More than 500,000 of our readers voted, along with our staff, to determine the Top 49 Most Influential Men of 2012.
The men who made the list come from different walks of life, but they’re all men who are breaking records, reinventing the way we do things and redefining what it means to be a modern man.
They’re dedicated to furthering the future of humanity through their respective fields, and in doing so, they inspire us to do the same. These are the men who have secured a place in our collective memories, who will show up in the textbooks our children read.
So who made the list?
Why Is Alec Baldwin #49?
When he's not playing Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, starring in movies, doing media appearances, writing for the Huffington Post, hosting a radio show, considering a run for mayor of New York or getting married, Alec Baldwin is getting vocal on Twitter.
At 54, he's a man who's at the stage in his life where he's comfortable with himself and doesn't really care if you don't agree with his views. Alec is who he is, and isn't going to apologise for it. Sure, it helps that he's a hugely successful and wealthy celebrity, but, still, men could learn from that self-confident attitude.
Why Is Tom Hardy #48?
Tom Hardy truly made his presence felt in 2012--even though his face was covered for most of it--as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and as Forrest Bondurant in Lawless. When Hardy was first tabbed as the 'roided-out Batman villain, people didn't think the pretty boy could bulk up enough.
Apparently, they didn't know Hardy (and didn't see Bronson). For any guy who's unsure if he can take it to the next level, Hardy is a perfect example of the benefits of paying one's dues and putting in the work. We'll see him next in Mad Max: Fury Road, and it's safe to say that he'll be around for quite a while.
Why Is Tony Horton #47?
If you've only just found out about Tony Horton by staying up late and catching one of his infomercials, then you're one of the last to jump onto his bandwagon.
Horton is the creator of P90X, the fitness routine that's become one of the world's leading regimens for getting ripped. Now that P90X devotees have the fitness part down, Horton's taking care of the diet component with his new meal-delivery service, Tony Horton's Kitchen.
Why Is Tim Tebow #44?
The famously virginal Tim Tebow exploded onto the scene in 2012, when he took over the Denver Broncos' quarterbacking duties and guided them through a slew of stunning comebacks--including a particularly stirring playoff upset over the defending champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Everywhere you looked, there was a Tebow headline, highlight or interview in which he proclaimed his devotion to a higher power.
Though he's now used as a spare part for the Jets, he could get back on the field if Mark Sanchez keeps turning in lackluster performances.
Why Is Adam Driver #43?
Before he played Adam Sackler, Lena Dunham's utterly aloof love interest on the HBO sitcom Girls, Adam Driver was a Marine. The events of 9/11 spurred the Indiana native to join the service, but his path to small-screen fame began after he was discharged due to a mountain-biking injury mere months before being deployed to Iraq.
The aspiring actor then set out for New York, where he enrolled at Juilliard, proving that athleticism and the arts aren't mutually exclusive. Thanks in part to his unwavering self-confidence, the guy who once called a New Jersey closet home is now the biggest male star on one of the year's most talked-about series.
Why Is James Cameron #41?
This year marked the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking. Titanic producer James Cameron, 58, celebrated by showing he is far from just a Hollywood suit.
On March 26th, he took his compact submersible seven miles down to Challenger Deep, the lowest point in the Mariana Trench, equaling the world dive record. Appropriately enough, the man who set the record in 1960, Don Walsh, was in the Pacific to greet him.
What's particularly fascinating about Cameron's solo dive is the secrecy in which his sub was built. Now oceanographers worldwide are scrambling to learn more about its engineering prowess--a good thing for the future of ocean exploration.
Why Is Jonah Peretti #40?
Jonah Peretti, MIT grad and co-founder of BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post, knows what makes things go viral.
In today's online landscape, that's never been more important. BuzzFeed continues to produce cute-animal content none of us are able to resist clicking on, but it has made some serious plays for legitimacy, teaming up with the New York Times to cover the Republican and Democratic conventions, and poaching well-known writers from other publications.
Expect to see it infiltrating your newsfeed for a long time coming.
Why Is Neil Patrick Harris #38?
