The 150 Greatest Pop Culture Icons

The 150 most essential people in the history of popular culture.
  1. Muhammad Ali– So much more than just a boxer, Ali just epitomizes the word icon.
  2. Elvis PresleyMike might be the King of Pop, but Elvis is just the straight up King.  If rock and roll has a birthdate, it probably has a something to do with this guy’s hips.
  3. Babe RuthThe man, the myth, the legend.  Even all these years later, no one even comes close to the Sultan of Swat.
  4. John Lennon– Tough to pick between Paul and John for the higher spot, but Lennon’s activism and early death earn enough icon points to be the difference.
  5. Bob DylanThe voice of a generation and perhaps the greatest songwriter to ever pick up a guitar.
  6. Marilyn Monroe– Maybe the most beloved movie star ever, Monroe bedded the top athlete, playwright and politicians of her era.  Not too shabby.
  7. Michael JacksonHard to defend at this point, but there’s no denying his nearly unparalleled impact on popular culture.  (They don’t call him the King of Pop for nothing, or at least that’s what they used to call him)  Also, he made Thriller.  Thriller.
  8. Michael Jordan– His Airness, the undisputed greatest sports marketing icon of all time.
  9. Al Capone– The archetypal gangster, Scarface took criminality to new heights of celebrity.
  10. Paul McCartney– May be too low on this list.  Paul McCartney is pop music.
  11. Charlie Chaplin– For a solid twenty-year stretch, there was no more famous person on the entire planet than Charlie Chaplin.  Film classics like City Lights and The Gold Rush still hold up today.
  12. Marlon Brando– Brando basically invented acting as we know it today.
  13. Frank Sinatra– The dopest crooner that ever lived.
  14. Alfred Hitchcock– Arguably the greatest director of all time, Hitchcock was also a larger than life figure that brought the cameo to new heights.
  15. Johnny Carson– The guy for thirty years of late night television.
  16. Jackie Robinson– A true sports icon and a damn good second baseman to boot.
  17. Walt DisneyAn animation pioneer, a 22-time Oscar winning producer, and miner of childhood magic.
  18. David Bowie– If every one of Bowie’s personas could have it’s own vote, he’d probably be up here five times.
  19. Martin Scorsese– Hitchcock and Kubrick may be the two most important directors ever, but when it comes to modern film, no one’s made more classics than Scorsese.
  20. Mickey Mantle– If you were a seven-year-old boy during the fifties and sixties, there was no one you dreamed about being more than The Mick.
  21. Bing Crosby– No recording artist more sold more than Bing in the 20th Century.
  22. Joe DiMaggio– The Yankee Clipper, his 56-game hit streak is one of the most iconic records in any sport.
  23. Steven Spielberg– He invented the blockbuster with Jaws, perfected it with E.T. and Jurassic Park, and ascended to new heights with Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.
  24. James Brown– The ultimate frontman and the all-time hardest working dude in show biz.
  25. Robert De Niro– The Godfather.  Goodfellas.  Raging Bull. Taxi Driver.  A movie resume to rival any in history.
  26. Pablo Escobar– The most iconic drug dealer the world has ever known.
  27. Mary Pickford– The OG of pop culture icons, Pickford was the original movie star and possibly the first true celebrity.
  28. Prince– When you can change your name to a symbol and the world just goes along with it, you know you’ve reached a whole other level of celebrity.
  29. Mick Jagger– The most prolific frontman to ever rock an arena.
  30. Madonna– A titan of Eighties fashion, music, love, and all around celebrity.
  31. Al Pacino– Before he started drifting into caricature mode in the late 90’s, Pacino played some of the most iconic roles in history.  Michael Corleone and Tony Montana are the quintessential gangster roles of modern day.
  32. Harrison Ford– Han Solo and Indiana Jones.  Does it get any more iconic?
  33. Paul Newman– From playing Fast Eddie Felson to Cool Hand Luke to Butch Cassidy, there was no cooler star in sixies America than Paul Newman.
  34. Tom Hanks– Is there anyone more beloved in Hollywood right now than Tom Hanks?
  35. Stevie Wonder– Stevie signed with Motown at the age of 11 and has been killing it ever since.
  36. Humphrey Bogart– The ultimate leading man during Hollywood’s golden age.
  37. Lucille BallThe funniest woman on television during a time when everyone was watching the same three things.  Everyone loved Lucy.
  38. Louis Armstrong Foundational jazz trumpeter and one of the first mainstream African-American cross-over entertainers in American history.
  39. John WayneThe manliest man who ever manned.
  40. Oprah WinfreyOprah isn’t just a talk show host.  She’s a media empire.
  41. Shirley TempleA child star, American diplomat, and tasty beverage.
  42. Eddie Murphy– Arguably the most important star in SNL history, Eddie single-handedly saved the show from extinction following the original cast exodus.
  43. Miles Davis– Miles birthed the cool in more ways than one.  No modern jazz artist looms larger.
  44. Richard Pryor– The father of modern stand-up, Pryor transformed his tragic upbringing into comedy gold.
  45. Bob Marley– 10 million dorm room posters can’t be wrong.
  46. David Letterman– A titan of late night, Letterman reinvented what was possible in comedy.
  47. Meryl Streep– Meryl Streep is to all other actresses what Tiger Woods is to all other black golfers.
  48. Mel Brooks– The rare five-tool comedian, Mel’s writing, directing, and acting talents have earned him the grand slam of entertainment awards (Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Tony).
  49. Steve Jobs- A visionary for the computer age.
  50. Bruce Lee– As synonymous with the Kung-Fu flick as any one man could be with a genre of movies.
  51. Joe Namath– The first true face of football, Namath’s marketability was instrumental to the early success of the NFL.
  52. Bill Murray–  A national treasure and the funniest guy in every room he’s ever been in.
  53. Elton John300 million records sold
  54. Denzel Washington
  55. Elizabeth Taylor
  56. Bruce Springsteen
  57. James Dean
  58. Johnny Cash
  59. Lorne Michaels
  60. Beyonce
  61. Tony Bennett
  62. James Stewart
  63. Buddy Holly
  64. Hugh Hefner
  65. Andy Warhol
  66. Jayne Mansfield
  67. Tom Cruise
  68. Sammy Davis Jr
  69. Audrey Hepburn
  70. O.J. Simpson
  71. Groucho Marx
  72. Jack Nicklaus
  73. Jim Brown
  74. Kathryn Hepburn
  75. Jack Nicholson
  76. Jon Stewart
  77. Leonardo DiCaprio
  78. Tiger Woods
  79. Jerry Seinfeld
  80. Ray Charles
  81. Eric Clapton
  82. LeBron James
  83. Woody Allen
  84. Robert Redford
  85. Magic Johnson
  86. Joe Louis
  87. Sean Connery
  88. Ernest Hemingway
  89. Jerry Garcia
  90. Clark Gable
  91. Jimi Hendrix
  92. Clint Eastwood
  93. Aretha Franklin
  94. Jim Morrison
  95. Whitney Houston
  96. Christopher Walken
  97. Charles Manson
  98. Will Ferrell
  99. Dr. Dre
  100. Joan Rivers
  101. 2Pac
  102. Bill Cosby
  103. Will Smith
  104. Wilt Chamberlain
  105. Justin Timberlake
  106. Ted Bundy
  107. John Belushi
  108. Freddie Mercury
  109. Dick Clark
  110. William Shatner
  111. Jerry Lewis
  112. Michael J. Fox
  113. Jay-Z
  114. Julia Roberts
  115. Notorious BIG
  116. Arnold Schwarzenegger
  117. Rudolph Valentino
  118. Bo Jackson
  119. Ted Danson
  120. Julia Louis-Dreyfus
  121. Kurt Cobain
  122. Robin Williams
  123. Derek Jeter
  124. Arnold Palmer
  125. Judy Garland
  126. Stan Lee
  127. Larry David
  128. Stephen King
  129. Andrew Lloyd Webber
  130. Pamela Anderson
  131. Christopher Reeve
  132. Grace Kelly
  133. Bob Hope
  134. Carol Burnett
  135. Cindy Crawford
  136. Mike Tyson
  137. Samuel L. Jackson
  138. Brad Pitt
  139. Taylor Swift
  140. George Clooney
  141. Dean Martin
  142. Wayne Gretzky
  143. Stanley Kubrick
  144. Orson Welles
  145. Diana Ross
  146. Kanye West
  147. Sylvester Stallone
  148. Britney Spears
  149. Quentin Tarantino
  150. Hulk Hogan

