Top 10 Hollywood Actors Still In Business

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Much of our lurid film community is of the belief that America’s acting prowess died with its classic stars like Marlon Brando, James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Grace Kelly. However, I’m here to argue that America’s actors are stronger than ever and can match up toe to toe with the likes of both Europe and Asia.

The list will be split into two parts: in part one, I delve into the modern world of Hollywood actors with actresses soon to follow in part two.

Part one: Top Ten Actors Working In Hollywood Today

Actor With The Most Potential To Hit It Big: Paddy Considine

Before I begin the list, I want to take a moment to discuss an actor whom I believe has enormous potential. While not American born, British actor Paddy Considine has been in his fair share of American films like In America, Cinderella Man, and The Bourne Ultimatum. Although, his best work has come in gritty independent British dramas like Last Resort, My Summer Of Love, and most recently, the coming-of-age tale Submarine. However, Considine is at the top of his game in the stark revenge thriller Dead Man’s Shoes. Considine’s performance as Richard, a hardened military man seeking revenge against those who killed his mentally challenged brother, is eerily reminiscent of De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and is also one of the single best performances of the decade. With his recent directorial debut of the excellent Tyrannosaur, and a role in two upcoming films next year, Considine is definitely one to watch.

The List

Before I begin, I want to preface the list by saying that I chose the top ten to be representative of actors with a solid body of work but also of those with the potential for greatness. If you see someone you think should be on the list, please let me know in the comments section.

#10: Jack Nicholson

Nicholson began his illustrious career in 1958 as Jimmy Wallace in the film Cry Baby Killer. He has been acting longer than anyone on this list and his body of work is nothing short of extensive. His resumé contains roles in classic films like Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Chinatown, and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. He was brilliant alongside Meryl Streep in Ironweed and approaches Heath Ledger’s greatness with his own unique take as the Joker in the 1989 version of Batman. Nicholson has always shown incredible range from a more independent character study in About Schmidt to his role in the recent gangster flick The Departed. However, perhaps his finest role, one that cemented his status as one of the greatest actors of our generation, was that of Jack Torrence in The Shining. Nicholson gives one of the creepiest most deranged performances in film history as he transforms a seemingly normal father into a crazed lunatic haunted by the supernatural.

#9: Robert De Niro

Next on the list is someone that has been in the business almost as long as Nicholson. De Niro established himself with his iconic role as Johnny Boy in Mean Streets followed up a year later with his performance as Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II. Like Nicholson, De Niro has a great range. Many people think of him in the context of his roles in gangster films like Once Upon A Time In America, Goodfellas, Casino, Heat, and Jackie Brown. However, he is at his best in films like The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, and Awakenings alongside Robin Williams. As good as all of these performances are, De Niro has never topped his portrayal of Travis Bickle in Scorsese’s brilliant Taxi Driver. Regarded as one of the best performances in one of the best American films of all time, De Niro is as perfect as you can get as the frustrated and lonely Bickle who finally explodes like a volcano at the climax of the film in which he enacts his vengeance in one of the most violent, most memorable scenes in film history. De Niro has been on somewhat of a rut since the late 90s but his performance as an author and long-absent father attempting to reach out to his son (played by Paul Dano) in the upcoming film Being Flynn has promise.

#8: Sean Penn

Although not quite as experienced as Nicholson and De Niro, Sean Penn can still be considered one of the most talented, most iconic actors of our generation. Acting since the early 80’s, Penn broke onto the scene with his role as Jeff Spicoli in the 80’s comedy Fast Times At Ridgemont High. He followed that up with key performances in At Close Range, State of Grace, Carlito’s Way, The Thin Red Line, and I Am Sam. However, unlike the above two actors, Penn’s best work has come in the last decade. With searing portrayals in 21 Grams, Mystic River, and Fair Game, Penn has established himself as one of the best dramatic method actors around. With two great directorial efforts in Into The Wild and The Pledge, Penn has shown his multi-faceted allure. He is at his best when he gives himself to his role and I don’t think there is a performance more dedicated then his brilliant portrayal of Harvey Milk in Milk. Hopefully we see much more of this type of Penn and with his role as Mickey Cohen in the upcoming, star-studded The Gangster Squad, it seems as though Penn is only just beginning to hit his stride.

#7: Kevin Spacey

Perhaps one of the most consistently solid Hollywood actors today, Kevin Spacey is at the top of his game. He is one of the few actors that is able to play roles in a wide range of genres from comedies like Swimming With Sharks and Horrible Bosses, to dramas like Glengarry Glen Ross, L.A. Confidential, and his incredible performance as Lester Burnham in one of my favorite films American Beauty, to thrillers like The Usual Suspects, The Negotiator and Se7en, Spacey does it all. At once sarcastic and heartfelt, Spacey is one of a kind. Not to mention, he hasn’t lost a step with his great performance as Sam Rogers in the recent and underrated Margin Call. There is no question that Spacey has etched himself a place in the canon of the all time greats.

#6: Ben Foster

Number 6 on the list may come as a surprise to many of you. Although he is not nearly as established as the aforementioned four, for my money, Ben Foster is one of the most underrated, most talented actors around. I first took notice of Foster as the villain Mars Krupcheck in the 2005 film Hostage. Though not exactly a great film, it put Foster on my map of actors to watch. He was again brilliant in a small role as Charlie Prince in the 2007 remake of the classic Western 3:10 To Yuma. Solid again in both the 2009 film Pandorum and one of this year’s most underrated films Rampart, Foster brings an energy and aggression to his roles that is rare in today’s cinema. However, if it were just these films alone, Foster wouldn’t be on this list. It was his unbelievable performance as Will Montgomery in the 2009 searing war drama The Messenger that cemented his place on this list. This was not only the best performance of that year but one of the top three American performances I’ve ever seen. Yes that’s right, I said it. Foster does it all in this film and his scene in which he recounts his experiences in battle to Woody Harrelson (just missed this list) is one of the most moving of the decade. I know many of you may question this choice but keep an eye on this guy. He has more potential in his pinky finger then virtually any other young actor in Hollywood and if he can harness it and bring it all together…watch out.

#5: Michael Fassbender

Like Foster, Michael Fassbender is relatively new to the scene. Getting his start as Sgt. Burton Christenson on the TV Mini-series Band of Brothers, Fassbender proved that he was one to watch. He was great in the 2008 horror-thriller Eden Lake but it wasn’t until his unforgettable performance as Bobby Sands in Hunger, one of the most brutal, unflinching films that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, that I knew he had big things ahead. He was again great in the 2009 British film Fish Tank, one of my favorites that year, but it wasn’t until Inglorious Basterds that he became recognized as a force of American cinema. More recently, he has been consistently awesome carrying last year’s Centurion on his back and again, with great performances in X-Men: First Class, Jane Eyre, and A Dangerous Method. However, it is Shame that is finally getting Fassbender Oscar consideration. With one of the best performances of the year, Fassbender is no longer flying under the radar.

#4: Edward Norton

So many of you are probably thinking, “Ed Norton at number 4?” Well, I guess this one is more of a personal choice. Norton possesses a magnetic quality a la James Stewart that few actors still have. Every time I watch a Norton film, I can never seem to take my eyes off the screen. I am completely enthralled. This is evidenced by performances in films like Primal fear, Rounders, Fight Club, The 25th Hour, The Illusionist, The Painted Veil, and Leaves of Grass. Although these performances are all great, one stands above the rest. His performance as Derek Vinyard in American History X is a thing of beauty. It makes up the second third of my three favorite American performances of all time because of how brilliantly Norton pulls off the transition from Nazi hard-ass to loving brother. The film contains some of my favorite dialogue and Norton’s lines come across with such conviction that he is the main reason why the film has such a profound affect on me to this day.

