The Top 10 Greatest Actors of the Modern Age

While stars of the bygone era, names like Shirley Temple, Burt Lancaster, Clark Gable, Rita Hayworth and others may have faded from the forefront of our social conscience, due mainly to the passing of time and the innocence of youth, a youth more obsessed with Justin Bieber than James Dean, the stars of the modern era have, and can, reach a global audience unlike any in history before now. Whereas Hollywood of the 30’s seemed like a fairytale time by today’s standards, nowadays, stars run their own shows and have such a social presence thanks to online media and saturation TV coverage, it’s impossible to not see them every day. Which begs the question: if the stars of today had lived back in the heyday of Hollywood, alongside the greats of cinema, who would be the biggest and the best? It’s like equating apples and oranges, I know, but I wanted to take a chance and try and sift through the smorgasbord of superstars getting about today and put together a definitive list of the ten best actors and actresses living today. I realize it’s a mission fraught with danger and controversy, but here at, we’re all about danger and controversy. Okay, perhaps not exactly all about it, but we don’t mind stoking the flames of fan passion from time to time.

In the hundred or so years since film was invented and turned into a multi-billion dollar industry, plenty of ink has been spilled over lists and articles about just who has been the best – the best director, the best actor, the best musician – like humanity can’t get enough out of figuring out the most superior of our own self-importance. The Hollywood awards season seems to last the entire year, with a multitude of industry-based awards shows dominating the blogosphere and newsprint each and every month, culminating in the very pinnacle of cinematic artistic achievement, The Academy Awards. Each year, golden gongs are handed out to those folks judged by others folks to be the best in their category at what they’ve done that year. Whether those awards are warranted or not isn’t the point of this article; here, we’re going to spotlight the very best of the best – the best Actors and Actresses, the best Directors, the best Films, even the best cinematic advances of the Modern Age. What do I mean by Modern Age, you ask. Simple. Hollywood’s boom times of the 30’s and 40’s, at least prior to the War, are known today as the Golden Age, and the three decades after that could be termed the Bronze Age – with a shift into color film, multi-channel stereo and the re-invention of the Hollywood “blockbuster” away from biblical epics and sweeping melodramatic romance. The 80’s, however, when you look at films produced at that time in a reflective mood, represents a shift both artistically and stylistically in the medium of film to such a degree that I think a new “age” of Hollywood could be coined: the Modern Age. An epoch of cinema between 1980 and 2010, 30 years of both massive successes, and epic fails. The Greatest of the Modern Age attempts to distill the best of the Modern Age into a series of opinion-based lists, and we hope you enjoy (if not disagree with) our work.

While stars of the bygone era, names like Shirley Temple, Burt Lancaster, Clark Gable, Rita Hayworth and others may have faded from the forefront of our social conscience, due mainly to the passing of time and the innocence of youth, a youth more obsessed with Justin Bieber than James Dean, the stars of the modern era have, and can, reach a global audience unlike any in history before now. Whereas Hollywood of the 30’s seemed like a fairytale time by today’s standards, nowadays, stars run their own shows and have such a social presence thanks to online media and saturation TV coverage, it’s impossible to not see them every day. Which begs the question: if the stars of today had lived back in the heyday of Hollywood, alongside the greats of cinema, who would be the biggest and the best? It’s like equating apples and oranges, I know, but I wanted to take a chance and try and sift through the smorgasbord of superstars getting about today and put together a definitive list of the ten best actors and actresses living today. I realize it’s a mission fraught with danger and controversy, but here at, we’re all about danger and controversy. Okay, perhaps not exactly all about it, but we don’t mind stoking the flames of fan passion from time to time.

Ergo, we’ve come up with a list of actors which we consider to be the greatest cinema legends since 1980.The criteria for inclusion isn’t that stringent: each actor must have performed in a minimum 5 films since 1980, been nominated for and/or won an Oscar, and have a substantial following from the general public. The majority of their major work must be post-1980.

The Modern Age. The Facebook Age. Call it what you will, it’s a Top 10 list and it’s gonna kick up some mud!

