The 20 greatest movie actors and actresses of all time

Vivien Killilea/Neilson Barnard/Getty ImagesThese actors are iconic.
  • With award season coming up, it is a good time to reflect on the best actors and actresses we have seen on film.
  • A study from the University of Turin determined the best actors and actresses of all time.
  • The study is based on the number of movies they have been in and longevity of their careers.

Awards season will be here before you know it, and while some will be at home gleefully watching their favourite thespians accept top honours in their categories nominated, other will be left wondering why the person they were rooting for walked away empty handed.

The conversation regarding the best actors and actresses continues from year to year. With the legendary talent that continues to entertain audiences for decades, for some it’s easy to determine whose legacy will extend far beyond their lifespan.

Thankfully, researchers have done the heavy lifting for us.

Using the longevity of their careers along with the total numbers of movies starred in, a new study from the University of Turin came up with an arguably definitive list of the top 20 actors and actresses of all time.

Did your favourite make the cut? Check below.


20. Natalie Portman is one of the youngest on the list.

Vivien Killilea/Getty ImagesPortman won an Academy Award for her role in ‘Black Swan.’

One of the youngest actresses on the list, the Israeli-born leading lady has a knack for picking roles that challenge her. From playing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in a 2016 biopic to a talented but obsessive ballerina in 2010’s “Black Swan,” both roles earned her an Oscar nomination. However, she ultimately accepted the Academy Award for the role of Nina Sayers in “Black Swan.”


19. Dame Judi Dench has had iconic roles in lots of films.

Tim P. Whitby/Getty ImagesDench was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

The seven-time Oscar nominee has only won once for her role in 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love,” but that doesn’t discount the longevity she has had in the industry. Not only has she had some iconic parts in “Pride and Prejudice” and “Chocolat,” she was also appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) at the 1988 New Years Honours.


18. Cloris Leachman is known for her acting and dedication to animal rights.

Michael Kovac/Getty Images for VarietyLeachman has an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Not only is she an actress, but Cloris Leachman received PETA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. She also has an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to her resume.


17. Mary Ellen Trainor had lots of memorable roles.

Mary Ellen Trainor lent her talent to some memorable roles in significant films. Most notably, the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, where she starred alongside Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. She died in 2015 at 62.


16. Frances Bay is iconic from her role as Fonzi’s grandmother on “Happy Days.”

IMDBShe played opposite Henry Winkler.

She began her career as a radio actress in the 1930s, but it wasn’t long before Frances Bay would find herself in front of a camera. Fans of the 1970s and ’80s sitcom “Happy Days” definitely remember her for playing opposite Henry Winkler as Fonzie’s grandmother. She died in 2011 at 92.


15. Dame Maggie Smith can be seen in the “Harry Potter” series and “Downton Abbey.”

The “Harry Potter” film series wouldn’t be the same without its Professor Minerva McGonagall, and “Downton Abbey” enthusiasts have a soft spot for her performance as Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, which earned her three Emmy Awards. In any case, at 83 years old, Dame Maggie Smith has eclipsed quite the distinction for her contributions to film and television.


14. Joan Crawford is known for her work in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.”

William Lovelace/Express/Getty ImagesCrawford’s feud also became famous.

Joan Crawford achieved critical box-office success for her work in the 1962 horror film “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” which she starred alongside long-time rival Bette Davis. Their feud was so iconic, it became the subject for the first season of the FX anthology series “Feud: Bette and Joan.”


13. Sigourney Weaver has been a legend for years.

Sigourney Weaver’s career has followed her through generations of fans, with boomers likening her work to 1988’s “Gorillas in the Mist” and millennials remembering her for her portrayal of Warden Louise Walker in 2003’s “Holes.”


12. Julie Christie has Oscar nominations for two of her independent films.

Another “Harry Potter” alum graces this list, but Julie Christie is famous for more than just her part in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” She is also a two-time Oscar nominee for her work in the independent films “Afterglow” (1997) and “Away From Her” (2007).


11. Jamie Lee Curtis has continuously conquered the box office.

Mark Metcalfe/Getty ImagesCurtis was just in a remake of the classic movie ‘Halloween.’

She has conquered the box offices before, but this year’s remake of the 1978 classic “Halloween” solidified Jamie Lee Curtis as a reigning leading lady. In its first week, the film grossed over $US77 million in sales.


10. Beth Grant has an extensive film resume.

Neilson Barnard/Getty ImagesGrant has been in everything from ‘No Country for Old Men’ to ‘The Mindy Project.’

Between “No Country for Old Men,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” and “Donnie Darko,” how can a fan pick their favourite Beth Grant film? While this doesn’t count towards her extensive film resume, it is worth mentioning. Yes, that IS Beverly Janoszewski from Hulu’s “The Mindy Project.”


9. Faye Dunaway has three Golden Globes and an Emmy.

The notoriously private actress would rather let her craft speak for itself rather than give interview after interview. She is an Oscar, three-time Golden Globe, and Emmy winner.


