edit: June 6th, 2013:
I figured it was about time for an update. It’s only been a year and a half since I posted this list but already some major changes have taken place.

Ever since I was a child, I would make favorite actors lists. When I was around 11 they became as superficial and lovey-dovey as Top Sexiest Actors, and even the nauseating Top Cutie-Patootie Actors….whatever that means. Clearly I was at the age where noting those fellows I was attracted to was became important to me. For the past ten years I would make periodic lists of my favorite ‘classic’ and ‘modern’ actors and actresses. I do 30 for the classics and 50 for the modern. They are only meant to represent the performers I consider to be my favorites at various ages throughout my life. A lot of people end up staying the same, but the more and more I see, the more people shift and make their way on and off the list. ‘Classic’ here includes the silent period through the 1950’s and early 60’s, although several performers made films in later decades. There are a ton of people not on this list that I adore; Gary Cooper, Lionel Barrymore, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Fredric March, William Holden, Toshiro Mifune, Henry Fonda, Kirk Douglas, Alec Guinness, Gene Kelly, Desi Arnaz, Humphrey Bogart, Anthony Perkins, Orson Welles, etc. I am a fan of all of those names, and getting this down to 30 was difficult. I outright worship many of these people for their talent, presence, persona, and yes in some cases for their looks.

I won’t be giving reasons here, just a picture and a list of what I have seen them in. I wish I could dedicate time to explaining my reasons, but I’ve got 3 more of these to post, and with 2011 lists coming up (which will have reasons), I figure that pictures will have to do. I hope you enjoy this; it is meant to be fun and entirely subjective to who I am drawn to for various reasons. I encourage anyone who reads this to comment on their favorites and feel free to give recommendations of films to watch from those I listed. I realize I’ve still got a lot to see from these men.

Lon Chaney
30. Lon Chaney
Previously: 19

Seen in 5 Films: Ace of Hearts, He Who Gets Slapped, The Phantom of the Opera, Laugh Clown Laugh, The Unknown

29. Anton Walbrook
Previously: 30
Seen in 4 films: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Red Shoes, La Ronde, Lola Montes

28. Peter Sellers
Previously: 29
Seen in 12 Films: The Ladykillers, Tom Thumb, I’m All Right Jack, Lolita, The Pink Panther, The World of Henry Orient, A Shot in the Dark, What’s New Pussycat?, Casino Royale, The Party, Murder by Death, Being There

27. Burt Lancaster
Previously: 27
Seen in 13 films: The Killers, Brute Force, Sorry Wrong Number, Criss Cross, From Here to Eternity, Sweet Smell of Success, Judgment at Nuremberg, A Child is Waiting, The Leopard, Airport, Atlantic City, Rocket Gibraltar, Field of Dreams

Jack Lemmon
26. Jack Lemmon
Previously: 13

Seen in 16 Films: Mister Roberts, Some Like it Hot, Bell Book and Candle, The Apartment, Days of Wine and Roses, The Great Race, The Odd Couple, The Out-of-Towners, The China Syndrome, Dad, JFK, The Player (cameo), Glengarry Glen Ross, Short Cuts, Grumpy Old Men, Hamlet

25. Takeshi Shimura
Previously: 26
Seen in 11 Films:  Osaka Elegy, Stray Dog, Rashomon, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, High and Low, Kwaidan

24. Joseph Cotten
Previously: 24
Seen in 10 Films: Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Shadow of a Doubt, Gaslight, Portrait of Jennie, Under Capricorn, The Third Man, Touch of Evil (uncredited), Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte, Lady Frankenstein

Robert Mitchum23. Robert Mitchum
Previously: —
Seen in 11 films: Pursued, Crossfire, Out of the Past, Angel Face, The Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Scrooged, Cape Fear, Tombstone, Dead Man

richard widmark
22. Richard Widmark

Previously: 20
Seen in 6 Films: Kiss of Death, Night and the City, Panic in the Streets, Pickup on South Street, Judgment at Nuremberg, Murder on the Orient Express

21. Alain Delon
Previously: 23
Seen in 5 Films: Purple Noon, L’Eclisse, The Leopard, Le Samourai, Le Cercle Rouge

20. Michael Redgrave
Previously: 22
Seen in 7 Films: The Lady Vanishes, The Stars Look Down, Dead of Night, Secret Beyond the Door…, The Browning Version, The Innocents, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

19. Conrad Veidt
Previously: 21
Seen in 6 Films: Different from the Others, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Waxworks, The Man Who Laughs, The Thief of Bagdad, Casablanca

