With starring roles in Westerns dating back to the ’40s and ’50s respectively, Wayne and Eastwood’s box office takings are difficult to fully comprehend, but it’s possible to gauge their financial appeal based on their biggest hits. In that instance, Eastwood would have a gross of $275 million for his three biggest Western ventures, while John Wayne has $169.4 million.

Dances With Wolves is easily the most culturally significant movie in Costner’s filmography. On top of its financial success, it also earned the currency of legacy, which includes seven Academy Award wins and a spot in the National Film Registry.

Other Westerns that bring up Costner’s bankroll are Open Range ($68.6 million) and Silverado ($33.2 million). That’s not even taking into consideration his Yellowstone paycheck, which Variety reported in 2022 was around $1.3 million per episode. A fistful of dollars, indeed.

For more gun-slingin’, check out our guides to Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga, and learn more about the Yellowstone Season 5 Part 2 release date.


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