The 100 Greatest Modern Actors

Marlin Brando once said “To grasp the full significance of life is the actor’s duty, to interpret it is his problem, and to express it his dedication.”  Just a short generation later, Jim Carrey would observe “Until Ace Ventura, no actor had considered talking through his ass.”  Yes, there is no recipe for what makes great acting and no surefire way to distinguish it from the talking asses of the world, perhaps in no small part because when it’s at it’s best, it doesn’t seem like acting at all.  Ranking artistry is never easy, if not downright impossible.  It’s undeniably subjective, contentious, and almost sure to offend.  Of course, that’s never stopped us before.

Rankings were made taking into account overall ability and range, strength of the roles taken, longevity, influence, and awards won.  Listed alongside are each actor’s best works, also loosely ranked according to how each exemplifies their talents.
Actors must have appeared in at least one 21st century feature film for consideration as “modern.”

  1. Robert De Niro: The Godfather II, The Deer Hunter, Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Jackie Brown, Once Upon a Time in America, Mean Streets, Heat, Cape Fear, Casino, The King of Comedy, Brazil, The Mission, Silver Linings Playbook.
  2. Al Pacino: The Godfather II, The Godfather, Scarface, Heat, Scent of a Woman, Carlito’s Way, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Donnie Brasco, The Insider.
  3. Daniel Day-Lewis: There Will Be Blood, Lincoln, Gangs of New York, My Left Foot, The Last of the Mohicans, In the Name of the Father, The Age of Innocence, The Crucible, The Boxer, Nine.
  4. Jack Nicholson: The Departed, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shining, Easy Rider, Chinatown, A Few Good Men, Batman, As Good As It Gets, Terms of Endearment, The Little Shop of Horrors, The Pledge.
  5. Peter O’Toole (D): Lawrence of Arabia, Beckett, The Ruling Class, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Stunt Man.
  6. Tom Hanks: Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, Road to Perdition, Cast Away, A League of Their Own, Big, Philadelphia, Apollo 13, Captain Phillips.
  7. Dustin Hoffman: Rain Man, Midnight Cowboy, The Graduate, Kramer vs. Kramer, Tootsie, Lenny, Marathon Man, All the President’s Men, Papillon, Sleepers.
  8. Paul Newman (D): Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke, Hud, The Sting, The Hustler, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Color of Money, Road To Perdition, The Verdict, Nobody’s Fool.
  9. Robert Duvall: The Godfather, The Apostle, Apocalypse Now, Network, Tender Mercies, The Great Santini, Get Low, To Kill a Mockingbird, M*A*S*H, The Natural.
  10. Denzel Washington: Malcolm X, Training Day, Glory, American Gangster, Inside Man, Remember The Titans, Courage Under Fire, Philadelphia, The Hurricane, Crimson Tide, Flight, Fences, The Bone Collector, The Manchurian Candidate, The Siege, Antwone Fisher.
  11. Anthony Hopkins: Silence of the Lambs, The Remains of the Day, Shadowlands, Nixon, Amistad.
  12. Gene Hackman: The French Connection, Bonnie and Clyde, Unforgiven, The Conversation, Mississippi Burning, Hoosiers, Superman, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Poseidon Adventure, Get Shorty.
  13. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (D): Capote, The Master, Synecdoche New York, Magnolia, Doubt, Almost Famous, Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Talented Mr. Ripley.
  14. Leonardo DiCaprio: The Departed, The Revenant, The Wolf of Wall Street, Django Unchained, Gangs of New York, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Blood Diamond, Catch Me If You Can, Shutter Island, The Basketball Diaries, Inception, The Aviator, Titanic, Revolutionary Road.
  15. Clint Eastwood: The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Dirty Harry, Gran Torino, Escape from Alcatraz, In the Line of Fire, The Bridges of Madison Country, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Hang Em High.
  16. Morgan Freeman: The Shawshank Redemption, Unforgiven, Se7en, Million Dollar Baby, Glory, The Dark Knight, Gone Baby Gone, Driving Miss Daisy, Street Smart, The Sum of All Fears, Batman Begins, Outbreak, Amistad, Along Came a Spider, High Crimes.
  17. Robert Redford: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jeremiah Johnson, All is Lost, The Sting, Out of Africa, The Natural, All the President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor, The Candidate, Tell Them Willie Boy is Here.
  18. Sean Penn: Mystic River, 21 Grams, Milk, Dead Man Walking, Carlito’s Way, The Thin Red Line, I Am Sam, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Colors, Sweet and Lowdown.
  19. Michael Caine: Sleuth, Alfie, The Dark Knight, The Cider House Rules, Educating Rita, Hannah and Her Sisters, Little Voice, The Quiet American, The Italian Job, Harry Brown.
  20. Ben Kingsley: Gandhi, Schindler’s List, House of Sand and Fog, Sexy Beast, Shutter Island.
