The Top 50 Best Actors Of The Century Ranked From The Bottom To The TopBy Anglina Roberts
Roll out the red carpet because we’re ready to name the top 50 critically acclaimed best actors of the century. That’s right—we’re calling out names, and we aren’t holding back our punches. Take out your shades because it’s going to be a star-studded show. We went down the list to give you the best actors ranked from 50 all the way to number 1.
These gentlemen are part of an elite crowd who made movies that are (or certainly should be) household names. They’re so famous most of them couldn’t step out of their homes without being recognized. What does it take to be ranked amongst the best of the best?
50. Edward Norton
Coming in at 50th place, but certainly not least, is Edward Norton. Perhaps one of the greatest actors of his generation, he has starred in countless memorable movies of his era. His works are not new to critics as they have been known to salivate over his acting chops.
Early in his career, he starred in Primal Fear and American History X. These two even earned him a Golden Globe and the latter an Academy Award nomination. Twenty years later, he is still going strong. You can catch many of his movies on the streaming service Netflix.
49. Kirk Douglas
This one is an oldie but a goodie. Kirk Douglas is best known for his performance in Spartacus. He received a lot of accolades over the years for his highest-grossing movies which earned him millions upon millions and international fame.
Kirk Douglas has worked with a number of well-known filmmakers, including Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma, and Billy Wilder. The veteran actor is most known for his works like Paths of Glory and The Vikings.
48. Edward Allen Harris
Edward Allen Harris is an actor, producer, director, and screenwriter from the United States. He received critical praise and Academy Award nominations for his roles in Apollo 13, The Truman Show, Pollock, and The Hours.
He has been praised by his colleagues in the industry for his fine work as an actor. Harris worked steadily on television from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s.
47. Alec Guinness
You might know him for his work in The Bridge On The River Kwai, an adaptation of Pierre Bouelle’s novel about POWs in Burma who were forced to build a bridge to aid their Japanese captors’ war effort, but he’s more famous for his role in George Lucas’ Star Wars.
Alec Guinness’ highest-grossing films have won numerous awards and grossed millions upon millions of dollars around the world. He has been in a lot of films and many still debate which one is the best—but why choose when you can enjoy them all?
46. John Wayne
Although John Wayne is most known for his portrayals of cowboys, he began his career as a football player in films such as Brown of Harvard and The Drop Kick. He was nicknamed “Duke” by colleagues and those close to him.
This American actor and filmmaker rose to fame as a result of his prominent performances in films from Hollywood’s Western and War movie Golden Age. He was posthumously given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.
45. Steve McQueen
This actor has the distinction of being named “The King of Cool” back in his day. If you have not heard about him yet, then you might still recognize him. McQueen was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in The Sand Pebbles.
This cool king has ice in his veins and comes from a generation of stars still unmatched to this day. McQueen became the highest-paid movie actor in the world in 1974, despite the fact that he did not act in another picture for almost four years after.
44. Jack Nicholson
He wasn’t always known as the legendary Jack Nicholson—he was once known as John Joseph Nicholson, born April 22, 1937. This actor has a diverse range of acting skills, ranging from satirical comedy and romance to darkly comic anti-heroes and villains.
Everyone knows him from his starring role in The Shining as Jack Torrance, the winter caretaker at the haunted Overlook Hotel. So far, he is the most nominated male actor in Academy Award history, with twelve nominations under his belt.
43. Willem Dafoe
The 43rd spot goes to William James “Willem” Dafoe who has received several accolades and nominations, including four Academy Award nominations. Dafoe is a founding member of The Wooster Group, an experimental theater company. It was there where he took various performances and proved his versatility as an actor.
Kids these days might know him for reprising his role as the Green Goblin in the latest Spiderman movie, No Way Home. Dafoe has also played a number of real-life people, including T. S. Eliot in Tom & Viv, Pier Paolo Pasolini in Pasolini, Vincent van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate (for which he received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Dramatic Film), and Leonhard Seppala in Togo.
42. Donald Sutherland
On the 42nd spot is Donald Sutherland, a Canadian actor who has almost 100 film credits to his name. His portrayal as President Snow in The Hunger Games movies continues to bring him new fans. He’s been at work long before this role, however.
He has a cinematic career of 55-years. He’s been nominated for eight Golden Globe Awards, winning two for his roles in the television films Citizen X and Path to War, the latter earning him a Primetime Emmy Award. He has been inducted into the Hollywood and Canadian Walks of Fames for a good reason.