#3: Philip Seymour Hoffman

This guy has more range then a fifty-caliber sniper rifle and he is one of the most unrecognized actors deserved of recognition in the business. Hoffman has had his fair share of small roles and it is only recently that he is getting the roles that he deserves. With a bevy of supporting roles in films like Boogie Nights, Happiness, Magnolia, Almost Famous, The 25th Hour, and Cold Mountain Hoffman is as consistent as they come. It wasn’t until 2005 that he broke through by winning a well-deserved Oscar for his performance as Truman Capote in Capote. He followed that up with energetic performances in The Savages, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, Charlie Wilson’s War, and Doubt. However, it is his brilliant, multi-layered performance in Synecdoche, New York that cements his spot in the top three. More recently Hoffman has shined in one of my favorite animated films of all time, Mary and Max as well as good performances in Jack Goes Boating, (his directorial debut) Moneyball, and The Ides of March. As you can see from the plethora of solid films that I’ve listed, Hoffman has already had a great career and still has a bright future ahead of him as one of today’s premiere method actors.

#2: Ryan Gosling

One of the things that infuriate me is when my friends hear Ryan Gosling’s name, many of them still say “oh, you mean that guy from The Notebook?” Yes he may be in that film, but his brilliance was using that film as a springboard to obtain the roles that would allow him to show off his dynamic range, subtle delivery, and magnetic star quality reminiscent of a young Marlon Brando. The first performance of Gosling’s to catch my eye was his multi-layered portrayal of Jewish Nazi Danny Balint in The Believer. This was the best of Gosling’s pre-Notebook roles. Two years after The Notebook, Gosling was nominated for his first Oscar in Half Nelson and continued with two amazing, varied performances in their own right: Lars and the Real Girl, and Blue Valentine. Gosling has had a great year with film-carrying performances in both Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Ides of March but the film to cement him as not only one of the best young actors around but one of the best period is this year’s Drive. This one is sure to be in my top ten come the end of the year and Gosling is a big reason for that. His performance as the aptly named “Driver” is brutal yet gentle with an aura of cool. In some ways, Gosling’s performance is a more avant-garde, violent version of McQueen’s in Bullitt. With five films in the works for next year, Gosling is set to become one of this generation’s greatest actor’s and perhaps one of the greatest Hollywood actors of all time.

Although each of the above nine actors are excellent in their own ways, one actor stands above them on a level all his own.

#1: Daniel Day-Lewis

With one of the smallest resumes of any of the ten actors listed spanning 31 years, Daniel Day-Lewis is the master class of Hollywood acting. Because he only appears in one film every two-three years, he is able to completely engulf himself in his roles. He isn’t just an actor playing a role; rather, he becomes his roles. He can play anything asked of him with such conviction and dedication that I forget that I’m watching a film. Day-Lewis brings his characters to life more so than any actor today and is not only one of the best actors alive but one of the best of all time. After starting with a small role in Gandhi, Day-Lewis began to establish himself in films like A Room With a View and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Then, beginning in 1989 with My Left Foot came film after film in which Day-Lewis began to give himself 110% to his roles. In the 90’s came The Last of the Mohicans, The Age of Innocence, In the Name of the Father, and The Boxer. Each of these roles completely different from the next, Day-Lewis anchored himself at the top of the list of method actors. In the last decade, Day-Lewis has only appeared in four films, each featuring a widely different performance. From The Ballad of Jack and Rose, to Gangs of New York, to Nine, Day-Lewis was proving that there was nothing he couldn’t do. Then came his performance as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Not only is this my favorite American performance of all time, completing the trifecta, it is one of the best performances of all time, American or otherwise. Daniel Day-Lewis is no longer Daniel Day-Lewis. For two and a half hours he becomes Daniel Plainview, as if transformed by some other-wordly entity. It is one of the most absorbing performances you will ever see. What does Day-Lewis have in store? Next year he will play Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg’s upcoming Lincoln. Color me excited.

That concludes part one. Keep your eyes glued to sound on sight for part two when I reveal my top 10 Hollywood actresses still in business. Until then, do yourself a favor and go watch There Will Be Blood if you haven’t yet. You will not be disappointed.

Connor Folse

  1. film fan says

    By the way K.spacey is not in the business

    ‘er yeah he is he is in- London in the Old Vic Theatre
    Also he has recently starred in ‘House of cards’ to name but a few. also ‘Horrible bosses’ too!