  21. Gary Oldman: The Darkest Hour, Leon the Professional, JFK, The Dark Knight, Harry Potter, Sid and Nancy, True Romance, The Fifth Element, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
  22. Harrison Ford: Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Fugitive, Blade Runner, Witness.
  23. Geoffrey Rush: Shine, The King’s Speech, Quills, Pirates of the Caribbean.
  24. Kevin Spacey: Se7en, The Usual Suspects, American Beauty, LA Confidential, The Negotiator, A Time to Kill, Glengarry Glen Ross, Outbreak, Superman Returns, The United States of Leland.
  25. Russell Crowe: LA Confidential, Gladiator, The Insider, Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind, Romper Stomper, 3:10 to Yuma, American Gangster, Master and Commander, Blood Oath.
  26. Christian Bale: The Machinist, The Prestige, American Hustle, The Fighter, The Dark Knight, American Psycho, Batman Begins, 3:10 to Yuma, Empire of the Sun, Rescue Dawn.
  27. Matt Damon: Good Will Hunting, Saving Private Ryan, The Departed, Rounders, The Martian, The Bourne Identity, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ocean’s 11, Syriana, School Ties.
  28. Willem Defoe: Platoon, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Boondock Saints, Shadow of the Vampire, To Live and Die in L.A.
  29. Dennis Hopper (D): Easy Rider, Blue Velvet, Hoosiers, Speed, Apocalypse Now.
  30. Jon Voight: Coming Home, Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance, Runaway Train, Ali.
  31. Richard Dreyfus: Jaws, American Graffiti, The Goodbye Girl, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Mr. Holland’s Opus.
  32. Brad Pitt: Se7en, Fight Club, The Assassination of Jessie James, Twelve Monkeys, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, Sleepers, Ocean’s Eleven, Babel, Inglourious Basterds, Snatch, True Romance, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Legends of the Fall, Interview with the Vampire.
  33. Martin Sheen: Apocalypse Now, Badlands, The American President, Wall Street, The Departed.
  34. Tom Cruise: Magnolia, Rain Man, A Few Good Men, Born on the Fourth of July, Minority Report, Risky Business, The Color of Money, Jerry Maguire, The Last Samurai, The Firm, Mission Impossible, Tropic Thunder, Top Gun, Vanilla Sky, Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicle.
  35. Joaquin Pheonix: The Master, Gladiator, Walk the Line, Her, Inherent Vice.
  36. Ian McKellan: Gods and Monsters, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Richard III, X-Men, Apt Pupil.
  37. Johnny Depp: Edward Scissorhands, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Ed Wood, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Blow, Finding Neverland, Donnie Brasco, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Platoon, Sleepy Hollow.
  38. Sean Connery: James Bond films, The Untouchables, The Hunt For Red October, Murder on the Orient Express, The Rock.
  39. Ralph Fiennes: Schindler’s List, Harry Potter Franchise, The English Patient, The Constant Gardener, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
  40. Tom Hardy: Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises, Bronson, The Revenant, Inception, Max Max: Fury Road, Locke, The Drop, Dunkirk.
  41. Edward Norton: Fight Club, American History X, Rounders, The Illusionist, 25th Hour, Primal Fear, Birdman, Keeping the Faith, The Italian Job, Red Dragon.
  42. Liam Neeson: Schindler’s List, Kinsey, Batman Begins, Taken, Michael Collins.
  43. Christopher Walken: The Deer Hunter, Catch Me If You Can, A View to Kill, The Dead Zone, At Close Range.
  44. Tommy Lee Jones: The Fugitive, No Country For Old Men, Lincoln, JFK, In the Valley of Elah.
  45. Harvey Keitel: Mean Streets, Bugsy, Reservoir Dogs, Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction.
  46. Samuel L. Jackson: Pulp Fiction, A Time to Kill, Django Unchained, Jackie Brown, The Negotiator.
  47. John Malkovich: Places in the Heart, The Killing Fields, In the Line of Fire, Of Mice and Men, Being John Malkovich.
  48. James Earl Jones: The Great White Hope, Field of Dreams, Jack Ryan Franchise, Coming to America, Star Wars.
  49. Jeff Bridges: The Big Lebowski, Crazy Heart, True Grit, Hell or High Water, Starman.
  50. Ed Harris: Pollock, Apollo 13, The Truman Show, A Beautiful Mind, The Hours, Gone Baby Gone, A History of Violence, Empire Falls, The Rock, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Abyss.
  51. Robin Williams (D): Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam, One Hour Photo, Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire.
  52. William Hurt: Kiss of the Spider Woman, Children of a Lesser God, Broadcast News, A History of Violence, Too Big to Fail.
  53. Benicio Del Toro: The Usual Suspects, Traffic, 21 Grams, Che, Sicario, Sin City, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Snatch, Guerrilla, The Argentine, The Pledge.
  54. Michael Fassbender: Steve Jobs, 12 Years a Slave, Shame, Hunger, A Dangerous Method.
  55. Warren Beatty: Bonnie and Clyde, Heaven Can Wait, Reds, Bugsy, Bulworth.