41. Heath Ledger
Climbing up to 41 in our list is the legendary actor Heath Ledger. He was an Australian actor and, unbeknownst to many, a talented music video director. The actor left for the United States in 1998 to further his career, which proved to be a good decision in the end.
He was a 90’s heartthrob in 10 Things I Hate About You, but he was not afraid to take on controversial roles such as Brokeback Mountain. The world was shocked on January 22, 2008, when Ledger died as a result of an overdose.
40. Robert De Niro
This Italian-American actor, producer, and director got better over time, just like a fine wine. Who can forget De Niro’s iconic role as young Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s crime epic The Godfather Part II, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
He has been nominated for six BAFTA Awards, four Primetime Emmy Awards, and four Screen Actors Guild Awards. He won two Academy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, the Cecil B DeMille Award, the AFI Life Achievement Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He definitely deserves to be in the top 40.
39. Liam Neeson
We think this sexy star easily deserves his place on our list. Empire magazine named him one of the “100 Sexiest Stars in Film History” and “The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time.” Neeson got his start in 1976 when Neeson joined the Lyric Players’ Theater in Belfast.
Liam Neeson has proven his acting chops time after time with multiple awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actor, a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and three Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama.
38. Joaquin Phoenix
The 38th spot goes to Joaquin Phoenix and rightfully so. He is an actor, producer, and activist. Over the course of his career Phoenix picked up a Grammy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and three Academy Award nominations for his acting skills. During his time as a child actor he called himself “Leaf Phoenix.”
For his parts in the romantic drama Her and the crime satire Inherent Vice, he snagged Golden Globe nominations, and for his portrayal in the psychological thriller You Were Never Really Here, he won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor in 2017. For his depiction of the title character in Joker, Phoenix received an Academy Award, a British Academy Film Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a second Golden Globe Award (2019).
37. Russell Crowe
“Are you not entertained?” Is this what comes to mind when you hear the name Russel Crowe? This is a line from his memorable role as the Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius in the epic historical film Gladiator, for which he won an Academy Award, Broadcast Film Critics Association Award, Empire Award, and London Film Critics Circle Award for Best Leading Actor, along with ten other nominations of prestige.
Other award-winning portrayals by Crowe include Jeffrey Wigand, a tobacco company whistleblower, in the drama film The Insider and John F. Nash in the biopic A Beautiful Mind. He also proved quite the virtuoso in Les Miserables in 2012.
36. Jeff Bridges
This critically acclaimed actor is respected by his colleagues—just ask the respectable critic Pauline Kael who wrote that Bridges “may be the most natural and least self-conscious screen actor that has ever lived.” Don’t take her word for it—check out his films for yourself if you haven’t already.
Talent must be in his genes as he comes from a family of actors. He appeared on the television series Sea Hunt alongside his father and brother. For his role as an alcoholic singer in the 2009 film Crazy Heart, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor.
35. Clark Gable
No one deserves the title “The King of Hollywood” more than this actor: Clark Gable. Gable has a golden touch and was one of the most dependable box-office performers in history. He featured sixteen times in Quigley Publishing’s “Top Ten Money-Making Stars” annual Poll.
The American Film Institute voted him the seventh-greatest male movie star of classic American film history. He starred alongside some of the most well-known actresses of the time. Joan Crawford was one of his favorite actresses to work with—they collaborated on eight films together.
34. Al Pacino
“Say hello to my little friend.” Alfredo James Pacino, “Dunkaccino,” or Al Pacino as he is better known, is a method actor who uses a set of training and practiced approaches developed by a variety of theater practitioners with the goal of cultivating authentic and expressive performances.
He has garnered multiple awards throughout his five-decade career, including an Academy Award, two Tony Awards, and two Primetime Emmy Awards, making him one of the few actors to win the Triple Crown of Acting. The AFI Life Achievement Award, the Cecil B. DeMille Award, and the National Medal of Arts have all been bestowed upon him.
33. Jack Lemmon
Jack Lemmon was called “the most successful tragi-comedian of his age.” Lemmon was noted for his uneasy, middle-class everyman image in dramedy films. He led in The Guardian and was equally adept in both the tragic and humorous aspects of his performances.
He also appeared on Broadway, where he received Tony Award nominations for Tribute and the 1986 production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. He appeared in almost sixty films and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning two of them, as well as receiving numerous other honors, including six Golden Globe Awards, three BAFTA Awards, and two Emmy Awards.
32. Alan Rickman
Alan Rickman will always be on our list of Top Actors. Who can forget his memorable role as Snape in the Harry Potter movies? He received his training at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and went on to join the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he performed in both modern and traditional theater performances.
