Who’s the Biggest Movie Star of All Time?

by Nick Kush
Movie Star

Throughout cinema history, there have been a select few individuals that have captivated the most artistic of movie fans as well as general audiences. But which movie star is the best to ever step in front of a camera? To break it down, a few stipulations must be in play:

  1. Box office success
  2. Critical acclaim
  3. The person always plays a version of himself or herself (a movie star is larger than life, you can’t help but see that person beneath each character they play)
  4. A long stretch of success
  5. The actor continues to hold some type of cultural impact, no matter the changes to society

What this list is not is a break down of the best actor ever. Being the best movie star or the best actor both require different sets of criteria. So, with that in mind, let’s see who’s in the running:

The People Who “Lost their Way”

These are the ladies and gentlemen that were once on top of the world, but have since fallen off, becoming a shell of their former selves in their current form:

All of these A-listers were huge in either the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s. They graced us with their charisma, becoming larger than life. However, in one way or another, these individuals have been less than stellar in the most recent decade. Have they had moments of brilliance? Sure! But as an overall picture, their current work does not compare in the slightest. To hold the title of “best movie star ever,” longevity in tandem with brilliance is needed.

The “Up-and-comers”

This group of performers has all the potential in the world.  They’re younger, bolder, and even sexier.  However, their youth is also their biggest downfall:

Note that the term “youth” here is pretty fluid. Leo and The Rock are in their mid-40’s while JLaw is still in her 20’s. For whatever reason, all of these actors have one of the core items missing from their resume and need more time to accomplish it. Unlike the other groups, these actors still have some time to become the greatest movie star.

Up-and-comers, we’ll reconvene in ten years.

The “Veterans”

These guys and gals are titans in the industry. They paved the way for the rest of the actors on this list, allowing them to thrive. All the while, they built personas that were larger than life:

  • Cary Grant
  • Humphrey Bogart
  • Clint Eastwood
  • John Wayne
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • Joan Crawford
  • Jimmy Stewart

However, and as near-sided as this sounds, these titans are hardly in the stream of consciousness of the film industry these days. Let’s face it, most people don’t even have the attention span to watch an entire Instagram story, let alone remember an actor from the ’40s. There’s certainly a place for these performers in the discussion, but, with the lack of a better term, they’re dated.

And the Winner is…Tom Cruise!

Scientology aside, Tom Cruise has been at the forefront of Hollywood for quite some time. He has almost always chosen scripts that accent his talents, providing very enjoyable films that do well all over the world. His performances are always fully committed — sometimes a little too committed. He has the perfect blend of longevity, acclaim, box office success, impact, and, let’s face it, he’s always playing a version of himself. From Risky Business in 1983 to his continued success in the Mission: Impossible franchise, Cruise has continued to impress.

He is still at the forefront of the most prominent action films in the industry, and he shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

Cruise is also one of the hardest workers in Hollywood today; he always has a new project that he is heavily involved in. As he’s said in interviews, he wants to make films that earn money from audiences, not just take it.

In fact, when you search “movie stars” on Google, Cruise’s picture is almost always the first result. Google never lies!

If that weren’t enough, no one can run like Tom. Look at him go!

movie star

Follow MovieBabble on Twitter @MovieBabble_ and Nick @nkush42

Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on the biggest movie stars? Comment down below!

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to MovieBabble via email to stay up to date on the latest content.

Join MovieBabble on Patreon so that new content will always be possible.

Related Articles


Top 10 Best Cary Grant Movies of All Time | MovieBabble June 4, 2020 - 12:18 pm

[…] number two on AFI’s list of the top twenty-five actors of all-time, Cary Grant is a legend in Hollywood. Through trademark charm and wit, he captivated audiences around the world. From the dimple on his […]

John Cummings August 30, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Tom Cruise is an overall solid choice, but some glaring omissions in your writing. Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Mel Gibson were not even a part of the discussion. All were kings of the box office and commanded significent acclaim. Cruise is certainly the last man standing, but to claim the “Biggest Movie Star of All Time” is a bit of a stretch

Olaf Lesniak June 26, 2018 - 9:53 am

Surprised not to have seen Meryl Streep or Charlie Chaplin. And the win should’ve gone to no other than Merilyn Monroe. She is the face of cinema, its icon who cannot be replaced. 60 years later and her face still wields so much driving force. I don’t believe Cruise could reach such a longevity in legacy.

