Atkinson, 43, earned most of his millions from starring in and producing Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie, which grossed pounds 136m, 7.5 per cent of which went to him. The television series Mr Bean was shown in 94 countries. The only setback for Atkinson last year came when he lost his contract for the Barclaycard advertisements - he is believed to have been paid pounds 1m for seven years' work.
Last year Atkinson earned more than Lord Attenborough and Sir Alec Guinness, who came second and third in the Sunday Times list of the nation's highest paid actors published yesterday, earning pounds 9.6m and 4.5m respectively.
Established actors may soon be overtaken in the earning stakes by a new generation of up-and-coming stars. Kate Winslet, 22, who is tipped for an Oscar for her role in Titanic, earned pounds 1.8m last year, as did Robert Carlyle, 36, the Glasgow-born star of The Full Monty. Rupert Everett, who appeared in My Best Friend's Wedding, earned pounds 1.25m.
The list of estimated incomes, compiled by Philip Beresford, author of the Sunday Times rich list, and Kevin Cahill, a business researcher, on the basis of actors' standard fees, percentage of film takings and records at Companies House, highlighted the thriving status of the British film industry. British actors had starring roles in 12 of the world's top 20 money- spinning films made last year.
Sir Anthony Hopkins came fourth in the list with earnings of pounds 3.75m last year, followed by John Cleese with pounds 2.8m and John Hurt with pounds 2.18m. Both Joanna Lumley, star of Absolutely Fabulous, and Liz Hurley earned about pounds 1.5m.
However, none of the British actors on the list can compete with the fees demanded by Americans such as Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner and Brad Pitt - about pounds 12.5m per film.
- Clare GarnerReuse content