Hollywood’s lovable rogue, and former Brat Pack member, Downey, Jr has made a surprisingly swift comeback in recent years with appearances in everything from the Hollywood blockbuster Iron Man franchise, more nuanced and dramatic roles for David Fincher in Zodiac, Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and reinventing a legend in the Guy Ritchie update of Sherlock Holmes. His first big critically acclaimed role came in 1987’s Less Than Zero, playing a drug addict who sleeps with his best friend’s girlfriend. The parallel between the character and Downey, Jr’s personal life was astonishing. Major roles in big budget Hollywood fare, such as Air America, Soapdish and the monster Oscar-bait bio-pic Chaplin, launched his career into the stratosphere. His performance as the late Charlie Chaplin earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination (he did not win – losing to Al Pacino in Scent of A Woman) and gave his career a much needed boost. During the 90’s, his dabbling with drugs turned into a major addiction, and the tabloid rags were filled with exploits of his off-screen antics, causing him to “fall from grace” in the eye of Hollywood’s major studios. Nobody was prepared to back a film starring a major drug addict and problematic actor. In 2003, fellow Air America co-star Mel Gibson gave Downey, Jr. a chance at a comeback, casting him in a film Gibson was producing called The Singing Detective. Years of rehab and time away from the screen gave Downey, Jr. a new lease on life, and his natural talent and screen charisma soon saw him taking up new job offers. Appearances in Good Night, And Good Luck, as well as Gothika and The Shaggy Dog, gave him a platform to prove he had left the drug lifestyle behind, which mean more offers soon came swinging his way. The new millennium saw his take on one of his most iconic roles – the billionaire weapons designer Tony Stark in Iron Man, his first genuine blockbuster. However, it was his next major film, 2008’s Tropic Thunder (directed by Ben Stiller) that saw him in the Oscar spotlight again – this time playing a white Australian actor who undergoes a skin pigmentation alteration to turn him black, in order to portray a black solder in a film. His performance in Tropic Thunder saw him garner another Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (he lost again) and reaffirm his status as one of the Modern Age’s most astonishingly good actors. His take on England’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes, in the film of the same name by Snatch director Guy Ritchie, was well received if less critically acclaimed.

A virtual unknown by the majority of audiences until his standout performance as a former Nazi in Apt Pupil, Ian McKellan’s star has risen to the very elite of all actors in Hollywood. Considered an elder statesman of the industry, McKellan’s appearance in a film lends the project a certain gravitas, a certain weight that often leads to success in critical circles. Prior to Apt Pupil, McKellan appeared in bit-roles in films such as Six Degrees Of Separation, and Last Action Hero (as Death!). Post-Apt Pupil, McKellan then starred alongside Brendan Fraser in Gods & Monsters, a bio-pic about director James Whale – where he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, before re-teaming with Bryan Singer for the first of the X-Men films. X-Men catapulted the actor into the blockbuster limelight like never before, with McKellan producing an acclaimed performance as the central antagonist, Magneto, against fellow Brit Patrick Stewart as Professor X. It was his next role, however, that cemented his place in this list – his casting as the wizard Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy brought his talent to an even wider audience. McKellan appeared as Gandalf in each of the Rings films, and appeared as Magneto in the two X-Men sequels, X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand. He went on to appear alongside Tom Hanks in The DaVinci Code, based on the novel by Dan Brown, provided voice work for Stardust and The Golden Compass, before returning to stage work in a production of Waiting For Godot (among others). McKellan will reprise his role of Gandalf for Peter Jackson’s currently-in-production version of The Hobbit.

