MrBeast is the new No. 1 with record earnings, and Jake Paul ranks second despite past scandals. Here’s how much these celebs raked in.
With a name like MrBeast, perhaps it was only inevitable that he’d grow to be as big as he’s become. The 23 year old earned $54 million in 2021—the most of any YouTuber ever—as his videos accumulated 10 billion views, doubling from the previous year. What do people like so much? Well, the internet loves watching stunts, and MrBeast excels at delivering super-sized ones. In the last year, he has spent 50 hours buried alive, offered $10,000 to anyone willing to sit in a bathtub of snakes and hosted his own version of Squid Game, building replicas of the Netflix show’s sets.
MrBeast leads our latest list of the top-earning YouTubers for the first time and likely earns himself a spot among the world’s highest-paid entertainers. In fact, his $54 million payday would have put him in the Top 40 of our last Celebrity 100, a ranking of the top-paid stars across all of entertainment, above folks like Billie Eilish, Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie and even BTS. The two right behind MrBeast–No. 2 Jake Paul ($45 million) and No. 3 Markiplier ($38 million)–also would have made that Celebrity 100, which had a $35 million cutoff.
Altogether, the YouTubers collectively earned about $300 million in 2021—another record amount—up 40% from a year earlier, mostly propelled higher by increasing views on their YouTube channels and the ad revenue they generate from those videos. (More people than ever are on YouTube: The platform has close to 2 billion users now, a 40% increase in five years.) Around half their earnings come from that ad revenue. To pad their pay further, all these stars have branded merchandise lines. And they variously dabble in generating additional revenue from Twitch, Snap, Facebook, podcasts, NFTs—even hamburgers. A few have signed lucrative deals with Spotter, a Los Angeles startup buying up the rights to old YouTube videos.
Their chunky checks make one thing abundantly clear: It’s only getting harder to distinguish a digital star from an Angelina.
#1 | MrBeast (Jimmy Donaldson)
Thanks to that surge in views, his 2021 payday is almost double what last year’s No. 1 brought in. (That would be the $29.5 million brought in by Ryan Kaji, who slips to No. 7.) Another attention-grabbing project from 2021: MrBeast Burger, an app and menu that lets fans order MrBeast-branded meals from 1,600 restaurants across the country that have partnered with him to fulfill the orders. MrBeast handles the marketing, pushing the burgers at his nearly 90 million YouTube subscribers. He and the restaurants then split the profits from the orders. So far, the operation has sold 5 million sandwiches.
#2 | Jake Paul
Look who’s baaack: Paul returns to this list—he last made it in 2018 with $21.5 million in earnings—largely on the strength of his boxing earnings. He fought three well-publicized bouts last year with a pair of MMA fighters: one match with Ben Askren, two with Tyron Woodley. (Paul won them all.) In many ways, boxing, a sport long populated by contentious stars, is a natural fit for Paul, himself no stranger to controversy. He had been one of YouTube’s most popular names until his brother Logan posted a December 2017 video filmed in a Japanese forest grimly famous as a suicide spot. Fans hated it—deeming it distinctly in poor taste—and the backlash hit both Paul brothers. Their sponsors cut them, and YouTube demonetized them. Now, they can earn off YouTube ads again, but Jake posts less frequently than he once did, using the site mostly to market his boxing career, which now accounts for nearly 90% of his earnings.
#3 | Markiplier
Few social media stars can move merch like Markiplier, who saw especially strong sales from the T-shirts, hoodies and other items tied to his Unus Annus series, the main reason his earnings have nearly doubled from our previous list. (Those Unus Annus videos were a collaboration with fellow YouTuber Ethan Nestor-Darling and ran on Markiplier’s YouTube channel starting in 2019. A year later, Markiplier deliberately deleted them all.) Next, Markiplier hopes to remake himself as a TV star. In 2021, he filmed a television adaptation of The Edge of Sleep, a post-apocalyptic thriller he initially dramatized as a podcast in 2019; the TV project still needs a home, and he hopes to sell the series to a company like Netflix or Hulu later this year. Markiplier remains a popular YouTube fixture (31 million subscribers), having first cemented his fame by recording himself playing things like Five Nights at Freddy’s, a video game about a haunted pizza place.