Nick Kush June 26, 2018 - 10:02 am

Honestly, you’re probably right from the “true” perspective. But looking at it from a modern context, a lot of people simply forget about the golden age of cinema, and that’s why I went with Cruise. Love Streep, but being a “star” in this sense of the word involves serious box office success — she mostly goes for prestige pictures. Who knows, maybe I (or someone else on the staff) should revisit the question!

mylilplace May 11, 2018 - 4:17 pm

I am not sure I agree with your choice of Tom Cruise but I sure love the way you end the post. It made me smile… :)

Nick Kush May 11, 2018 - 4:21 pm

Lol at least I can entertain!!!

mylilplace May 11, 2018 - 5:18 pm

And you do it so well that I may just agree with you on your pick!

Nick Kush May 11, 2018 - 7:41 pm


EclecticMusicLover October 3, 2017 - 8:58 pm

Though I generally agree with you Nick, I’m gonna have to disagree about Tom Cruise. While I believe he’s a good actor with many great performances over the past 30+ years, I think he’s far from being the greatest actor ever. That’s a very tough call, given so many variables to consider over a span of nearly 100 years of filmmaking, but if I had to choose five, I’d say Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Anthony Hopkins and Cate Blanchette, in no particular order.

Nick Kush October 3, 2017 - 10:08 pm

This is certainly NOT a list of the best actor ever. There’s a difference between being the best movie star and the best actor ever. Tom Cruise is nowhere near the top of that list!

EclecticMusicLover October 3, 2017 - 10:19 pm

My bad. I misunderstood your intent. So now I will concede that Mr. Cruise is certainly one of the biggest ‘movie stars.’

Nick Kush October 3, 2017 - 10:20 pm

There we go! Problem solved!

domholder October 2, 2017 - 6:48 am

In the last 5 years alone Hanks has been in Captain Phillips, Saving Mr Banks, Sully, Bridge of Spies. Yes Larry Crowne and the completely unnecessary Ladykillers remake were not great but I think he is still very much up there.
I like Tom Cruise but all he does is play action figures these days, which is a shame as anyone who has seen him in Magnolia, Jerry Maguire, even Tropic Thunder shows fine action chops.
If we’re talking most iconic movie stars then i guess you are looking at people like Arnie, John Wayne etc.

Andy October 1, 2017 - 4:16 pm

I would argue Tom Hanks is still No.1. But man, Jimmy Stewart is a good one, too.

Nick Kush October 1, 2017 - 5:10 pm

I don’t know, Hanks has had a lot of serious misses this past decade or so.

Andy October 6, 2017 - 7:36 am

OR Denzel Washington. He might be the best. And think about all the movies Amy Adams has been in! Ugh, this is too hard to figure out.

Nick Kush October 6, 2017 - 9:28 am

Smarter minds than I should probably figure this out lol

The Animation Commendation September 30, 2017 - 7:58 pm

I honestly have been thinking about this question for a long time and while I don’t have an answer, I’ll havta agree to disagree regarding Tom Cruise, lol!

I agree with previous commenters that Jimmy Stewart is definitely one who should have been mentioned.

Nick Kush September 30, 2017 - 8:31 pm

Lol who would be your choice?

The Animation Commendation September 30, 2017 - 8:54 pm

That’s the thing, I could never come to an answer.

In terms of Bollywood, the actor Amitabh Bachchan would be the best and most famous Bollywood actor ever, no doubt: known all across the world in India, the subcontinent, Russia, Asia, Africa, etc. It’s just because America never caught on to Bollywood, he’s not that well-known here.

So besides him, I really don’t know. I know at one time, Bing Crosby was said to be one of the top 3 most famous people in the world. But that was like the ’30s/’40s.

Nick Kush September 30, 2017 - 9:18 pm

Charlie Chaplin might be a good choice!

D.T. Osborn September 30, 2017 - 11:30 am

The largest omission on this list is Jimmy Stewart. His versatility as an actor has very few peers. He masterfully portrayed any character in any genre from thrillers to romance to westerns to comedy, he played them all!

Nick Kush September 30, 2017 - 11:31 am

You’re completely right! I’ll have to edit him in there! How could I miss the great Jimmy Stewart?