While his inclusion on this list may be the most controversial of the lot, Brad Pitt has undeniably left his mark on Hollywood for all time. His marriage to Hollywood glamor-girl and Academy Award winning actress Angelina Jolie may sell more tabloid magazines than any other industry couple, but his name above the title of a film is a guarantee of success, and that’s what counts. It was his appearance in Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise, or more specifically, the appearance of his abdominals, that gave him major attention, and cemented his place in Hollywood as a major sex symbol – but it hadn’t come without plenty of work beforehand. Pitt’s career had taken him from uncredited role in films like No Way Out and Less Than Zero, television roles in Growing Pains, Dallas, and 21 Jump Street, before a string of independent and low-budget films such as Too Young To Die? and The Dark Side Of The Sun (made in 1988 but only released in 1997), led to his casting in Thelma & Louise. From there, his career has taken off, regardless of a few missteps along the way (Johnny Suede and Cool World, I’m looking at you). It was his critically acclaimed performance in Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It that proved to audiences and critics alike that he could be more than just a sex symbol, having the acting chops to carry a meaty role such as that of Paul Maclean. Pitt would star in the 1993 road movie Kalifornia, and appeared in a cameo in True Romance, before hitting the big time mainstream with the pivotal role of Louis in Interview With A Vampire. Made well before vampires got all sparkly, Pitt’s performance was criticized as being the weak link of the film, even though the film played heavily upon his appeal to women and girls. Interview was followed by the romantic melodrama Legends Of the Fall, with Pitt playing the roguish Tristian, and a cinema legend itself was born. Major dramatic success followed with a lead role opposite Morgan Freeman in David Fincher’s Se7en, as a rookie detective assigned to solve a series of puzzling (and gruesome) murders. Pitt then went a little crazy for Terry Gilliam in the science fiction mind-bender 12 Monkeys (for which he received his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor), before returning to dramatic roles in Sleepers, The Devil’s Own, and Seven Years In Tibet. A critical flop followed, 1998’s Meet Joe Black. The following year, he returned to the big leagues in Fincher’s Fight Club, playing the role of Tyler Durden, antagonist to Edward Norton’s narrator, before a couple of comedic roles in Snatch (for director Guy Ritchie) and The Mexican (for Gore Verbinski, alongside Julia Roberts) allowed him respite from the serious ones. He re-teamed with Robert Redford on Spy Game, and crewed it up with George Clooney for the first of the three Ocean’s films, Ocean’s 11. His foray into epic blockbusters came with Wolfgang Peterson’s critical flop Troy, as Achilles (perhaps one of the great actor-for-role casting coups ever) and the vastly more enjoyable Mr & Mrs Smith, co-starring with Angelina Jolie. Famously, Pitt and Jolie became an item after filming this movie, leading Pitt to leave his then-wife Jennifer Aniston for the Hollywood wild-girl in Jolie. Pitt would then co-star with Aussie actress Cate Blanchett in the mesmerizing Babel, and would continue to explore more art-house fare with The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford and Burn After Reading, while also appearing in mainstream again with Ocean’s 12 and 13. Pitt would be nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe (but win neither) for his next film, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, once more for director David Fincher, about a man who ages backwards, and he would receive more acclaim for his role in Quanetin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Pitt would also appear in Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life in 2011, and voice a superhero in Dreamworks’ Megamind. While he has yet to win an Oscar, there can be no denying that Pitts resume and body of work, his ability to portray convincing characters throughout his career, assure his inclusion into our list of the greats of the modern age. And for nothing else, he’s banging Angelina Jolie, so that’s worth a point of two in itself.

It’s only in recent years that Christian Bale has become the A-list actor we now know him as – he wasn’t always as popular or recognizable. Then again, starring as Bruce Wayne in the modern update of the Batman film franchise will put a certain amount of light on you, not to mention a top-tier dummy spit to a certain production staffer on the set of the last Terminator film. Christian Bale is, to my mind, as close to a younger version of Daniel Day-Lewis as is possible, and I mean that as a compliment. Intense, methodical, committed, dedicated to his craft instead of selling out for fame and glory like so many of his fellow thespians, Christian Bale has done the hard yards of Hollywood obscurity before his star finally outshone those around him. Fans will know he appeared in Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun (1987), after co-starring with Spielberg’s then-wife Amy Irving in a made-for-TV film about Anastasia, the lost princess of Russia. Following his breakout performance in Empire Of The Sun, Bale followed that up by appearing in Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 version of Henry V, and then the following year opposite Charlton Heston in the 1990 remake of Treasure Island. Other films followed, including a role in the Winona Ryder vehicle Little Women, Newsies, and Swing Kids, as well as voice work for the Disney version of Pocahontas. He would go on to appear in yet another Shakespeare story, this time the all-star edition of A Midsummer Nights Dream, alongside Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer and Stanley Tucci. 1999 saw Bale once more thrust into the public spotlight, with a starring role as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, a film which would launch his star skyward. The following year he would play another screen villain, this time opposite Samuel L Jackson in the modern remake of Shaft. His next major mainstream role was opposite Matthew McConaughey in Reign Of Fire, a big budget action film in which he looked a little out of his depth (and the film wasn’t really that great), as well as taking the lead in the big-budget flop, Equilibrium, with Taye Diggs and Lord Of The Rings star Sean Bean. Equilibrium remains one of my top 10 favorite films, regardless of how poorly it performed (or rather, didn’t perform) at the box office. His next role, that of machinist Trevor Reznick in The Machinist, catapulted him into the eyeline of major Hollywood studios. Bale transformed himself for the role, from the action-hero example of Equilibrium to the emaciated, almost anorexic appearance of The Machinist’s central character. Perhaps due to the success of The Machinist, Bale was cast by Memento director Christopher Nolan in his 2000’s update of Batman, entitled Batman Begins, as the pivotal role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. With his methodical commitment to a role in hand, Bale went from a scrawny walking skeleton to a muscular, athletic heroic body shape for the role, filling out the new Batsuit with ease. Batman Begins led, inevitably, to The Dark Knight, and to 2012’s major Comic Book Movie, The Dark Knight Rises. Between Batman films, Bale appeared in McG’s Terminator: Salvation (it was during production of this film that Bale famously let rip at the DOP, who was moving in his eyeline during a take) as well as Terrence Malick’s The New World (alongside Colin Farrel), The Prestige (again for Christopher Nolan) and Michael Mann’s Prohibition Era film Public Enemies, playing the role of Melvin Purvis. Peer glory came in 2011, when Bale recieved an Oscar for his role of Dicky Ecklund in the 2010 drama, The Boxer, opposite Mark Wahlberg. Once more, Bale dropped weight and changed his appearance to portray the real life figure, and scooped the big prize for his efforts. For his dedication to the craft, for his refusal to truly go commercial, we salute Christian Bale as one of the best actors of his generation.

