The 40 Greatest Actors of All Time—Ranked

We all know what it’s like to be entranced by a brilliant movie and lose ourselves totally in the magic. Whether we are at a movie theatre or curled up on the couch, a perfect film can move our emotions and change our outlook on life completely.

It takes a real talent for an actor to amaze audiences and gain their belief and emotional investment in the roles—there is a reason that acting is called “the craft.”

We’ve put together the definitive list of the best actors of all time, truly talented in their craft, and have blessed the world with their talent and art.

40. Christian Bale

First up on our list, we have Christian Bale, known to audiences across the world for his iconic roles in movies such as BatmanAmerican Psycho, and Memento.

Known for his incredible physical transformations for his roles, Bale spares no expense immersing himself in his characters and understanding the psyche behind even the most extreme personalities he is playing.

And that hard work and talent has certainly paid off—Bale received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Fighter.

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39. Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy began his career on the seminal Saturday Night Live, one of the most recognizable and famous comedians of his generation before branching into a popular movie host.

With roles in films such as The Nutty Professor and Trading Places, he became a household name for comedy, but he has also proved himself to be a serious character actor. In 2006 he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as singer James “Thunder” Early in the inspirational smash hit Dreamgirls.

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38. Javier Bardem

Though Javier Bardem is known as somewhat of a heartthrob in Hollywood, the truth is he’s had some pretty meaty roles outside of the traditional romantic lead.

An established character actor both in his native Spain and throughout the world, Bardem made history when he was the first Spanish actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, thanks to his stunning turn as the terrifying serial killer Anton Chigurh in the Coen brothers’ 2007 classic No Country for Old Men.

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37. Sean Penn

One of the most prolific and well-respected actors of his generation, Sean Penn, has been charming audiences across America and the world for many years now. In a career spanning over 35 years, Penn has starred in over 50 movies and directed four others!

A talented and versatile character actor, Penn has won two Academy Awards throughout his career, both for the Best Actor category—once in 2003 for Mystic River, and another time in 2008 in the classic biopic Milk.

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36. Benicio del Toro

Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro burst onto the Hollywood scene in 1995 with his breakout role in The Usual Suspects, which earned him an Independent Spirit Award and firmly on the showbiz map.

Since then, he has appeared in smash hit movies such as 21 GramsFear, and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Snatch.

He also starred in the 2000 film Traffic, for which he won the Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Golden Globe Award, and Screen Actors Guild Award! Wow!

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35. Daniel Kaluuya

Next up on our list, we have Daniel Kaluuya, the British actor best known for his starring turn in the comedy horror Get Out.

Kaluuya won the BAFTA Rising Star Award for his performance and received nominations for the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, and BAFTA Award for Best Actor.

Kaluuya continued his winning streak with roles in the modern classic Black Panther and heist movie Widows.

As if that’s not enough, he also has his own production company! Kaluuya launched 59% Productions in 2019.

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34. Gary Oldman

Gary Oldman is what might be referred to as a silent treasure. He doesn’t have the same amount of celebrity status as other Hollywood actors—you rarely see him popping up in the tabloids—but this understated star certainly has the acting chops to rival even the most prominent Hollywood heavyweights.

Though he finally gained international recognition thanks to his role as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter movie franchise, he worked his way up slowly with critically acclaimed films such as True Romance and Darkest Hour. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

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33. Forest Whitaker

Next up on our list, we have Forest Whitaker, one of the most acclaimed and renowned character actors of his generation.

Having appeared in movies such as Fast Times at Ridgemont HighThe Crying Game, and The Great Debaters, Whitaker has also added a few significant blockbusters to his resumes like Black Panther and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Whitaker’s seminal performance was as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. He won an Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Golden Globe Award, National Board of Review Award, and Screen Actors Guild Award. Phew!

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32. Robert Duvall

Next up on our list, we have Robert Duvall, another Hollywood heavyweight with decades of showbiz experience and classic performances under his belt.

From his role as Tom Hagan in The Godfather movies to his Oscar-winning turn as Mac Sledge in 1983’s Tender Mercies, Duvall has cemented his place as a true showbiz giant.

Throughout his glittering career spanning across six decades, Duvall has received a whopping seven Academy Award nominations and also seven Golden Globe nominations, winning four.

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31. Robin Williams

Next up, we have legendary funnyman and worldwide inspiration Robin Williams. Bursting onto our screens as lovable alien Mork in Happy Days and later his series Mork and Mindy, Williams went on to carve a reputation as one of the greatest comedians AND serious character actors of his generations.