Paul. Writer and Filmmaker September 30, 2017 - 2:56 am

Great post! For sheer longevity and ability to always give 100% in every role then Tom Cruise is the correct choice. Plus, he has been in some great genre films and more artistic character dramas. People say he’s limited as an actor but he’s shown good performance range in films such as: A Few Good Men, Magnolia and Born of the Fourth of July, plus many others. He has a sense of humour too satirising the Hollywood bigwigs in the hilarious comedy Tropic Thunder. He’s obviously been in some cinematic duds but if you have a career of nearly forty years you will drop the ball occasionally. Definitely the top movie star still working today.

Nick Kush September 30, 2017 - 10:21 am

He’s also great in American Made too!

Paul. Writer and Filmmaker September 30, 2017 - 10:23 am

Yes he was. Good to see him stepping out of his action film “comfort” zone.

Nick Kush September 30, 2017 - 10:27 am

Absolutely! It’s been a lot of Tom Cruise in “Action Man” as his character lol

domholder October 2, 2017 - 8:12 am

I agree with your summation of Tom Cruise but it does seem like a long time since he gave his acting chops a serious work out. The films you listed above are amazing but the most recent is Tropic Thunder which over 10 years ago I think. Granted I haven’t seen American Made but I do wish he would act more rather than Sky diving from the International Space Centre onto a speed boat or something like that…………..actually that’d be pretty cool, anyway the point is the man can act and I wish he did more of that sometimes.

Paul. Writer and Filmmaker October 2, 2017 - 8:15 am

I agree. I think he must love doing those action and sci-fi films especially as he gets to do his own stunts. Deep down he must be a big adrenaline junkie.

domholder October 2, 2017 - 8:18 am

I wonder if its a case of “I’m going to keep doing these action films whilst i still can” He’s in his mid 50s now and can’t keep hanging onto planes for ever

Nick Kush October 2, 2017 - 8:20 am

I think he’s just really good at choosing scripts that accentuate his talents. He knows he can perform in these action movies, so he keeps doing them!

Paul. Writer and Filmmaker October 2, 2017 - 9:28 am

Indeed! I’ve compared Cruise to Dorian Gray in the past as he doesn’t appear to age :-) You have to admire the fact he’s super-fit though to still do that stunt work!

Nick Kush October 2, 2017 - 9:34 am


Nick Kush October 2, 2017 - 8:19 am

When your a “movie star” there’s definitely a quality to it where he plays the same character in many films. People like Arnie or John Wayne play similar characters in every single movie so I’d say Cruise is cut from the same cloth

raistlin0903 September 30, 2017 - 12:42 am

I think three actors that should also be included on the list for people who have lost their way are: Al Pacino, Robert de Niro and Bruce Willis. None of them have really had a good succesful film anymore abd have only appeared in very mediocre ones. A real shame as these three were my favorite all time actors.

Nick Kush September 30, 2017 - 12:45 am

Yes those are great ones too! It truly is a shame considering De Niro is my favorite actor…

Liz Gauffreau September 30, 2017 - 12:01 am

For me, the biggest fall from grace has to be Johnny Depp. I used to watch anything he was in. Not anymore.

Nick Kush September 30, 2017 - 12:34 am

He’s just a caricature now!

anne leueen September 29, 2017 - 9:40 pm

I was with you until you gave the “winner” slot to Tom Cruise. Is he actually an actor at all? Well maybe he is but he is two of my least favourite actors. Nonetheless I did enjoy this post.

Nick Kush September 29, 2017 - 9:42 pm

I think his personal persona clouds the judgement of a lot of people, and probably deservedly so. But all his films and performance are mostly fun and harmless! Plus all his movies make a loooooot of money.

anne leueen September 29, 2017 - 10:17 pm

HaHa yes. I find him so annoying in interviews that it has influenced me in my opinion of him. But he is a professional and carries off all of the film characters. So I should just get over it I guess.

Nick Kush September 30, 2017 - 12:34 am

I give him a ton of credit because everything you hear from reporters and other actors is that he’s beyond nice to everyone. I guess he just keeps his looniness to himself! lol

domholder October 2, 2017 - 8:15 am

I agree with this. Lets be honest none of us know him or ever likely to get to know him, all we see is the public persona. I’ve read that he has said some controversial things based on his faith but I’ve also read that he is the ultimate professional and that people love working with him. I let the work do the talking personally.

Liz Gauffreau September 29, 2017 - 11:58 pm

I agree with your assessment of Tom Cruise.


Leave a Comment Below!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: