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, Phantom Thread, In the Name of the Father, The Age of Innocence, The Crucible, The Boxer.
  4. Jack Nicholson: 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 Departed, Five Easy Pieces, The Little Shop of Horrors.
  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, Sleepless in Seattle, Captain Phillips, Splash, Charlie Wilson’s War, Sully, Bridge of Spies.
  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 Elephant Man, The Remains of the Day, Shadowlands, Nixon.
  12. Gene Hackman: The French Connection, Bonnie and Clyde, Unforgiven, The Conversation, Mississippi Burning, Hoosiers, Superman, The Royal Tenenbaums, Crimson Tide, The Poseidon Adventure, Get Shorty.
  13. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (D): Capote, The Master, Magnolia, Doubt, Almost Famous, Boogie Nights, Synecdoche New York, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Big Lebowski.
  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, Se7en, Million Dollar Baby, Glory, The Dark Knight, Unforgiven, Driving Miss Daisy, Street Smart, Gone Baby Gone, The Sum of All Fears, Dark Knight Trilogy, Outbreak, Amistad, Lean on Me, Street Smart, Along Came a Spider, High Crimes, Invictus.
  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. Gary Oldman: The Darkest Hour, Leon the Professional, JFK, Sid and Nancy, True Romance, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Dark Knight, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Contender, Prick Up Your Ears, Harry Potter, The Fifth Element, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
  21. Harrison Ford: Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Fugitive, Blade Runner, Witness, Regarding Henry, Air Force One, Jack Ryan Franchise, .
  22. Ben Kingsley: Gandhi, Schindler’s List, House of Sand and Fog, Hugo, Bugsy, Sexy Beast, Shutter Island, Searching for Bobby Fischer.
  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, American Psycho, The Prestige, American Hustle, The Fighter, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, 3:10 to Yuma, Empire of the Sun, Rescue Dawn, Hostiles, Harsh Times, Equilibrium.
  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. Jeff Bridges: The Big Lebowski, Crazy Heart, The Last Picture Show, True Grit, Hell or High Water, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Starman, Iron Man, The Contender, Tron, The Fisher King, The Fabulous Baker Boys.
  29. Willem Defoe: Platoon, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Florida Project, The Boondock Saints, Shadow of the Vampire.
  30. Dennis Hopper (D): Easy Rider, Blue Velvet, Hoosiers, Speed, Apocalypse Now, True Romance, Rumble Fish, River’s Edge, Giant.
  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, Snatch, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, Sleepers, Ocean’s Eleven, Babel, Inglourious Basterds, True Romance, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Legends of the Fall, Interview with the Vampire.
  33. Martin Sheen: Apocalypse Now, The West Wing, Badlands, The American President, Wall Street, The Departed.
  34. Tom Cruise: Magnolia, Rain Man, A Few Good Men, Mission Impossible, Born on the Fourth of July, Minority Report, Risky Business, The Color of Money, Jerry Maguire, Top Gun, The Last Samurai, The Firm, Tropic Thunder, Collateral, Vanilla Sky, Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicle.
  35. Joaquin Pheonix: The Master, Gladiator, Walk the Line, Her, Inherent Vice, To Die For, Signs, We Own the Night, The Immigrant, Two Lovers.
  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, Black Mass, Blow, Donnie Brasco, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Benny & Joon, Finding Neverland, Platoon, Sweeney Todd.
  38. Sean Connery: James Bond films, The Untouchables, The Hunt For Red October, The Rock, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
  39. Ralph Fiennes: Schindler’s List, Harry Potter Franchise, The English Patient, Red Dragon, The Constant Gardener, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Quiz Show, In Bruges, Sunshine, Strange Days.
  40. Tom Hardy: Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises, Bronson, The Revenant, Inception, Locke, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Mad Max: Fury Road, Peaky Blinders, The Drop, Taboo, Lawless, Dunkirk, RocknRolla.
  41. Edward Norton: Fight Club, American History X, Rounders, 25th Hour, Primal Fear, The Score, The Illusionist, Birdman, The Painted Veil, The People vs Larry Flynt, Moonrise Kingdom, Leaves of Grass.
  42. Liam Neeson: Schindler’s List, Kinsey, Batman Begins, Taken, Silence, Michael Collins, Rob Roy.
  43. Christopher Walken: The Deer Hunter, Catch Me If You Can, Pulp Fiction, King of NY, A View to Kill, The Dead Zone, True Romance, Nick of Time.
  44. Tommy Lee Jones: The Fugitive, No Country For Old Men, Lincoln, JFK, In the Valley of Elah.
  45. Harvey Keitel: Reservoir Dogs, Mean Streets, Bad Lieutenant, Taxi Driver, The Piano, Bugsy, Pulp Fiction, Cop Land, From Dusk till Dawn
  46. Samuel L. Jackson: Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, Jackie Brown, A Time to Kill, Unbreakable, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, The Negotiator, Do The Right Thing.
  47. John Malkovich: Places in the Heart, The Killing Fields, In the Line of Fire, Of Mice and Men, Being John Malkovich.
  48. 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.
  49. Robin Williams (D): Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam, One Hour Photo, Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Fisher King, Awakenings.
  50. William Hurt: Kiss of the Spider Woman, Children of a Lesser God, Broadcast News, A History of Violence, The Big Hurt, Too Big to Fail.
  51. James Earl Jones: The Great White Hope, Field of Dreams, Jack Ryan Franchise, Coming to America, Star Wars.
