Tackling a definitive list like this is something I’ve generally avoided in the past, but for a while I’ve felt drawn to this project. For several weeks I’ve went back and forth, adding and removing, considering and reconsidering, all for the purpose of putting together a list of who I think are the 10 greatest actors of all time. This is the first installment of a series I’m simply calling “The Greatest”. I hope you enjoy it and take time to share you’re thoughts below.
There are some brilliant actors who are favorites of mine but who don’t yet have the body of work to be considered a member of THE GREATEST. I’m talking about actors such as Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jean Dujardin, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Fassbender, and Tom Hiddleston. I love the guys and with a few more great performances under their belts they could join this list. But for now let’s get started by listing #11 – #20:
#20 – Spencer Tracy
#19 – Clint Eastwood
#18 – Leonardo DiCaprio
#17 – Joseph Cotten
#16 – Gregory Peck
#15 – Sidney Poitier
#14 – Gary Cooper
#13 – Al Pacino
#12 – Tom Hanks
#11 – Denzel Washington
Now let me introduce my 10 Greatest Film Actors of All Time:
#10 – Henry Fonda
It may surprise some people to know that Henry Fonda’s acting was only truly considered great after his death in 1982. Personally I’ve always thought he was an incredible actor and his wide body of work spoke for itself. He had a sharp and unique style that often saw him playing similar roles throughout his long career. But regardless of the film or the decade, Fonda always gave an incredible performance and he was never above branching out into new areas. Fonda’s name is attached to some movies that are forever favorites of mine including “12 Angry Men” and “The Grapes of Wrath”. But he also shined in war films and westerns. In fact, he stunned the world with his villainous turn in Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” (my all-time favorite western). Fonda had tremendous acting chops and he is truly one of the greatest.
#9 – Robert De Niro
When you speak of someone possessing a natural acting gift Robert De Niro should automatically come to mind. Few actors are able to make things look as easy and fluid as De Niro. His career took off in 1972 and 1973 when he showed his top-notch abilities in “The Godfather II” and in “Mean Streets”, his first of many fine collaborations with director Martin Scorsese. De Niro would go on to make one beloved movie after another including “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull”, “The Deer Hunter”, “The Untouchables”, “Cape Fear”, “Heat” and that just scratches the surface. Unfortunately his filmography has soured recently due to a number of poor choices, but we are still seeing glimpses of what made him such an amazing actor. It is his natural talent, unabashed spunk, and huge charisma and there are very few that can do what he has done on screen.
#8 – Russell Crowe
Would it be a stretch to call Russell Crowe the greatest period actor of all-time? I don’t think so. While the actor has made several ‘present day’ movies, a brief scan of his filmography shows that he has visited nearly every period you could imagine. But there is a reason for that. He is amazing in every one of these films. He won an Oscar for his role in “Gladiator” (Rome in 180 AD). He should have won the Oscar for his work in “A Beautiful Mind” (the film begins in 1947). He was brilliant in “Master and Commander” (on the high seas during 1805). He was fantastic in “3:10 to Yuma” (the 1884 old west). I could go on and on. Crowe has the knack for delivering powerful performances regardless of the time period. He has an amazing screen presence and you never doubt what he brings to the role.
#7 – Paul Newman
He may have the most recognizable pair of blue eyes in movie history, but he is also one of the greatest actors to ever grace the big screen. Paul Newman caught people’s attention very early on. In no time he was earning critical acclaim and numerous awards. In fact, while he only won one Academy Award, he received eight other acting Oscar nominations. One of my favorite Newman performances came early in his career with “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. But what set Newman apart from so many other actors was the high quality work he did at an older age. He would earn five of his Oscar nominations after 1980. I never recall seeing Newman struggle with a role. Sure he was a cool and good-looking fellow, but he was also a tremendous actor who always picked good roles and then knocked them out of the park.
