The 50 Most Popular Actors of All Time
Is anyone more beloved than Betty White? Time to find out!
“Who’s the most popular actor in Hollywood history?” might be one of the oldest barroom debates in the book. Does Bill Murray have more star power than Danny DeVito? Can Tom Hanks actually go toe-to-toe with Betty White in a popularity contest? Is Robert Downey, Jr. really the most beloved Avenger?
It turns out, definitive answers on the subject actually do exist, courtesy of the data whizzes at YouGov. They’ve rounded up the most popular actors of all time, ever, from Julie Andrews to Reese Witherspoon. Read on to find out if your favorite made the cut!
Liam Neeson has had an illustrious career, appearing in everything from award-winning dramas like Schindler’s List, to iconic blockbusters like Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace, to high-octane action flicks like Taken.
Since he was just 12 years old, Kurt Russell has charmed audiences with film roles across a wide spectrum of genres—from romantic carpenter/con artist in Overboard (which he appeared opposite his longtime partner Goldie Hawn) to total jerk superhero dad in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
The late Christopher Reeve was known for one thing: being a superhero—on-screen (as Superman, in the 1970s and ’80s) and off (as someone who publicly and bravely battled a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed).
Not all child actors keep their career flame burning for decades, like Drew Barrymore. Thanks to starring roles in classic films like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Charlie’s Angels, she’s managed to stay relevant to a mainstream audience for nearly 40 years!
Even though decades have passed since she graced marquees, late icon Marilyn Monroe remains one of the most popular actors of all time.
Whether she’s making us cry as a grieving mother in Steel Magnolias or she’s finding her place again as an older woman in Hello, My Name is Doris, Sally Field knows how to tug on our heartstrings—and she has the awards to prove it. (In addition to two Academy Awards, she has three Emmys and two Golden Globes.) Yes, we like her. We really like her.
Even if you’re not watching him on his current hit TV series Last Man Standing, who hasn’t laughed courtesy of Tim Allen as Tim Taylor on Home Improvement, or as Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story franchise?
Though his life was tragically cut short at the age of 32, Bruce Lee singlehandedly redefined the entire genre of martial arts films.
In the late 1930s, child star Shirley Temple was one of the top box office draws in Hollywood. Later in life, she pursued her talents off the silver screen, eventually becoming a politician and government official—ultimately serving as the ambassador to both Ghana and Czechoslovakia.
Reese Witherspoon has been America’s sweetheart since Cruel Intentions in 1999—so how could she not be among the top 50 most popular actors of all time?
Known for his southern drawl and charm, Andy Griffith made his mark on Hollywood with the 1960s hit series The Andy Griffith Show, now one of the most revered shows in history.
Between her back-to-back starring roles in Mary Poppins (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965), it’s safe to say that Julie Andrews is one of the most beloved actresses in cinematic history.
Since the 1990s, when Americans were first introduced to the “Rachel” haircut, we’ve been collectively obsessed with Jennifer Aniston (and have taken perhaps too keen of an interest in her actual love life as a result).
Say hello to our little friend, Al Pacino, Scarface himself. Pacino may be known for his mafioso roles, but did you know he’s also a huge William Shakespeare buff? In 1996, he directed and starred in Looking for Richard, a documentary about one of The Bard’s most famous works, Richard III.
From massive musicals (The Greatest Showman, Les Misérables) to gritty superhero flicks (he’s Wolverine in the X-Men films), Australian actor Huge Jackman has the chops to do it all.
Fellow X-Men star Halle Berry has been breaking down barriers in the entertainment industry for decades: In 2001, she became the first African American woman to win an Academy Award for Best Actress (for her work on Monster’s Ball). Nearly 20 years later, she remains the only African American woman to do so.
Jamie Lee Curtis
There’s more to Jamie Lee Curtis than her acting career. In addition to being one of the original scream queens—courtesy of the Halloween movies—she’s a blogger, activist, and children’s book author.
Tommy Lee Jones
Tommy Lee Jones didn’t really hit it big until he was in his 40s. But when he hit it big in the 1990s, he hit it really big, with roles in major films like Batman Forever, Men in Black, Under Siege, and, of course, The Fugitive, which earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Anyone born before the 1970s knows him for Taxi, while newer audiences know him for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which has been running for 14 seasons and counting). But everyone loves Danny DeVito for the same thing: his biting, sharp-as-a-tack wit.
Considered one of the great comedic legends of the 20th century, the peerless Gene Wilder showcased his humor in everything from Young Frankenstein to Blazing Saddles to The Producers to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
When you think of classic Hollywood actors, it’s likely that Audrey Hepburn comes to mind—and for good reason. In a list by the American Film Institute, the Breakfast at Tiffany’s star was ranked as the third greatest female screen legend in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
If you’ve never seen a Paul Newman movie, you’ve probably at least eaten his food. In the early 1980s, Newman founded the Newman’s Own brand of healthy treats and all of the profits are donated to charity. What’s not to love about this late actor-turned-Indy-racer-turned-philanthropist?
Long before he became the internet’s boyfriend in 2019, Keanu Reeves made a name for himself in genre-defining sci-fi films, like The Matrix. Now, he’s embodied by two words: John. Wick.
