Q: I know a lot of people talk about who the highest-paid actors are, but what about the highest-paid director?

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Adam Thomlison / TV Media

It's relatively straightforward to determine what actors are paid. The annual highest-paid-actors and -actresses lists, which get a lot of attention, as you say, are generally based on the paychecks the stars receive from studios to appear in their films. The question is less clear for directors, though, whose compensation often comes not from a salary but from back-end results tied to how the film performs. 

This makes sense in a lot of ways. Directors are generally considered to be more responsible for how a film does at the box office, so it makes sense to tie their compensation to results. 

For the same reasons, the media more often talks about the highest-grossing directors, rather than the highest-paid ones. (We're also, as a society, a little less interested in knowing about the lavish lifestyles of the people behind the cameras than the people in front of them.) 

With that in mind, it might not surprise you to know the highest-grossing director of all time is a guy by the name of Steven Spielberg. Thanks to a consistent string of hits reaching all the way back to the '70s (including 1993's "Jurassic Park" and 1982's "E.T. the Extra-terrestrial" as just two examples), he tops the list, having grossed more than $10 billion. 

It's interesting to note, too, that the list people talk about is all-time, rather than annual. This seems to be because there are annual flukes that put relatively unknown directors at the top.

Would you care to know, for example, that the highest-grossing director of 2021 was Jon Watts, who helmed "Spider-Man: No Way Home," and is really only famous for Spider-Man movies? Or would you rather hear that the all-time list is characterized by a race between Spielberg and James Cameron, thanks to the latter's string of hits including the Avatar movies and the Terminator franchise? 


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