Alan Rickman was able to play the titular character in Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny, for which he received a Golden Globe, an Emmy, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. He also starred as Alfred Blalock in Something the Lord Made in 1997.
31. Christian Bale
You might know him from his iconic role as Batman, but he is more than the cape crusader. Christian Charles Philip Bale has won numerous prizes, including an Academy Award and two Golden Globes, and was named on Time magazine’s 2011 list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
After more than a decade of acting in leading and supporting roles, he garnered broader fame for his depictions of serial murderer Patrick Bateman in the black comedy American Psycho and as the titular character in the psychological thriller The Machinist.
30. Brad Pitt
Who better to take the 30th spot than the adonis Brad Pitt, real name: William Bradley Pitt. He has won numerous accolades and nominations, including an Academy Award for his work as a producer for his own production business, Plan B entertainment.
The guy was a heartthrob in the ’90s but he is more than a pretty face. He received critical praise for his roles in the crime thriller Seven and the science fiction feature 12 Monkeys, the latter earning him a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination.
29. Robert Downey Jr.
When you say “Iron-Man” you’ll probably be thinking of the 29th actor on our list, Robert Downey Jr. We all love a good underdog, and boy does RDJ embody this type of character. After trouble with the feds when he was younger and the struggles all throughout his life, Downy Jr. was able to climb back to the top.
He was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2008, and Forbes declared him Hollywood’s highest-paid actor from 2013 to 2015. Talk about a journey from zero to hero—we foresee nothing but good things for him in the future.
28. Ian McKellen
When you are looking for a diverse actor, sir Ian Murray McKellen comes into mind. This actor’s work has spanned a variety of genres, including Shakespearean and contemporary theater, as well as popular fantasy and science fiction.
He is one of the most respected actors in the industry. According to the BBC, “His performances have ensured him a place in the canon of English theater and screen actors.” McKellen is a British cultural icon, having won every major theatrical prize in the country.
27. Sidney Poitier
Sidney was the first African American and Bahamian to win an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1964. He has won two Golden Globe Awards, a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), and a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album, all of which were highly competitive entries.
Porgy and Bess, A Raisin in the Sun, and A Patch of Blue all earned Poitier critical acclaim. He broke new ground with three successful 1967 pictures dealing with race and race relations: To Sir, With Love; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; and In the Heat of the Night, the latter of which received the Academy Award for Best Picture that year.
26. Christopher Walken
Born Ronald Walken, Christopher Walken has appeared in more than 100 films and television programs and is a common household name. This actor is classically trained and has played the lead part in Shakespeare plays Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Coriolanus.
Walken is so popular that he has a long-established cult following among film fans. He is described as “diverse and eccentric” and even “one of the most respected actors of his generation.” He also made Empire Magazine’s Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time.
25. Tommy Lee Jones
If you were waiting to see Tommy Lee Jones on this list, we’re glad to inform you that he takes a spot at 25. The famous actor was nominated for four Academy Awards and won Best Supporting Actor for his role as U.S. President. Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive, a thriller from 1993.
He has starred in a slew of blockbusters and highly acclaimed films since the 1970s, winning his first Golden Globe nomination in 1980. His highest-grossing films have also been well-received by moviegoers everywhere, with a total box office gross of more than $2.5 billion.
24. Samuel L. Jackson
Samuel Leroy Jackson is an American actor and film producer. He is one of the most well-known performers of his generation. His films have made over $27 billion globally, making him the highest-grossing actor of all time.
Jackson became popular for his role as the Jedi Master Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and has since become popularly known for his portrayal of Agent Fury in the Marvel cinematic universe. Besides these titles, Jackson has appeared in over 150 films.
23. Henry Fonda
Henry Jaynes Fonda was an American film and stage actor that graced the limelight for five decades. He was originally a Broadway actor. His career took off after his performance as Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.ADVERTISEMENT
Henry later proved his versatility as an actor when later in his career he moved into darker roles such as the villain in the epic Once Upon a Time in the West, a box office disappointment at its time of release, but now regarded as one of the best Westerns of all time.
22. Sean Connery
The 22nd spot is reserved for the spy that stole our hearts. Sir Thomas Sean Connery was a Scottish actor and producer who won an Academy Award, two BAFTA Awards, one of which was a BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award, and three Golden Globe Awards, including the Cecil B. DeMille Award.
