Just two movies and $19m: how Naomi Watts became Australia's highest paid actor

Naomi Watts may have had a quiet year when it comes to movie releases but that hasn't stopped the King Kong star from becoming Australia's highest earning actor for 2011.

A basketballer took top spot in the BRW Top 50 Sports Earners list with NBA star Andrew Bogut moving up from second with annual earnings of $13 million.

British-born Watts came third in BRW's annual Top 50 Entertainers rich list, earning $19.1 million for the year despite having only making two films this year - Dream House and J. Edgar. Dream House didn't even gain a release in Australia while J. Edgar is expected to be released early next year.

Watts, who beat high-profile male actors Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, cashed in with advertising campaigns for Pantene, Thierry Mulger and Ann Taylor.

Nicole Kidman was the next best placed actor, coming in fifth with $18.6 million.

BRW editor Kate Mills admitted that many people were surprised that Watts was in the top 5 of the Top 50 Entertainers list.

"A lot of people have said 'How can this be?' Earnings are volatile for an actor. What they try to do is develop their brand to enable them to secure endorsement deals. She endorses Ann Taylor which are big in the US. Watts uses her star power in the States and Japan.

"Female stars get better endorsement deals - like clothing brands and perfume. They are made for endorsements."

The entertainment list was again headed by Global Creatures, the production company behind Walking with Dinosaurs - the Arena Spectacular. Its earnings still took a huge dip, dropping from $140 million to $62 million last year.

Controversy hasn't hit Kyle Sandilands in his wallet with the shock jock's earnings increasing to $3 million for the year. Despite his verbal attack on a News Ltd journalist, Kyle and Jackie O managed to increase their earnings and land a spot on the top 50 list.

Mills said controversy was unlikely to affect Sandilands's back pocket next year.

"Sponsors have left Sandilands before but have always come back. It's all about how many ears he's got listening to him. The more controversy, the more listeners."

The biggest losers of the year were AC/DC. The Aussie rockers earned $131.4 million last year, thanks largely to their world tour. That figure crashed to $9 million this year.

Mark Webber fell from first on the 2010 BRW Top 50 Sports Earners list to third this year ($9 million). The formula one star was overtaken by MotoGP star Casey Stoner ($9.5 million).

Cricketers have cashed in on a flood of new money in the Indian Premier League and made their mark on the list. The highest earning cricketer is Shane Watson with $4 million. Cricketers are now rivalling football and golf as the sport to make money in.

The sport list is dominated by men, with only two women making the top 50 - tennis player Sam Stosur and surfer Stephanie Gilmore.

BRW is published by Fairfax, owner of this site.