Continual Oscar bait, Sean Penn’s name never seems to be far from Oscar’s warm glow – indeed, he’s been granted acting’s highest honor on two occasions: for Mystic River in 2003 and Milk in 2008. After debuting on film in Taps (alongside Tom Cruise), and following that with a turn as Jeff Spicoli in the classic 80’s screwball comedy Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Penn gradually built up a reputation in the 80’s for solid, commanding screen performances, until he came into his own with roles in Carlito’s Way (for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe) and Dead Man Walking, for which he received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Known for choosing less mainstream projects than his contemporaries, Penn went on to appear in films as diverse as U Turn (for Oliver Stone), The Game (for director David Fincher, opposite Michael Douglas), the Terrence Malick war epic The Thin Red Line, Sweet & Lowdown (scoring his next Oscar nomination for Best Actor), and co-starring with a young Dakota Fanning in I Am Sam, as disabled Sam Dawson, for which he received yet another nomination for Best Actor. Penn would star in the powerhouse Clint Eastwood drama Mystic River, playing a Boston local whose daughter is found murdered, and it would be for this role that he would finally score his first Oscar win. The same year, Penn starred opposite Aussie actress Naomi Watts in 21 Grams, and followed that up with roles opposite Nicole Kidman in The Interpreter, in the remake of All The King’s Men, and then his next Oscar winning turn in Milk, where he played the first openly gay politician in America, Harvey Milk. He re-teamed with Terrence Malick for 2011’s Tree of life. Penn is also known in the industry as a director, helming films such as The Crossing Guard (with Jack Nicholson) and The Pledge (again with Nicholson in the lead). If there’s one thing you can count on with Sean Penn, his ability to truly inhabit a role is virtually unmatched (see I Am Sam for proof of that) and there seems no stopping him steeping once more onto the Oscar stage in the future.

It’s my opinion that Leonardo DiCaprio is the actor River Phoenix would have been had he not carked it out the front of Johny Depp’s Viper Room club in LA. His career, while not adorned with copious awards as many of the other actors in this list, scales both the heights of mainstream blockbusters and the obscurity of low-key art-house fare with equal fanfare. It’s perhaps a tragedy that DiCaprio’s name is forever meme linked with the character of Jack from Titanic, the seminal 90’s flick from James Cameron, even though he’s built a career on carefully chosen, masterful roles which suit his persona. He began acting young, appearing in numerous commercials and television series, before landing his first film role in Critters 3. DiCaprio would then land a role on 80’s TV mega-hit Growing Pains, playing Luke Bower, before his 1992 big screen debut with Robert DeNiro in This Boy’s Life. It was his next film role, however, that catapulted him into the must-have actor category of Hollywood – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, alongside Johnny Depp. Grape would see DiCaprio nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Oscar playing Arnie Grape, the mentally handicapped brother to Depp’s Gilbert. DiCaprio’s next film was the pulp Western drama The Quick & The Dead, for director Sam Raimi, followed by a number of smaller art-house films (including re-shoots of the film River Phoenix was working on prior to his death, Total Eclipse. His star continued to rise as he appeared in big budget Hollywood successes, including Bazz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, Marvin’s Room, and (ahem) Titanic. He starred opposite an all-star cast in the period piece The Man in The Iron Mask, before taking a trip to insanity (and relatively low box office) in Danny Boyle’s The Beach. Critical acclaim, as opposed to the teen star appeal he’d enjoyed off the back of Titanic, began to follow DiCaprio, as he started to carefully choose his roles; he would lead Tom Hanks a merry chase in Catch Me If you Can, go toe-to-toe with Daniel Day-Lewis in Martin Scorsese’s The Gangs Of New York, take on the role of legendary American figure Howard Hughes in his second Scorsese flick The Aviator, battle the illegal diamond trade in Africa in Edward Zwick’s Blood Diamond, and go a third innings with Scorsese for The Departed, opposite Jack Nicholson. DiCaprio would win a Golden Globe for his role in The Aviator, and be nominated for Oscar for Blood Diamond. Pulp action would be the order of the day when he appeared in Ridley Scott’s Body Of Lies, and he gave the creepy in Scorsese’s Shutter Island, and his most recent blockbuster, Inception, once more shunted him into the Hollywood elite for in demand actors. While he is famous for having been nominated for Oscar multiple times with no win (yet), there’s no denying DiCaprio’s talent and drawing power for audiences around the world. He easily makes this list, with room to spare.