Sean Connery is most known for playing James Bond, although he’s also been in action films, comic book films, war films, and a number of thought-provoking films. Sean Connery’s highest-grossing films brought him several awards and have grossed millions upon millions of dollars across the world.
21. Harrison Ford
No one can ever play Han Solo quite as well as Harrison Ford, and if you think otherwise, then we don’t want to know about it. He is also known for his portrayal of the titular adventurer, tomb raiding professor in the Indiana Jones movie series. Don’t get us started with his role as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner.
Other films in which Ford has played heroic roles include Witness, for which he got his Academy Award nomination. Besides being a fabulous actor he is also a committed environmentalist, having served as Conservation International’s Vice-Chair since 1991.
20. Robin Williams
Kicking off our top 20 is the loveable and much-missed Robin Williams. He is most known for his improvisational skills which always kept his co-stars on their feet during his performances. In the mid-1970s, Williams began performing stand-up comedy in San Francisco and Los Angeles and rose to fame as the alien Mork in the ABC sitcom Mork & Mindy.
After his first starring film role in Popeye, he went on to star in several critically and commercially successful films, including The World According to Garp, Moscow on the Hudson, Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society.
19. Humphrey Bogart
Humphrey Bogart, also known as Bogie to his colleagues, was a cultural icon in the United States thanks to his performances in classic Hollywood films. Bogart was named the best male star of traditional American film by the American Film Institute in 1999.
His most notable romantic lead performance was in Casablanca, alongside Ingrid Bergman, for which he received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Before Titanic, The Notebook, and other romantic genres, Bogie was the man everyone thought of when they heard the word “romance movie.”
18. Cary Grant
If you do not know about Cary Grant yet, then you’re missing out. Carry Grant began his acting career in Hollywood in the early 1930s. He was recognized for his transatlantic accent, debonair manner, light-hearted approach to acting, and sense of humor.
Grant was hailed by critics as a great romantic leading man at the end of his career. He received five Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor, including Indiscreet with Ingrid Bergman, That Touch of Mink with Doris Day, and Charade with Audrey Hepburn.
17. James Stewart
When you think about the “man’s man” James Stewart should come to mind. He embodied the “American ideal” in the twentieth century with the strong morals he displayed on and off the screen. He came third place in the American Film Institute’s list of the finest American male performers in 1999.
James Stewart was one of the most well-known movie stars of the 1950s, with the majority of his films becoming box office hits. Stewart stayed single into his forties, earning the moniker “The Great American Bachelor” from the tabloids.
16. Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman is an incredibly versatile actor whose commitment to the craft has earned him unwavering respect in his field. He won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and three British Academy Film Awards among other honors.
He is one of the highest-grossing actors of all time, with over $11 billion in worldwide box office receipts. Oldman has a knack for portraying villains; the corrupt DEA agent Norman Stansfield in Léon: The Professional was hailed as one of cinema’s finest villains.
15. Charlie Chaplin
The silent film era would never have been the same without Charlie Chaplin. His real name was Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr. From his younger years in the Victorian era until a year before his death in 1977, his career lasted more than 75 years and was marked by both adoration and controversy.
Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, acted in, and created the music for his own productions. He was a perfectionist, and his wealth allowed him to devote years to the creation and production of a single film. His films are known for combining humor with melancholy, as seen in the film The Tramp, with the titular character’s many battles against hardship.
14. Michael Caine
Caine took small television and film parts during the 1950s and early 1960s. His early roles included classics like Alfie,The Ipcress File, and Zulu. He worked in a range of genres from the 1970s forward, including action, drama, comedy, and everything in between.
Caine is one of only four male performers to be nominated for an Academy Award for acting in five distinct decades, alongside Laurence Olivier, Paul Newman, and Jack Nicholson. Caine has been in seven films that have been listed among the top 100 British films of the twentieth century by the British Film Institute.
13. Gregory Peck
From the 1940s until the 1960s, Gregory Peck was one of the most popular movie actors in the United States. Peck was nominated for five Academy Awards for Best Actor, winning one for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in the 1962 drama To Kill a Mockingbird.
Peck was also a political figure. He challenged the “House Un-American Activities Committee” in 1947 and was considered a political foe by President Richard Nixon. In 1969, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Peck the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his humanitarian endeavors.
12. Leonardo DiCaprio
You know this list wouldn’t be complete if Leo wasn’t in it. An Academy Award and three Golden Globe Awards list among his artistic accolades. Our hearts will “always go on” when thinking about this actor and his film roles.