With roles as diverse from the hilarious Genie in Aladdin and cross-dressing nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire to tear-jerking performances in Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting, Williams remains one of the greatest actors of all time, even six years after his death.

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30. Tom Hanks

We couldn’t possibly have a list of the world’s greatest actors without including the inimitable Tom Hanks. As well as carving a reputation for being the nicest man in the world, Hanks also has gained critical acclaim for his performances in several history-making roles throughout his career.

From his first Academy Award-winning roles in movies such as Forrest Gump and Philadelphia, Hanks continues to deliver in every film he stars in, such as more recent offerings like Sully—not to mention his work as the voice of Woody in the much-loved Toy Story franchise.

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29. Philip Seymour Hoffman

The late great Philip Seymour Hoffman left behind a much-loved legacy of movie greatness when he passed away in 2014.

Having gained recognition and international critical acclaim for his variety of supporting and character roles, Hoffman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Capote. He also won a Golden Globe and British Academy Film Award for this performance.

In his obituary, the New York Times called him “perhaps the most ambitious and widely admired American actor of his generation.”

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28. Mahershala Ali

Next up, we have Mahershala Ali, who began his career as a rapper before transitioning into the world of acting.

Ali made history when he became the first Black actor to win two Academy Awards in the same category, winning the Best Supporting Actor accolade for his movies Moonlight and Green Book.

He has also won three Screen Actors Guild Awards, a BAFTA award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Primetime Emmy Award.

In 2019, he was named one of the 100 most influential people by Time magazine.

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27. Denzel Washington

Next up, we have esteemed actor Denzel Washington, whose career has been marked with exceptionally varied and challenging character roles.

Washington’s skill as an actor is so incredible that he can completely transform himself into his different roles, captivating the audience every time.

Having appeared in action movies, comedies, and sober pieces, it’s no surprise that Washington is one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, having won two Academy Awards for his roles in Training Day and Glory.

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26. Robert De Niro

Next on our list, we have renowned and legendary actor Robert De Niro, who is often named the biggest inspiration behind some of today’s movie stars.

With genre-defining roles such as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, and the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, De Niro has come to embody serious character acting, often undergoing major physical transformations for his roles.

Throughout his career, De Niro has won two Academy Awards and been nominated for six more.

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25. Joaquin Phoenix

Regarded as one of his generation’s best actors, Joaquin Phoenix is known for his devoted method acting. For example, he once pretended to be having a meltdown for 18 months, which was revealed as an act for the mockumentary comedy-drama, I’m Still Here, directed by Casey Affleck.

Over the years, he received complete attention for his roles in Gladiator, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Walk the Line and The Master for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, and most notably Joker, for which he won an Oscar for Best Actor.

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24. Fred Astaire

Any list of the greatest actors of all time could not possibly neglect to include the legendary Fred Astaire. In the early years of Hollywood glory, the all-singing, all-dancing Fred Astaire made history as he completely transformed the musical movie genre alongside his equally legendary partner Ginger Rogers.

Throughout his 35-year career, Astaire starred in a whopping 31 musicals, including classic movies Top HatSwing Time, and Shall We Dance, which remains much-loved national treasures to this day.

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23. Edward Norton

Next up on our list, we have Edward Norton, who made his name with a starring turn in 1996’s Primal Fear, for which he won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and was nominated for an Academy Award.

He was nominated for an Oscar once again for his stunning turn in American History X and gained a worldwide cult following his role in the modern classic Fight Club.

In 2015, Variety called him “one of the top actors of his generation.”

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22. Morgan Freeman

Next up, we have one of the most beloved and recognizable faces—and voices—in Hollywood today. Of course, that voice belongs to the inimitable Morgan Freeman, who has built a super successful career stretching across movies, TV, and the stage.

Freeman has appeared in iconic movies such as The Shawshank RedemptionMillion Dollar Baby, and Seven.

He has been nominated a whopping five times for an Academy Award AND a Golden Globe Award, winning one of each for Million Dollar Baby and Driving Miss Daisy, respectively.

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21. Clark Gable

Swoonsome heartthrob and showbiz tough guy Clark Gable was known as “The King of Hollywood” back in his heyday in the golden age, and it’s not hard to see why.

With iconic roles in classic movies such as Gone with the WindMutiny on the Bounty, and It Happened One Night, Gable’s name became synonymous with charismatic Hollywood leading roles and the associated glamor.

Throughout his glittering career, Gable was nominated three times for an Academy Award for Best Actor.

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20. James Dean

Despite only appearing in three major movies throughout his short career, James Dean remains the quintessential Hollywood bad boy, immortalized forever as the young and handsome wild child.