Most cinephiles will be able to tell you that success came to Denzel Washington quite early in the piece, with the Best Supporting Actor Oscar awarded for his portrayal of a black soldier in the American War of Independence in Edward Zwick’s Glory. What a lot of people seem to have forgotten is that Washington first stepped into Oscar’s light with his nomination for the same award two years prior, for Richard Attenborough’s amazing Cry Freedom. In the years since Glory, Washington has become a guaranteed box office draw, appearing in some major Hollywood blockbusters along the way, defining his generation with powerful, epic performances. His performance in Malcolm X, in 1992, saw him garner another Oscar nomination, as the titular character of the film, and he would again court critical acclaim playing a homophobic lawyer opposite Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. Blockbuster thrillers, such as The Pelican Brief (with Julia Roberts) and Crimson Tide (opposite a scene-stealing Gene Hackman) kept him in the public eye, while sci-fi (Virtuosity – with Russell Crowe) and period drama (Devil In A Blue Dress) gave his resume more depth. Washington re-teamed with Edward Zwick for the brilliant Courage Under Fire (with Meg Ryan), before starring alongside Angeline Jolie in The Bone Collector, Bruce Willis and Anette Benning in The Siege, and John Goodman and Elias Koteas in Fallen. 1999 saw Denzel star as Rueben “Hurricane” Carter in The Hurricane, for which he was again nominated for an Oscar, played a real-life football coach in Remember The Titans, and went on to bag a surprise Oscar for his role of crooked cop Alonzo Harris in Training Day, opposite Ethan Hawke. Critical acclaim continued to accompany him for John Q, playing a man battling an unfair US health system, Out Of Time, Deja Vu, Man on Fire, and Inside Man, before the towering performance of Frank Lucas in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster once more saw him courted by the industry awards. Washington kept the paychecks coming with appearances in action fare such as Unstoppable (for Ridley Scott’s brother, and Deja Vu/Crimson Tide/Man On Fire helmer, Tony Scott) and The Taking Of Penham 123, while his most recent science fiction film, the apocalyptic Book Of Eli once more saw the solid, dramatically sound Washington square off against Gary Oldman. Denzel Washington’s screen persona seems to indicate a self aware ability to exhibit truly exacting standards of performance, and this, coupled with audience enjoyment of his work, sees him easily sit at number four in our list.

Methodically acting his way into the number 3 spot is Irish born actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, a multiple Oscar winning performer who’s scarce output never diminishes the quality of the roles he delivers. Notoriously reclusive and private, Day-Lewis appeared in a number of bit-roles (including as a street thug in Gandhi) before searing his ability into Hollywood’s consciousness with a portrayal of severely handicapped Christy Brown in the 1989 film My Left Foot. His reputation for the method acting style, whereby he remained in character even when not on set, gained him a level of infamy amongst his peers and the crew of films he worked on . His performance as Brown gained him both an Oscar and a BAFTA for Best Actor, among the many other critical awards handed out that year. His co-star, Brenda Fricker, also received an Oscar for Best Actress playing Day-Lewis’s mother in the film. Day-Lewis would wait another 3 years before appearing in another film, this time Michael Mann’s The Last Of The Mohicans, in which the actor would appear as lead character Hawkeye. Day-Lewis would again be nominated for a BAFTA, although this time did not win. More powerful performances would soon come his way, thanks to Scorsese’s The Age Of Innocence (in which Day-Lewis played the love interest to Winona Ryder), In The Name Of The Father (playing opposite Pete Postlethwaite as one of the Guildford Four, and picking up another Oscar nomination for Best Actor), The Crucible (again with Winona Ryder, appearing as John Proctor) and The Boxer, the latter for which he received yet another Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. It wouldn’t be until 2002’s Gangs Of New York, playing the role of the hideously evil Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, that Day-Lewis would once more slip into mainstream consciousness, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, that he would again be nominated for the Best Actor Oscar. His previous nomination, for In The Name Of The Father, was 9 years prior, and although he would eventually lose out to Adrian Brody in The Pianist, the role cemented his stature of one of the great actors of his generation in the minds of many cinema fans. Day-Lewis’s most recent Oscar glory came with 2007’s American drama There Will Be Blood, in which he played yet another horrendous person, Daniel Plainview, a miner-turned-oil-tycoon during the early Oil boom in late 19th century California. With this role, Day-Lewis swept all before him in just about every acting award the industry could give him, including another BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and a New York Film Critics gong. His most recent film, Nine, in 2009, would see him nominated for another BAFTA for Best Actor, even though the film itself met with mediocre reviews. Daniel Day-Lewis is an actor whose intensity, commitment to a character and delivery of said performance, ensures his status as one of the greats of his age and generation.

