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The Top 10 Actors of the Modern Era

June 24, 2008

EDIT 2: Somehow, I neglected to check Rickman’s age. He’s too old given the guidelines of the list. So, I replaced him with Bruce Willis.  I also added Branagh to the honorable mention list.

EDIT: I HATE COMPUTERS. More accurately, I hate that I screwed up using Live Writer and accidentally overwrote the top 10 actors list.

  1. The actor must be at or under the age of 60 at the time of the list compilation, and most of their work must have been made no earlier than 1980. There are just way too many good actors still living, and we had to narrow it down a bit.
  2. Their performances must be varied in terms of style.
  3. Theater and television work are also considered, but the final tiebreaker is movie ticket sales.


Alec Baldwin

Jim Carey

Leonardo Dicaprio

Christopher Guest

Tom Hanks

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Gary Oldman

Kevin Spacey

Robin Williams

Bruce Willis

Over 50, and still looks good.


Christian Bale, Sean Bean, Kenneth Branagh, Adrien Brody, Steve Buscemi, Jim Caviezel, Don Cheadle, Chris Cooper, Willem Dafoe, Matt Damon, Benicio Del Toro, Brad Dourif, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Will Ferrell, Ralph Fiennes, Laurence Fishburne, Jamie Foxx, Paul Giamatti, Woody Harrelson, Terrence Howard, Djimon Hounsou, Jason Isaacs, Samuel L. Jackson, Val Kilmer, Stephen Lang, Jude Law, WIlliam H. Macy, David Morse, Ewan McGregor, Viggo Mortensen, Bill Murray, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, John C. Reilly, Jean Reno, Giovanni Ribisi, Gary Sinise, Billy Bob Thornton, Donnie Wahlberg, Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington, Hugo Weaving, Bruce Willis, Luke Wilson, and Owen Wilson.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. Webby permalink
    June 24, 2008 9:06 pm

    What about Harrison Ford? I think he should have at least met the Honorable Mention category.

  2. June 24, 2008 9:13 pm

    We discussed Harrison Ford, and we left him off on purpose for two reasons. One, he is too old (soon to be 66). Two, we love him, but he only plays three characters: Indiana Jones, Han Solo (which isn’t a great deal different than Indy), and Jack Ryan. The rest of his roles pretty much fit into one of those three categories. That’s not necessarily a knock. He’s made a good living, and we like watching him. He just doesn’t deserve to be on this list as he hasn’t shown that he should be.

  3. Webby permalink
    June 25, 2008 8:04 am

    Yah, I actually thought about how his characters weren’t all that different AFTER I wrote the note. Oh vell.

  4. June 25, 2008 8:40 am

    Hehehe, I like Harrison Ford too :) But I suppose your reasoning is sound – LOL!!!

  5. June 25, 2008 10:39 am

    A couple of issues I have…

    1. Alex Baldwin still has a long way to go to be to the point that Christopher Walken is at with SNL.

    2. Philip Seymore Hoffman – I think he was great in Capote, but he singlehandedly saved Mission Impossible III. I would love to see him in more antagonist roles like that.

    3. Alan Rickman – You forgot probably the best role he has EVER done, Hans Gruber in Die Hard. One of the best villans ever in one of the best action movies. EVER.

    4. Jim Carrey and Robin Williams really have a disconnect with our generation. Leonardo DiCaprio totally came back and redeemed himself with Catch Me If You Can, and I think that The Departed will be known as (at this point) his Opus Magnus.

    I’m glad you left Christian Bale off the list. While he is gaining more and more popularity (and I do like him as an actor), he only has 2 big movies under his belt – Batman and The Prestige (which he did great on)…and Rescue Dawn. He needs more time. Same with Shia (even though I’m liking him more and more)

    and you’re going to hate this, but no Johnny Depp? I know you hate the guy, but the movies have been great (Sweeny Todd, Jack Sparrow, etc)

  6. June 25, 2008 11:29 am

    After we do the top 10 actresses, I plan on doing two more lists. One is the top 5 actresses I hate, and the other is the top 5 actors I hate. Johnny Depp will find himself at the top of that list.

    Depp overacts, and the teenyboppers eat it up, because they are mindless sheep who like gaudy colors. Each of his roles are fantastically flamboyant. In a word: crap.

    Christian Bale was also really good in 3:10 to Yuma, but as has been said, he needs way more to be seriously considered for the top 10.

    Rickman is the man.