Thanks to romantic lead roles in movies like Dirty Dancing and Ghost (who could forget the pottery scene?), Patrick Swayze became one of the biggest heartthrobs of the late ’80s and early ’90s. In fact, he was even crowned Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine in 1991.
Whether he’s playing a villain (The Shining, The Departed) or an empathetic romantic lead (As Good as It Gets), Jack Nicholson has captivated audiences for decades. He’s nabbed an eye-popping 12 acting nominations at the Oscars, three of which he won.
From Saturday Night Live to Beverly Hills Cop to Dr. Doolittle, Eddie Murphy has entertained audiences of all ages for the better part of four decades.
From crashing engagement photoshoots to sending Christmas cards to wrestlers he’s never met, the fan encounters people have had with actor and comedian Bill Murray are the stuff of legend. Truly, what’s not to love?
Carol Burnett was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 for her wide-spanning, ear-tugging prolific career—anchored, but not limited, by her 1970s variety show, The Carol Burnett Show.
Dick Van Dyke
Dick Van Dyke—who, by the way, doesn’t seem to age—has had a strong career running for an impressive seven decades. Thanks to roles in Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and, of course, The Dick Van Dyke Show, he’s cemented himself as a household name.
Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey, Jr. was huge in the ’80s and ’90s, thanks to being a card-carrying member of the Brat Pack. Then, he faded from the limelight for a little bit before kick-starting the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Iron Man, in 2008.
He’s terrifying in Silence of the Lambs. He’s serene and wise in Westworld. He’s regal in Thor. Sir Anthony Hopkins—yes, he’s also a knight—can do it all.
From Pretty Woman to Notting Hill to scoring People magazine’s “World’s Most Beautiful” award a record five times, Julia Roberts is—no doubt about it—a permanent household name.
You may know him for his side-splitting screen performances, but Steve Martin is also an accomplished banjoist: He regularly tours the bluegrass festival circuit and has released more than half a dozen studio albums.
Few actors have commanded the screen for as long and as fiercely as 89-year-old Clint Eastwood, the quintessential “get off my lawn” guy (see: Gran Torino).
James Earl Jones
Even though he’s one of the most famous actors in history, James Earl Jones is probably best known for a role in which he never showed his face: He’s the voice of one Darth Vader.
Samuel L. Jackson
Actually, based on science, Samuel L. Jackson is the most popular actor of all time, ever. According to a 2018 study published in Applied Network Science, using a wide range of metrics—including number of films, times appearing as top billing, and length of career—Jackson is peerless in the field. (Eastwood was right behind him at No. 2.)
Die Hard, RED, Looper—when it comes to high-octane action, no one does it better than Bruce Willis. Oh, and don’t forget about his side-splitting cameo in Friends!
The fresh prince of Bel Air has grown up, and now, Will Smith stars in everything from high-minded sci-fi flicks (I, Robot) to fun-and-flirty rom coms (Hitch) to tear-jerking Oscar bait (The Pursuit of Happyness).
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
The highest-paid actor in Hollywood for both 2017 and 2018, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson anchors multiple blockbuster series—including Jumanji and The Fast and the Furious—and has a leading role on HBO’s wildly successful Ballers, which he also executive produces. What a baller.
Michael J. Fox
In the 1980s, Michael J. Fox won over audiences as Marty McFly in the Back to the Future franchise. More recently, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he’s taken a step back from the limelight to focus on his efforts with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to finding a cure for the disease.
Beloved martial artist and actor Jackie Chan very well might be one of the most recognizable people on the planet: He’s appeared in more than 150 films!
Sean Connery is James Bond. Though plenty of actors (like Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan, and Roger Moore) have played the iconic super-spy over the years, none embodied the role more fully than Connery.
With leading roles in Star Wars, Blade Runner, and Indiana Jones—including reboots of all three franchises—it’s safe to say Harrison Ford is the most iconic face in cinematic sci-fi.
The late Lucille Ball—of I Love Lucy fame, of course—was nominated for a jaw-dropping 13 Emmys throughout her career, winning four times. She also made history as the first woman to run a major studio, Desilu Productions, which produced her hit series and many more!
Morgan Freeman played God—not one, not twice, but three times (in Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty, and, one could argue, March of the Penguins). If that’s not a testament to his omniscience, we don’t know what is.
Forrest Gump. Castaway. Catch Me If You Can. Toy Story. Saving Private Ryan. You’ve Got Mail. Philadelphia. Apollo 13. Big. Yes, when it comes to Tom Hanks, there are just too many iconic movies to count. No wonder he has a Presidential Medal of Freedom (awarded in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama).
Denzel Washington might be best known for his roles in action flicks (The Equalizer, The Equalizer 2) and high-stakes dramas (Training Day, Glory), but he’s also a well-regarded film director in his own right: Fences, his third directorial effort, was nominated for Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards.
At nearly 100 years young, and with a career spanning an astonishing eight decades, Betty White is far and away the most popular woman in show biz. PBS put it best, in 2018, when they called their documentary on the icon Betty White: First Lady of Television.
The number-one spot goes to Robin Williams, a comedian and actor whose humor touched generations, from Mork & Mindy to Mrs. Doubtfire—and who tragically died in 2014 at the age of 63 after taking his own life. And for more famous people who’ve left us too soon, Here’s How Old These 100 Iconic Celebrities Would Be If They Were Alive In 2019.
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