Hoffman’s only been around since his breakout role in 1995’s Twister, but his star has risen faster and more furiously than just about anyone else on this list. Since appearing in the Jan De Bont action-fest, Hoffman’s dependability to deliver quality, mesmerizing performances in even the most dire cinematic drivel remains one of his most astonishing attributes. While he may not have the classical chiseled looks of a Tom Cruise or a Brad Pitt, Hoffman has, time and again, upped the ante on just about everyone he’s ever been on screen with – he was terrific as the socially inept Scotty J in Boogie Nights, out-acted Adam Sandler in the criminally underrated Punch Drunk Love, and smashed all comers in the bio-pic Capote, based on the life of Truman Capote. His work in Capote saw him pick up the Best Actor Oscar for that year. His star continued to rise with high profile work on Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible III, as the central villain, playing the part with conviction and decided nastiness – a facet of his ability to truly get under the skin of audiences. Dramatic roles in relatively low-key films such as Doubt, Charlie Wilson’s War, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, and The Savages with Laura Linney have ensured his output never diminishes. Voice work in animation has also been seen, with his taciturn portrayal of an Asberger’s sufferer in Mary & Max (read our review here!), as well as comedic roles in recent fare such as The Boat That Rocked and The Invention of Lying. Looking across his oeuvre, there’s not a bad performance to be seen, frankly. Equally of measure, almost all his films have been critical and commercial successes, and indication of his ability to choose projects that not only suit his ability, but showcase his willingness to be an adventurous performer. One of Hollywood’s most astute, effective performers, Hoffman ranks among his generations finest, and one we’ll enjoy watching for many years to come.

Since starring in a series of Hollywood comedies in the 80’s, before moving onto the serious roles which made him a superstar, Tom Hanks has become known around industry circles as a perfect gentleman, and an actor’s actor. His Mr Nice Guy persona doesn’t seem to be a performance itself – rather, in the persnickety Hollywood vacuum it’s quite refreshing to listen and watch an actor who doesn’t think themselves God’s gift to film. As close an actor to the late, great Jimmy Stewart as we’re likely to get, Hanks had steadily built his resume on some gold standard films since his breakout role in Splash, opposite Daryl Hannah. Post Splash, Hanks appeared in a number of knockabout comedies, including Bachelor Party, The Man With One Red Shoe, The Money Pit (with Cheers star Shelley Long) and Dragnet, before striking paydirt in 1988’s Big – a film in which he plays a grown up version of a young boy after a wish to be “big” comes true. Hank’s comedic timing, coupled with a genuinely warm-hearted screenplay and excellent co-starring performances from Robert Loggia and Elizabeth Perkins, made Big a smash hit, and established Hanks as a genuine leading man. He was nominated for an Oscar for the role. Follow up films such as Turner and Hooch, The ‘Burbs, and Joe Versus The Volcano, threatened to undo his good work in front of the camera, until he took up the role of lonely heart Sam Baldwin opposite Meg Ryan’s Annie Reed in Sleepless In Seattle. Seattle was an absolute monster hit of a film, an instant classic, and is nowadays considered to be Hank’s first real “adult” role after years of comedic mugging and slapstick. The very same year, Hanks reinvented his persona for the unsettlingly melancholy Philadelphia, playing an AIDS-afflicted homosexual lawyer sacked from his company for being gay. Starring alongside fellow Top Ten alumnus Denzel Washington, Hanks’ portrayal of a dying man searching for dignity saw him pick up his first Oscar, for Best Actor. The very next year, 1994, Hanks again scored a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the mentally handicapped Forrest Gump, in the Robert Zemeckis film of the same name. Gump was an innocent wandering through the American heartland of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, encountering famous people in the most innocuous ways – including Presidents, and musicians such as Elvis Presley. After Gump, Hanks appeared in the Ron Howard thriller Apollo 13, before providing the voice of lead character Woody in the original Toy Story. After directing That Thing You Do, Hanks appeared as Captain Miller in Spielberg’s epic war masterpiece Saving Private Ryan, and garnered yet another Oscar nomination for his performance. He returned to romantic comedies by re-teaming with Meg Ryan for the lackluster You’ve Got Mail, before joining forces with Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont for The Green Mile. Hanks would star with a volleyball in Cast Away, his next major film, which saw him reunite with Robert Zemeckis once more, and once more find Oscars glare directed his way with a nomination for Best Actor. Since then, films as diverse as The Ladykillers (for the Cohen Brothers), The Terminal (with Spielberg again), The DaVinci Code (Ron Howard again), The Simpson’s Movie (as himself) and the finale of the Toy Story franchise, have kept him in the public eye – all quality projects which have brought him acclaim and plenty of attention.