    Hoffman has done tons of roles. I haven’t seen MI3, but even in things like Cold Mountain, he nearly steals the show with a small role. Then again, that movie has two actresses who will find themselves on the 5 actresses I hate list.

    I love Walken, but his hosting is nowhere near the level of Baldwin. Baldwin is second only to Steve Martin’s 14 hosting appearances with his 13. Walken barely has half that many with 7. Baldwin also had 3 special cameo appearances to Walken’s zero.

    Beyond the simple numbers, Baldwin’s skits tend to be better than Walken’s when taken as a whole. In fact, the only Walken skit that I really quote a lot is the Blue Oyster Cult “Cow bell” skit.

    Let’s put it this way, if Walken and Baldwin were tied in terms of who would make the top 10, and we used SNL hosting as the tiebreaker, then Baldwin would win. Then again, Walken would be disqualified for his age. Either way, Baldwin wins.

  7. Kryten permalink
    June 26, 2008 12:55 pm

    Bill Nighy is one of my favorite actors. hes 58 BOOSH! hes different in every role i see him in with a wide range of chars and movie types. comedy, action, drama. hes got it all. plus he has a certain charm kind of like kevin spacey. i would go see a movie just because either of them are in it. now if only they would have a movie with both of them…

  8. Kryten permalink
    June 26, 2008 12:57 pm

    Oh by the way a movie with Bale that is overlooked cause it came out against a block buster is called Equilibrium. Check it out. its awesome.

  9. Kryten permalink
    June 26, 2008 12:58 pm

    Sean Bean. Boromir should be on honorable mention. he also is in Equilibrium.

  10. June 26, 2008 2:26 pm

    I could kill the programmers of Live Writer. NO SAVE AS?!?!

    The “good” news is that I added Nighy, Bean, and two others that I thought of: Dafoe and Cooper, to the list.

    I’m still pissed.

  11. June 26, 2008 9:36 pm

    Bean is also in National Treasure. He did ok there. Nicholas Cage does a lot a varied flicks I think. Action mainly, true, but he has a few other styles and should be on the honorable mention list. But it was a good honorable mention list. Is Ian McKellen under 60? If not, he is close. What about Patrick Stewart? He has done Shakespeare, and of course Star Trek, but he is an outstanding actor. I also noticed Morgan Freeman is not on your list, and probably should be in the top 10. I noticed there are no darkies (oops) I mean negroes (dang it)…black folks…heck, I don’t know what those people want to be called nowadays. It was just so much easier back in the glory days of the Old South. Anyway, I’m calling the ACLU on you!! hehe

  12. June 26, 2008 9:40 pm

    Bethany pointed out that you are certainly biased towards white folk because you also snubbed Will Smith. Shame…shame…

    I think it is high time you made a hefty donation to the United Negroe Fund! After all, the mind is a terrible thing to waste. Unless you last name is Jackson or Sharpton…it is ok if they do it, just not whitey! hehe

  13. June 27, 2008 11:05 am

    I snubbed Will Smith because he can’t act. He’s the same thing in every role. I like the guy, but I tend to hate his roles.

    Morgan Freeman is too old, and hasn’t shown anything beyond the compassionate, old sage.

    Any bias in favor of white, whether perceived or real, is as a result of the roles they’ve played. Of course there will be more whites on the list, as the industry tends to favor white actors, and as such they get the meatier roles. I did just think of three more that I will definitely add: Don Cheadle, Terrence Howard, and Jamie Foxx. We talked about Laurence Fishburne and originally nixed it, but he’s at least as deserving as some of the other honorable mentions. So, he too will be added.

    McKellan was a mind flub. Both are too old. I’ll take Ian off.

    Nicholas Cage was discussed, but dismissed as being too annoying. I do like several of his films, but people do Nicholas Cage impersonations. An actor being easily impersonated is almost always a sure sign they sound, act, and look the same in every role. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not a good thing either in terms of this list.

    • Sean permalink
      June 4, 2011 7:42 pm

      I disagree with the comment that Morgan Freeman hasn’t shown anything beyond the compassionate, old sage. If you have ever seen Lean on Me, you will know how great an actor he is. In the film Lean on Me, he is the exact opposite of an old sage. Also, his performances in Glory and Se7en are simply magnificent. Freeman may go down in history as one of the greatest actors of all time.

      And by the way, your a racist asshole.

      • June 4, 2011 10:25 pm

        That should be, “you’re a racist asshole.”

