Top 10 Best Actors of All Time

by Nick Kush
best actors of all-time

Earlier this week, Daniel Day-Lewis announced that was officially retiring from acting.  While he has certainly kept out of the public eye in his time in Hollywood, he has undoubtedly become one of the best actors to ever step in front of a camera.  But where does he rank among the best actors of all-time?  There’s been a ton of worthy contenders over the years, making it close to impossible to widdle the list down to ten.  But MovieBabble is certainly up to the challenge!

Below are some honorable mentions that failed to make the top 10:

Al Pacino

Henry Fonda

Laurence Olivier

James Stewart

Paul Newman

Anthony Hopkins

Dustin Hoffman

John Wayne

Sidney Poitier

Orson Welles

Now let’s take a look at MovieBabble’s best actors of all-time:

#10: Humphrey Bogart

Bogart is most likely one of the least known actors on the top 10 list.  This isn’t because his talent is overlooked, but rather that most people refuse to watch movies from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.  However, Humphrey Bogart was one of the original cultural icons to come from film, starring in iconic films like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon, and, of course, Casablanca.

His acting style was way before his time, performing as a suave, grizzled man that had a heart of gold.  In a time where actors feel incredibly dated today, Bogart felt timeless.  Later called one of the legends of Hollywood, Humphrey Bogart legacy continues to grow.  To cement his influence on film, AFI later claimed Bogart to be the greatest male star of classic American cinema.  He truly deserves a spot among the best actors of all-time.

best actors of all-time

image via Spotern

#9: Leonardo DiCaprio

Thankfully, Leo now has his Oscar so we can’t make fun of him anymore for having an empty trophy shelf and he can take his rightful place as one of the best actors of all-time.  Like another actor that will be discussed later on, DiCaprio allows himself to be completely vulnerable on screen, throwing caution to the wind.  With this vulnerability is an intensity that few actors have matched.  He’s good for a few intense stares that make their way to your core.  However, he’s actually incredibly diverse in his emotions, showing serious comedy chops in some of his films as well.

Known for his team-ups with Martin Scorsese, Leo can perform in almost any type of situation, doing his part as a leading man but also as a devishlishly great side character.

best actors of all-time

image via CinemaBlend

#8: Denzel Washington

Denzel may be one of the most intense actors ever.  He always commands the screen, forcing you to stare at his every move.  You know another character is in trouble onscreen when Denzel gives his patented death stare.  One of the most impressive feats in Denzel’s illustrious career is that he continues to keep things fresh with an assortment of different roles.  He’s performed in cookie cutter Oscar roles such as in Malcolm X but also in popcorn flicks like The Magnificent Seven or The Equalizer.

Denzel Washington has an onscreen presence that is wholly unique and original.  He even makes bad movies totally watchable with his performances.  An actor who elevates an entire movie is a mark of an all-time great.

best actors of all-time

image via Worldstarhiphop

#7: Harrison Ford

Known for acting as some of our favorite characters to ever be onscreen, Ford continues to be charismatic, heartfelt, and above all else, fun.  Harrison knows how to keep things light and fun with beloved characters like Han Solo and Indiana Jones.  However, he’s also shown us how he has a serious flare for the more understated, dramatic side of his craft as well with films like Blade Runner.

Harrison Ford‘s calling card has to be his sharp, biting sarcasm.  In every role he ever played, he always found a way to toss a few snarky comments at the other characters.  You have to love his smirk that accompanies a lot of these fun moments.  Harrison Ford has a certain swagger about him that is just absolutely legendary.

best actors of all-time

image via Inverse

#6: Tom Hanks

Affectionately known as “America’s dad,” Hanks has made a living playing likable characters that we’ve all latched on to.  He has a certain charm that makes you gravitate towards him in whatever role he is in.  Like Denzel Washington, Hanks elevates every single movie that in which he plays a role.  Hell, even 2017’s The Circle is somewhat watchable because Tom Hanks is so magnetic.  He’ll make you smile, laugh, and cry with a single breath when he’s at his best.  He may be the most popular choice among the list of the best actors of all-time.