Was there ever a better counterexample to the child-star stereotype than Neil Patrick Harris? The Doogie Howser, M.D. star broke the curse with his lead role in How I Met Your Mother and with his overall overwhelming popularity. NPH is that celebrity about whom nobody has anything bad to say, and his success speaks to the importance of being well liked.
Why Is Howard Stern #37?
While some may find Howard Stern brash and offensive--something he'd no doubt take as a compliment--he is undeniably smart.
This year, the King of all Media decided to expand his already impressive resume by becoming one of the hosts of NBC's hit series America's Got Talent. In doing so, Howard not only won over a portion of the country that's long since written him off as being nothing but crass, but also proved that he's not going to just ride out the remainder of his career resting on his laurels. Who knows what Howard will do next?
Why Is Markus Persson #35?
Every now and then, a video game comes along that captures the collective imagination. Something that, for no obvious reason, just becomes massive. Tetris was one. Angry Birds another. More recently, Minecraft enjoyed this status.
Starting off from humble beginnings, Markus Persson's creation grew at a rapid pace in 2012, selling over nine million copies by last May. The game has received a glut of industry awards and was even awarded a place in the Smithsonian.
Why Is Drake #34?
Aside from his much-publicized brawl with Chris Brown, Drake showed hip-hop that nice guys actually can finish first. While fellow rappers like T.I. are busy serving prison sentences, Drake's been busy charming the pants off America with every interview he gives and adding the word 'YOLO' to our lexicon.
This soft-spoken member of Lil Wayne's Young Money label recently surpassed Jay-Z to take the record for most number-one singles on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart. While some may take shots at his squeaky-clean persona, Drake's undoubtedly solidified himself as one of the hottest MCs in the game.
Why Is Andy Murray #33?
After a tough loss to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, which was followed by a heart-wrenching consolation speech, Andy Murray was confronted with the same choice that every man must meet when he faces adversity: Curl up in a ball or use the pain as motivation to succeed?
Murray chose the latter, and less than a month later, he got his revenge. Topping Federer in the London Olympics, he won gold in front of a home crowd. His ascent continued when he won that elusive first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open, becoming the first British man to win a major since 1936.
Why Is Lebron James #32?
Heading into the 2011-12 season, LeBron James had attained virtually every single achievement a basketball player can have, save one: winning a championship ring.
That changed in 2012 when The King was finally crowned after the Miami Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder for the NBA title. He faced adversity just like before, but this time, James put the team on his back. In previous years, he had wilted in the spotlight, but in 2012, he would not be denied--even if Chris Bosh was hurt or Dwyane Wade was banged up.
He was also awarded the Finals MVP trophy, his third regular-season MVP award and eighth All-Star invitation. But all of that was secondary to that final missing piece of hardware.
Why Is Kanye West #31?
This year, not only did Kanye West release the wildly successful Watch The Throne album with super-friend Jay-Z, but his record label, G.O.O.D. Music, finally dropped its much-anticipated collaborative studio album, Cruel Summer.
As if that weren't enough, Kanye also helped prove that, with women, sometimes persistence truly is the key. West reportedly had a thing for the reigning queen of reality TV, Kim Kardashian, ever since the two struck up a friendship back in 2006.
Now the two are obviously far more than just friends, and, by all accounts, the Louis Vuitton Don has never been happier.
Why Is Jose Mourinho #30?
It's becoming easier to mount a case for Jose Mourinho to be declared the all-time best soccer coach. The Special One had already worked magic with Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, but his accolades in 2012 with Real Madrid cemented his legend.
It would have been a banner year for Real Madrid had they just won La Liga, but the fashion in which they achieved it was historic. Mourinho guided his star-studded roster to new heights as they set new Spanish league records for both total (32) and away (16) wins, and European league records for points obtained (100), goals scored (121) and goal differential (+89).
And more importantly, these gaudy statistics helped finally topple his fiercest rival, Barcelona, for the title. It's just the latest display of his uncanny ability to motivate and coach, which is why he is one of the most influential coaches ever--of any sport.
Why Is Felix Baumgartner #29?
