This week’s Friday “non-business” blog is my take on the Top 10 Actors of All Time. I was chilling with some friends recently and this debate came up. The conversation got really heated – with some of the group saying that we were ignoring prior generations of actors, or relying too much on critic perceptions vs box office success. To me, a great actor is someone who I would pay money to watch, regardless of the subject matter of the film. Yes – film. This list will not go into TV’s great actors (James Gandolfini, Bryan Cranston, etc) nor Broadway (Sorry – don’t like Broadway plays so can’t name a single one). Nope – this list is purely the best actors in the movies. As with all my lists, this is not according to any critical consensus nor is it based solely on Box Office performance. This is the list of the actors I would pay to watch in anything – and who have consistently throughout their career delivered the goods – Oscar or no. With each actor listed I am also including my favorite performance from each. Let’s get into it.
10. Clint Eastwood – The dude’s a legend. I know some readers will say he plays the same kind of part a lot, but guess what – he plays that part REALLY well and is someone I will absolutely pay to watch in anything. This guy could just sit there and stare and I would hand over cash. His career really has been very impressive – from Spaghetti Westerns (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) to the ultimate cop in “Dirty Harry” to the very underrated Philo Beddoe in “Every which way but Loose” to the absolutely epic turn as actor AND Director in one of my all-time favorites “The Unforgiven”. This is an actor that can show more empition with a look than most actors could ever dream of doing with words. Favorite Performance – William Munney in “Unforgiven”. This movie is so awesome and this scene is Clint at his APEX – Unforgiven
9. Daniel Day-Lewis – I am wiling to bet if you polled living actors today this guy would be a consensus Top 10 list Actor. This guy’s range is unbelievable – and he has absolutely never delivered a performance that was anything but amazing. I went through his IMDB and literally could not find one “misfire” on his part. His roles are iconic – from Nathaniel Poe in “The Last of The Mohicans”, Christy Brown in “My Left Foot” all the way to playing Abraham Lincoln for Christ sake. Day-Lewis is famous for absolutely transforming into the characters he plays. I loved the story how, when filming “Lincoln” he was in character all the time – so much so that people had to address him as “President Lincoln” during production. Weird – but this guy totally takes his craft seriously. Favorite Performance – Bill “The Butcher” Cutting in “Gangs of New York”. His only performance so far working with Martin Scorsese, and his take as the villain of this movie is absolutely terrifying. Gangs of New York
8. Anthony Hopkins – As I was writing this I was floored looking at his body of work. From the late 1960s to present day, this guy just keeps churning out great performance after great performance. My first memory of him was in the movie “Magic” – he was both scary and sympathetic at the same time – a tough feat to pull off. Of course, he has had so many roles it is tough to name a few highlights. He has played historical figures, heroes, villains, supporting parts and cameos. The consistent theme among all of them is when he is on screen you can’t take your eyes off of him. That, to me, makes him an all-timer. Favorite Performance – Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of The Lambs”. How could I not go with his most famous and iconic role? He made a supporting character into a pop culture phenomenon. Silence of The Lambs
7. Gary Oldman – Never a true “leading man” but he literally steals every movie he is in. The guy can be good, bad, old, young – whatever he plays there is almost an “electricity” to his performance when you watch him. Lately he has been playing supporting roles in films, but even in smaller parts he absolutely outshines most of the other actors and actresses he shares the screen with. People forget some of his great roles over the years – “Dracula”, “Sid and Nancy”, “Batman Begins (and the whole Trilogy)”, “JFK”, “The Fifth Element” and on and on it goes. I absolutely love watching this dude perform. Favorite Performance – Drexl Spivey in “True Romance”. I was torn between this one and Stansfield in “Leon- The Professional” but a) True Romance is fucking awesome and b) His 10 minutes on screen are some of the most memorable 10 minutes of the movie. True Romance