8. Julianne Moore has been nominated for five Academy Awards.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty ImagesMoore is able to star in serious films and romantic comedies alike.

After five Academy Award nominations, with her first coming in 1998, Julianne Moore finally took home the coveted golden statue for her 2015 work in “Still Alice.”


7. Cameron Diaz was the movie star of the late 1900s and early 2000s.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for SiriusXMDiaz has spent lots of time on the big screen.

Her last cinematic feature came in 2014, so it has been a while since fans have seen her grace the big screens. However, there’s no denying that Cameron Diaz was the late 1990s, early 2000’s movie star.

Whether she lent her voice to play Princess Fiona in “Shrek” or starred alongside Ben Stiller in “There’s Something About Mary,” if you’re missing her on the big screen, there’s plenty of her past work to keep you company.


6. Lin Shaye is known for her roles in horror movies.

Tommaso Boddi/Getty ImagesHer early work was mostly in horror.

Lin Shaye joins fellow “There’s Something About Mary” co-star Cameron Diaz on this list, but she is more so regarded as a scream queen and not a comedic lead. Her early features in “Nightmare of Elm Street,” “Critters,” and “Insidious” are just as memorable as her laugh-out-loud work.


5. Drew Barrymore started as a child actor.

Jason Kempin/Getty ImagesBarrrymore has been acting since 1982.

Another Cameron Diaz co-star enters the top five. Drew Barrymore started off as a child actresses, capturing theatre-goers hearts in “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.” Her career matured as she did, taking on more serious roles in “Ever After” (1998) before trying her hand at romantic comedies in “Fifty First Dates” (2004).


4. Halle Berry is the first African-American woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress.

Christopher Polk/ Getty ImagesHalle Berry first found fame in 1997.

Halle Berry has the esteem of being the first – and only – African-American actress to win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her 2002 performance in “Monster’s Ball.” Prior to her historic win, she found fame for her display in 1997’s “B*A*P*S.”


3. Maureen O’Sullivan played the role of Jane in “Tarzan” six times.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesMaureen O’Sullivan is Mia Farrow’s mum.

The Irish actress had seven children, one including actress Mia Farrow. Her list of feature films are extensive, but her most iconic work comes from the portrayal of Jane in the “Tarzan” series, for which she reprised her role six times between 1932 and 1942.


2. Carrie Fisher continues to be influential in the movie world.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty ImagesFisher passed away unexpectedly two years ago.

She unexpectedly passed nearly two years ago at the age of 60, but there’s no denying how influential Carrie Fisher was to the world of film. As far as princesses go, Princess Leia will always be beloved.


1. Lois Maxwell is best known from playing Miss Moneypenny 14 times in “James Bond” films.

Kent Gavin/Keystone/Getty ImagesFans of the ‘James Bond’ movie will definitely recognise Lois Maxwell.

There can only be one Lois Maxwell. If you are a fan of “James Bonds” films, then the name Miss Moneypenny definitely rings a bell, seeing as though she played the influential character 14 times in her nearly 60-year career.


20. James Stewart is one of the most recognised actors of the 20th century.

Getty ImagesStewart was also a military veteran.

Not only was James Stewart one of the most recognised actors of the 20th century, he was also a decorated military veteran. Due to his extensive flying background, the MGM contract actor received his second commission as a second lieutenant on January 1, 1942, not long after the Pearl Harbour attacks.


19. Steve Buscemi has acted and directed.

Cantor Fitzgerald/Getty ImagesBuscemi is an Emmy Award winner.

Steve Buscemi has a successful Hollywood career, with notable acts including “Armageddon” and “Reservoir Dogs.” The Emmy Award winner joins a fraternity of several actors who have tried their hands in a director’s chair, his most recent project being 2007’s “Interview.”


18. Johnny Depp has been popular since the 1990s.

In 1990, Johnny Depp starred in the cult classic film “Cry-Baby.” Since then, he’s won a Golden Globe and portrayed many characters, from Willy Wonka to his famous role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.

Depp’s life and stardom has not been without controversy. He was accused of domestic violence by his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard. He’s denied all allegations, though he remains a controversial figure.


17. Robbie Coltrane is popular from “Harry Potter” and “Brave.”

Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images EntertainmentColtrane has played loveable roles.

You can’t think of “Harry Potter” without thinking of Robbie Coltrane, who played loveable half-giant and half-human Rubeus Hagrid in the film series. The Scottish thespian also lent his widely recognised voice to Disney and Pixar’s animated blockbuster “Brave.”


16. Sir Christopher Lee was knighted for his role in the film industry.

Pier Marco Tacca/Getty ImagesLee was a part of ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy.

The late Sir Christopher Lee dazzled in the fantasy film universe, lending his talent to the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies. A man set on giving back, he was knighted in 2009 for his contributions to the film industry and his philanthropic efforts.