#4 | Rhett and Link
What started as the duo hosting a nerdy daily talk show, Good Mythical Morning, has grown into something of an empire with spinoffs and brand extensions, boosting their views and earnings on YouTube. One of their most successful efforts: Mythical Kitchen, a cooking series with a separate host, Josh Scherer. The two-year-old show already has 1.8 million subscribers on YouTube. Another initiative is their Mythical Accelerator fund through which they intend to invest $5 million in other YouTubers. (They made their first deal in 2021, contributing an undisclosed sum to up-and-comer Jarvis Johnson.) And in October, they satisfied a longtime fan request to drop their family-friendly act, hosting a two-hour, decidedly R-rated livestream, an event to which they sold 70,000 tickets for as much as $50 a pop.
#5 | Unspeakable
Unspeakable can’t shut up about Minecraft, the pixelated video game that’s now a childhood staple. Over 20 million people subscribe to his four YouTube channels, where he posts videos of himself playing Minecraft and other games. In other clips, he does things like fill a room with live alligators. Born in Houston as Nathan Graham, he has posted steadily on YouTube for the past decade. Last year, Unspeakable sold off his catalog of YouTube videos to Spotter last year, betting that he can use the lump sum to grow his business more quickly rather than wait for the videos to accrue ad revenue. (Spotter is now one of the largest independent owners of YouTube content, making several deals like the one for Unspeakable’s back catalog in recent years.) In the meantime, the Spotter money was at least enough to help Unspeakable debut here.
#6 | Nastya
Nastya also did a Spotter deal last year, selling the rights to her old YouTube videos to Spotter for cash upfront while retaining the rights to any new videos she puts up. The seven year old, who immigrated from Russia with her parents, has drawn in 87.5 million subscribers to her Like Nastya channel, where she chronicles her life in prosaic installments. (Top hits from 2021: videos about decorating Halloween cupcakes and about spending time with her best friends, Evelyn and Adrian.) Along with the Spotter money, she and her corporate minders have busily added other brand extensions, including a merchandise line and a NFT collection.
#7 | Ryan Kaji
Ryan started on YouTube at the tender age of 4, reviewing and playing with toys. Now 10, his parents and the others guarding his business interests—that includes former Disney executive Chris Williams—are increasingly focused on keeping his brand alive as he ages out of playtime. The answer, they hope, may be the animated characters that costar with Ryan. (They’ve made some progress. One such character, Red Titan, a child superhero with a crimson cape and a passing resemblance to Ryan, has become well known enough to appear as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon for the past two years.) For now, his main YouTube channel, Ryan’s World, maintains 31 million subscribers and an enormous line of branded merchandise and toys sold at big-box retailers like Target and Walmart.
#8 | Dude Perfect
If it seems dangerous to you, it is gold for this sports-comedy fivesome (twins Coby and Cory Cotton, Garrett Hilbert, Cody Jones and Tyler Toney). Their videos are filled with things like someone bench-pressing 405 pounds underwater and walking on a biplane’s wings mid flight. What’s better than watching these stunts online? Seeing them up close and personal: The group will do their third live tour this summer in 24 cities. And for the bravest of heart at home, Dude Perfect last year published 101 Tricks, Tips, and Cool Stuff, a 250-page, photo-filled book complete with step-by-step instructions.
#9 | Logan Paul
Like his brother Jake, Logan comes back to this list after a 2017 scandal pushed both siblings off. And like Jake, Logan has pivoted toward boxing. He had a bout last June against former world champion Floyd Mayweather, which, as an exhibition fight, had no official winner. As Logan continues to rehab his image, he had one of the first celebrity NFT releases with a $5 million sale last February, while his podcast, Impaulsive, has generated over 100 million YouTube views over the past year.
#10 | PrestonArsement
Preston runs several YouTube channels, but the name of his most popular one, PrestonPlayz, says all you really need to know about him: The guy plays a lot of video games, mostly Minecraft. Nearly 12 million people subscribe to that four-year-old channel, which he has done a good job of keeping topical: In one of his most recent videos, he built a playable Minecraft version of the challenges from Squid Game.
— Justin Birnbaum and Brett Knight contributed reporting.
These estimates measure earnings from January 1 to December 31, 2021, a change from our past lists, which looked at pay from June through June of a given year. Figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted. Earnings estimates are based on data from Captiv8, SocialBlade and Pollstar as well as interviews with industry insiders.
By Abram Brown, Forbes Staff
By Abigail Freeman, Forbes Staff