        Like this:

        You’re full of shit.


        I’m not racist. I am an asshole though. So, I guess you’re only a piece of shit.

        I’ve seen Lean on Me. That’s the one where he played the compassionate, young sage.

        Still, he has certainly shown more range than that. He rocked on The Electric Company. That was a throw away comment anyway, as he was precluded due to age.

  14. KEW permalink
    July 5, 2008 10:05 pm

    I do enjoy Robin William’s work, but find it simply astounding that he is included on your top 10 list while Depp is relegated to the worst because every role is so ‘over the top’. The same goes for Jim Carey. Just a bit of a contradiction.

  15. July 5, 2008 10:20 pm

    Not at all. Carey has shown tremendous range with films like Eternal Sunshine, the Majestic, and The Truman Show. He’s only over the top with the roles that warrant it: Ace Ventura, Lemony Snicket, etc.

    The same has been the case for Williams. Was he over the top in Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting? No. He was over the top with Mork and his stand up.

    Depp is over the top in the sense that every thing is quirky, and in your face. He leaves no subtlety in his performances.

    • Sean permalink
      June 4, 2011 7:48 pm

      Johnny Depp plays roles that are difficult to play, and he plays them with passion and excitement. Nearly all of Depp’s films are exciting to watch, and no actor has ever played a better pirate then Johnny Depp with his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow.

      And speaking of roles that are tough to play, where is Dustin Hoffman?

      • June 4, 2011 10:30 pm

        Ah, this comment explains a lot of the hostility expressed in your other comment.

        Errol Flynn was a much better pirate than Johnny Depp, but who cares? The list wasn’t the top 10 pirates. If it would have been the Top 10 most overrated actors, Johnny Depp would be aces.

        Hoffman has shown some range, but that pesky age criteria seems to not mean much to you. I know it’s a rather silly stipulation, but something had to narrow the pool down a tad.

      • Sean permalink
        June 5, 2011 4:19 pm

        My bad, didn’t do my research. Didn’t realize Dustin Hoffman was over 60.

  16. David in Maine permalink
    June 30, 2010 11:06 am

    What about Ed Norton? How could you possibly not even put him on the honorable mention list. He is as skilled an actor as anyone. What’s up with that?

    • July 1, 2010 1:36 am

      Oversight. I agree that he should certainly be on the honorable mention list. Good call.

  17. Lexi permalink
    May 13, 2011 4:18 pm

    why are they all white guys?

    • May 13, 2011 10:18 pm

      I guess you missed the comments relative to that issue. I said then, and still agree now, that “any bias in favor of white [actors], whether perceived or real, is as a result of the roles they’ve played. Of course there will be more whites on the list, as the industry tends to favor white actors, and as such they get the meatier roles.”

      Chiwetel Ejiofor, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Laurence Fishburne, Jamie Foxx, Terrence Howard, Djimon Hounsou, Samuel L. Jackson, and Denzel Washington were all included in the honorable mention section. I don’t produce or cast films in Hollywood. I wish I did, but since I don’t, criticizing the list based on that issue isn’t exactly fair. You could very easily argue that any of those actors deserve to be in the top ten, but that should have nothing to do with their ethnicity, and it didn’t in my excluding them from the top 10 when I made the list.

      • Lexi permalink
        May 14, 2011 11:02 pm

        yeah, that doesn’t mean i have to agree with your opinion of the top ten actors of the modern era. you make seemingly logical arguments, but they’re still opinions.

        i disagree a lot.

  18. May 14, 2011 11:36 pm

    Yep, that was the point I was implying when I said, “You could very easily argue that any of those actors deserve to be in the top ten.”

    I thought the notion of subjectivity was inherent in any such list, but apparently you felt otherwise.

    Feel free to supply your top 10 list. You don’t need to include any algorithms used in calculating rank, but you may if you think someone might mistakenly consider it subjective or arbitrary.

  19. Sean permalink
    June 5, 2011 4:33 pm

    How about George Clooney? Brad Pitt? Both are much better actors than Luke Wilson.

    • June 5, 2011 4:40 pm

      WIlson was quite good in “Henry Poole Is Here,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and the various comedies he is more well known for. Having said that, I agree, Brad Pitt is definitely a better actor, and Clooney probably is too. I definitely like both of them, and have no problem with either of them being in the Honorable Mention section. Not really sure why they aren’t already. Good call.

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