15. Danny Trejo is known for playing villains.

Getty ImagesTrejo has lots of acting credits behind his name.

Danny Trejo has a knack for playing the villain, and his acting credits prove that he was incredible in those roles. Comedic film devotees probably remember him from the 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.”


14. Harrison Ford is best known for “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones.”

Frazer Harrison/Getty ImagesHarrison is an Academy Award nominee.

The “Indiana Jones” theme song is a tune familiar to most Americans, who saw Harrison Ford in the titular role. At the same time, we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the Academy Award nominee’s other famous role: Han Solo in the immensely successful “Star Wars” franchise.


13. Jack Nicholson’s career spans six decades.

Michael Buckner/Getty ImagesNicholson has been nominated for 12 Oscars.

With “The Shining,” “A Few Good Men,” or “The Departed,” Jack Nicholson has starred in seemingly endless films, especially given that his career spans over six decades. The two-time Oscar winner has been nominated 12 times, effectively making him the most nominated male thespian in Academy Award history.


12. Sean Connery was the first James Bond.

20th Century FoxConnery played the role of James Bond seven times.

Sir Thomas Sean Connery has the honour of being the first actor to ever play James Bond, reprising his role seven times between 1962 and 1983. In 2016, Scottish newspaper The Herald lauded the Oscar winner as being “The Greatest Living Scot.”


11. Robert De Niro has had a long career in Hollywood.

Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for SpikeDe Niro won an Oscar for his role in ‘The Godfather Part II.’

Nearly any film Robert De Niro signed on to star in would become an instant classic.t. The New Yorker played a young Vito Corleone in 1974’s “The Godfather Part II,” which earned him an Academy Award.


10. Ward Bond charmed us in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

L. J. Willinger/Keystone Features/Getty ImagesBond’s career lasted 30 years.

No Christmas season would be complete without the annual viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946). Ward Bond’s career only lasted 30 years, but that was more than enough to garner him a top 10 spot on this list.


9. Desmond Llewelyn played the role of Q 17 times.

IMDBLlewelyn also served in the army.

Along with Sean Connery, Desmond Llewelyn was an essential force in the “James Bond” film series, playing the role of Q 17 times, from 1963 to 1999. The Welsh actor briefly put his career on hold to serve as a second lieutenant in the British Army during the Second World War.


8. Vincent Price has two stars of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Evening Standard/Getty ImagesPrice started out in horror.

The native Missourian’s first venture into film was in the horror genre and is best known for his work in “The Tower of London” (1939). Outside of that genre, Price notably starred in 1956’s “The Ten Commandments.” The late actor has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for film and one for television.


7. Bruce Willis has starred in dozens of movies.

“Pulp Fiction” is perhaps one of his most recognisable roles ever, but Bruce Willis has starred in so many more films outside of the cult classic. “Armageddon” (1998) and “The Sixth Sense” (1999) solidified his status as a box office smasher.


6. Willem Dafoe has played lots of real-life people.

Getty Images / Andrew H. WalkerDafoe has been nominated for an Oscar three times.

The renowned character actor has been nominated for an Oscar three times, all in the Best Supporting Character category. Throughout his extensive career, Dafoe has played man real-life figures, including T.S. Elliot and Vincent Van Gogh


5. John Wayne is known for his role in Western movies.

Victor Blackman/Express/Getty ImagesWayne got into acting because he couldn’t play football.

At the expense of losing his football scholarship at USC due to a bodysurfing accident, John Wayne found his calling in movies. Western movies and John Wayne go hand in hand.


4. Arnold Schwarzenegger had many different careers.

Carlos Alvarez/Getty ImagesSchwarzenegger said the famous line ‘hasta la vista, baby.’

Arnold Schwarzenegger gave us one of films most iconic lines (“Hasta la vista, baby), but the bodybuilder-turned actor-turned politician is a living example that at any point in your career, it’s never too late to venture into something different.


3. Tom Cruise has played iconic roles.

John Phillips/Getty Images for Paramount PicturesCruise has done comedy, drama, and action.

Have you ever attempted THAT scene in “Risky Business” that catapulted Tom Cruise into a Hollywood darling? Famous for much more beyond that 1983 role, the Syracuse, New York native is famously known for doing all of his stunts in his Blockbuster hits “Mission Impossible.”


2. Clint Eastwood is known for his work in the Western genre.

Seems like many of Hollywood’s most memorable catchphrases can be attributed to the actors on this list. Clint Eastwood is no exception. His work in the Country Western genre cemented his legacy in movies.


1. Samuel L. Jackson’s has been in a series of successful films.

Neilson Barnard/Getty ImagesJackson has been nominated for an Oscar.

Samuel L. Jackson tops this list. From “Pulp Fiction” (1994) to “Django Unchained” (2012), this Oscar nominee isn’t afraid to take on any role, no matter how big.

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