13+ of The Greatest Actors to Ever Rule the Silver Screen
28th June, 2021
13+ of The Greatest Actors to Ever Rule the Silver Screen
Chelsea Lauren/​Shutterstock
A charismatic personality can carry an entire film, but it's no match to an actors' ability to mold themselves into diverse roles. But some icons bring both to the screen. "To grasp the full significance of life is the actor’s duty, to interpret it is his problem, and to express it his dedication.” So said the legendary Marlon Brando! And we agree. One look is all it takes to recognize Hollywood’s greatest actors. Their acting is unique, they are versatile, and they stop at nothing when it comes to preparing for a role. These actors have blessed us with some of the most memorable performances and created countless moments in cinema that we will never forget.
Robin Williams
American Zoetrope/Hollywood/Kobal/Shutterstock
Robin Williams
The king of comedy Robin Williams entertained us with impeccable performances in Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Dead Poets Society, and Good Will Hunting . Williams, known for his improvisation on screen and fast paced dialogue delivery, established a unique brand of comedy through his many acting accolades. The actor got his first Oscar nomination with Good Morning Vietnam. It’s quite ironic that when he was in high school, he was actually voted the least likely to succeed. The veteran actor spent years trying to hone his impression skills and establish a foundation for a flourishing acting career. He eventually got accepted into the Juilliard School to study the performing arts. Williams struggled during the initial years in Hollywood and performed as a mime on the streets to make ends meet. He eventually worked his way up in the film industry to become one of the greatest comedy actors of all time.
Sean Connery
P Anastasselis/​Shutterstock
Sean Connery
Agent 007--the action star who needs no introduction. Sir Sean Connery’s most notable films were in the action and wild adventures genres, with a few occasional supporting roles in drama. It will come as a surprise to many that acting was not his first choice of work, and by the time he was 30, Connery had done several odd jobs. This includes a brief stint as a bodybuilder and playing for the local football club. However, a friend told him about a production venture that was casting new faces, and Connery managed to grab a small role. This step was enough to encourage him to pursue acting. The actor went on to sign big banner films for English cinema and Hollywood.

Connery gained much fame and recognition as the suave undercover in the six Bond films. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Untouchables. He also bagged three Golden Globes and two BAFTAs in his career spanning four decades. In 2000, Connery was knighted, and the following year, he was awarded two Lifetime Achievement honors from the European and American film associations.

Marlon Brando
Mgm/​Kobal/​Shutterstock
Marlon Brando
As a kid, Marlon Brando would put up plays and skits to draw his mother out of a stupor. It was only fitting for him to pursue a career in acting in his formative years. Interestingly, after being conferred an Oscar for his role as Don Vito Corleone in the The Godfather, Brando did not show up to receive the award. In his place, the actor asked Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American activist, to make use of the opportunity and convinced her to deliver a speech on how Native Americans were represented in American films.

The actor is fondly remembered for films like Last Tango in Paris and A Streetcar Named Desire. Brando, whose career spanned over five decades, established himself as one of Hollywood’s bad boys. On screen, he was the notorious Godfather, always ready with an offer that apparently nobody could refuse. And off screen, he would often use his celebrity status and fame to actively voice a noble cause.

