The entertainment industry is driven by a constant game of one-upmanship: Who has star power and who doesn’t are questions that drive decisions about what gets made and how many people pay attention.
This year, Jennifer Lawrence established herself as the most-liked human in Hollywood, equally adept at carrying blockbusters and leading awards contenders. Along with other celebrities this year (Aziz Ansari, Viola Davis), she also used her success to push forward conversations in the media about topics like the gender pay gap and diversity.
This ranked list, voted on by Business Insider’s entertainment section, identifies the entertainers (plus a few top executives) who are most successful right now, in pure dollar sums, but also in terms of their relevance and ability to drive their industries forward. We considered earnings information where available, and culled opinions from sources throughout the industry.
When we think of the future of movies, TV, and music, we think of these people.
Replacing Jon Stewart on 'The Daily Show' is a harrowing feat in itself. While Noah hasn't been able to meet or beat Stewart's ratings, he has been able to find a younger audience in record time. That's a plus in the extraordinarily difficult race to reach millennials. And as long as he sticks to his own style, Stewart fans will either learn to love him or make room for a wholly-new audience unique to Noah.
The trajectory of a former Disney child idol isn't easy, to say the least, but Gomez is braving it as well as one can. While she has fumbled with her music career in the past, she made clear with this year's pointedly titled 'Revival' (and its catchy single, 'Good for You') that she's here to stay.
She's also made off-the-wall career choices like a striking role in 'Spring Breakers' that have widened her core audience. Gomez is also the rare pop star who seems genuinly likeable and worth rooting for.
Thanks to Stephen Colbert, there's a choice aside from the celebrity-obsessed antics that have taken over late-night television. By focusing less on going viral and more on substantive talk, Colbert expands his guests to politics (and not just the presidential candidates) and the tech world. He may not be be No. 1 in ratings, but he's often No. 2, and that's just after a few months.
Katy Perry isn't just played up as a horns-locked rival on Taylor Swift's amusingly vindictive 'Bad Blood'; she is one of Swift's rare competitors in sheer dollar terms and marketing muscle in music.
Perry landed third, ahead of Swift, on Forbes' list of the top-earning celebrities this year, primarily because of her 'Prismatic' world tour (Swift's '1989' tour just ended). She pulled in $20 per head just in merchandising sales, which is basically unheard of, and she remains adored all over the world, even if Swift gets more ink in the US.
TV's highest-paid star doesn't rest on her $325,000-per-episode 'Modern Family' salary at all. She's also the co-founder of the biggest Latin talent management company. Additionally, she fills her pockets with countless sponsorships, including Ninja, Diet Pepsi, CoverGirl, Head & Shoulders, and AT&T. Forbes has her total yearly earnings at $37 million. Vergara is TV's renaissance woman.
Rogen continues to build his reputation as one of the most powerful comedians in Hollywood. The modest comedies that he produces in the mid-$20 million budget range like 'Neighbours' and 'The Night Before' not only make their money back in the first week in theatres, but by the end of their theatrical run, they make a healthy profit for the studio.
And when the bizarre scare surrounding 'The Interview' limited the film's theatrical release, it gave us a realisation that will hit the studio system soon: that movies playing same-day on streaming providers is coming very soon.
This producer has a knack for creating hype around his shows. Although 'Glee' probably lasted a season too long, it did usher in more musically-inclined programming. Broadcasts of live stage musicals, variety shows, and musical series all have 'Glee' to thank for proving such shows have an audience.
Soon, he will have three shows airing at the same time for two different networks: 'American Horror Story' and 'American Crime Story' for FX and 'Scream Queens' for Fox.
Aside form being the highest-paid actor on television, Jim Parsons stars on TV's most-watched show, 'The Big Bang Theory.'
Both of those things give the actor a certain amount of power and influence in Hollywood and especially at CBS. When and if he decides to cash in on that power, he could pursue other areas like directing, producing, and otherwise star on his own show.
McCarthy proved once more that a female comic can be the lead in a movie, and it can be successful. Her comedy 'Spy' was No. 1 at the box office when it opened in June and has taken in over $100 million domestically. But what really opened people's eyes is what 'Spy' did overseas.
In an industry that assumes female-centric movies under-perform abroad, 'Spy' made more money overseas, -- $125 million. McCarthy will continue to crack us up in the upcoming female-focused 'Ghostbusters' coming out next summer.
The actress made sure the world was listening when she became the first black woman to win a leading actress Emmy and began her acceptance speech by quoting Harriet Tubman to illustrate both how far we've come and how much further we need to go for equality.
She exhibits a high amount of control on her career, capping the episodes of 'How to Get Away with Murder' in order to keep her free for movies and theatre.
She might not have released a surprise hit album this year or embarked on a world tour, but Beyoncé is still having a great year. She won three Grammy Awards for her 2014 album 'Beyoncé' and hit song 'Drunk in Love.' She landed her third Vogue cover and became the third black woman to cover the September issue.