  56. Javier Bardem: No Country For Old Men, Biutiful, Skyfall, Before Night Falls, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Mother!
  57. James Caan: The Godfather, Misery, Thief, A Bridge Too Far, Brian’s Song.
  58. Alan Arkin: Wait Until Dark, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Catch-22, Little Miss Sunshine, Argo.
  59. Mel Gibson: Braveheart, The Patriot, Lethal Weapon, Ransom, Mad Max.
  60. Jake Gyllenhaal: Nightcrawler, Donnie Darko, Prisoners, Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac, Southpaw.
  61. Christopher Plummer: The Sound of Music, The Insider, Malcolm X, Beginners, The Last Station.
  62. Nick Nolte: Affliction, The Thin Red Line, Warrior, The Prince of Tides, Cape Fear.
  63. Christoph Waltz: Inglourious BasterdsDjango Unchained, Carnage.
  64. Mark Ruffalo: Spotlight, Foxcatcher, The Kids are Alright, The Normal Heart, Infinitely Polar Bear, Shutter Island, Zodiac, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, You Can Count On Me, Avengers.
  65. Casey Affleck: Manchester by the Sea, Gone Baby Gone, The Assassination of Jesse James, Good Will Hunting, Out of the Furnace.
  66. Will Smith: The Pursuit Of Happiness, Ali, Six Degrees of Separation.
  67. Don Cheadle: Hotel Rwanda, Traffic, Crash, Devil in a Blue Dress, Ocean’s Eleven.
  68. Kevin Costner: Dances with Wolves, Field of Dreams, JFK, The Untouchables, Bull Durham.
  69. Michael Douglas: Wall Street, Traffic, Wonder Boys, The American President, Basic Instinct.
  70. John Hurt: The Elephant Man, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Alien, Scandal, The Hit.
  71. Bruce Willis: The Sixth Sense, Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys, Sin City.
  72. Kevin Bacon: The Woodsman, Sleepers, Apollo 13, Mystic River, Animal House.
  73. Robert Downey Jr.: Chaplin, Tropic Thunder, Less than Zero, Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes.
  74. Max von Sydow: The Seventh Seal, The Exorcist, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Three Days of the Condor, Never Say Never Again.
  75. Paul Giamatti: Sideways, Cinderella Man, American Splendor, The Illusionist, Cold Souls.
  76. Billy Bob Thorton: Monster’s Ball, Sling Blade, A Simple Plan, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Friday Night Lights.
  77. George Clooney: O Brother Where Art Thou?, Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, Michael Clayton, Up in the Air.
  78. James Woods: Salvador, Once Upon a Time in America, Ghosts of Mississippi, Casino, Contact.
  79. Bill Murray: Lost in Translation, Groundhog Day, Caddyshack, Rushmore, Ghostbusters.
  80. Joe Pesci: Goodfellas, Raging Bull, My Cousin Vinny, Casino, Lethal Weapon, Home Alone.
  81. Kenneth Branagh: Henry V, My Week with Marilyn, Hamlet, Othello, Much Ado About Nothing.
  82. Heath Ledger: (D) The Dark Knight, Brokeback Mountain, The Patriot, 10 Things I Hate About You, Candy.
  83. Woody Allen: Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Deconstructing Harry.
  84. Nicholas Cage: Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, The Rock, Raising Arizona, Face/Off.
  85. Josh Brolin: No Country for Old Men, W., Milk, True Grit, Sicario.
  86. Tim Robbins: The Shawshank Redemption, Mystic River, The Player, Bull Durham, Bob Roberts.
  87. Forest Whitaker: The Last King of Scotland, Good Morning Vietnam, Bird, Panic Room, American Gun.
  88. Donald Sutherland: M*A*S*H, JFK, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Ordinary People, The Dirty Dozen.
  89. Colin Firth: The King’s Speech, A Single Man, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
  90. Martin Landau: Ed Wood, North By Northwest, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Rounders.
  91. Viggo Mortenson: Lord of the Rings, A History of Violence, The Road, Eastern Promises, Captain Fantastic.
  92. Steve Buschemi: Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, Ghost World, Living in Oblivion, The Big Lebowski.
  93. Albert Finney: Murder on the Orient Express, Tom Jones, The Dresser, Under the Volcano, Erin Brockovich.
  94. Gary Sinise: Forrest Gump, Of Mice and Men, Ransom.
  95. Laurence Fishbourne: The Matrix, Apocalypse Now, What’s Love Got to Do with It.
  96. Ryan Gosling: Half-Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, Blue Valentine, Drive, The Ides of March.
  97. John Turturro: Barton Fink, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Quiz Show, The Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing.
  98. William H. Macy: Fargo, Seabiscuit, Boogie Nights.
  99. Daniel Craig: Skyfall, Casino Royale, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Road to Perdition, Defiance.
  100. Jim Carrey: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man on the Moon, The Truman Show, Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber.

*Best Actor/Supporting Actor Academy Award winning performances appear in italics

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*