For all his lovable characters like Forrest Gump and Woody, he’s even shown a flare for evil with his character Michael Sullivan in Road to Perdition. 

We all love Tom Hanks.  How can you not?

best actors of all-time

image via Parade

#5: Clint Eastwood

A man’s man, Clint Eastwood has shown serious talent for many, many years.  While we all know as the Man with No Name from the Dollars trilogy, Eastwood has continued to amaze us with new and different roles.  He is easily the “toughest” actor on this list, showing the power of all different types of alpha males.  He has onscreen presence that forces you to stop and watch him.

But that’s not to say he can’t act vulnerable as well.  Although he consistently shows that tough exterior, films like Gran Torino show that he is more than capable of expressing kindness and heart while still keeping his facade.

If nothing else, Clint Eastwood should be honored for all his classic one-liners and monologues that rank among the best in the industry.

best actors of all-time

image via Townhall

#4: Marlon Brando

A true thespian, Marlon Brando ruled the 1970’s with iconic roles like Vito Corleone, Colonel Walter Kurtz, and Jor-El.  Like the next man on this list, Brando brought a whole new meaning to the idea of method acting, channeling his inner anguish with the character’s traits to make wholly memorable performances.

In whatever role, it always appeared that every single one of his movements was calculated, yet wholly believable and free.  Brando wasn’t acting, he became his characters.

Not to mention he’s responsible for some of the best lines ever muttered.  Marlon Brando was a true craftsman, never failing to reinvent himself and never afriad to try something different.  He’s easily one of the best actors of all-time.

best actors of all-time

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#3: Daniel Day-Lewis

The best example of method acting, Daniel Day-Lewis never has to make another film and he’ll still be regarded as one of the best actors of all-time.  His process for each role was diving completely into the psyche of that person and never breaking character after signing onto the role.  The most infamous of which was during the filming of My Left Foot where he played a man with cerebral palsy and forced crew workers to carry him off set and feed him with a spoon.

However, those extreme methods payed off as Day-Lewis has had one incredible performance after another.  His work as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood is so great that many consider it the best performance of the modern era.

best actors of all-time

image via movement

#2: Jack Nicholson

Jack seamingly played a version of himself in all his roles, but each time he found a new way to light up the screen with an all-time performance.  Known for his ability to go absolutely nuts onscreen, he excels at improvising and keeping the other actors from getting comfortable onset by going absolutely bonkers.

However, there are so many quieter moments in his films where he’s the center of attention without saying a single word.  This quality is best seen in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Jack has a certain charisma or “X-factor” that no other actor has quite replicated.  He lets loose, losing himself in scenes that have since become some of the finest in cinema.  Hardly an actors allow themselves to be as vulerable onscreen as Jack.

Jack has a wide variety of classic films in his repertoire, including The Shining, the aforementioned One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chinatown, and many more.  He can sit courstside at every Laker game knowing that he’s had a very solid career.

best actors of all-time

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#1: Robert De Niro

There’s certainly a case to be made for Mr. De Niro to not be in this position considering his recent work, but there are way too many all-time classic films that were headlined by a fantastic performance by him.  From 1973 to 1991, De Niro starred in the following films: Mean Streets, The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Once Upon a Time in America, Brazil, The Untouchables, Midnight Run, Goodfellas, and Cape Fear.  That list doesn’t even include classics like Casino, Heat, or Sleepers.

De Niro completely masters the craft of facial acting.  Without muttering a word, you completely understand everything about his character.  This trait allows his outbursts to be even more resonant.  No other actor has been this vulnerable, powerful, and downright hilarious.  He doesn’t have to make another film ever again and he’ll still be considered the best to ever do it by this critic.

best movies of all-time

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Thanks for reading!  Who are your picks for the best actors of all-time?  Comment down below!

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What movie topic should I discuss next?  Whether it be old or new, the choice is up to you!

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Lance R Hostetter April 9, 2020 - 3:16 pm

Too many to list not on the list—Will Smith, Liiam Neeson Anthony Hopkins, Clark Gable, Dennis Quaid, James Woods, Jeff Goldblum, Gary Sinese Tom Cruise, to name a few.