Will Smith
Chelsea Lauren/​Shutterstock
Will Smith
After gaining fame as an up-and-coming rapper during his early days, Will Smith tried his hand at acting. And his major breakthrough came with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air produced by NBC. The show was a great success and ran for a total of six seasons, averaging 10 million views per episode. Smith got a lot of recognition for his work, and it wasn’t long before the actor was roped in for roles that cemented his career as an established actor. He even met his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, at the auditions of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Smith is not your typical actor. He has introduced his own brand of posing, eyebrow cocking, and head tilting--mannerisms that are distinctive of him--while delivering memorable performances. And it worked for most genres of movies. Also, who can forget him in The Pursuit of Happyness? His acting was unmatched! The actor has won several titles at the American Music Awards, Grammys, and MTV Music Awards. He has also been nominated for the Academy Awards and Golden Globes.
George Clooney
Marco Provvisionato/​IPA/​Shutterstock
George Clooney
He has the looks and the talent. And according to Entertainment Weekly, the actor made it to the list of “50 Smartest People in Hollywood.” During his initial days of struggle in Los Angeles, the actor did not even have a place to stay. He lived in his friend’s closet (quite like Harry Potter) and rode a bicycle to auditions. Talk about humble beginnings! Before getting his big break, Clooney also worked several odd jobs that included selling women’s shoes and insurance policies and cutting tobacco at the fields. He auditioned for the coveted role in Thelma and Louise, which he lost to fellow actor Brad Pitt. He eventually landed several good sitcoms and starred in the popular medical drama ER. George Clooney also starred as Gotham City’s caped crusader, Batman, in the 1997 film Batman and Robin. In the same year, he was voted Sexiest Man by the People magazine and graced the cover of the 1997 issue. As of 2021, Clooney’s net worth is estimated at a staggering $500 million earned from acting, his endorsements, and many business ventures.
Benedict Cumberbatch
Erik Pendzich/​Shutterstock
Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch gained much popularity and fame with BBC’s Sherlock. It was the series that put the versatile actor on the map and earned him a global audience. Cumberbatch has acted across several different genres in mainstream television and cinema, from playing the iconic sleuth with an unmatched IQ and eye for detail to conjuring weapons out of thin air in Marvel’s Dr. Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch is also one of the few actors who pursued a degree in performing arts. He studied classical acting at the prestigious London Academy of Music and Drama Arts and received a master’s in acting. His trade skills were put to the ultimate test when he had to portray the famed mathematician Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. The movie fetched him BAFTA and Academy Award for Best Actor nominations. The 44-year-old actor's other notable works include War Horse, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Star Trek Into Darkness, and The Hobbit trilogy.
Sean Penn
Rob Latour/Variety/Shutterstock
Sean Penn
Sean Penn has starred in several memorable movies that earned him numerous accolades, fame, and much fortune. However, the actor has gotten into more trouble than he would want to handle with paparazzi, fellow cast members, and also for being too outspoken during his brief stint as an activist. It’s safe to say that his bad boy attitude did not fly with everyone. Nevertheless, the actor’s off screen endeavors did not affect his on screen performance. Penn went on to win two Oscars in the Best actor in a Leading Role for Milk and Mystic River. He also received numerous nominations in other international film fraternities. Sean Penn even did a cameo appearance in one of the most popular sitcoms of the time F.R.I.E.N.D.S to impress his children and challenge the bad boy image that he had earned over the years.
Jim Carrey
Magnus Sundholm/​Shutterstock
Jim Carrey
Jim Carrey is one of the most expressive and insanely idiosyncratic actors who dominated the ‘90s movie scene with a comedic improvisation that nobody could match. What makes him so great? Well, one thing's for sure. It's impossible to get bored with a Carrey movie marathon because you will be taken on a roller coaster ride of emotions that make you guffaw at his antics in Dumb and Dumber and bawl at his situation in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The actor established himself in Hollywood with three hit movies, all that released in one year: The Mask, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and Dumb and Dumber. He has been known to take on scripts that may or may not work out.

The actor has always managed to surpass expectations and deliver performances that have been etched in memory forever. His dedication was such that the actor beat himself up in one of the scenes of Liar Liar to record genuine sound effects rather than have foley added in post-production. He received several nominations for his comedic roles across BAFTA and the Golden Globes. Carrey won best actor back-to-back for critically acclaimed performances in The Truman Show and Man on the Moon.

Michael Douglas
Cindy Ord/NBC/ZUMA Wire/Shutterstock
Michael Douglas
Michael Douglas was always destined to enter the world of films, as he grew up under his father’s acting legacy. Being the son of Kirk Douglas was enough pressure to do well, and as a result, the actor joined the University of California to study drama. He eventually moved to New York to continue his education at the American Place Theatre and Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. After working as an assistant director in his father’s films, Douglas started landing roles in mainstream movies.