In 1960, Joe Kittinger jumped from 102,800 feet in a helium balloon to set the parachute-jump world record. This year, Felix Baumgartner, an Austria-born daredevil, is attempting to eclipse that mark.
He's already done two high-altitude jumps--from 71,581 feet and 96,640 feet--earlier this year. A 120,000 foot monster is planned for sometime in October. If Baumgartner, 43, can execute it, he will better Kittinger's mark and become the first man to break the sound barrier solo, outside of an aircraft. His Red Bull-sponsored Stratos effort is yet another example of the private sector's movement to replace government-sponsored exploration (Kittinger's jump was with the U.S. Air Force).
Why Is Michael Fassbender #27?
Michael Fassbender is the kind of timeless movie star you just don't see enough of these days. Earlier this year, he was on the Oscar track for playing both Carl Jung in the sophisticated psychosexual period drama A Dangerous Method and a contemporary sex addict (who could very well have been a patient of Jung's) in Shame.
Fassbender's ability to fit into any era is exactly what made him the ideal choice for David in Ridley Scott's Prometheus. As a futuristic cyborg who models himself after the ancient Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, Fassbender's David was easily the most celebrated part of Scott's Alien prequel, and guys can expect to see plenty more of this ageless icon in the near future.
Why Is Billy Reid #26?
This year, American fashion designer Billy Reid took home the prestigious award for Menswear Designer of the Year at the CFDAs, the Oscars of the fashion industry.
The Louisiana-born Reid designs clothes that reflect his Southern roots; they're gentlemanly, rustic and, at the same time, modern. And while his namesake line doesn't come cheap, he's made his style accessible to all by teaming up with brands like Levi's and J.Crew. This is one designer we endorse wholeheartedly.
Why Is Mitt Romney #24?
It's difficult to find a man under more scrutiny than Mitt Romney, and that is not about to change as the presidential race heats up. Under the public's close watch, he's made a serious of campaign-damaging gaffes and is looking to the debates to repair his image. If he doesn't win, at least we'll always remember his 2012 contribution to the language of our time: the 47%.
Why Is Jeff Bezos #23?
We've all imagined what it's like to be a billionaire and come up with some pretty ridiculous ways to spend our hypothetical fortunes: gold Ferraris, cyborg Salma Hayeks, crocodile butlers, etc.
But luckily for the future of humanity, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has different ideas on how to spend his billions. Rather than creating robot actresses, he's focused on human space travel. Back in 2000, Bezos founded Blue Origin, a privately funded aerospace concern whose ultimate goal is regular manned trips to space. Sure, there's always NASA, but let's just say that Neil Armstrong's passing didn't result in a bevy of help-wanted ads.
Bezos' venture may just be the thing to bring regular (rich) guys out of Earth's surly bonds and into the terrifying vastness of space. We think it's about time.
Why Is Jay-Z #22?
In 2012, Jay-Z proved that he's anything but Lay-Z. He was instrumental in bringing the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn, and inaugerated the much-awaited (and much-disputed) Barclays centre with a series of concerts in late September and early October.
By bestowing upon his hometown a new NBA team, Jay demonstrated that he truly does have an empire state of mind.
Why Is Bryan Cranston #21?
You likely know Bryan Cranston as Walter White, the lowly high-school-chemistry-teacher-cum-meth-czar from AMC's Emmy-winning Breaking Bad.
The first half of the show's fifth season saw the formerly mild-mannered White embrace his newfound notoriety and expand his drug empire with unsettling ruthlessness. Just as the character he plays came into his own this year, so too did Cranston himself. The one-time theatre actor experienced something of a late-career resurgence, and will now forever be remembered as the only guy able to do justice to the genius behind that impossibly blue crystal methamphetamine.
Why Is Prince William #20?
It ain't easy being a prince, what with all the scrutiny and all. But someone's gotta do it, and William has taken to the task nicely. Sure, he plays a significant ambassadorial role for the United Kingdom's royal family, but we know him better for making us all feel like lesser men.
Case in point: Kate Middleton's topless photos (as if we needed more proof of how lucky he is) and his recent helicopter rescues of damsels in distress (so he's a prince and a hero, too). While his brother Harry goes off and embarrasses the Windsors, William stands strong as an almost-too-good-to-be-true role model.