    So where’s Pacino? surely He should be on the list. The Godfather, Serpico etc

  2. jack mark says

    I have watched about 8000 Films from Europe and America ….. I have finished watching all the movies of many great actors . Depp . Brando . Pacino . Mastroianni . Lewis……etc

    The best list is
    2-AL Pacino
    3-Robert De Niro
    4-Jack Nicholson
    5-Daniel Day-Lewis
    6-Sean Penn
    7-Tom Hanks
    8-Denzel Washington
    9-Edward Norton
    10-Leonardo Dicaprio

  3. jack mark says

    2-AL Pacino
    3-Robert De Niro
    4-Jack Nicholson
    5-Daniel Day-Lewis
    6-Sean Penn
    7-Tom Hanks
    8-Denzel Washington
    9-Edward Norton
    10-Leonardo Dicaprio

  4. jack mark says

    -Philip Hoffman is good but not great.
    -Gosling has just started giving us good movies.
    -Foster is out. He’s like Statham,dude.
    -Fassbender is weak
    – Spacey is nearly out of business since 2005 or 2006

  5. jack mark says

    This List is very bad.
    The biggest actor still in business is JOHNNY DEPP ( soon getting 100 million dollars for POTC 5 ). His Talent is incomparable. Johnny Depp is the the Biggest Icon OF The Last Decade. Whatever i say …. every man has own favorite actors and won’t be adaptable to the favorites of other peoples. My List IS :-
    2-AL Pacino
    3-Robert De Niro
    4-Jack Nicholson
    5-Daniel Day-Lewis
    6-Sean Penn
    7-Tom Hanks
    8-Denzel Washington
    9-Edward Norton
    10-Leonardo Dicaprio

  6. John Paul says

    great list. 10 is always going to be hard isn´t it?

    But I think Garry Oldman deserves to be on there, although he does´t have a magnetic quality for me. He certainly can play anything given him.

    Tom Cruise should be there, now here´s a guy who demands that you watch him, very magnetic, but one could argue about range. But he finds realistically speaking the part of himself that is in every character he plays. Hate his beliefs, great actor though.

    I personally can´t stand this guy, but I must admit he´s a fantastic actor, as arrogant as he is Robert Downey Jr. He really is spectacular, especially the more he moves away from being himself and you can forget he seems like an arrogant self aggrandizing dick. See Chaplin and Natural Born Killers for evidence.

    Jarred Harris, I´m waiting for everyone to clock on to how great an actor this guy is. He really takes the piss. I think his undoing is he´s to good, he always makes an impression, but in a wholly different way each time. You just don´t realize it´s the same guy. I think he might have been genetically spliced with a chameleon.

    Collin Firth, now hears a man it took me a long time to realize his talent. I really thought he was just some new Hugh Grant at first, but damn the man can act. Check out a film called Conspiracy. He reminds me of an English Edward Norton.

    Guy Pearce, again an absolute Chameleon

    Russell Crowe, should be in there. He does´t do anything bad. Really exceptionally talented leading man.

    Paul Giamatti, for me a some what less compelling Philip Seymour Hoffman. Like if I could´t higher Hoffman for a role, he´d be the next guy I go to. Not a diss, It´s just for that style of acting, Hoffman has a slight edge over him.

    Now here´s one of my favorite´s and I hope one day Edward Norton Ryan Gosling Michael Fassbender Philip Seymour Hoffman and this guy do something together. Channelling an inner sensitivity and ineffable inner pathos as his late and also rather talented brother is Jaoquin Pheonix. So, so underrated, and it looks like in The Master, he might give another Hollywood great a run for his money, like he did with Russel Crowe in Gladiator. I mean as much as I love Russell Crowe in Gladiator, I was utterly mesmerized by Pheonix. He made one of the most detestable yet relatable bad guys I´ve ever seen, and it certainly wasn´t in the dialogue. It was the acting. The same with Walk The Line. If anyone can give a true resonant yet flawed humanity to any character he plays its Pheonix. And what he does win´t taught in no acting school, as opposed to the other guys I´ve mentioned and that are on your list.

    Oh and I really can´t believe this guy didn´t make your list, Ralph motherfucking Fiennes. For me pound for pound the best British actor in the business. Do I even have to mention Shindler´s list, Red Dragon… The list goes on.

