THE GREATEST SERIES: The 10 Greatest Actresses of All-Time



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. Several months back I entered the first installment to what I’m simply calling “The Greatest” series. This time I’ve went through the grueling task of putting together a list of who I think are the 10 greatest actresses of all time. This is the second installment of a series that I hope to branch out in a number of interesting directions. I hope you enjoy it and take time to share you’re thoughts below.

There are some brilliant actresses 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 talents such as Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Carey Mulligan, Elizabeth Olsen just to name a few. I love these ladies 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 – Jodie Foster
#19 – Rachel Weisz
#18 – Helen Mirren
#17 – Maureen O’Hara
#16 – Kate Winslet
#15 – Nicole Kidman
#14 – Vivian Leigh
#13 – Deborah Kerr
#12 – Meryl Streep
#11 – Bette Davis

Now let me introduce my 10 Greatest Film Actresses of All Time:

#10 – Juliette Binoche

L Juliette BinocheIt may surprise some people to see Juliette Binoche in such a prominent spot on this list, especially those unfamiliar with her body of work. For me few actresses can give a more deeply personal and emotionally committed performance than this immensely talented French actress. Her abilities speak for themselves, but you gain a better understanding of her appreciation by simply looking at the great filmmakers who have put her in their films: Jean-Luc Godard, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Michael Haneke, and Abbas Kiarostami just to name a few. Binoche has an amazing knack of versatility. I don’t know if a role exists that she can’t play. There are certainly some bigger names behind her on this list, but for my money any movie with Juliette Binoche attached to it is automatically interesting.

#9 – Grace Kelly

L Grace KellySome may cry foul and say that Grace Kelly lacks the body of work to be considered one of the greatest actresses of all time. I can certainly understand that sentiment. At the same time I believe Kelly’s beauty, elegance, sincerity, and natural abilities helped her portray some truly magical characters. Grace Kelly was an profoundly talented actress and she had an effortless grace. And she could hold her on with any of the big named actors she worked with whether it was James Stewart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, or Bing Crosby. In fact, Grant would later call Grace Kelly his favorite actress. Kelly starred in one of my favorite westerns “High Noon” and in two of my very favorite Alfred Hitchcock pictures “Rear Window” and “Dial M for Murder”. She was an Academy Award winner and beloved by the entire industry.

#8 – Cate Blanchett

L Cate BlanchettIn the world of modern moviemaking few actresses can consistently amaze me like Cate Blanchett does. There are so many things about her acting that I appreciate. One of the things I love are the old-school sensibilities you see in various degrees in all of her work. But Blanchett has also shown a willingness to branch out of her comfort zone and she has always excelled. She’s played in small intimate independent films and huge grand-scaled blockbusters. But the unbelievable consistency of quality that she brings to each project is a testament to her amazing range and impeccable talent. She has been nominated for six Academy Awards and has won two all by the age of 45. It’s hard to argue against Cate Blanchett’s place on this list and she is one of those rare performers who truly makes whatever film they are in better.

#7 – Elizabeth Taylor

ElizabethTaylorMany people will remember Elizabeth Taylor for a number of reasons. It may be her very unusual friendship with Michael Jackson. Or it could be for her seven marriages and numerous other romances. What she should be remembered for is being one of the most emotional and dynamic actresses ever to grace the big screen. Taylor was successful at an early age. She started as a child star and reluctantly moved to adult roles. It was there where her career skyrocketed. Taylor was not only a tremendous actress, but she was also one of the most beautiful women ever in the business. She often used these two gifts to create some of the most sultry, sexy and provocative characters you’ll find. She would go on to earn six Oscar nominations winning two of them and cementing her name among the greatest actresses of all time.

#6 – Barbara Stanwyck

L Barbara StanwyckThis may be a little high on the list for some people, but simply put I think Barbara Stanwyck was a phenomenal actress. In many ways she was an underappreciated performer and you rarely hear her named mentioned by many modern day moviegoers. In fact she is the only actress in my Top 10 to never win an Academy Award. That’s hard to believe. Just think back to some of her great work in movies like the fabulous “Stella Dallas”, the hilarious Howard Hawks comedy “Ball of Fire”, one of the greatest movies ever made “Double Indemnity”, the holiday classic “Christmas in Connecticut”, and the character-driven “Titanic”. These just scratch the surface on what was a brilliant film career. Stanwyck was the consummate professional and was loved by everyone she worked with from her co-stars to the film crew. She was also one of cinema’s truly great actresses.