The actor won an Oscar for his performance in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, and by then, he had already established himself as an A-lister. Douglas also won Best Picture for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That’s not all the awards he has bagged. The actor received a BAFTA for Best Picture and a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor. Douglas also received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

Bruce Willis
Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock
Bruce Willis
A young Bruce Willis took an interest in the performing arts after he discovered that his stutter would go away during auditions. In his formative years, Willis did several small roles in popular movies for nearly a decade with established actors before he was cast as the lead detective in the 1980 hit sitcom Moonlighting. The actor then signed on for the Die Hard movie and was paid a handsome $5 million for his part as Detective John McClane. He also starred in the next four sequels. In an era where buffed-up, red-blooded actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone dominated the action genre, Bruce Willis was able to stealthily make his way in the tail end of the '80s and establish himself as the working man hero with a balding hairline that every average Joe without a six-pack could look up to. Bruce Willis won an Emmy for his work in Moonlighting and another one for a short recurring stint in the F.R.I.E.N.D.S sitcom. Even after starring in iconic movies like Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense, and other notable Academy Award-winning films, he never won an Oscar. In fact, he has never even been nominated for one! But his contributions to cinema are unmatched!

Brad Pitt
Matt Baron/​Shutterstock
Brad Pitt
Hollywood’s golden boy Brad Pitt has made quite a name for himself since the early ‘90s in mainstream cinema. But his journey was not short of struggles, as Pitt had to work several odd jobs to support his daily needs. This included moving refrigerators, dressing up as a chicken for a restaurant chain El Pollo Loco, and even driving a limo for dancers. He eventually landed a role in Thelma and Louise, one of producer-director Ridley Scott’s award-winning movies starring Gina Davis and Susan Sarandon. After a brief hiatus, Pitt starred in Fight Club, a movie that catapulted his career. From playing the war legend Achilles in Troy to taking on the role of a faded TV star who loiters around with his stunt double in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he has done it all. Let’s not forget his very impressive portrayal of a 70-year-old man who ages in reverse in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which got him an Oscar nomination. The actor has seven Oscar nominations to his name, of which he won two!"
Robert Downey Jr.
Matt Baron/​Shutterstock
Robert Downey Jr.
The actor, who was born to Robert Downey Sr. and Elise Ford, was introduced to Hollywood before he could even crawl. Both parents were actively working in the industry at the time. The actor had minor roles in his father's films--he made his acting debut at five in the absurdist comedy Pound, in which he played a sick puppy. Robert Downey Jr. got an Oscar nomination for his work in the film Chaplin. This was easily one of his earliest best performances. The actor has had a serious run with the law on multiple occasions on account of his struggle with abuse of alcohol and other illicit substances. It even took several stints in rehab for him to pull his life back together. The actor made a comeback with Mel Gibson’s production venture, The Singing Detective. Fun fact: Gibson agreed to pay for the actor’s insurance bond when no other filmmaker was willing to risk hiring him. Robert Downey Jr.’s comeback was cemented with two of the most important films of his career Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man. Iron Man grossed over a billion dollars at the global box office!
Matt Damon
Canadian Press/​Shutterstock
Matt Damon
Matt Damon’s performances have truly been out of this world…literally if you count his critically acclaimed role in director Ridley Scott’s The Martian, which earned him his third Oscar nomination for acting. He has had an impressive career--from humble beginnings alongside veteran Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting to playing a falsely accused agent on the run in Jason Bourne. He even played a pivotal role in the Ocean’s movie series starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt. It is safe to say that Damon has certainly experimented with his acting choices that ultimately earned him several award nominations.

Matt Damon hails from a family of mixed Scottish, Swedish, Finnish, and English ancestry. He moved to New York City against his parents’ wishes to pursue acting and even break danced at Harvard Square in between auditions to make ends meet. Notably, he is also a Harvard dropout. Damon studied English literature and left just 12 credits short of graduation when his acting pursuits started to pay off.

