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on 19 Dec 2011 11:49

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Leading Men: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actors

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Average listal rating (164 ratings) 8.1  IMDB Rating
1. Fred Astaire
The epitome of grace and charm, he transformed the movie musical, creating a new level of sophistication and style, especially in his legendary team-ups with Ginger Rogers.

Essential Films
Top Hat
1935, RKO

You Were Never Lovelier
1942, Columbia

Easter Parade
1948, MGM

Royal Wedding
1951, MGM

Funny Face
1957, Paramount

Average listal rating (43 ratings) 8.4  IMDB Rating
2. John Barrymore
"The Great Profile" brought his pedigree as the most acclaimed member of a great theater dynasty to both straightforward romantic leads and offbeat character parts.

Essential Films
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
1920, Famous Players-Lasky

Don Juan
1926, Warner Bros.

Grand Hotel
1932, MGM

Dinner at Eight
1933, MGM

Twentieth Century
1934, Columbia

Average listal rating (396 ratings) 8.7  IMDB Rating
3. Humphrey Bogart
An antihero for the ages, this unlikely leading man built a career playing street-smart gangsters and cynical tough-guys, but is best remembered for his most romantic role, as Rick in Casablanca.

Essential Films
The Maltese Falcon
1941, Warner Bros.

Casablanca
1942, Warner Bros.

To Have and Have Not
1944, Warner Bros.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
1948, Warner Bros.

The African Queen
1951, United Artists

Average listal rating (21 ratings) 7.7  IMDB Rating
4. Charles Boyer
His hooded gaze, suave manner, and Gallic sophistication made him the quintessential continental lover and a perfect romantic match for the screen's most glamorous leading ladies.

Essential Films
Mayerling
1936, Nero

Algiers
1938, United Artists

Love Affair
1939, RKO

Gaslight
1944, MGM

The Earrings of Madame de...
1953, Arian

Average listal rating (785 ratings) 8.6  IMDB Rating
5. Marlon Brando
Credited with introducing Method acting to the screen,
his naturalistic performances combined raw sexuality and barely masked sensitivity.

Essential Films
A Streetcar Named Desire
1951, Warner Bros.

On the Waterfront
1954, Columbia

The Godfather
1972, Paramount

Last Tango in Paris
1972, United Artists

Apocalypse Now
1979, Zoetrope/United Artists

Average listal rating (123 ratings) 8.4  IMDB Rating
6. James Cagney
Starting out as a song-and-dance man on Broadway, he ultimately found success as one of the screen's most famous gangsters, electrifying audiences with his machine-gun line delivery and aggressive stance.

Essential Films
The Public Enemy
1931, Warner Bros.

Angels With Dirty Faces
1938, Warner Bros.

Yankee Doodle Dandy
1942, Warner Bros.

White Heat
1949, Warner Bros.

Ragtime
1981, Paramount

Average listal rating (78 ratings) 8.4  IMDB Rating
7. Lon Chaney
The screen's first great horror star, he was dubbed "the Man of a Thousand Faces" for bringing a gallery of grotesque yet sympathetic characters to life.

Essential Films
The Miracle Man
1919, Paramount

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
1923, Universal

He Who Gets Slapped
1924, MGM

The Phantom of the Opera
1925, Universal

The Unknown
1927, MGM

Average listal rating (629 ratings) 8.9  IMDB Rating
8. Charles Chaplin
As the Little Tramp - the prankster with the heart of gold, as prone to heartache as mischief - "Charlie" was one of the world's most recognized figures, one of the first truly international stars.

Essential Films
The Kid
1921, First National

The Gold Rush
1925, United Artists

City Lights
1931, United Artists

The Great Dictator
1940, United Artists

Monsieur Verdoux
1947, United Artists

Average listal rating (104 ratings) 8.3  IMDB Rating
9. Montgomery Clift
Fans and critics alike swooned over the riveting combination of physical beauty, psychological nuance, and vulnerability that be brought to his introspective, alienated characters.

Essential Films
The Search
1948, MGM

Red River
1948, United Artists

A Place in the Sun
1951, Paramount

From Here to Eternity
1953, Columbia

The Misfits
1961, United Artists

Average listal rating (33 ratings) 7.4  IMDB Rating
10. Ronald Colman
With his mellifluous voice and debonair wit, he was the rare silent-era star whose career soared with the talkies.

Essential Films
Beau Geste
1926, Paramount

A Tale of Two Cities
1935, MGM

Lost Horizon
1937, Columbia

Random Harvest
1942, MGM

A Double Life
1947, Universal-International

Average listal rating (142 ratings) 8.4  IMDB Rating
11. Gary Cooper
With his lanky good looks, bashful smile, and no-nonsense masculinity, he commanded the screen in low-key performances that turned stoic men into American movie icons.