Instead of heading out on tour, she headlined the first night of Jay Z's Made in America Festival in September, and later that same month, she performed at the Global Citizen Festival. She also collaborated with Coldplay on 'Hymn for the Weekend,' which appears on their album 'A Head Full of Dreams.' As of May of this year, her net worth is $250 million, according to Forbes.
Minaj is the only woman to make Forbes' Cash Kings list this year, which documents the highest-paid hip-hop artists around the globe, bringing in $21 million, 50% more than what she earned last year. In March, she embarked on the Pinkprint Tour to promote 2014's 'The Pinkprint.' That same month, she became the first female artist to have four songs simultaneously make the top 10 of Billboard's Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop chart. She won her sixth consecutive BET Award for best female hip-hop artist this year, and she became the face of Roberto Cavalli's spring/summer campaign. Missy Elliott may be having a comeback, but there's no questioning that Minaj is hip-hop's new queen.
The former 'Parks and Recreation' star returned to series TV with an autobiographical, blistering critique of of what it's like to be a minority actor in Hollywood. What's more, 'Master of None' on Netflix is the most critically lauded new comedy of the year. But he also used the promotional tour for the series to further drill his message about the limits Hollywood places on diversity.
Though we loved Cooper showing up in Netflix's reboot of 'Wet Hot American Summer' and the TV version of his 2011 film 'Limitless' this year, on the movie side he had a couple duds with 'Aloha' and 'Burnt' (though he makes up for it in 'Joy'). But what really kept Cooper on everyone's mind this year was his reaction to Lawrence's piece in the 'Lenny' newsletter on the gender pay gap in Hollywood. Going a step beyond, he stated he would now share salary information with his female co-stars to help them in their negotiations.
Greg Berlanti has six shows on the air this year across three different networks. NBC's 'Mysteries of Laura,' and CW's 'Flash' and 'Arrow' returned this year. And this fall, Berlanti added CBS's 'Supergirl,' NBC's 'Blindspot,' and CW's 'DC's Legends of Tomorrow' to his slate. That sheer number of shows is a rare feat for anyone in TV, but many of them are delivering their networks much-needed young viewers.
The Rock began his acting career in 1999, but the former WWE champ established himself as an even bigger action star this year after appearing in 'Furious 7,' which holds the No. 5 spot for highest worldwide gross for raking in $1.5 billion globally, and 'San Andreas.' He also made the jump to his own show on the small screen, starring in and producing HBO's comedy series 'Ballers,' about former football players and their post-football careers. Earlier this year, he also set a Guinness World Record for the most selfies in three minutes by taking 105 selfies with fans during the premiere of 'San Andreas' in London. This is the year 'former wrestler' The Rock became simply movie star The Rock.
As the president of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige oversees one of the biggest money-making franchises in Hollywood. With the combined Marvel universe features having grossed over $9 billion worldwide
(and that's not counting its growing TV projects), Feige controls not just the current tastes of today's moviegoers, but of the foreseeable future.
Being hot doesn't just depend on how much money one is worth or if you're on a huge television show -- both of which Caitlyn Jenner does have. But being hot is really about being able to capture the world's attention. This year, Jenner's transition from male to female did just that. Not only was the public mesmerised by the former Olympian's story, she also shone the brightest light ever on the transgender experience. And that saves lives.
There are precious few A-listers who could tell MTV that they have no idea what they're going to do on stage during the VMAs, and then hop up there and give a 15-minute ramble uninterrupted by producers revealing their intention to run for president. Such is the power of Kanye. More than simply Mr. Kim Kardashian, while his musical popularity has waned in recent years, a vacuum that's been filled especially by Drake, the attention he draws is larger than ever, proven by his sold-out and meme-ified Yeezy Boost sneaker line.
Following a string of embarrassing incidents and run-ins with the law that dominated headlines for much of 2013 and 2014, Bieber took a break from music. After being roasted on Comedy Central earlier this year,
Bieber acknowledged his mistakes and said he could rise again. He wasn't wrong. This is the year of the Bieber comeback. The Biebs teamed up with Skrillex and Diplo to release 'Where Are Ü Now,' an electronic hit that made waves this summer, and followed it up with the release of his single, 'What Do You Mean?' in August. The single went straight to No. 1, becoming his only single to do so. His album 'Purpose' debuted at No. 1 and broke Spotify's record for most streams of an album in its debut week, with 205 million global streams. Bieber also broke Billboard's record for most songs on the Hot 100 at one time with 17 songs. Next year, he'll embark on his Purpose Tour and star in 'Zoolander 2,' so he's sure to continue rising.
It may seem old-hat now, but Robert Downey Jr. is still one of the most powerful actors in Hollywood. This marks the third consecutive year he’s topped the Forbes’ World’s Highest Paid Actors list, and his Iron Man character in the Marvel universe is still its foundation. And with the trailer for his next chapter in the Avengers saga, “Captain America: Civil War,
Executive producing three of the top shows on TV is really so last year. This year, Rhimes took on a fourth, 'The Catch.' It stars 'The Killing’s' Mirielle Enos as a fraud investigator who becomes the victim of fraud herself by her handsome fiance. Not only that, Rhimes took on a new attitude when she decided to say yes to those things she previously would have turned down, including tackling her fear of public speaking and losing more than 100 pounds. She then turned around a bestselling book about the whole process.