The Bubble: Evil Knievel, Rihanna, Andre the Giant, Tom Brady, Dwayne Johnson, Liberace, Jackie Chan, Morgan Freeman, Steve Martin, Joe Montana, Bono, Shaquille O’Neal, Drake, Ozzy Osbourne, Christie Brinkley, Jay Leno, Ralph Lauren, Alex Trebek, George Carlin, Dale Earnhardt, Steve McQueen, Raquel Welch, Jennifer Lopez, Mickey Rooney, Farrah Fawcett, Cher, Burt Reynolds, Lady Gaga, Howard Stern

*No political or history figures (with all apologies to Princess Diana, Martin Luther King, Joan of Arc, Obama, Columbus, Jesus etc etc)

9 Comments

  1. what??? No Jackie Chan.. He is afterall the greatest action movie star of all time and the world knows him…

    • Clooney for his multi-disciplinary talents (major TV start, major movie star, writer, director, academy award nominations in 6 different categories) Depp’s last decade has been bad enough that I think its fair to exclude him. Carrey is right on the bubble.

  2. Freddie Mercury: the greatest rock frontman. Could just state Queen as a whole given they are the best live rock act ever. Chuck in Bohemian Rhapsody launching the age of the music video.

    Monty Python: “The beatles of comedy” for good reason. Like the rock band they were a self contained unit, writing their own material, discarding the rules of television comedy with absurdist skits (see Saturday night live for Python’s influence)

    George Orwell: no writer has influenced pop culture more since Charles Dickens from the century before. Hemingway (on the list), James Joyce, Virginia Woolf are probably greater literary talents from the 20th century, but none come near the impact of Orwell on political/popular culture. Orwellian: Big Brother, thought crime, room 101, memory hole. government surveillance

    Stan Lee: the godfather of comics.

    Ozzy Osbourne: frontman of a band that started a genre.

    Andrew Lloyd Webber: musical theatre king. Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar

    • Good call Kerry! Sticking to individuals only I think its difficult to add any one member of Monty Python for being particularly iconic (though Cleese comes closest) Still, I think Stan Lee, Mercury, and LLoyd Webber have gotta be there, and now are thanks to you. Orwell’s impact was surely great, though I don’t think it was strictly pop cultural enough for this list.

    • In terms of impact than yes 100% should be right up near the top–arguably the greatest director of modern cinema. However calling Kubrick iconic a tough one- I don’t know how many average people would be able to pick his face out of a lineup. A master craftsman almost completely devoid of the usual celebrity that accompanies that profession.

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