  52. 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.
  53. John Hurt: The Elephant Man, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Alien, Midnight Express, V For Vendetta, The Proposition, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Harry Potter
  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. Ethan Hawke: Before Sunrise Trilogy, Training Day, Gattaca, Boyhood, Reality Bites, First Reformed.
  58. James Caan: The Godfather, Misery, Thief, A Bridge Too Far, Brian’s Song.
  59. Alan Arkin: Wait Until Dark, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Catch-22, Little Miss Sunshine, Argo.
  60. Jon Voight: Coming Home, Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance, Ray Donovan, Runaway Train, Ali.
  61. Mel Gibson: Braveheart, The Patriot, Lethal Weapon, Ransom, Mad Max.
  62. Jake Gyllenhaal: Nightcrawler, Donnie Darko, Prisoners, Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac, Southpaw, Nocturnal Animals, End of Watch.
  63. Christopher Plummer: The Sound of Music, The Insider, Malcolm X, Beginners, All the Money in the World, The Last Station.
  64. Nick Nolte: Affliction, The Thin Red Line, Warrior, The Prince of Tides, Cape Fear, 48 Hours.
  65. 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.
  66. Casey Affleck: Manchester by the Sea, Gone Baby Gone, The Assassination of Jesse James, Good Will Hunting, Out of the Furnace.
  67. Will Smith: The Pursuit Of Happiness, Ali, Six Degrees of Separation.
  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. Bruce Willis: Die Hard, The Sixth Sense, Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys, Sin City, The Fifth Element, Unbreakable, Armageddon.
  71. Kevin Bacon: The Woodsman, Footloose, Sleepers, Apollo 13, A Few Good Men, Mystic River, The River Wild.
  72. Robert Downey Jr.: Chaplin, Tropic Thunder, Zodiac, Iron Man, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Less than Zero, Sherlock Holmes.
  73. Max von Sydow: The Seventh Seal, The Exorcist, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Three Days of the Condor, Never Say Never Again.
  74. Paul Giamatti: Sideways, John Adams, Billions, Cinderella Man, American Splendor, The Illusionist, Cold Souls.
  75. Billy Bob Thorton: Monster’s Ball, Sling Blade, A Simple Plan, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Friday Night Lights, Fargo (season 1).
  76. George Clooney: Michael Clayton, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, ER, Up in the Air.
  77. J.K. Simmons: Oz, Whiplash, Counterpart, Juno, Spiderman franchise.
  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, Kingpin, Stripes, The Life Aquatic..
  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. Jim Carrey: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man on the Moon, The Truman Show, Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, The Cable Guy, I Love You Phillip Morris, The Mask.
  84. Josh Brolin: No Country for Old Men, W., Milk, True Grit, Sicario, American Gangster.
  85. Tim Robbins: The Shawshank Redemption, Mystic River, The Player, Bull Durham, Bob Roberts.
  86. Forest Whitaker: The Last King of Scotland, Good Morning Vietnam, Bird, Panic Room, American Gun.
  87. Donald Sutherland: M*A*S*H, JFK, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Ordinary People, The Dirty Dozen.
  88. Alan Rickman: (D) Harry Potter franchise, Die Hard, Sense and Sensibility, Robin Hood:Prince of Thieves, Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny.
  89. Colin Firth: The King’s Speech, A Single Man, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jone’s Diary, The Kingsman.
  90. Martin Landau: (D) 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, Boardwalk Empire, 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. Laurence Fishbourne: The Matrix, Apocalypse Now, What’s Love Got to Do with It, King of New York, Deep Cover, Hannibal, Boyz in the Hood.
  95. Ryan Gosling: Half-Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, Blue Valentine, Drive, Blade Runner: 2049, The Ides of March.
  96. John Turturro: Barton Fink, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Quiz Show, The Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, The Night Of.
  97. Matthew McConaughey: Dazed and Confused, Dallas Buyers Club, True Detective, A Time To Kill, Mud, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Wolf of Wall Street, Killer Joe, We Are Marshall.
  98. Nicholas Cage: Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, The Rock, Raising Arizona, Face/Off.
  99. Daniel Craig: Skyfall, Casino Royale, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Road to Perdition, Defiance, Logan Lucky.
  100. Ewan McGregor: Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge!, Black Hawk Down, Fargo (season 3), Star Wars Prequels, Big Fish.

Bubble: Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Irons, Christoph Waltz, Peter Dinklage, Don Cheadle, John Travolta, Gary Sinise, Christopher Lee, Kurt Russell, Adam Sandler, William H. Macy, Jeremy Renner, Gene Wilder, Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Andy Serkis, Jaime Foxx, Will Ferrell, James Gandolfini, Woody Harrelson, Bryan Cranston, Giovani Ribisi, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Richard Jenkins, Peter Sarsgaard, Bradley Cooper, Jon Hamm, James Franco, Hugh Jackman, Idris Elba, Ted Danson, Oscar Isaac, Clive Owen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Shannon, Ian McShane, Maads Mikkelsen, Woody Allen, Eric Bana, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jude Law, John C. Reily, Justin Theroux, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Frank Langella, Jeffrey Wright, Jeff Goldblum, Michael K. Williams

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

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