Essential Films
Morocco
1930, Paramount

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
1936, Columbia

Meet John Doe
1941, Warner Bros.

Sergeant York
1941, Warner Bros.

High Noon
1952, United Artists

Average listal rating (87 ratings) 7.7  IMDB Rating
12. Bing Crosby
An influential, chart-topping pop crooner and the world's first multimedia star, he brought his laid-back musical style to the big screen, infusing roles both comic and serious with an endearing warmth and intimacy.

Essential Films
Road to Morocco
1942, Paramount

Going My Way
1944, Paramount

White Christmas
1954, Paramount

The Country Girl
1954, Paramount

High Society
1956, MGM

Average listal rating (444 ratings) 8.5  IMDB Rating
13. James Dean
Despite having only three starring roles before he died at twenty-four, he captured the soul of a generation and has become one of the screen's most iconic figures.

Essential Films
East of Eden
1955, Warner Bros.

Rebel Without a Cause
1955, Warner Bros.

Giant
1956, Warner Bros.

Average listal rating (203 ratings) 8.2  IMDB Rating
14. Kirk Douglas
His straight-from-the-guts acting style simmered with restrained intensity in portraying men who refused to submit to authority.

Essential Films
Ace in the Hole
1951, Paramount

The Bad and the Beautiful
1952, MGM

Lust for Life
1956, MGM

Paths of Glory
1957, United Artists

Spartacus
1960, Universal

Average listal rating (25 ratings) 8  IMDB Rating
15. Douglas Fairbanks
The first great action star, introducing both Robin Hood and Zorro to the screen, his high energy and charisma carried over into his real life trailblazing as a founding father of Hollywood's movie industry.

Essential Films
The Mark of Zorro
1920, United Artists

The Three Musketeers
1921, United Artists

Robin Hood
1922, United Artists

The Thief of Bagdad
1924, United Artists

The Black Pirate
1926, United Artists

Average listal rating (118 ratings) 8  IMDB Rating
16. Errol Flynn
Devil-may-care swagger and exceptional good looks were fitting for the valiant heroes he portrayed, the roles seemingly inspired by his real-life adventures and exploits.

Essential Films
Captain Blood
1935, Warner Bros.

The Dawn Patrol
1938, Warner Bros.

The Adventures of Robin Hood
1938, Warner Bros.

Gentleman Jim
1942, Warner Bros.

The Sun Also Rises
1957, 20th Century Fox

Average listal rating (247 ratings) 8.7  IMDB Rating
17. Henry Fonda
An American Everyman of Midwestern strength and integrity, his natural delivery revealed the tender side of characters struggling against injustice.

Essential Films
The Grapes of Wrath
1940, 20th Century Fox

The Lady Eve
1941, Paramount

12 Angry Men
1957, United Artists

Once Upon a Time in the West
1968, Paramount

On Golden Pond
1981, Universal

Average listal rating (254 ratings) 8.3  IMDB Rating
18. Clark Gable
To millions of film fans, he was Rhett Butler, the cynical rogue whose romantic heart, killer smile, and macho presence were the irresistible stuff of earthy virility.

Essential Films
Red Dust
1932, MGM

It Happened One Night
1934, Columbia

Mutiny on the Bounty
1935, MGM

Gone With the Wind
1939, MGM

The Misfits
1961, United Artists

Average listal rating (36 ratings) 8.2  IMDB Rating
19. John Garfield
Breaking the polished studio mold with a dynamic mix of angst, toughness and sensitivity, he created defiant urban outsiders in performances so naturalistic they feel contemporary.

Essential Films
Four Daughters
1938, Warner Bros.

Pride of the Marines
1945, Warner Bros.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
1946, MGM

Body and Soul
1947, United Artists

Force of Evil
1948, MGM

Average listal rating (27 ratings) 7.2  IMDB Rating
20. John Gilbert
He was a superstar of the silents, his passion and energy hitting romantic heights in celebrated pairings with offscreen love Greta Garbo, their chemistry igniting the screen.

Essential Films
The Merry Widow
1925, MGM

The Big Parade
1925, MGM

Flesh and the Devil
1926, MGM

A Woman of Affairs
1928, MGM

Queen Christina
1933, MGM

Average listal rating (406 ratings) 8.6  IMDB Rating
21. Cary Grant
A quintessential leading man with the perfect blend of elegance, sophistication, charm, and wit, he was for many the ultimate movie star that man wanted to be and woman wanted to be with.