18. Boris Karloff
Previously: 18
Seen in 16 Films: Frankenstein, Scarface, The Old Dark House, The Mask of Fu Manchu, The Mummy, The Black Cat, Bride of Frankenstein, The Raven, The Black Room, The Body Snatcher, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Isle of the Dead, Bedlam, Lured, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (TV Short) (Voice), Targets

Sacha Guitry
17. Sacha Guitry

Previously: 8
Seen in 4 films: Story of a Cheat, Pearls of the Crown, Desire, Quadrille

16. Edward G. Robinson

Previously: 15
Seen in 10 films: Little Caesar, Tales of Manhattan, Double Indemnity, The Woman in the Window, Scarlet Street, The Red House, Key Largo, The Stranger, The Ten Commandments, Two Weeks in Another Town

Jean Gabin15. Jean Gabin
Previously: 9
Seen in 6 films: Pepe le Moko, Grand Illusion, Port of Shadows, La Bete Humaine, Le Jour se Leve, Moontide, Le Plaisir

james mason14. James Mason
Previously: 16
Seen in 9 Films: Odd Man Out, Caught, The Reckless Moment, A Star is Born, Bigger than Life, North by Northwest, Lolita, The Last of Sheila, The Verdict

13. William Powell
Previously: 17
Seen in 12 Films: The Last Command, Jewel Robbery, The Kennel Murder Case, The Thin Man, The Great Ziegfeld, My Man Godfrey, Libeled Lady, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, After the Thin Man, Ziegfeld Follies, How to Marry a Millionaire, Mister Roberts

tatsuya nakadai

12. Tatsuya Nakadai
Previously: 11

Seen in 9 Films: When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Harakiri, High and Low, Kwaidan, The Sword of Doom, The Face of Another, Ran

charles laughton
11. Charles Laughton
Previously: 3

Seen in 12 Films: The Old Dark House, Devil and the Deep, Sign of the Cross, Island of Lost Souls, The Private Life of Henry VIII, Mutiny on the Bounty, Rembrandt, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tales of Manhattan, This Land is Mine, The Big Clock, Witness for the Prosecution, Spartacus

Cary Grant
10. Cary Grant
Previously: 7
Seen in 18 Films: Blonde Venus, Devil and the Deep, She Done Him Wrong, The Awful Truth, Bringing Up Baby, Holiday, Gunga Din, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story, Suspicion, Arsenic and Old Lace, Notorious, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Monkey Business, To Catch a Thief, An Affair to Remember, North by Northwest

Peter Lorre9. Peter Lorre
Seen in 9 Films: M, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Mad Love, The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Arsenic and Old Lace, Three Strangers, The Verdict, Tales of Terror

Robert Montgomery
8. Robert Montgomery
Previously: —
Seen in 8 films: The Divorcee, The Big House, The Easiest Way, Faithless, When Ladies Meet, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, Night Must Fall

Charlie Chaplin
7. Charlie Chaplin
Previously: 6

Seen in 7 Films: The Kid, The Gold Rush, The Circus, City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, Monsieur Verdoux

6. Buster Keaton
Previously: 14
Seen in 8 Films: Our Hospitality, Sherlock Jr., The Navigator, Seven Chances, The General, College, Steamboat Bill Jr., The Cameraman

5. Claude Rains

Previously: 10
Seen in 11 Films: The Invisible Man, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Now, Voyager, The Wolf Man, Moontide, Casablanca, Mr. Skeffington, Notorious, Deception, Lawrence of Arabia

4. James Cagney
Previously: 5
Seen in 11 Films: The Public Enemy, The Crowd Roars, Footlight Parade, ‘G’ Men, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Angels with Dirty Faces, Each Dawn I Die, The Roaring Twenties, The Fighting 69th, Yankee Doodle Dandy, White Heat, Mister Roberts

3. George Sanders
Previously: 4

Seen in 15 Films: Rebecca, Man Hunt, Foreign Correspondent, Tales of Manhattan, This Land is Mine, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Lured, All About Eve, While the City Sleeps, Voyage in Italy, Village of the Damned, A Shot in the Dark, The Jungle Book (voice)


2. James Dean
Previously: 2
Seen in 3 Films: East of Eden, Rebel without a Cause, Giant

1. Jimmy Stewart
Previously: 1
Seen in 18 Films: Wife vs. Secretary, After the Thin Man, You Can’t Take it With You, Destry Rides Again, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Shop Around the Corner, The Mortal Storm, The Philadelphia Story, Ziegfeld Girl, It’s a Wonderful Life, Rope, Harvey, Rear Window, Bell Book and Candle, Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder, The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, The Flight of the Phoenix