Anonymous April 9, 2020 - 3:02 pm

Clark Gable, James Woods, Dennis Quaid

Vyper February 4, 2019 - 4:47 pm

Lots of grea arguments and I cannot knock any of the people on the list. but think that some of the Legends of Hollywood get a bad deal due to the passage of time. Any List without Henry Fonda is lacking. From My Darling Clementine to On Golden Pond, his range and impact were simply amazing. Likewise, Sir Alec Guiness–Think of the disparity between Guinnes as Lt Col Nicholson and then a generation later as Obi-wan! Also, Paul Newman would be on my top 10, and I could stack his work against Leo or list I was glad to see John Wayne at least make the honorable mention–and I hear the chorus of groans….but just to recognize the impact of 2 generations of Americans from his shear volume of work and his exceptional roles in The Searchers, True Grit and The Shootist–those were exceptional roles. As for other honorable mentions…What about Cary Grant? Robin Williams–Good Will Hunting, Garp, Dead Poets, etc? What about Gene Hackman–From Popeye Doyle to Little Bill in Unforgiven and From Hoosiers to Get Shorty, his range was astounding! The Same could be said of Robert Duvall–Grreat Santini, Godfather, Apocalypse Now… While not hte lead in every one of these, certaily he impated dozens of movies for almost 6 decades and most would certainly have been less without him. Lastly for an honorable mention at least, Steve McQueen??? I know, too many great actors and only 10 slots……..

Nick Kush February 4, 2019 - 6:28 pm

You certainly bring up some great points! Perhaps we’ll have to re-evaluate this list sometime soon 😁 you never know what we might change it to next!

Anonymous November 27, 2020 - 6:25 pm

top ten actors of all time.jimmy stewart .clark gable.jack nickolson tom hanks leo di caprio john wayne tom cruise joe pesci top 2 al pacino and by a long mile robert de niro

Anonymous January 31, 2019 - 1:43 am

This listed is F’d up. Leonardo D. Really??? D. Washington. Really??? Al Pacino played a character so well (Tony Montana) that its now iconic. He transformed himself into another entirely different person. D. Washington and Leo can’t act there way out of their own personalities.

Patricia February 10, 2018 - 1:46 pm

Gary Oldman is someone I’m gaining more and more fondness for as I see him in more things. He really disappears into many of his roles, yet is still somehow himself. Chameleon, I suppose.

This is a good list, for sure, as I mentioned before. ;)

Nick Kush February 10, 2018 - 6:32 pm

I think once he wins some awards he’ll get mentioned!

Patricia Henderson February 10, 2018 - 6:37 pm

True, true. Same with Brody, actually. He did a lot of good work before the Oscar. But I hadn’t heard of him until the night he won.

Nick Kush February 10, 2018 - 6:47 pm

And he might be getting his moment pretty soon as Churchill! (Although I think Chalamet should win)

mr November 26, 2017 - 6:09 am

You’re a film critic and you’re listing Clint Eastwood ahead of Laurence Olivier? Have you ever even heard of John Gielgud?

I think you’re confusing biggest current movie stars with the best ever actors.

Nick Kush November 26, 2017 - 6:21 am

Yup I know them well! In the end, it comes down to personal preference. For me, Clint had a more lasting effect on my movie experiences

millyer July 24, 2017 - 4:53 pm

Al Pacino isn’t on the list, and Clint Eastwood is?

Nick Kush July 24, 2017 - 7:13 pm

Personally, Pacino hasn’t really done any solid work for quite some time (even longer than De Niro). It’s a pretty stacked list so some tough choices had to be made!

Clint on the other hand put in some incredibly memorable work over many, many decades. It may be a little of a personal choice, but I’m sticking with it lol!

montyvijh July 11, 2017 - 6:13 am

Great list!! Leo, Denzel and Hanks are some of my favorites. I would just try to squeeze in Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey. They did some fantastic work.

Nick Kush July 11, 2017 - 9:57 am

Those are two good ones as well!