After bringing the 'Star Trek' big-screen franchise back from the dead, J.J. Abrams is on his way to taking cinema's other landmark sci-fi franchise into an entirely new future. Growing up on the 'Star Wars' movies and building a career modelled in many ways after idol Steven Spielberg, Abrams is to many the perfect fit to bring it to its original-trilogy glory. If anything, what he's accomplished is building an excitement that 'The Force Awakens' just might live up to.
One of the funniest people on the planet made it to the big time this year thanks to a hit movie and some incredible red-carpet moments. Schumer wrote and starred in one of the summer's most popular comedies in 'Trainwreck,' her remarkable big-screen debut. But her deadpan humour seemed to be everywhere this year from winning an Emmy
for her Comedy Central show 'Inside Amy Schumer' to upstaging Kim Kardashian and Kanye West at the Time 100 gala.
Once known for being the schlubby funny guy on 'Parks and Rec,' in two short years Chris Pratt has reinvented himself as the action hero for millennials. Tough yet jokey and down-to-earth, his style was a big reason why 'Guardians of the Galaxy' became a sensation in 2014 and 'Jurassic World' broke box-office records this year. Get ready for more tough-guy Pratt in the coming years in sequels for 'Jurassic World' and 'Guardians,' but first he throws on his six-shooter to saddle up with Denzel Washington in 'The Magnificent Seven' next fall.
No stranger to the blockbuster, as she co-founded Amblin Entertainment ('E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,' 'Back to the Future') in the 1980s with Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall, now at the helm of Lucasfilm, Kennedy oversees the biggest franchise of them all: 'Star Wars.' The end of 2015 is certain to be a record-breaking one for 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens,' as it already has $50 million in advance ticket sales. And the years ahead will be busy for Kennedy as 'Star Wars' films continue in a steady stream, plus she's developing a continuation of the 'Indiana Jones' franchise.
For the first time in his career, current king of hip-hop Drake made Forbes' Celebrity 100, helped in part by the release of two albums this year -- the surprise of 'If You're Reading This It's Too Late' and 'What a Time to be Alive' -- and a nightly average gross of nearly $1 million while touring. 'If You're Reading This It's Too Late' became the first album released in 2015 to sell a million copies in the U.S. And twice this year, Drake had 14 hit songs at once on Billboard's Hot 100, a record previously held by the Beatles and only bested by Justin Bieber in December, which helped make him the fourth artist to land at least 100 songs on the list. He is also the most-streamed artist of 2015, according to Spotify, garnering more than 1.8 billion streams. His music video for his No. 2 Billboard hit 'Hotline Bling' became a social-media sensation, sparking the creation of memes, vines, and GIFs thanks to his awkward-yet-somehow-cool dance moves.
This year, Taylor Swift crushed it. Early in her career, Swift conquered Nashville by tapping into a previously unrecognised audience: teenage girls who listen to country. That acute connection to her audience and sheer will power have carried her through to become one of the biggest pop stars alive.
What separates Swift from Beyonce or Katy Perry is that she makes her fans believe any one of them could be her, too. Swift frequently talks and acts like a goofy teen, but happens to have remarkable songwriting craft, and she knows how to meld the two into a potent force (this will likely be her first year making over $100 million on touring).
She's also a savvy marketer, bringing celebrity gal-pal guests (everyone from Selena Gomez to Julia Roberts) on stage to reinforce her message of female solidarity. For all of this, she has been called 'calculating,' to which Swift has a canny defence: As she told GQ, 'Am I shooting from the hip? Would any of this have happened if I was?' She has a good point.
In 2015, Adele proved that the more things change, the more they stay the same. She could've released anything after '21' (the first album since Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' to be the best-selling for two consecutive years) and it would have been huge. But she and her team executed a perfect, meticulous strategy that kept everything under wraps even in an era of constant leaks, delivering a lead single that pulls all the heart strings Adele fans want pulled.
When the album itself, '25,' arrived, it broke tons of records, including the best first-week sales in history, and it will certainly break more. The album passed $5 million in earnings after three weeks and managed to make Taylor Swift's sales look soft. There is no precedent for Adele, yet she has proven that the old-school formula of a formidable singer crooning ballads into a microphone is timeless.
To say it was a big year for Lawrence would be an epic understatement. She was named by Forbes as the highest-paid actress in the world, capped one of her blockbuster franchises with the release of 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2,' which has now topped the box office for several weeks in a row, and she brought the gender-inequality issue in Hollywood to the forefront.
And the year isn't over yet. Lawrence may get another Oscar nomination for her upcoming film, 'Joy.' Oh, and she still had time to become best friends with Amy Schumer. Quite a year indeed.
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