Leo finally won an Academy Award and a BAFTA for Best Actor in a Leading Role for the survival thriller The Revenant and the comedy-drama Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, both of which were critical and commercial successes.
11. Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood is arguably a regular at award shows. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor but won Best Director and Best Picture for his revisionist Western classic Unforgiven in 1992 and his sports drama Million Dollar Baby in 1993.
Four Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, three César Awards, and an AFI Life Achievement Award are among Eastwood’s many honors. He was honored with the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 for his lifetime achievements.
10. Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington is unlike any other actor. Rather than embracing the glitz and drama of stardom, he embodies a more humble persona than many others in Hollywood. He has been credited with redefining “classic cinema fame” by associating with characters who are characterized by their elegance, dignity, humanity, and inner power.
Despite being one of the most humble actors in Hollywood, he’s managed to pick up two Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Tony Award. He was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.
9. Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis has earned his spot on this list as many consider him to be one of the finest and most well-known performers of his age, as well as one of the greatest actors of all time. He wowed audiences in There Will Be Blood, My Left Foot, The Gangs of New York, and many other films.
He’s won multiple awards, including three Academy Awards for Best Actor, making him the first and only actor to win three in that category, as well as being the third male actor to win three competitive acting Academy Awards.
8. Robert Duvall
Robert Duvall is no stranger to awards. He has received a BAFTA, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and an Emmy Award and has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning four for his role in Tender Mercies. He has also been nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards—winning four overall.
In recognition of his great performances, he received the National Medal of Arts in 2005. Duvall has starred in numerous films and television series, including To Kill a Mockingbird. If you haven’t seen his work before now, check him out—you won’t regret it.
7. Marlon Brando
With a career spanning 60 years, Marlon Brando is well-known for his cultural impact on twentieth-century cinema. Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront and Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather are two of Brando’s Academy Award-winning performances.
The American Film Institute ranked Brando as the fourth-best male movie star to make their screen debut in or before 1950. He was one of only six actors chosen in Time magazine’s 100 Most Important People of the Century list in 1999.
6. Paul Newman
Paul Leonard Newman was not just a typical Hollywood actor—he was also a film director, producer, racing car driver, IndyCar owner, businessman, and philanthropist from the United States among many other things. Among all of these great ventures, acting was what he did best.
He won and was nominated for multiple honors, including an Academy Award for his portrayal in the 1986 film Color of Money, as well as a BAFTA Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Cannes Film Festival Award, an Emmy Award, and a BAFTA Award.
5. Gene Hackman
Gene Hackman is a veteran actor, now retired. He was nominated for five Academy Awards over his six-decade career, winning Best Actor in The French Connection and Best Supporting Actor in Unforgiven. He received four Golden Globe nominations, one SAG Award nomination, and two BAFTA nominations.
Hackman was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Actor for his portrayal of Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle in the highly acclaimed thriller The French Connection and Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of “Little” Bill Daggett in Clint Eastwood’s Western Unforgiven.
4. Morgan Freeman
No one can mistake his voice for any other actor in the world. Morgan Freeman is an American actor, film director, and film narrator among many other things. He has a very distinct tone of voice that makes audiences the world over hang onto his every word.
Freeman has got the Oscar nods for his roles in Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption, and Invictus. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby. He’s also been nominated for a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
3. Dustin Hoffman
Dustin Hoffman is noted for playing antiheroes and emotionally turbulent characters in a variety of roles. His colleagues have much love and respect for him: “[He is] an actor with the everyman’s face who personified the heartbreakingly human,” said fellow actor Robert De Niro.
His first Academy Award nomination came for his performance as Benjamin Braddock in Mike Nichols’ highly acclaimed The Graduate. His performance as “Ratso” Rizzo in John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy earned him an Academy Award nomination.
2. Anthony Hopkins
Anthony Hopkins was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Actor and won it in 1992. Hopkins has won three BAFTAs, two Emmys, and the Cecil B. DeMille Award among other accolades. In 1993, Queen Elizabeth II knighted him for his contributions to the arts.
Anthony Hopkins is most known for his chilling portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, for which he received an Academy Award for Best Actor. His performance proves that you do not need a long screen time in a film to steal the show.
1. Tom Hanks
Taking the number one spot out of all the acclaimed actors mentioned above is— Tom Hanks! Did you guess right? Hanks is considered an American cultural icon and is one of the most well-known and recognizable actors in the world.
He received two Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his roles as a homosexual lawyer with AIDS in Philadelphia. Who can forget his performance as the titular character in Forrest Gump? He deserves the top spot because whatever he touches turns to gold.