Matthew McConaughey
Javier Garcia/​BPI/​Shutterstock
Matthew McConaughey
Three words suffice for this dapper Texan cowboy, “Alright, Alright, Alright.” That and his southern charm and smart boy looks were enough to land McConaughey some pretty amazing roles in Hollywood. The actor has played many leading roles in blockbuster hits that are too good to miss. He started early with small budget productions and supporting roles in films like Angels in the Outfield, Lone Star, and Boys on the Side. But McConaughey’s big break came with the 1996 hit A Time to Kill, wherein he played the role of a lawyer.

The actor was part of many romantic comedies in his early days, starring opposite Jennifer Lopez, Kate Hudson, and Sarah Jessica Parker. His rugged, toned physique and heart melting smile had a lot to do with these roles coming the actor’s way. Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar and several other awards for a more serious and critically acclaimed role in Dallas Buyers Club.

Bradley Cooper
Scott Garfitt/​Shutterstock
Bradley Cooper
Hazel blue eyes, golden hair, an easy smile, and a physique that inspires almost everyone to hit the gym...Bradley Cooper is the ultimate package. And his acting is just as flawless as his looks. The actor first got a cameo in Sex and the City and secured a few recurring roles in shows like The Street and Jack & Bobby. Cooper shot to fame with Wedding Crashers, in which he starred opposite Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan. His subsequent roles spanned multiple genres, with comedies like the Hangover trilogy and other romantic hits. Cooper proved his acting prowess with his faultless performances in Silver Linings Playbook and A Star is Born. Both movies got him Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe nominations. He ultimately won a BAFTA and a Grammy for the music in A Star is Born, which starred Lady Gaga in a leading role. The actor has won a total of 66 awards across international film festivals for his various performances to date.
Morgan Freeman
Rob Latour/​Shutterstock
Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman realized his acting dreams only after he joined the Air Force. But it was years before he could land good roles in notable films to become one of Hollywood’s most respected actors. He starred in one of the first all African American musicals Hello, Dolly! Years later, he landed his first national television comedy skit that ran for a total of six seasons. He eventually got his “big break” with Street Smart. The movie earned him his first ever Oscar nomination.

Other than his distinctive voice, Morgan's mastery of handling stoic characters with complete fragility makes him one of the greatest actors of Hollywood. Freeman, who is 84, shows no signs of stopping with two executive production ventures, The Story of God and The Story of Us, in the making. The actor’s voice, best suited for narration, earned him several accolades for documentaries. And who can forget one of his most memorable performances alongside Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption?

Christian Bale
Canadian Press/​Shutterstock
Christian Bale
Christian Bale’s dedication for the performing arts knows no bounds. In fact, some say he would go out of his way to prepare methodically for a role, as we have seen him do for The Machinist and American Psycho. Bale underwent a physical transformation that worried the movie producers. He lost a ton of weight for one film and bulked up in a short period of time for the next one. He started acting in commercials from a very young age and also made his stage debut with the veteran actor Rowan Atkinson in a 1984 play.

Bale’s major breakthrough came when Steven Spielberg chose him to play the role of a young English boy separated from his family at the start of World War II for the 1987 movie Empire of the Sun. He narrowly missed out on being the next James Bond and lost the opportunity to Daniel Craig for Casino Royale. The actor has also worked with the veteran filmmaker Christopher Nolan in the Batman trilogy.

Denzel Washington
Rob Latour/​Shutterstock
Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington broke box office records and earned major awards across movie genres. In fact, he became the first African American actor with six Oscar nominations. Morgan is at a close second with five Oscar nominations to his name. Washington also became the second African American actor, after Sidney Poitier, to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. This was for the movie Glory. The actor has shared the stage with legends like Robert DeNiro, Jack Nicholson, and Gene Hackman.

