The Greatest Actors Of All-Time Keep Us Coming Back For More

It’s never easy making a list that showcases “the best” in any field. Compiling a definitive list can be subjective because who’s to say such and such is better than what’s his face? Luckily, there are a few ways of judging who’s better than most by looking at accolades, fans, and impact. Determining the best actors of all-time is a tall task, but thankfully, we made it easy for you. Go through and see if you agree or not; we’re pretty confident you will.

Robin Williams

the actor
Vera Anderson/WireImage
Vera Anderson/WireImage

Beginning his career as a stand-up comedian in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the 1970s, Robin Williams came into popularity after playing the alien Mork in the TV show Mork & Mindy. Known for his improvisation both on stage and in front of the camera, Williams is regarded as one of the greatest actors and funniest comedians of all time.

He is best remembered for his films such as Good Morning, Vietnam, Jumanji, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, and more. Over his career, Williams was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Good Will Hunting.

Christian Bale

Christian Bale
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Today, Christian Bale is regarded as one of the most impressive method actors of his time, able to either put on or lose large amounts of body weight at a time in order to play a role. Bale began acting at the young age of 13 in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, establishing himself as a big up and coming name in Hollywood. Today’s he’s one of the biggest stars in the world.

Some of his most renowned films include The Machinist, the Batman franchise, The Prestige, American Psycho, and many more. In 2010, he won the Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Dicky Eklund in the film The Fighter.

Javier Bardem

smiling  Javier Bardem
Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images
Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

A Spanish actor and environmental activist, Javier Bardem comes from a family of actors, beginning his acting career at the age of six in the film El Picar (The Scoundrel). He became a popular Spanish actor in the 1990s, frequently collaborating with filmmakers such as Pedro Almodovar and J.J. Bigas Luna, becoming internationally known as a leading man for his work on Goya’s Ghost in 2006.

In 2007, he played the psychopathic assassin Anton Chigur in No Country For Old Men and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. During his career, he also won a Screen Actor Guild Award, five Goya Awards, two European Film Awards, Best Actor at Cannes, and two Volpi Cups.

Tom Hanks

side eye tom hanks
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

One of the most recognizable actors in Hollywood, Tom Hanks is best known for his ability to play both comedic and dramatic roles. His films have grossed more than $9.69 billion worldwide, which makes him the fifth-highest-grossing actor in North America. He has worked with Steven Spielberg on five films, even being an executive producer alongside him on the HBO miniseries The Pacific.

His awards include a Golden Globe Award, two Academy Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a People’s Choice Award. He has also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Kennedy Center Honor, and the French Legion of Honor.

Sean Penn

the actor staring at the camera
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Sean Penn began his acting career in television, making a brief appearance on episode 112 of Little House on the Prairie in 1974. He had his film debut in the 1981 film Taps and continued acting in a variety of roles throughout the ’80s such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High and At Close Range.

He established himself as a leading man in the 1995 film Dead Man Walking, in which he earned his first Academy Award nomination at the Best Actor Award at the Berlin Film Festival. He won his first Academy Award for Best Actor in 2003s Mystic River and again in 2008 for Milk. In the early 2000s, he turned to directing, making a series of films, with Into The Wild earning two Academy Award nominations.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

sitting an a chair
Mark Mainz/Getty Images for AFI
Mark Mainz/Getty Images for AFI

Philip Seymour Hoffman was an actor, director, and producer, mostly regarded for his ability to play eccentric characters. He began acting in theater as a teenager, making his on-screen debut in a 1991 episode of Law and Order.

From there, he began appearing in films, with some of his most notable including Scent of a Woman, The Big Lebowski, Almost Famous, Boogie Nights, and more. After starring in Capote, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor,he started playing more lead roles, earning three more Academy Award nominations.

Denzel Washington

getting an award
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for WarnerMedia
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for WarnerMedia

Denzel Washington made a name for himself portraying real-life figures in films such as Cry Freedom, Malcolm X, The Hurricane, Remember the Titans, and more. Throughout his career, he has won two Golden Globe awards, one Tony Award, and two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor in Glory and Best Actor in Training Day.

In 2002, Washington made his directorial debut with the biographical film Antwone Fisher. He would thengo on to direct The Great Debaters and Fences, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Gary Oldman

accepting award
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Gary Oldman began acting in theater in 1979, making his film debut in 1982 in the film Remembrance. However, he continued acting as a lead star on stage in various productions, eventually becoming a popular British film star for his performance as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy and Prick Up Your Years, among others.

However, he grew in popularity in the United States acting as an antagonist in several films such as True Romance, The Fifth Element, and more. During his career, he has earned an Academy Award, three BAFTA Awards, two Critics’ Choice Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

Robert De Niro

looking mad
Lia Toby/Getty Images for BFI
Lia Toby/Getty Images for BFI

One of the most popular and celebrated actors of his time, Rober De Niro is well known for his frequent collaborations with iconic director Martin Scorcese, even winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull.