#6 – Marlon Brando
Talk about a wacky film career that mirrored an equally wacky personal life. Marlon Brando played his share of weird characters in bad films, but he is also credited with bringing an entirely new and realistic acting style to the movies. A great example of that came in 1951. “A Streetcar Named Desire” was only his second film but the stirring contrast between his performance and anything else at the time was clear. It introduced method acting to audiences and it was a signature of Brando’s style. He would earn Oscar nominations each of the next four years finally winning for his brilliant performance in “On the Waterfront”. The 60’s weren’t kind to him but he would win another Oscar for his iconic work in “The Godfather”. Brando was unique but he was also highly influential and his contributions to the art of acting can still be felt today.
#5 – Harold Lloyd
Whenever the silent movie era is talked about the wonderful comedians Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are always mentioned. I adore those two film greats but I was always more drawn to the work of Harold Lloyd. Lloyd was a comic genius who was able to attract audiences with his addictive personality and amazing physical comedy. He made seven talkies but he will always be remembered for his silent features and shorts. His loveable and awkward characters with their nerdy black glasses and unbridled spunk were always able to evoke laughs while offering a surprisingly high amount of character development. Harold Lloyd was an amazing physical comedian and his daring side led him to do most of his own stunts. But he was much more than that. He was an artist and a master of the silent movie era.
#4 – Cary Grant
If any actor had the complete package it was Cary Grant. He was suave, debonaire, and he had Hollywood good looks. He had an amazing sense for comedy and comedic timing. He could sweep audiences off their feet as a romantic leading man. He could handle all the curveballs thrown at him by mystery mastermind directors like Alfred Hitchcock. Grant had no weaknesses and his performances were always sharp and perfectly in tune with what the film needed. Watching him on screen was like a master class in acting. He completely understood his craft which explains why he was such a success. He was a huge box office draw and filmmakers loved to work with him. Unfortunately the Academy never seemed to get it. Cary Grant never won an acting Oscar which remains one of the most criminal mistakes in Oscar history.
#3 – Daniel Day-Lewis
I never cease to be amazed by the work of Daniel Day-Lewis. I believe he is the premiere actor of our time – an actor who draws out every detail of his characters both physically and emotionally. It could be said that no actor puts more into their performance, both in preparation and delivery, than Day-Lewis. He is known for becoming his characters in order to perfectly understand them. For me he is the truest example of an acting artist. He has only twenty movies to his credit but within that filmography lies some of the greatest performances in film history. His work as Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood” remains one of my favorite performances of all-time. Day-Lewis is the only man to have won three Best Actor Oscars and quite honestly he could have deservedly won more. He is tremendous in everything he does and he elevates every movie he is in.
#2 – James Stewart
How can anyone not love Jimmy Stewart? This incredible actor became known for his down-to-earth, everyday guy portrayals that truly resonated with audiences throughout his long and prominent career. There was never anything staged or false about Stewart. His performances always felt natural and authentic and he worked numerous times with some of film’s best directors including Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, and Henry Koster. He not only starred in but he was the key ingredient to some of the biggest movie classics ever made. “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, “Rear Window”, “Vertigo”, and “The Philadelphia Story” are just a few of the great pictures led by this fabulous actor. He loved making movies and his movies are a huge reason why I love them as well. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest.
#1 – Humphrey Bogart
Perhaps there is a touch of favoritism here, but I truly believe that Humphrey Bogart is the greatest actor of all time. Bogie didn’t have the advantages that some actors did. He didn’t have leading man bravado or signature good looks. He brought a personality to his characters which led to typecasting early in his career but eventually to strong personas that bucked the common leading man trends of the time. Bogie was extremely honest in his performances and every bit of his commitment showed itself in his characters. He led some of the greatest movies in history including “The African Queen”, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “The Maltese Falcon”, and what I consider my favorite movie ever made “Casablanca”. Humphrey Bogart died too soon, but he left behind an impeccable movie legacy. Whether it was his early gangster pictures and studio-pushed projects or his unforgettable classics that have stood the test of time, Bogie always shined and he was an actor in its truest sense.