Washington’s filmography speaks for itself, with not one but seven major hits that featured on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheers list for the most inspiring movies ever made in Hollywood. The method actor would go all out preparing for any role that came his way, and once the camera was rolling, he created magic that was captured onscreen for eternity. Washington had considered several career options before graduating college. He eventually completed a degree in drama and journalism and began to pursue acting as a career before joining the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

Michael Caine
Nils Jorgensen/​Shutterstock
Michael Caine
Michael Caine ranks among the greatest actors in Hollywood. His distinct accent and dialogue delivery made him stand apart from the crowd instantly. Michael Caine, who has a diverse career that spans over six decades, is the only actor apart from Jack Nicholson to have received Academy Award nominations in every decade from 1960 to the 2000s. In fact, Caine’s unique and eloquent acting style served as an inspiration for the character of Austin Powers. His flawless portrayal of the "ladies' man" in Alfie was an influence on Mike Myers’s bespectacled, hard-partying womanizer. The actor later had a cameo role as Austin's father in Austin Powers in Goldmember. Michael Caine has got a total of 29 notable nominations, some of which include the Academy Awards, BAFTA, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild. Apart from this, the actor has received numerous accolades from international film fraternities for his various acting assignments. Some of his best-known acting roles include Alfred in The Dark Knight Rises and The Dark Knight, Professor Brand in Interstellar, Finn McMissle in Cars 2, and Miles in Inception. Caine, who is now 88, has acted in over 130 films with a worldwide record gross of over $8 billion.
Anthony Hopkins
ITV/Shutterstock
Anthony Hopkins
The veteran actor starred in The Silence of the Lambs, one of the defining films of his career in Hollywood. He started young after he met actor Richard Burton, who inspired him to take up acting as a profession. And we are glad that he did because no one could have played the role of John Quincy Adams better! Did you know? In preparation for this role in Amistad, the legendary actor made jaws drop by memorizing a seven-page courtroom speech and delivering it in one shot without faltering. Now that's impressive!

Hopkins is not only a renowned actor but is also a successful director and film producer. He has received numerous awards in his career of over six decades, including two Academy Awards, two Emmys, four BAFTAs, a British Academy Television Award, and the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award. In 1993, the Queen knighted the actor for his services to the arts. In 2003, he was conferred a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That's not all! In 2008, he bagged the BAFTA Fellowship.

Jack Nicholson
Picturegroup/Shutterstock
Jack Nicholson
“Here’s Johnny!” A hair-raising line that we will never forget. The Shining is the first movie that comes to mind when hearing the actor’s name. Interestingly, Nicholson ad-libbed this line that was inspired from the The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Director Stanley Kubrick loved the improv bit so much that it made it to the final cut. Nicholson was also voted as the “class clown” in high school back in 1954! It seems a bit spooky that this epithet served as the prelude to the actor’s standout performance as Jack Napier a.k.a the Joker in the 1989 superhero movie, Batman.

Nicholson’s characters are unpredictable at best--hysterical one moment and petrifying the next. He has got that spunk that allows him to play unlikeable and off-putting characters. The actor has starred in some of the most iconic films of all time, including Chinatown and Terms of Endearment, and has demonstrated a range of emotions through his incredible performances that brought some of the most unusual characters to life. He is one of very few actors to have bagged three Oscars out of his 12 nominations! He has a total of 40 award nominations in his kitty, with 14 wins featured across the Academy Awards, BAFTA, Golden Globes, Grammys, and Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Robert De Niro
James Veysey/​BAFTA/​Shutterstock
Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro is one of a kind. Not only did he play pivotal roles in a slew of remarkable movies, but he also stole the show with his layered acting. He took method acting to a whole new level. We are not kidding! He got himself a cab license for Taxi Driver, lived in Italy and learned Italian as part of his preparation for The Godfather Part II, bulked up to play Jake La Motta in Raging Bull, and learned to play the saxophone for New York, New York. Talk about hard work! The actor has worked with some exceptional filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese, Brain De Palma, Elia Kazan, and Francis Ford Coppola, who gave us The Godfather. Playing the character of young Vito Corleone was a dream come true for De Niro, and the part also earned him his first Oscar. He starred in one of the all-time great films, Midnight Run, which brought out his knack for comedy. Unfortunately, this also provided the actor with a template for the latter part of his career.