    Also my ethnic bros Forest Whitiker, Jamie Foxx, Don Cheadle and Javier Bardem. Not given enough roles to really fairly judge. Unfortunate, they are so talented. But when they are given the roles they knock it out of the park.

    honorable mention to Leo Decaprio and Christian Bale. don´t quite make the grade yet. But they try, they have time and they´re certainly getting better.

    Again I´d have James McAvoy over Fassbender, but like Dicaprio, they
    haven´t quite mad the grade yet.

    In short, I agree with your list. But it needs expanding, cause you´ve missed some real talents.

  7. manish says

    where is nicolas cage and leo

  8. CocaineCowboy says

    I think this list should be for actors that started in the late 80’s, early 90s to say the least. Two decades or so of movie-making and still kicking it: Liam Nesson, Willem Dafoe, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes.

  9. Lezlie says

    How about Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp?

  10. mia says

    good list but where is TOM HARDY?

  11. S says

    SOOO GLAD THAT BEN FOSTER MADE YOUR LIST.His role in The Messenger alone is iconic and has made me a life long fan. Other films he has been in may not add up but his performance is always true and 100%.

  12. Ferne says

    Just by leaving out Pacino means you have no idea about movies. Simple is that.

  13. UHJ says


  14. kev says

    Good list although DiCaprio should be on it. I think over the last decade hasn’t really put a foot wrong! Seeing as you’ve not stuck to it being American actors Tom Hardy and Christian Bale should also be on the list.

  15. Anonymous says

    This is a great list and if I made a list I would certainly include most of these guys! Ben Foster is extremely underrated for his roles and Philip Seymour Hoffman is GREAT!

    Great Job Connor!

  16. Chapman says

    These actors are great and all but I find it odd that you would consider foreign actors America’s finest. It might as well have been an international list. No disrespect to any actor on the list.

  17. marten de vries says

    daniel day lewis is from the UK, anyway great list.
    Edward Norton is my favourite, people have forgotten about him the last couple of years.
    De niro is embarrassing himself the last 15 years though, he’s ruining his legacy, and Ben Foster isn’t very versatile, always playing the same misunderstood angry type. I agree with the rest.

  18. William says

    For my money, Dustin Hoffman is as good as any actor on this list and for all the reasons cited, range of roles, classic films, accolades, challenging performances, longevity. If he had done nothing more than Rainman he earned his place, but then there’s The Graduate, Tootsie, and dozens more.

  19. Anonymous says

    To say that I have no credibility because I didn’t include an actor you like is preposterous. Everyone has an opinion. just because we don’t share the same opinion doesn’t mean either of us loses credibility. And don’t you have anything better to do then flame me?

  20. Jonathan Palmer says

    what happened ? Al Pacino does not exist? HAs to be in the top 10. Youi have no credibility

  21. Connor Folse says

    AJ: don’t like it, don’t read it
    Kathleen: Basically this is a list based on personal opinion. No matter what ten actors I choose, someone will disagree. I chose this list so that it was at least semi-original and representative of my opinion. As for Pacino, he is great but he is in the category with nicholson, de niro, oldman, etc. and I really only wanted to include de niro and nicholson so he just missed. Keep your eyes peeled. My list of actresses should be up by the end of this week. And I think it will be even more controversial.
    Joe: Yeah I think both Bale and Crowe are great but they don’t have quite as much ranges as some other actors. They were close too.

  22. Joe says

    No room for Christian bale on this list? The most consistent actor of the 2000s. Think Russell Crowe deserves a mention too.

  23. Kathleen says

    Definitely note-worthy top 10 choices!

    Curious though…I’d like to ask you what ‘specific’ criteria you based your choices on. “Solid body of work” and “potential greatness” certainly cover a lot of ground…Nonetheless, your list was most interesting. But, I’m just wondering about Al Pacino and where, if at all, he might fit in your list. He’s been in a number of great films, in my view: The Godfather series, Serpico, Scarface and Scent of a Woman are my coveted favourites. Other high-ranking favs include The Insider,Donnie Brasco and The Devil’s Advocate. Very keen on reading your next article with your list of top 10 actresses!