With roles in classic movies such as GiantEast of Eden, and Rebel Without a Cause, Dean earned two Oscar nominations throughout his brief yet stellar movie career.

Thanks to his raw emotional depth and brooding good looks, Dean remains one of the most iconic and much-loved figures of Hollywood history even today.

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19. Brad Pitt

Next up on our list, we have everyone’s favorite Hollywood leading man and schoolgirl crush, Brad Pitt. From when he first burst on to our screens as the lovable good-for-nothing in the classic Thelma and Louise to his Oscar-winning turn in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt brings his characteristic charm charisma to every role he turns his hand.

Despite his classic good looks, Pitt often has less conventional movie roles, such as Fight Club and Snatch.

Pitt has been nominated for an impressive four Academy Awards for acting, winning one.

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18. Samuel L. Jackson

Legendary actor and certified cool guy Samuel L. Jackson have come to define what it means to keep your calm under pressure.

Known for his sharp-witted characters in fast-paced action movies, Jackson embodies class and status no matter what wild adventures are going on around his characters.

With starring roles in movies such as Pulp FictionDjango Unchained, and The Hateful Eight, Jackson has well and truly made his mark as one of Hollywood’s greatest heavyweights—and with a total of $27 billion at the box office, he’s the highest-grossing actor of all time.

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17. Richard Burton

Next up on our list, we have Richard Burton. He cemented his place in Hollywood history with his glittering film career and highly publicized personal and romantic life—marrying fellow movie megastar Elizabeth Taylor not just once, but twice!

Burton made a name for himself playing intellectual and refined leading men with dark secrets, appearing in classic films such as Cleopatra and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Throughout his career, Burton was nominated for a whopping seven Academy Awards.

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16. Orson Welles

One of the most talented and successful Hollywood legends of all time, Orson Welles made history when he wrote, produced, directed, AND starred in the 1941 classic Citizen Kane.

Citizen Kane received a stonking nine Academy Award nominations, winning one, and is regarded by many as the most excellent movie of all time.

In recognition of his stellar and genre-defining career, Welles received an Academy Honorary Award, the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award, and the Directors Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award.

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15. Al Pacino

Next up on our list is a true Hollywood legend in every sense of the word. Almost every movie that Al Pacino has starred in has been an enduring, acclaimed, and internationally beloved classic.

From his iconic role as Michael Corleone in The Godfather film series to Tony Montana in Scarface, Pacino has made history with his genre-defining and much-loved movie performances.

Pacino has been nominated for an impressive nine Academy Award nominations, winning one, and 18 Golden Globe nominations, winning four.

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14. Cary Grant

Another giant of showbiz from Hollywood’s golden age, next on our list, has the legendary Cary Grant. Grant became known for his string of Hollywood leading roles in classic movies such as The Awful TruthBringing Up BabyHis Girl Friday, and The Philadelphia Story.

A native Brit who moved across the pond at the age of 16, Grant also came to epitomize the idea of class and refinement, exhibiting a British-American hybrid accent that was regarded as the height of sophistication at the time.

Throughout his career, Grant was nominated for two Academy Awards and five Golden Globes, eventually winning an honorary Oscar in 1970.

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13. Dustin Hoffman

From when he burst onto the movie scene as disillusioned young drifter Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman has cemented his place as one of his generation’s greatest actors.

As versatile as he is talented, Hoffman has played everything from a cross-dressing dancer in Tootsie to an autistic savant in the 1988 classic Rain Man.

Hoffman has been nominated for a stonking seven Academy Awards, winning twice for Rain Man and once for Kramer vs. Kramer.

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12. Gregory Peck

Next on our list, we have Gregory Peck, another esteemed member of Hollywood’s much-loved and now-legendary golden age. Peck’s most notable role was probably as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, for which he received worldwide critical acclaim and won both the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actor.

Peck was nominated for a whopping five Oscars and EIGHT Golden Globe Awards—winning five of the latter throughout his career. He was also honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1969.

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11. Paul Newman

Though many people today might know him as the face of a broad range of salad dressings, Paul Newman made his name one of Hollywood’s greatest actors.

With genre-defining roles in movies such as Cool Hand Luke and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Newman quickly became one of the hottest names in showbiz thanks to his super-sharp delivery and heartthrob good looks.

Newman has been nominated for an Academy Award for acting a whopping nine times, receiving one Best Actor Award for The Color of Money, and the Academy Honorary Award and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

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10. Leonardo DiCaprio

We couldn’t have a list of the greatest actors of all time without mentioning Hollywood’s long-term golden boy Leonardo DiCaprio.