Jason Hitch June 27, 2017 - 11:34 am

Interesting list. Do you think that knowing Day-Lewis was so committed on set plays into where you rank him or are you picking him solely for his on-screen performance? you think the clunkers that De Niro has had (recently more often than not unfortunately) should subtract from his legacy?

Nick Kush June 27, 2017 - 11:40 am

I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t affect it at all. But Day-Lewis’ performances are just absolutely unreal that you have to put him high on the list. I just rewatched There Will Be Blood the other day and I couldn’t get over how good he was.

As for De Niro, there are some serious stinkers in his later career, but personally, he has way too amazing performances in too many movies to be anything but the best ever IMO

The Animation Commendation June 26, 2017 - 6:57 pm

If we were including Bollywood actors, Amitabh Bachchan would definitely make my list!

Nick Kush June 26, 2017 - 7:34 pm

I’m not very familiar, I guess I’ll have to take a look!

The Animation Commendation June 26, 2017 - 7:44 pm

He’s considered to be the “King of Bollywood” or the best actor ever in the Hindi film industry. He made his Hollywood debut in 2013 in Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby playing Meyer Wolfsheim. That was one of this weaker performances, but it was only a cameo and a free one too, so I don’t hold it against him.

Nick Kush June 26, 2017 - 7:45 pm

Ahh I know who you’re talking about! Maybe I’ll brush up on a few of his films!

The Animation Commendation June 26, 2017 - 7:46 pm

If I may recommend a film of his, watch Deewaar (1975). That’s a great performance of his!

Nick Kush June 26, 2017 - 7:46 pm

I’ll put it on the list!!

pepperloves June 26, 2017 - 7:30 am

I would replace Harrison Ford with Gary Oldman. Ford is entertaining to watch but most time he acts the same very little range.

Nick Kush June 26, 2017 - 7:34 am

Certainly a worthy idea (I LOOOOOVE Gary Oldman), but I think there’s something to say about a guy who dazzled us with many different lovable characters.

pepperloves June 26, 2017 - 8:15 am

True but there are the Harrison Fordisms that you notice that end up pissing you off, Gary Oldman on the other hand completely immerses himself that you don’t recognize him which is what makes a great actor in my opinion. Even DeNiro pisses me off with some of his roles in that I can notice his -isms and not the character. I did love him in the Godfather and Raging Bull.

Nick Kush June 26, 2017 - 9:49 am

I think those “isms” are what make each individual actor different. I’d argue that Gary Oldman still has his little quirks, even if he does immerse himself more.

aravenclawlibrary June 26, 2017 - 1:36 am

I adore Leo and Tom Hanks. I loved The Wolf on Wall Street and I adored Forrest Gump. Those two are easily in my top 10 favorite actors as well. Excellent post! It’s always cool to see people’s top 10 lists and if my faves make other people’s list.

Nick Kush June 26, 2017 - 7:35 am

That’s always fun for me too! It acts like a little validation.

twaldron2014 June 25, 2017 - 11:01 pm

Great list! Hard to disagree. I was glad Denzel made it!

Nick Kush June 25, 2017 - 11:02 pm

Thanks so much! You gotta love Denzel!

Patricia June 25, 2017 - 8:51 pm

Interesting list. I can appreciate these choices. You already know who I’d add. ;)

Nick Kush June 25, 2017 - 10:32 pm

Lol of course! As long as I have your appreciate then I’m content!

dwmckay June 25, 2017 - 8:51 pm

Although I am a big fan of Bogie movies — I cannot help but feel he tended to play the same character over and over. Kinda like Tom Cruise but only with style, integrity and finesse. If you want to see truly great actors look for the ones who play supporting roles so well you are drawn to them. And who create new characters with each role. Nehemiah Persoff. John Gielgud. Christopher Plummer.