16 thoughts on “List: Top 30 Favorite Classic Actors

  1. The pictures for Conrad Veidt, Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre are mesmerizing.

    The Buster Keaton love makes me happy, though. I’ll have to go through some of the people in this list and check out their films. I haven’t seen a lot of these :/

  2. I’m so glad to see Jimmy tops this list,he is my fav too.My top 3 classic actors are:
    #1 Jimmy Stewart
    #2 Henry Fonda
    #3 Alec Guinness

    BTW,Takeshi Shimura is the greatest Japanese actor,I saw his Ikiru a couple of days ago,he is sensational in it!!

  3. ahhh this is another list I could never attempt to do. so happy to see Richard Widmark and Joseph Cotten on your list. for Widmark, you should try to see Panic in the Streets, Don’t Bother To Knock and Kiss of Death (among many many others) and for Cotten I recommend Niagara, The Petrified Forest and The Farmer’s Daughter (also among many many others)

    1. The next two Widmark’s I want to see are Panic and Kiss. There are so many things I’ve been meaning to see for years, but it takes a lifetime to get through all of them. Thanks for the recs!

  4. TERRIFIC LIST! Especially those top 5! I was so happy to see Chaplin at number 2, and Jimmy at 1#. They are both brilliant actors and Stewart for me is one of the greatest actors. Its a wonderful life is enough to just simply love him to bits! Excellent blog you have here also. Check me out sometime.

  5. Reblogged this on Classic At Heart and commented:
    I’ve been busy working on my drawing of Marlon Brando and Eve Marie Saint whenever I’m not dragged away to do this thing called work, but in the meantime… here is a posting by a fellow blogger. It’s quite an impressive collection.

  6. This one will be much easier than the actress list! I have more of them that I favor versus the men. I’ll still have a few that unfortunately won’t make the cut but not nearly as many. I can’t say I have an absolute favorite actor. My top 10 are pretty consistent but much more fluid without anyone ever really sticking at the top, again different from the woman.

    Top 30 actors and number of films I’ve seen:
    1. John Garfield-31 (Missing Under My Skin)
    2. Richard Widmark-47
    3. Claude Rains-41
    4. James Mason-57
    5. Sydney Greenstreet-23 (Missing That Way with Women)
    6. Cary Grant-61
    7. James Stewart-73
    8. William Holden-57
    9. Edward G. Robinson-56
    10. Robert Mitchum-62
    11. Paul Douglas-17
    12. Jack Lemmon-42
    13. Arthur Kennedy-37
    14. Jack Carson-52
    15. William Lundigan-22
    16. Humphrey Bogart-60
    17. Kirk Douglas-58
    18. George Sanders-60
    19. Clark Gable-62
    20. Burt Lancaster-58
    21. Fredric March-38
    22. Dana Andrews-36
    23. Henry Fonda-65
    24. Tony Randall-16
    25. James Cagney-50
    26. Clifton Webb-19
    27. Rock Hudson-50
    28. Errol Flynn-36
    29. Van Heflin-28
    30. Spencer Tracy-51

    Just missing the cut: Laurence Olivier, Melvyn Douglas, Bing Crosby, John Hodiak, Peter Ustinov, Paul Newman, James Dean, Dennis Morgan. Then there’s the character actors, Henry Hull, Otto Kruger, Cecil Kellaway, James Gleason, Thomas Mitchell, Charles Coburn, Donald Crisp, Alan Hale etc. but I could do an entire top 30 probably 50 favorite character actors list but that’s really a different subject.

    1. We have a ton of similar favorites. I also really love this list. I need to put Greenstreet on mine; I’ve become more familiar with his work these past couple of years. Rains, Mason and Robinson ftw!!! Thanks again for sharing, you really know your stuff : )

  7. We do seem to be much closer on the men. I think that may be partially that there aren’t as many distinctive male stars from the Golden Age as women. Actors like George Brent, Ian Hunter, John Carroll (a talented comic actor who had the misfortune to resemble Gable to closely so instead his studio tried to make him a second tier leading man and ignored his real strong suit), Nils Asther, Johnny Mack Brown and the like made a lot of films but often were cast for their blandness. That way the strong women stars they were cast against could dominate the pictures, but they never received pictures of their own to carry. Conversely the big male stars like Gable or Flynn often had young actresses on their way up cast against them and if they held their own were often moved forward into vehicles where their personalities could be developed. How times have changed!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s