It was a stat destined to go viral: actress Gal Gadot earned just $300,000 for helming the box office smash hit Wonder Woman, while Henry Cavill apparently raked in $14 million—46 times more!—for his role in the 2013 Superman flick Man of Steel.
Those numbers, relayed in a Monday post by Elle, played perfectly into narratives about the ongoing, scandalous, and very real gender pay gap that exists in Hollywood. There was just one problem: the facts of the Gadot story are fatally flawed.
As Vanity Fair points out today, the $300,000 was only Gadot’s base salary—which Elle sourced from a 2014 Variety story on the terms of her three-picture contract with Warner Bros.—for the first blockbuster, while Cavill’s $14 million included bonuses for box office performance, a common feature in Hollywood contracts for superhero movies. In an update, Elle did note they could not verify the $14 million figure, which is a pretty crucial correction.
As Vanity Fair reported, Gadot’s male counterparts actually earned similar base salaries for their first comic book outings. All of them were then set up for huge paydays down the road based on how the movies performed:
Hollywood contracts are notoriously complicated things—salaries are often sweetened by box office bonuses, bumps in pay for sequels, or even “points” on the total gross for megastars. For superhero franchises just getting started, though, the process is usually simple: find a star on the rise, pay them relatively little, and then offer more if the franchise takes off. Marvel pioneered the effort with Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth, all of whom were reportedly paid less than $500,000 for their first solo superhero outings, but eventually landed much bigger paydays for subsequent entries.
An unnamed source with knowledge of studio negotiations told the magazine that Cavill’s reported $14 million payout “certainly isn’t for one picture. That’s insane.”
The way these deals are structured also means Gadot will likely make significantly more money for the all-but-certain Wonder Woman 2, as was the case with Downey Jr. (who reportedly made a whopping $50 million for The Avengers because of his Iron Man contract), Hemsworth, and Evans.
The gender pay gap is real. It affects women at every level of every industry, and it’s far more pronounced for women of color. So we absolutely don’t need to rely on faulty statistics to bolster the case for paying women what they deserve.