In total, De Niro has earned two Academy Awards, a Golden Glove Award, the Cecil B. DeMille Award, the Golden Lion, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom among countless other accolades. He also directed and starred in the films A Bronx Tale and The Good Shepherd.

Fred Astaire

smiling Fred Astaire
Ron Eisenberg/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Ron Eisenberg/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Fred Astaire was an actor, singer, dancer, choreographer, and television presenter. Commonly referred to as one of the most influential dancers in the history of film, Astaire had an impressive career that spanned over 75 years.

He starred in 10 Broadway and London musicals, 21 musical films, and four television specials, with Gene Kelly claiming that “the history of dance on film begins with Astaire.” Astaire was named the fifth greatest male star by the American Film Institute on their list of Classic Hollywood cinema in 100 Years…100 Stars.

Spencer Tracy

in a hat
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

Regarded as one of the biggest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Tracy first became interested in acting at Ripon College before receiving a scholarship for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After spending seven years in theater, he caught the attention of Hollywood with his lead performance in The Last Mile in 1930.

During his career, Tracy appeared in 75 films over the course of his career and was considered by his peers to be one of the best in the business. Out of nine nominations, Tracy took home two Academy Awards for Best Actor.

Morgan Freeman

giving a speech
Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AFI
Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AFI

One of the most beloved actors in Hollywood, Morgan Freeman has appeared in countless box office hits during his career including The Shawshank Redemption, Glory, The Dark Knight trilogy, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and more.

Freeman came into popularity in the 1970s when he was part of the cast of the children’s show The Electric Company, where he was noted for his deep voice and narration abilities. In July 2019, Freeman was ranked the seventh-highest box office star with a total gross of $4.57 billion.

Robert Duvall

the actor
Jeff Vespa/Getty Images
Jeff Vespa/Getty Images

With a career that spans more than six decades, Robert Duvall is one of the most respected actors of his generation. He began performing in theater in the late 1950s, making the transition to films and television shows in the early 1960s, such as playing Boo Radley in 1962’s To Kill A Mockingbird.

Since he began acting, Duvall has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning for Tender Mercies, four Golden Globe Awards, a BAFTA, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and the National Medal of Arts.

Clark Gable

standing in a ring
Slim Aarons/Getty Images
Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Referred to as “The King of Hollywood,” Clark Gable spent three decades as one of Hollywood’s biggest leading men, appearing in over 60 films. He began his career in Hollywood as an extra in silent films before becoming a supporting actor for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

He would go on to with the Academy Award for Best Actor for It Happened One Night, although he was nominated for the same award several more times. He took a break from making movies to fight in World War II as a bomber gunner, although his films weren’t as successful upon his return.

James Dean

sitting on couch
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Regarded as a cultural icon, James Dean rose to prominence after starring in the 1955 hit film, Rebel Without a Cause as troubled teenager Jim Stark. Although he only acted in two other films, East of Eden and Giant, he was one of the biggest heartthrobs in Hollywood and continued to be so even after his death in a car accident in 1955.

He was the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and is the only actor to ever receive two. The American Film Institute named him the 18th best male movie star of Golden Age Hollywood in their list of 100 Years…100 Stars.

Richard Burton

Burton the actor
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Richard Burton was one of the most stellar Welsh movie stars to do it. Nominated for seven Oscars and married to Elizabeth Taylor twice, his commanding presence spiced up many films.

Some of Burton’s greatest roles are when he portrayed articulate men who are pessimistic. One of his best roles came when he played George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Burton would alternate between Broadway, Hollywood, and London theatre during the ’50s and ’60s.

Orson Welles

the actor
Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

There are many places we could begin with Orson Welles, so we’ll start with the fact that he was groundbreaking in three forms of media. One was radio, another was theater, and the last was film.

Welles’ early life was superb, but as time went by, he began to fade. Still, he gave us some of the top films in history. His prized performance came in Citizen Kane, which is a masterpiece to enjoy whenever you feel the need.

Al Pacino

portrait
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM

One of the most popular actors across decades, Al Pacino’s rise to become of the best to act is sensational. Yes, you can consider him an icon, but not solely based on his most popular film moments.

Pacino’s scored an Emmy, Tony, and Oscar, which is extremely rare in his profession. It was his ’70s work that defined New York City and shot him to the top after his breakout role in Panic in Needle Park. You also can’t forget about the Godfather trilogy.

Cary Grant

photostill
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

British-born actor Cary Grant starred in a myriad of films that ranged from rom-coms to thrillers. He gave Hollywood some of their best content during his prime, as a sophisticated star.

Thanks to his comedic persona and charisma, he’s outlasted time better than most of his contemporaries. After two nominations, he finally won an honorary Oscar in 1970 that his friend Frank Sinatra happened to present. Grant is a star of what many call the “Golden Age.”