6. Al Pacino – I know a lot of you reading this are thinking “Pacino 6th? Dude should be WAY higher”. I thought a lot about this, but let’s face the facts. Yes – his career up to about 10 years ago would have had him Top 3, but the last 10 years – yikes. I know DeNiro (coming on the list) also had some stinkers lately, but he had more hits than not. Pacino? Not so much. That being said – the guy is a phenomenal actor. The great performances are legendary: “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Scarface”, “Glengarry Glen Ross”, “Scent of A Woman”, “Carlito’s Way”, “Heat”, “Donnie Brasco” and so many more. He is clearly one of the G.O.A.T.S. Favorite performance – Michael Corleone in The Godfather I and II. Duh. These movies are two of the best movies EVER MADE and his performance is a big reason why. One of the most iconic roles ever in film history. The Godfather
5. Harrison Ford – Talk about a guy who has played some iconic roles. Indiana Jones and Han Solo alone would put any actor on this list, but Harrison Ford has had an entire career of big time performances in big time movies. Starting in the early 1970s, he has been tearing it up in films like “American Graffiti”, “Star Wars”, “Apocalypse Now”, “Raiders of The Lost Ark”, “Blade Runner”, “Witness”, “Working Girl”, “Patriot Games” and “Airforce One” to name but a few. He really excels at playing the hero, but also can do the villain thing too (“What Lies Beneath”). Of course, because he played both Indy and Han Solo that just makes him that much greater than most actors in my mind. Favorite Performance – Indiana Jones in “Raiders of The Lost Ark” – tough to pick Indy over Han, but Han was not THE guy in Star Wars – hence the nod for Indy. Raiders of The Lost Ark
4. Jack Nicholson – the fact that when people say “Jack” they know who you are talking about is evidence enough of his impact. Jack Nicholson’s career is rivaled by almost no one – and his performances in movies have been the reason why. He can play sympathetic, weird, evil – you name it. Much like all the actors on this list, his roles and movies are engrained in our culture like hot dogs and hamburgers. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, “The Departed”, “A Few Good Men”, “Terms of Endearment”, “Easy Rider”, “Batman” – his IMDB page is literally a “movie’s greatest hits” selection. Tough to really pick a favorite performance – but here it goes. Favorite Performance: Jack Torrance in “The Shining”. This movie is fantastic, and a big reason is because of his performance. Jack is a slow build to madness here – and watching him go crazy is both scary and a ton of fun. The Shining
3. Gene Hackman – I am a HUGE Gene Hackman fan and have always felt he has been criminally underrated in relation to all the other actors on this list over his career. It sucks that he has publicly stated he will never do any acting again on film – and we are all the worse for it as fans. Another actor on this list whose career has spaned decades, but even more notable is, like Nicholson, his movies are some of the best films ever made. Even when playing the supporting parts, he steals the movies he is in. Some highlights include “Unforgiven”, “Superman”, “The French Connection”, “Mississippi Burning” and “Get Shorty”. Man – this guy is a damn good actor. Favorite Performance- Norman Dale in “Hoosiers”. This movie, and his performance, is goosebumps city. If you haven’t watched it you need to fix that ASAP. Hoosiers
2. Denzel Washington – THE MAN. Ask yourself – have you ever seen a Denzel performance that didn’t deliver the goods? This guy is the definition of charisma. I would hate to be an actor sharing a scene with him because he outshines everyone by a country mile. Even in his not so great movies he is so compelling to watch. His highlight reel is HUGE, including films like “Training Day”, “Glory”, “Philadelphia”, “Crimson Tide”, “He Got Game”, “The Hurricane”, “Man on Fire” and “Flight” just to name a few. Man – even typing that list I was impressed. Favorite Performance – Malcolm X in “Malcolm X”. When you are playing a historical figure, you better nail it. Consider this one “nailed”. Malcolm X
1. Robert De Niro – Quite literally, The Godfather of great actors. Yes – I know like Pacino he has had some stinkers in recent years – but unlike Pacino he has at least had some good ones mixed in there too. Even with that in mind, his body of work is comparable to none. Part after part he has played he has absolutely killed it. Just look at some of these films: “Mean Street”, “Bang The Drum Slowly”, “The Godfather Part II”, “Raging Bull”, “Goodfellas”, “Taxi Driver”, “The Deer Hunter”, “The King of Comedy”, “Once Upon a Time in America”, “The Untouchables”, “Backdraft”, “A Bronx Tale”, “Heat”, “Jackie Brown”. Two words for that list (and there are so many more) – “Holy Shit”. The G.O.A.T. Favorite performance – Young Vito Corleone in “The Godfather Part II. I was close to picking Jimmy Conway in “Goodfellas” but the fact that De Niro did this performance all in Italian sealed it for me. The Godfather Part II
So many great actors not on this list but for my money these are the 10 best. I love debating this stuff – so let me have it in the comments. Who did I miss? What’s your Top 10? Until next time – there is no spoon.