Essential Films
Bringing Up Baby
1938, RKO

Gunga Din
1939, RKO

Notorious
1946, RKO

An Affair to Remember
1957, 20th Century Fox

North by Northwest
1959, MGM

Average listal rating (125 ratings) 7.9  IMDB Rating
22. William Holden
He made cynicism big at the box office, overcoming typecasting as a genial good boy to find stardom as a wisecracking loner out to take the world for a ride.

Essential Films
Sunset Blvd.
1950, Paramount

Stalag 17
1953, Paramount

Picnic
1955, Columbia

The Bridge on the River Kwai
1957, Columbia

The Wild Bunch
1969, Warner Bros.

Average listal rating (81 ratings) 7.4  IMDB Rating
23. Bob Hope
The clown prince of Hollywood, he seldom got the girl but always got the laughs, making an art of self-deprecating quips in Road capers and tirelessly hitting the road for five decades to entertain America's armed forces.

Essential Films
The Cat and the Canary
1939, Paramount

Road to Singapore
1940, Paramount

Road to Utopia
1946, Paramount

The Paleface
1948, Paramount

The Seven Little Foys
1955, Paramount

Average listal rating (89 ratings) 7.6  IMDB Rating
24. Rock Hudson
A square-jawed, strapping hunk, he was one of the last great studio-created stars, projecting the illusion that he was every woman's ideal mate.

Essential Films
Magnificent Obsession
1954, Universal-International

Written on the Wind
1956, Universal-International

Giant
1956, Warner Bros.

Pillow Talk
1959, Universal-International

Seconds
1966, Paramount

Average listal rating (210 ratings) 8.8  IMDB Rating
25. Buster Keaton
His impassive responses to even the most outrageous situations gave his characters an ironic detachment, and "the Great Stone Face" weathered outrageous peril with soulful grace and comic agility.

Essential Films
Our Hospitality
1923, Metro

Sherlock Jr.
1924, Metro

The General
1927, United Artists

Steamboat Bill Jr.
1928, United Artists

The Cameraman
1928, MGM

Average listal rating (201 ratings) 8.2  IMDB Rating
26. Gene Kelly
Umbrella and lamppost have never been the same since this lovestruck hoofer splashed his way into the hearts of moviegoers in Singin' in the Rain, creating an iconic movie moment and proving that real guys do dance.

Essential Films
For Me and My Gal
1942, MGM

Cover Girl
1944, Columbia

On the Town
1949, MGM

An American in Paris
1951, MGM

Singin' in the Rain
1952, MGM

Average listal rating (48 ratings) 7.6  IMDB Rating
27. Alan Ladd
He emerged as one of the screen's iciest tough guys, a handsome blond whose stoic face made him as fit to play cold-blooded killers as noble heroes.

Essential Films
This Gun For Hire
1942, Paramount

Two Years Before the Mast
1946, Paramount

The Blue Dahlia
1946, Paramount

Shane
1953, Paramount

The Carpetbaggers
1964, Paramount

Average listal rating (139 ratings) 8.4  IMDB Rating
28. Burt Lancaster
Behind the glistening smile and impressive physique, his magnetic tough guys possessed an unexpected sensitivity.

Essential Films
From Here to Eternity
1953, Columbia

Sweet Smell of Success
1957, United Artists

Elmer Gantry
1960, United Artists

Birdman of Alcatraz
1962, United Artists

Atlantic City
1980, Paramount

Average listal rating (270 ratings) 8.6  IMDB Rating
29. Jack Lemmon
He could do zany or tragic with equal success, but he's best remembered for his comic, put-upon Everyman characters.

Essential Films
It Should Happen to You
1954, Columbia

Some Like It Hot
1959, United Artists

The Apartment
1960, United Artists

The Odd Couple
1968, Paramount

Glengarry Glen Ross
1992, New Line

Average listal rating (59 ratings) 8.4  IMDB Rating
30. Harold Lloyd
He was a master of physical comedy, throwing his milquetoast, bespectacled characters into ever more dangerous situations in pursuit of love and laughs.

Essential Films
Grandma's Boy
1922, Hal Roach

Safety Last!
1923, Pathe

The Freshman
1925, Pathe

The Kid Brother
1927, Paramount

Speedy
1928, Paramount

Average listal rating (47 ratings) 7.8  IMDB Rating
31. Fredric March
With a successful career on both stage and screen, he ventured far beyond his successful romantic roles to tackle an extraordinary range of challenging, often anguished characters with sublime craftsmanship and nuance.