Nick Kush June 25, 2017 - 10:32 pm

I see your point there (the same argument can be made for Leo, Jack, and Clint as well) but I think there’s something to be said about a man that captivates us time and time again with amazing performances that have stood the test of time. As much as it pains me to say it, those three incredible talents that you mentioned just don’t have the same cultural impact. Unfortunately, many people wouldn’t even know who they are!

anne leueen June 25, 2017 - 6:17 pm

Interesting choices. I agree with but would add Ryan Gosling. I know he is a heartthrob but his work in ‘Lars and the Real Girl’ and ‘Drive’ show me that he has some first rate acting chops. He has ben nominated for , I think, 3 or 4 , Best Actor Academy awards and eventually he will get one.

Nick Kush June 25, 2017 - 6:33 pm

He was one I comtemplated, I think give it another ten years and I’m sure he’ll be there.

Juliana Simone June 25, 2017 - 5:41 pm

I share many of your choices and have my own list I’ve yet to publish on my blog, “In My Vue” I appreciate your posts.

Nick Kush June 25, 2017 - 5:44 pm

Thanks so much! I’ll have to take a look

EclecticMusicLover June 25, 2017 - 5:35 pm

Great post and some excellent choices. Though very good actors, I would not place Harrison Ford or Clint Eastwood in the Top 10. I would replace them with Spencer Tracy and either Anthony Hopkins or Paul Newman. I would also put Humphrey Bogart in the top 5.

Nick Kush June 25, 2017 - 5:37 pm

There’s definitely some personal elements that goes into these types of lists. Clint and Ford have a special place in my heart and certainly changed cinema, but I completely understand why you’d think that way. Honestly, you could have a completely different top 10 and make a good case for it!

EclecticMusicLover June 25, 2017 - 5:39 pm

So true. The same goes for all ‘best of’ lists for music, TV, theater, etc.

Nick Kush June 25, 2017 - 5:40 pm

Yup! I’m currently putting together my list of top 10 actresses which I’m sure people will have issues with lol

EclecticMusicLover June 25, 2017 - 5:43 pm

No two people can ever agree on these lists, as each of our own personal tastes are very subjective.

Nick Kush June 25, 2017 - 5:44 pm

So true! But it makes the conversation fun!

jimbelton June 25, 2017 - 5:01 pm

This is a tough one for me, because I find my impression of actors largely influenced by the films they’ve been in. Here are a few actors who I think have an ability to transcend roles that I think you’ve missed, and who seem to stand out in almost anything they’re in:
1. Gary Oldman
2. Morgan Freeman
3. Sigourney Weaver
4. Helen Miren

Some up and comers (and maybe these will turn out to be unenduring):
1. Idris Elba
2. Benedict Cumberbatch
3. Karl Urban
4. Emily Blunt

Nick Kush June 25, 2017 - 5:24 pm

I made this list with just men in mind so watch out for my list of top 10 actresses of all-time coming soon (Sigourney Weaver and Helen Miren will definitely make an appearence).

Personally, I absolutely looooove both Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman. If I extended my honorable mentions another five or ten slots they’d probably be there. Like I said, this is a reaaaaaally hard list to make and I might change it if you asked me again tomorrow lol

Jason Hitch June 27, 2017 - 11:35 am

What have you seen that you’re most impressed w/ from Cumberbatch and Urban?

jimbelton June 28, 2017 - 12:15 am

Cumberbatch blew me away in Sherlock, especially in the first season. He was OK in Star Trek. I liked him in Dr. Strange. Still haven’t seen the Imitation Game. He’ll have a hard time living up to Derek Jacoby in the role of Turing.
I really liked Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy, especially in the first film of the reboot, but he’s be great in all of them. I also liked him a lot in LOTR. He was good in Dredd, and I liked him far better than the main villain in Chronicles of Riddick.

thefunnyoneblog June 25, 2017 - 2:25 pm

Nice list! I’d definitely add Johnny Depp on the list – for What’s eating Gilbert Grape, Edward Scissorhands, Black Mass and all the other amazing roles he played. Yet another talented actor, which has not won yet an Oscar.

Nick Kush June 25, 2017 - 3:59 pm

I can’t get over his annoying caricatures that he’s been doing lately. I wish he would go back to movies like Donnie Brasco!


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