Robert De Niro discovered his love for acting at the tender age of 10 and dropped out of school at 16 to learn from one of the masters of acting, Stella Adler. The actor has received a total of 34 nominations with four notable wins for best supporting actor, best actor, and best international supporting actor. He has also been honored with the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement award most recently in 2020.

Al Pacino
Anthony Harvey/​BAFTA/​Shutterstock
Al Pacino
Corleone, Montana, Serpico. Is there a role Al Pacino cannot play? We think not! What makes him so great? Maybe it's the fact that he never let himself be typecast in all his career. He has played a cop, a mafia boss, a Nazi hunter, an aging rock star, a small-time thug, and a powerful business tycoon. "Some actors play characters, Al becomes them." It's hard to argue with Lee Strasberg's assessment of Al Pacino. His notable and unforgettable performances in Scarface and The Godfather pushed his career to the top. Fun fact: Robert De Niro, who started about the same time as Al Pacino, lost the role of Michael Corleone to him in the first Godfather movie.

Al Pacino gained worldwide recognition with notable and unforgettable performances in Scarface, Serpico, and Scent of a Woman, for which he got an Oscar. He pursued acting from a young age and studied the craft under many legends, including Lee Strasberg. The actor has had one of the most successful careers, spanning over 50 odd years, in the history of Hollywood and is one of the very few American actors to have bagged the Triple Crown of Acting– Academy, Emmy, and Tony Awards. He entered the world of filmmaking with Looking for Richard, which takes a comprehensive look at Shakespeare's unabating role and relevance in popular culture.

Leonardo DiCaprio
David Fisher/​Shutterstock
Leonardo DiCaprio
After a few decent stints in TV shows, Leonardo DiCaprio had already gotten his big break with What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), which got him an Oscar nomination. However, it was Titanic (1997) that introduced Hollywood to a superstar in the making. DiCaprio narrowly beat Matthew McConaughey for the lead role, as director James Cameron insisted that he be given the part. The actor has worked with Martin Scorsese in three blockbuster hits: The Aviator, The Departed, and The Wolf of Wall Street. DiCaprio had to wait for nearly two decades to finally win an Oscar for his role in The Revenant. The actor started his career early with an appearance in Romper Room but was kicked off for being too disruptive on sets. DiCaprio has been nominated 248 times for the Academy Awards, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild, and Golden Globes, and a few others from international film fraternities. Of these, he has won a staggering 99 awards for his notable performances.
Tom Hanks
Shutterstock
Tom Hanks
If there's one actor who can deliver nuanced and layered performances across all genres, it's "America's Dad," Tom Hanks! The actor’s filmography spans decades and includes incredible roles that make him so magnetic! He has done it all, from playing the endearing Viktor Navorski in The Terminal to assuming the role of the lifesaving captain in movies like Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, Sully, and Captain Phillips. Even The Circle, which felt like it was stuck in an endless loop, was somewhat watchable because he was so damn mesmeric! He even showed a flair for playing tenacious and dark characters like Michael Sullivan in Road to Perdition. Forrest Gump, in which he played the title character, earned him global recognition and an Academy Award for Best Actor. The movie grossed over $680 million at the box office!

Tom Hanks became one of the youngest actors to receive the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award at just 45. The actor received the Distinguished Public Service Award, the country Navy's highest civilian honor, on Veterans Day 1999, for his work in Saving Private Ryan. He is also the only actor after Spencer Tracy to win back-to-back Oscars for his award-winning performances in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Fun fact: His Oscar acceptance speech for Philadelphia inspired the plot of the 1997 comedy film In & Out.