Hanks’ everyman style of performance and unique ability to take dialogue and turn it into something powerful has ensured his reputation as a quality, legitimate performer remains as potent now as it did during his early years. While he’s matured as a performer, he’s remained among the most reliably bankable stars Hollywood’s produced in the last twenty or so years – his name above the title seems to guarantee success. He’s among the most nominated Oscar winners in the last three decades, alongside Denzel Washington in this list, and remains one of Hollywood’s most enduring modern icons.

Compiled and written by Rodney Twelftree – Editor In Chief,

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14 thoughts on “The Top 10 Greatest Actors of the Modern Age

  1. Wow. Just wow. i sit corrected and simultaneously bow down to your superb critical skills.

    But i'm still not ready to give you Tom Hanks. 😉

  2. @ Vik – Arrgghhh, I forgot about Mr Giamatti. Such a great call on that one, my friend.

    @ Al – Mr DeNiro is a terrific actor, sure, but this list is all about consistency. DeNiro's been on a downward slide for the last twenty years, with appearances in some truly horrendous films negating a lot of the early goodwill in his resume. Let's take a look at it, shall we? Here's his filmography (for major film releases) since 1980.

    Raging Bull (1980) – Awesome, Oscar winner.

    True Confessions (81) – Average

    The King Of Comedy (83) – Great performance in an average film.

    Once Upon A Time In America (83) – Awesome film, awesome performance

    Brazil – Damn fine.

    The Mission (86) – Okaaaay at best.

    Angel Heart – Okay.

    The Untouchables – Awesome.

    Midnight Run – Awesome.

    Stanley & Iris – Average film, but he's good in it.

    Goodfellas – Brilliant film, excellent performance.

    Awakenings – Excellent film, Oscar nominated performance.

    Backdraft – Hokey film, weird performance.

    Cape Fear – Mangnificent remake, awesomely chilling performance.

    A Bronx Tale – Good, but not great.

    Mad Dog & GLory (93) – Good

    This Boy's Life – Good

    Mary Shelley's Frankenstein – Terrible film, mis-cast performance.

    Casino (95) – Awesome in every sense.

    Heat – Awesome in every sense.

    The Fan – Watched this last week… DeNiro is good but I still can't handle Tony Scott as a director.

    Sleepers – Disturbing film, average performance.

    Marvin's Room – Damn fine performance

    Cop Land – Terrible film.

    Jackie Brown – Tarantino's lesser film, but DeNiro's good in it.

    Wag The Dog – DeNiro and Hoffman: a dream cast knock the balls off this puppy.

    Great Expectations – Terrible film, average performance.

    Ronin – DeNiro's last great film, although he does seem to be phoning it in at this point.

    Analyze This – Comedy drek.

    Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle – Terrible

    Men Of Honor – Good try, no gold star though.

    Meet The Parents – Trading on his screen persona, without bringing anything new.

    15 Minutes – …is about all I could watch of this terrible film.

    The Score (2001) – DeNiro phones it in once more.

    Showtime – Urgh. Another crapfest.

    City By The Sea – like Men of Honor: a good try, but a waste.

    Analyze That – see Analyze This.

    Godsend – See Analyze That.

    Shark Tale – voice only, doesn't count. Average film, though.

    Meet The Fockers – Yawn.

    Hide and Seek – See Godsend.

    The Good Sheperd – See City By The Sea.

    Stardust – Great film, but DeNiro is badly miscast.

    Righteous Kill – See The Good Shepherd.

    Everybody's Fine – Yawn

    Machete – Terrific film, and DeNiro does well enough to warrant a few laughs.

    Little Fockers – Bottom of the Barrel.

    Killer Elite – Another phone call made for this one.

    Limitless – Generic, hardly worth the effort.

    New Year's Eve – No comment, but I've heard the whole film is shite.

    I don't think he's made a great film since Ronin, and his "comedies" have largely been unfunny wastes of time: he spends more time trading on his older screen persona than doing anything new and fresh. It seems like no director these days is prepared to really stretch him as an actor.