Why Is Joss Whedon #18?
After years as a cult favourite, in 2012, Joss Whedon took over the wheel of Marvel's shiniest, most expensive toy, The Avengers.
We'd say things worked out pretty well for all parties involved. After making Marvel a pile of cash, Whedon was invited back for The Avengers 2. But lest you dismiss him as nothing more than a geek idol, know that he proves something very important: that following your passions can lead to a highly fulfilling--and lucrative--career.
Why Is Riad al-Assad #17?
As commander of the Free Syrian Army, Riad al-Assad is currently attempting to overthrow the Syrian government. After defecting from the Syrian air force in 2011, al-Assad has helped unify the opposition into a more cohesive fighting unit. With other governments unable to reach consensus on how to deal with the crisis, al-Assad is key in determining both his country's future and that of the Middle East in general.
Why Is Liam Neeson #16?
Even though Liam Neeson hit 60 in 2012, he's still kicking more arse than most men half his age. This year, Neeson used his trademark commanding growl and steely stare to take on alien invaders, ancient Greek monsters and a near-endless army of Albanian thugs in Taken 2. While life may have dealt him a raw deal with the untimely death of his wife, Neeson continues to soldier on, proving that we can still be vital late into middle age.
Why Is Christopher Nolan #15?
Thanks to his record-breaking Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan is the premier summer-blockbuster auteur. He had a clear artistic vision, saw it through to the end and understood when to cash in his chips and walk away from the table.
Forget how much money he raked in--just knowing when to stop and having the stones to actually follow through with it is far more impressive. And even though Nolan's going to sit out superheroes for a while, the director is still willing to lend his considerable expertise by playing godfather to Zack Snyder's Superman reboot. Talk about influence.
Why Are The Replacement Refs #14?
Let's be honest: They were given an impossible job. Love 'em or hate 'em, these guys should be appreciated for walking into a tough situation.
Having locked out veteran officials over a contract dispute, the NFL turned to replacements referees from all (read: any) levels of the game. The league tasked these guys with policing millionaires, superstars and some of the toughest athletes on the planet. What qualified these men to step in? Experience at the college, high school and middle school level. It's no wonder that there were blown calls and sideshow controversies. A few 'W's and 'L's might have been mixed up, but at least we didn't miss any football.
Why Is Michael Phelps #12?
2012 saw American swimmer Michael Phelps make the leap from great to greatest ever. Already considered one of the best Olympians after an amazing showing at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, his performance at the 2012 Games in London cemented his status as a legend.
After taking home six more medals, including four golds, he became the all-time record holder for most Olympic medals won. Suiting up in a Speedo isn't supposed to be attractive, but Phelps has made swimming cool, and we're sure there are many young men out there choosing to dive into the pool instead of lacing up cleats or swinging a bat.
Why Is President Obama #11?
Can you think of a man who has more on his shoulders than Barack Obama? The Democratic presidential nominee is busy campaigning against Mitt Romney in a very heated race. Oh, and he's also leading the most powerful country in the world at the same time. In an election year, and with a volatile Middle East and sluggish economy, the president's actions have never mattered more.
The election will serve as his ultimate performance review, as voters will decide just how well he's been handling everything on his plate.
Why Is Ryan Gosling #10?
Ryan Gosling is a force to be reckoned with, even when he doesn't have a single movie out. Hot off 2011, when the actor had three monumental starring roles, Gosling cooled it down in 2012. But we're still feeling the heat from this wisecracking style icon, who makes us pay attention even when he's just a glimmer on TMZ.
We were anticipating Gosling's turn as a tough cop battling the mob in Gangster Squad, but the Colorado theatre shooting sent that movie (which featured a theatre shooting of its own) into 2013 and Gosling back on set for reshoots. Gosling made an appearance at this year's Toronto International Film Festival for the premiere his new indie movie, The Place Beyond the Pines. In it, he plays a motorcycle stunt driver who robs banks, a character based on the actor's own fantasies of performing hold-ups on a bike. You'll be seeing that, along with Gosling's directorial debut, pretty soon.