Essential Films
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
1932, Paramount

A Star Is Born
1937, United Artists

The Best Years of Our Lives
1946, RKO

Death of a Salesman
1951, Columbia Pictures

Inherit the Wind
1960, United Artists

Average listal rating (19 ratings) 7.8  IMDB Rating
32. Joel McCrea
He was an uncomplicated good guy whose lack of pretense and wholesome good looks embodied an ideal of American innocence and frontier spirit.

Essential Films
Foreign Correspondent
1940, United Artists

Sullivan's Travels
1941, Paramount

The Palm Beach Story
1942, Paramount

The More the Merrier
1943, Columbia

Ride the High Country
1962, MGM

Average listal rating (247 ratings) 8.2  IMDB Rating
33. Steve McQueen
Speed was a way of life for the king of cool, who answered to nobody in roles marked by fierce independence and raw intensity.

Essential Films
The Magnificent Seven
1960, United Artists

The Great Escape
1963, United Artists

The Thomas Crown Affair
1968, United Artists

Bullitt
1968, Warner Bros.

Papillon
1973, Allied Artists

Average listal rating (186 ratings) 8.2  IMDB Rating
34. Robert Mitchum
He made blase sexy with his take-it-or-leave-it insolence and sleepy eyes while his offscreen antics added to his image as a tough guy rebel.

Essential Films
Out of the Past
1947, RKO

The Night of the Hunter
1955, United Artists

Heave Knows, Mr. Allison
1957, 20th Century Fox

The Sundowners
1960, Warner Bros.

Cape Fear
1962, Universal-International

Average listal rating (29 ratings) 7.8  IMDB Rating
35. Paul Muni
More interested in the quality of his work than in box office success, he was a master of screen biography, immersing himself in the lives of history's most driven men with an unsurpassed vigor and intensity.

Essential Films
Scarface: The Shame of a Nation
1932, United Artists

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang
1932, Warner Bros.

The Story of Louis Pasteur
1936, Warner Bros.

The Good Earth
1937, MGM

Angel on My Shoulder
1946, United Artists

Average listal rating (458 ratings) 8.7  IMDB Rating
36. Paul Newman
This blue-eyed matinee idol refused to be typecast, pursuing challenging roles that ultimately made him both a box office draw and a critical success.

Essential Films
Somebody Up There Likes Me
1956, MGM

The Hustler
1961, 20th Century Fox

Hud
1963, Paramount

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
1969, 20th Century Fox

The Verdict
1982, 20th Century Fox

Average listal rating (175 ratings) 8.5  IMDB Rating
37. Laurence Olivier
His name has become synonymous with virtuosity for stage and screen accomplishments that are revered among fellow actors, including groundbreaking interpretations, as actor and director, of Shakespeare.

Essential Films
Wuthering Heights
1939, Samuel Goldwyn

Pride and Prejudice
1940, MGM

Henry V
1944, Two Cities Films Ltd.

Hamlet
1948, Universal

The Entertainer
1960, Continental

Average listal rating (184 ratings) 8.2  IMDB Rating
38. Peter O'Toole
He shot to screen frame playing T.E. Lawrence, the first and most vivid of many wild-eyed visionaries he would bring to life with delightful eccentricity and a devilish gleam.

Essential Films
Lawrence of Arabia
1962, Columbia Pictures

The Lion in Winter
1968, AVCO Embassy

Goodbye, Mr. Chips
1969, MGM

The Ruling Class
1972, AVCO Embassy

My Favorite Year
1982, MGM

Average listal rating (301 ratings) 8.5  IMDB Rating
39. Gregory Peck
Tall, sturdy, and urbane, he was a quiet but powerful force of moral decency, who brought nobility to his portraits of gentleman heroes.

Essential Films
Duel in the Sun
1947, Selznick

Gentleman's Agreement
1947, 20th Century Fox

Twelve O'Clock High
1949, 20th Century Fox

Roman Holiday
1953, Paramount

To Kill a Mockingbird
1962, Universal-International

Average listal rating (147 ratings) 8.1  IMDB Rating
40. Sidney Poitier
The first black actor to win the Oscar for Best Actor and the first top box office star of color, he blazed a trail into the Hollywood mainstream with his charismatic portrayals of intelligent, self-possessed men of profound dignity.

Essential Films
A Raisin in the Sun
1961, Columbia

Lilies of the Field
1963, United Artists

To Sir, With Love
1967, Columbia

In the Heat of the Night
1967, United Artists

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
1967, Columbia

Average listal rating (45 ratings) 8.2  IMDB Rating
41. William Powell
Suave, streetwise, and never far from a cocktail shaker, he cornered the market on debonair irony as the ultimate gentleman sleuth in the Thin Man films.