  3. Hanks is a nice guy but i'm not sure about his place at #1, unless this is a "#1 in Our Hearts" list and not about talent.

    Philip Seymour Hoffman was a good call and i was ready to firebomb your house if you didn't include Sean Penn but no Robert Deniro? Really? He's made more than 5 movies since 1980 and won the Best Picture Oscar in 1981 (Raging Bull) and was nominated twice after that.

    Everyone has their own opinion, no matter how wrong it is. 😉 lol

  4. Great choices, though I would have loved to Paul Giamatti on there. Pretty much everything I've seen him do is excellent.

  5. Oh Gary Oldman should be in the top 10 😀 But kudos for saying Peck would be in your top 10 of ALL TIME… that makes me happy. It's amazing that he was nominated FOUR times in the first 5 years of his acting career, that's quite hard to top even for DeNiro or Nicholson.

  6. Interestingly enough, I'm now starting to obsess over 'stars of the bygone era' (yes, especially one w/ the initial GP) and from the looks of all the going-ons in tumblr, they're far from being forgotten, thankfully. This is an interesting list, Rodney, and very well-written too. I agree w/ your choice of #10 and #1, though I'd put Robert Downey higher than Pitt and Penn any day. In fact, I may put Clooney first before either of those two, but hey this is still a solid list. Glad to see Christian, Denzel and Daniel here as well, all those are great actors!

    Hanks is just so genuinely likable. I always enjoy seeing him in interviews, and I love him in his serious roles as well as comedic ones.

    1. @ Dan – I think Hanks' evolving as an actor stems from working with some great directors who were able to draw some great performances out of him. Spielberg, Zemeckis and the late Jonathan Demme have all coerced moving, memorable performances from him that you'd never have guessed he was capable off after watching Splash and (my personal favorite) The Money Pit, for example. Great actors tend to blossom under great direction, and I think had Hanks remained doing comedies like Turner & Hooch all his career, his career might have stalled early.

      @ Claire – I remember seeing PSH in Twister and wondering if he'd been in anything else, because I thought his character was by far the most memorable in the entire film. Since then, he's grown in stature as an actor, topping it off with his Oscar worthy performance in Capote: while not the most handsome or easy-on-the-eye actor going around, he more than makes up for it with a genuineness and realism in his performances that truly captures the audiences imagination.

      @ Ruth – Ahh, George Clooney. Glad you mentioned him, because he was well within the top 15 choices for this list. I always find Clooney engaging and eminently watcheable. For the record, also outside the list by a hair is Tom Cruise, Ben Kingsley (who came in at 11, truth be told) and Gary Oldman. It's a good thing to go back and get into some of the older films and their stars from time to time, as well. Gregory Peck would be in my top ten of greatest actors of All Time if I was doing that list at any point. Right alongside Al Pacino, DeNiro, Olivier and Brando.

  7. "sift through the smorgasbord of superstars" – love it!

    This is a cracking list, Rodney. For me, PSH used to be the 'I recognise him' kinda guy but now when I see his name in the credits I know he's going to a great job.

    Hanks is a worthy No 1 and, like you said, he does always seem like a great guy in interviews.

  8. I agree…every time I see him on a television show he's charming, funny, down to earth and seemingly very kind. He's a great guy and deserves his spot at the top. It is astonishing that the comedy one-note actor of the 1980s was able to produce such fine dramatic performances as the ones he achieved in the likes of Forrest Gump and Philadelphia. I also think he's brilliant in The Terminal in a comedic performance far removed from those he produced in the 80s.

  9. I'm a huge fan of Tom Hanks and I'm glad to see him right at the top of this list. He's done so much, not just for film, but television as well. And he's done it in more capacities than just an actor. Although I think there are more talented and versatile actors on this list, there aren't many with Tom Hanks body of work and his mark on cinema/television.

    1. @ Scott – Thanks dude, glad I could surprise you. To be honest, I always thought this list was a bit of a foregone conclusion with Hanks at the very top, and am a little amazed to hear it's something of a shock! Let me ask you this, then: if you had to pick the best of the last 30 years, what would your choice be?

      @ Dan – My friend, welcome again to my humble pages. The reason he's up at number one is the sheer volume of work he's accomplished over his career. And according to industry scuttlebut, he's a genuinely nice guy, which is an added bonus. I've no doubt some of the people in this list are complete wankers from time to time.

  10. WOW Rodney, you are a great writer and my word can you string those words together!!!

    A very interesting list, I never saw Tom Hanks coming. I don't know why, he is a great actor, just never though he would be a top of a list like this.

    But I do understand why he is there!!

    Thanks matey

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