Why Is Frank Ocean #8?
A few months ago, Frank Ocean publicly announced his bisexuality. It was a gamble, as the world of hip-hop, while undoubtedly trendsetting and trailblazing, is still less than tolerant. But the attention Ocean received for his courageous declaration was turned to his critically acclaimed new album and to his powerful performances on SNL and at the 2012 Video Music Awards.
Why Is Elon Musk #7?
SpaceX founder Elon Musk made history this past spring by becoming the first private rocketeer to launch cargo into orbit and supply the International Space Station.
The Dragon's return to Earth marked another major milestone in private industry's takeover of government-operated space activities. The capsule is now approaching the ISS again, where it will be grappled and berthed, then unloaded and reloaded with cargo to return to Earth.
If Musk continues his grand vision, expect to see SpaceX sending astronauts to the ISS soon. The South African entrepreneur has also pushed the limits of conventional thinking by developing the Tesla Roadster, an all-electric, environmentally friendly sports car that not only looks cool but retails for a competitive $110,000.
Why Is Jimmy Kimmel #6?
It's been a big year for late-night loudmouth Jimmy Kimmel. He hosted the 64th annual Emmy Awards, and his nightly talk show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, is about to shake things up with a new time slot.
After paying his dues for nearly a decade with a 12:35 a.m. show, Kimmel's being bumped up to 11:35 p.m. on January 8th, where he'll battle Leno and Letterman, the reigning kings of late night, head on.
Why Is Joseph Gordon-Levitt #5?
The Dark Knight Rises primed Joseph Gordon-Levitt to take up Batman's mantle, Looper made him the assassin younger version of Bruce Willis and Spielberg's Lincoln saw him as the only surviving son of the 16th president.
What does all this add up to? A lead position in Hollywood's race for a new leading man.
In 2012, JGL graduated from indie darling to action-movie superstar whose presence seems to elevate whatever material he touches.
Why Is Seth MacFarlane #4?
Seth MacFarlane is a force to be reckoned with. Ted, his directorial debut, had the biggest opening weekend of an R-rated comedy ever, and is being touted by Universal Pictures as its next big film series. Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show are keeping Fox afloat with their popular blend of pop-culture skewering and sophomoric humour.
And now that MacFarlane's hosting the Oscars, the rest of America is about to learn what 20- and 30-somethings already know--that Seth MacFarlane is a comedy savant. Oh, and he's dating Emilia Clarke. We approve, Seth.
Why Is Bill Clinton #3?
Remember when Al Gore desperately tried to separate himself from Bill Clinton in the 2000 presidential election? Boy, have times changed.
The charismatic Clinton has enjoyed unprecedented (and ever-growing) popularity since his presidency, and with a rousing Democratic National Convention speech that eclipsed Barack Obama's own, Clinton proved that he's the Obama campaign's greatest tool. If it weren't for that pesky two-term law, he'd be back behind the desk at the Oval Office in no time.
Why Is Usain Bolt #2?
Repeating success is sometimes more difficult than achieving it the first time. In 2012, the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt, gave us a lesson on how to stay on top.
While some doubted the Lightning Bolt as he headed into the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, he used that as fuel to come out even stronger. Not only did he defend his 100-meter sprint gold medal with an Olympic-record-setting time of 9.63 seconds, but he also defended his 200-meter title and finished up with a gold in the team relay.
While 2008 was the year that Bolt burst onto the scene, 2012 was the year that he cemented himself as the best sprinter of all time.
Why Is James Bond #1?
It's official: 007 is No. 1. Ian Fleming's dashing super-spy may have sipped his first martini in 1953, but James Bond has always fit right in with the times.
Bond has changed with each actor's interpretation of the role--from the smooth Sean Connery to the bare-knuckle brutishness of Daniel Craig--while always standing for the same values. No matter how much the world has changed, what guy still doesn't like a stiff drink, a sexy companion, a fast car and, yes, the latest nifty gadgets?
A connoisseur of the finer things in life, a ladies' man and a hero who's saved the world many times over, James Bond has been influencing men for six decades, and he's not done yet.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.