Essential Films
The Last Command
1928, Paramount

The Thin Man
1934, MGM

My Man Godfrey
1936, Universal

Libeled Lady
1936, MGM

Life With Father
1947, Warner Bros.

Average listal rating (141 ratings) 7.9  IMDB Rating
42. Anthony Quinn
Playing roles of many nationalities, he started his career as one of Hollywood's most versatile character actors before carving a niche for himself as a larger-than-life man of the earth.

Essential Films
Viva Zapata!
1952, 20th Century Fox

La Strada
1954, Trans-Lux

Requiem For a Heavyweight
1962, Columbia

Zorba the Greek
1964, International Classics

The Secret of Santa Vittoria
1969, United Artists

Average listal rating (78 ratings) 8.4  IMDB Rating
43. Edward G. Robinson
This atypical leading man proved his staying power in a versatile fifty-year career, beginning with the snarling, cigar-chomping underworld big shots that became a mobster prototype for the screen.

Essential Films
Little Caesar
1931, Warner Bros.

Double Indemnity
1944, Paramount

The Woman in the Window
1945, RKO

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes
1945, MGM

Key Largo
1948, Warner Bros.

Average listal rating (107 ratings) 7  IMDB Rating
44. Mickey Rooney
Just over five feet tall, he filled the screen with larger-than-life energy and spunk, performing inspired duets with Judy Garland and topping the box office charts as everybody's favorite kid brother in MGM's Andy Hardy films.

Essential Films
Love Finds Andy Hardy
1938, MGM

Boys Town
1938, MGM

The Human Comedy
1943, MGM

National Velvet
1944, MGM

The Black Stallion
1979, United Artists

Average listal rating (321 ratings) 7.8  IMDB Rating
45. Frank Sinatra
The scrawny songster dubbed "the Voice" initially parlayed his singing success into film musicals, but he developed a talent worthy of the challenging, serious roles that marked his later career.

Essential Films
On the Town
1949, MGM

From Here to Eternity
1953, Columbia

The Man With the Golden Arm
1955, United Artists

Some Came Running
1958, MGM

The Manchurian Candidate
1962, United Artists

Average listal rating (437 ratings) 8.8  IMDB Rating
46. James Stewart
With his stammering delivery and gangly physique, he gave audiences a boyishly likable rooting interest, often playing average guys struggling to do the right thing when pushed to the limits.

Essential Films
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
1939, Columbia

The Shop Around the Corner
1940, MGM

The Philadelphia Story
1940, MGM

It's a Wonderful Life
1946, RKO

Vertigo
1958, Paramount

Average listal rating (55 ratings) 6.9  IMDB Rating
47. Robert Taylor
Rising above his youthful good looks, he shone in action films as well as romances, bringing gallantry and a robust, take-charge enthusiasm to three decades of work.

Essential Films
Camille
1937, MGM

A Yank at Oxford
1938, MGM

Waterloo Bridge
1940, MGM

Johnny Eager
1942, MGM

Quo Vadis
1951, MGM

Average listal rating (141 ratings) 8.2  IMDB Rating
48. Spencer Tracy
He played forthright, good-hearted individualists with such ease that he seemed not to be acting, whether in dark dramas or the crackling romantic comedies that paired him with his longtime offscreen companion, Katharine Hepburn.

Essential Films
Fury
1936, MGM

Woman of the Year
1942, MGM

Adam's Rib
1949, MGM

Father of the Bride
1950, MGM

Bad Day at Black Rock
1955, MGM

Average listal rating (59 ratings) 8.2  IMDB Rating
49. Rudolph Valentino
Recognized as the first male sex symbol, he mesmerized female moviegoers with his exotic blend of illicit romance - only to leave his fans devastated by his unexpected death at the age of 31.

Essential Films
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
1921, Metro

Camille
1921, Metro

The Sheik
1921, Paramount

Blood and Sand
1922, Paramount

The Eagle
1925, United Artists

Average listal rating (242 ratings) 7.9  IMDB Rating
50. John Wayne
No one rode taller in the saddle than "the Duke." His straight-talking drawl and ability to stare down the toughest opponent made him the embodiment of the men who tamed the West.

Essential Films
Stagecoach
1939, United Artists

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
1949, RKO

The Quiet Man
1952, Republic

The Searchers
1956, Warner Bros.

True Grit
1969, Paramount


 

As chosen by TCM. Presented in alphabetic order (by last name, they are not ranked).

"Tough, Witty, Sophisticated
Each of the actors celebrated [here] brought a magnetic presence to the screen and made a powerful and enduring mark on film history."

Purchase the original book here

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