Paul Newman

Mr. Newman in a car
Art Zelin/Getty Images
Art Zelin/Getty Images

Paul Newman topped the box-office for decades thanks to his rugged charm and striking blue eyes. He won his first Oscar thanks to his performance in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money.

Newman played over 65 roles in a 50-year span and had no trouble transitioning to the studio systems of the ’60s. One of the main aspects that stood out about Newman was his ability to make his acting seem completely effortless. Not many can do that.

Dustin Hoffman

Hoffman smiling
Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic
Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic

Once Dustin Hoffman broke into the consciousness of viewers everywhere with his performance in Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, he helped bring a wave of change in acting. It was then people realized character actors could become movie stars.

He’s been a great business for nearly 50 years with the wide-selection of roles he plays. From playing an enraged divorcee to being a Watergate scoundrel, Hoffman made it easy for people to deem him one of the best to do it.

Sidney Poitier

sidney with an award
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Not only is Sidney Poitier a legendary actor, but he’s a sensational director and diplomat. Poitier became the first black person to win an Oscar for his role in Lillies of the Field. He would, later on, become the Bahamian ambassador to Japan.

He consistently avoided stereotypical portrayals of African-Americans, and in return would earn the respect of his peers and audiences. It was all that he did that led him to become one of the top people in his profession.

Gregory Peck

in a tux
Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Gregory Peck earned his stripes both on and off the screen while starring in some of the most classic films. Look no further than his role as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird to get a better grasp of his talent.

Peck earned five Best Actor Academy Award nominations and also worked with some of the greatest directors to do it during his time. No one questioned Peck’s creative integrity as he became a favorite among many audiences.

Anthony Hopkins

looking lost
Jason Squires/WireImage for Sundance Film Festival
Jason Squires/WireImage for Sundance Film Festival

You know the face, and you more than likely know the name. Anthony Hopkins acted his way through more than 130 roles on stage and screen spanning over 50 years!

The crazy thing is, he isn’t close to finished showcasing his talent for the people. After making his film debut in ’68, he pretty much finessed his way into doing everything from horror to comic book films! Who can forget his chilling Academy Award-winning performance in Silence of the Lambs?

Jimmy Stewart

sitting like a boss
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Jimmy Stewart started his career on Broadway but it wouldn’t take long before he scored his first film role alongside the great Spencer Tracy in 1936’s Murder Man. His modest style of acting helped shape his career, but he later switched to doing darker roles.

His career would last for five decades and he went from portraying cowboys and military officers to reporters and wise men. He finally won his first Academy Award in 1940 for his part in The Philadelphia Story.

Jack Nicholson

the shining
Warner Brothers/Getty Images
Warner Brothers/Getty Images

A true rebel, Jack Nicholson is a walking masterpiece. Bogart couldn’t hold a candle to Nicholson (kidding). He’s played crazy villains, wild rebels, and charming men throughout his career that’s lasted over 50 years.

Nicholson has a dozen Academy nominations, which is a record for male actors. He’s won an Oscar three times and helped redefine what leading man could be during the ’70s and ’80s thanks to his masterful films The Last Detail and The Shining.

Laurence Olivier

close up portrait of actor Laurence Olivier
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Laurence Olivier proved that originality can always be your greatest asset. It didn’t take long for Olivier to get the title of the greatest English-speaking actor of the 20th century.

In ’44, he made a return to film and starred and directed in Shakespeare’s Henry V. It would be this film that earned him an Academy Award. We supposed he figured Shakespearean films were his thing, so he went on to star and three more while directing two. Olivier also grabbed an Oscar for Best Picture and Actor for Hamlet.

Daniel Day-Lewis

the actor
John Shenton/Mirrorpix/Getty Images
John Shenton/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

The three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis ironically threatened to quit acting several times during his career. Each instance was more dramatic than the other, which only makes sense for the eccentric method actor.

He defines the cinematic icon and is practically incomparable. With five decades of work under his belt, Lewis’ status as a legend is clear. Take a look back at his film There Will Be Blood or even a more recent flick, Lincoln and you won’t have any more questions.

Marlon Brando

the godfather
Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images
Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images

It’s nearly impossible to break down the impact Marlon Brando had on American films. Brando earned a lasting reputation for implementing intense realism into his characters, which helped him become one of the most recognized actors ever.

His role in A Streetcar Named Desire from 1951 is the one the catapulted him into major popularity. He would go on to receive in Oscar from acting in On the Waterfront and another two decades later after his beautiful performance in The Godfather.

Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart in a window
Warner Brothers/Getty Images
Warner Brothers/Getty Images

The American Film Institute named Humphrey Bogart the greatest male star in American cinema history in 1999. There’s no doubt Bogart is of the best to do it on the big screen.

In a three-decade career, the actor appeared in around 75 roles that included a scared anti-hero, a riverboat captain, and a detective. Bogart acted his way to becoming the go-to for the hard-boiled cynical tough guy. Consider him a true cultural icon that many won’t ever forget.