From his fresh-faced performances in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and This Boy’s Life to his emergence as a heartthrob in movies such as Titanic and Romeo and Juliet, DiCaprio has carved out a career as one of the most well-respected character actors of all time.

Nominated for six Academy Awards, the honor famously evaded DiCaprio for over 20 years, before finally scooping the Best Actor gong for his role in 2015’s The Revenant.

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9. Anthony Hopkins

Anthony Hopkins is undoubtedly one of the most successful and popular actors in history. As well as being mega-talented, he is also incredibly versatile—playing roles as varied as the murderous Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, and his turn as loving and committed butler in The Remains of the Day.

Described by director Richard Attenborough as “the greatest actor of his generation,” Hopkins has been nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one, and nominated for seven Golden Globes, later being honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2006.

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8. James Stewart

Next, up on our list, we have the legendary and much-loved Hollywood leading man James Stewart. Affectionally known as “Jimmy” by his friends and admirers, Stewart was a crucial player in the iconic movies of Hollywood’s golden age, starring in films such as Mr. Smith Goes to WashingtonThe Philadelphia Story, and It’s a Wonderful Life.

It was a wonderful life for this Hollywood legend, nominated for five Academy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards, winning one of each.

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7. Jack Nicholson

There’s no denying that Jack Nicholson has taken on some of the most memorable and sometimes downright crazy and terrifying film roles in movie history.

From his horrific “Heeeere’s Jonny!” in the classic horror movie The Shining to his irreverent sharp-toothed criminal in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nicholson has mastered the act of portraying wild and dark characters while still retaining a degree of humanity.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time, Nicholson has been nominated for an astonishing 12 Academy Awards—the highest number of nominations in history—winning three.

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6. Laurence Olivier

Next up on our list, Laurence Olivier is widely regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time on both screen and stage. After all, who else in Hollywood has a prestigious acting award named after him?!

Olivier was nominated for a whopping 13 Academy Awards for acting—winning four!

In 1976, the Society of London Theatre renamed the prestigious Society of West End Theatre Awards to the Laurence Olivier Awards, in recognition of his incredible contribution to acting.

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5. Daniel Day-Lewis

Famously eccentric and unconventional actor Daniel Day-Lewis is well known for his unusual approach to acting techniques. A fan of the method acting approach, Day-Lewis immerses himself entirely in his roles, sometimes doing months or even years of research into his characters, such as legendary president Abraham Lincoln in 2012’s Lincoln.

Though rumored to be somewhat of a difficult person to work with, Day-Lewis’ approach pays off—he has been nominated for six Academy Awards, winning three in total, and eight Golden Globes, winning two.

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4. Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier made history in 1964 when he was the first African American to win an Academy Award, receiving the accolade for Best Actor in recognition of his performance in Lilies in the Field.

He has also been nominated a whopping 11 times for a Golden Globe Award, winning three times.

Poitier gained worldwide acclaim and respect as he stuck to his principles throughout his career, frequently turning down high-profile roles that encouraged negative African-American stereotypes at the time—choosing only parts that he took genuine pride in.

In 2002, he was honored with the Academy Honorary Award for all he had achieved in his glittering career.

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3. Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando has had a long and illustrious career on both stage and screen, one of the original and best leading men in Hollywood history.

From his career-defining turn in the movie adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire to his unforgettable performance as Vito Corleone in the Godfather films, Brando brings a unique energy and charisma to every role he has appeared.

Throughout his 60-year career, Brando received a whopping eight Academy Award nominations, winning two.

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2. Humphrey Bogart

Coming up in second place, we have undeniable Hollywood heavyweight and screen legend Humphrey Bogart. Thanks to his history-defining roles in classic movies such as CasablancaThe African Queen, and The Maltese Falcon, Bogart came to embody the Hollywood ideal of a tough guy with a heart.

Throughout a career spanning almost three decades, Bogart starred in around 75 movies and was nominated for three Academy Awards.

In 1999, the American Film Institute named Bogart the most excellent male star in American cinema history.

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1. Chadwick Boseman

We all know that ranking actor is a near-impossible mission, and so in the first place, we have placed a true innovator and inspiration to the world. This is somewhat of an honorary position, as sadly Chadwick Boseman recently passed away, but the achievements he made in his short life will live on forever.

Boseman’s iconic role as Black Panther gave a new generation of young Black kids a superhero figure that they could finally identify with, lifting their confidence and sense of self-empowerment.

Despite his tragic death at such an early age, Boseman’s incredible influence on cinema’s landscape will be felt for years to come.

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