  24. AJ says

    Wow can this be more pointless. How can “still in business” have Gosling on it, who is about 60 years younger than people like Nicholson and is really just coming into his own? Until a few months ago, most didn’t even know who Fassbender is. Pairing them up with veterans, some of whom are basically semi-retired, seems bogus, and leaves out way too many on either side of the spectrum.

  25. Connor Folse says

    Rohit: I have never seen Stone but have been meaning to check it out.
    Chris: honestly I didn’t even consider Viggo for the list. He is good but top 10? No.
    Bill: Good points I agree. Hopefully De Niro can make a comeback next year with a few new films that seem more mature than another meet the ______ sequel.
    Steve: all those guys are great acotors but like I said, it’s hard to make a list of just 10. and as for no black actors, I assure you there was no racist intent it’s just that guys like Washington, Freeman, and Samuel L just missed the list.

  26. Steve75 says

    Not bad list but think there are several actors whom I miss from this list: Lenardo diCaprio, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino, Denzel Washington (I don’t find on this list black actors), Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hanks.

  27. Bill Mesce says

    Any list like this is certainly going to spark debate because there’s a certain amount of subjectivity that goes with it. That being said, it’s a hell of a list.

    But the thing that stuck in my mind the most was something you said in your opening, about the perception that a certain kind of acting prowess died out with the likes of Hepburn, Tracy, Brando, etc. I think what perhaps fuels that perception is that, for any number of reasons, it’s harder to maintain an above-the-title mainstream career these days for the duration that a Bogart or a Tracy could. At the end of their careers a Bogart could still topline IN A LONELY PLACE, and Tracy GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? etc. If DeNiro’s stuck doing Focker sequels maybe that’s because the majors don’t do flicks like GODFATHER II very often…if at all.

    Good, thought-provoking piece.

  28. Chris says

    I’m pretty…no….REALLY bummed that you left Viggo Mortensen off of this list. That is a damn shame.

  29. Rohit Ramachandran says

    This is a fuckin amazing list! I just love your top 4! What did you think of Norton and Deniro in Stone and the movie itself? I think it’s heading to become a masterpiece. Personally, I would’ve replaced Foster with Javier Bardem, but well, this is your list and I do intend to check out more of Foster’s work. :)

  30. Connor Folse says

    Well, Oldman is a fantastic actor but to be honest, I haven’t seen many of his films and like I said in the article, I wanted the list to look different then every other list and I mixed actors who were already established with those with high levels of potential. So yeah Oldman along with like 10 others (Hanks, Pitt, Clooney, Harrelson, Bardem, Shannon, etc.) just missed.

  31. AnnaZed says

    Great piece, I live this site. Unfortunately, the exclusion of Gary Oldman makes your final edit incomplete because really it makes no sense to have Ben Foster there if you have omitted Oldman. It gives the thing a sort of cinéaste’s showing off kind of vibe that I don’t think you were going for.

  32. Connor says

    Sorry. My mistake. It has been fixed. I meant to say the top ten actors working in American films today rather than the top ten American actors. Also, Shannon and Pitt are good but I had to cut it to ten and they both just missed. Plus I haven’t seen Take Shelter yet so that limits my knowledge on Shannon.

    1. Tara says

      Ok, since you returned Michael Fassbender back to us, you’re forgiven :) LOL of course I’m joking

  33. Tara says

    Gosling is s Canadian, Day-Lewis is British and Fassbender is Irish/German. Not American. When you write about Fassbender you list mostly British films. Shame might be set in NY, but it’s all British, with a British director and screenwriter. I agree with most names on your list, but the name is utterly wrong, please don’t steal our actors :)
    A concerned European

  34. Ricky says

    Also Gosling is Canadian. You just need to change the title of the article Connor, and it will be fine.

  35. Ricky says

    I was just about to say the same. I think the title of the article should be changed to maybe … actors working in Hollywood.

  36. Eamon says

    This article is the top 10 American actor and yet Day-Lewis (dual Irish -British citizen and Fassbrnder (grew up in Killarney to German parents ) are included. Did I miss something?

  37. Ricky says

    hmmm – no love for Michael Shannon nor Brad Pitt? They’ve made more interesting movies and taken on more challenging roles than both Nicholson and Deniro in the past decade.

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