#5 – Audrey Hepburn

L Audrey HepburnIn so many ways Audrey Hepburn embodied the idea of a big movie star. She had exquisite beauty and an undeniable fashion sense. But Hepburn was much more than that. She was also a fabulous actresses who played several signature roles in films that still stand as classics. Hepburn set the movie world ablaze in the 1950s through the 1960s. Her popularity launched in 1953 with the beautifully romantic “Roman Holiday”. She would go on the win the Best Actress Oscar for that performance. The very next year she would get another Oscar nomination for her work in Billy Wilder’s “Sabrina”. Many other great performances followed in “War and Peace”, “The Nun’s Story”, and of course “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Audrey Hepburn is a true screen legend, but I often think her great acting gets lost behind her iconic image. That should never be the case.

#4 – Olivia de Havilland

L Olivia de HavillandI’ve always found Olivia de Havilland’s career to be a fascinating one. From her wonderful assortment of movies to the positive impact she has had on the industry, de Havilland has an important place in the history of cinema. She was also an actress who weathered the trials of early studio contract work to blossom into one of the most versatile performers we have ever had. She was always good even during those testy early years. She really became noticed working alongside Errol Flynn. The two would star in eight movies together. But she got a tremendous break when she landed a role in “Gone with the Wind”. This performance lead to the ability to seek more challenging roles. She was tremendous in films like “The Heiress”, “Hold Back the Dawn”, “To Each His Own”, and “The Snake Pit”. Olivia de Havilland is one of the few of that era still with us today – one of the true great actresses.

#3 – Marion Cotillard

L Marion CottilardI always love actors and actresses who don’t allow themselves to be pigeon-holed and who aren’t consistently within their comfort zones. Marion Cotillard is one such actress. Some may scoff at her being so high on this list but I find her to be one of the most captivating actresses working today. I’m always amazed at the sheer heart and emotion that she brings out of her characters. Her career started in France and she earned some much deserved attention. But her big break came when she landed the starring role in the Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en Rose”. Her performance has been rightly praised and its impression is still felt. She would go on to give a number of challenging performances in the French ensemble film “Little White Lies”, “Rust and Bone”, and most recently “The Immigrant”. And that doesn’t include the perfect touches she brings in her supporting work. “Midnight in Paris”, “Inception”, and “Nine”.

#2 – Katharine Hepburn

L Kate HepburnIt is impossible to even consider the greatest actresses of all time without Katharine Hepburn being mentioned. For over six decades Hepburn entertained audiences with performances that spanned nearly every genre. She worked with some of the best actors including Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, and long time partner Spencer Tracy. She had an equally impressive list of directors who sought her for their roles. Hepburn’s journey wasn’t without its troubles. At one point she earned the reputation of being hard to work with and her career declined. But several big roles and great performances changed that. “The Philadelphia Story” brought her back to prominence and “The African Queen” did the same thing for her several years later. Her success continued into who elder years and by the end she had won an unprecedented four Academy Awards. It was an amazing career.

#1 – Ingrid Bergman

L Ingrid BergmanNarrowing down such a list has proved to be an almost impossible task, but from the very beginning I knew who would occupy my top spot. For me it has to be the Swedish beauty Ingrid Bergman. She was an actress always known for her innate natural looks and abilities when it comes to acting. In fact her first American movie role (“Intermezzo: A Love Story”) made her an instant star. Through the years that followed her roles would garner more attention and her performances only got better. Perhaps her most recognized role is Ilsa from the classic “Casablanca”. But who can forget her Oscar-winning work in “Gaslight” or her collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock “Spellbound” and “Notorious”? There was “The Bells of St. Mary’s”, “Joan of Arc”, “Anastasia” and so many more. She continued to shine on through the late 1970s even winning her third Oscar for “Murder on the Orient Express”. It was a magical life and career that has left us with so many wonderful cinematic treasures.

THE GREATEST SERIES: The 10 Greatest Actors of All-Time

Best Actor

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 – Russell Crowe

Now let me introduce my 10 Greatest Film Actors of All Time:

#10 – Henry Fonda

FONDAIt 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

BOBBYWhen 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 – Paul Newman

MEWMANHe 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.

#7 – Marlon Brando

BRANDOTalk 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.

#6 – Denzel Washington

DENZELIt took longer than it should have, but a few years ago I finally came around to understanding just how great of an actor Denzel Washington truly is. From his earliest roles he never lacked charisma. I has it in gallons. But it was in 1989 that the immensity of his talents first grabbed the most attention. His supporting work in “Glory” showed off an intensity and screen presence that would become a staple for years to come. He won his first Academy Award for the role. He would win another Oscar in 2001’s “Training Day”. He has been nominated a total of nine times. And I love his film choices which range from powerful biopics to dystopian thrillers. From action movies to intense family dramas. And out of almost 50 films he has made only one sequel. And the best part is that he is still going strong. He has three films in the works including a Coen Brothers vision of Macbeth. But no matter the film, I’ll see anything with Denzel Washington’s name attached.

#5 – Harold Lloyd

Harold LloydWhenever 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

GRANTIf 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

DAY LEWISI 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 each movie he is in.

#2 – James Stewart

STEWARTHow 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

BogartPerhaps 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.