Skip to main content
Updated date:

Top 10 Greatest Actors of Our Generation

It's easy to underestimate the importance of a good actor these days. With so many actors simply coasting on average and lackluster work, actors who can constantly delivery hard-hitting performances are hard to come by.

While the days of great method actors are behind us, there are a few working in the industry today who can still wow audiences with awe-inspiring performances. Here is a list of some of them.


10. Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey is a well-trained actor who became a legend in the 1990s with roles in films such as Glengarry Glen Rose (1992), Seven (1995), and an Academy award winning performance in The Usual Suspects (1995). He also won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in American Beauty (1999) as a man whose midlife crisis sets forth a chain of events with some unfortunate outcomes. Though many felt he peeked in the 90's and that he coasted through the 2000s with few memorable performances, he has recently made an amazing comeback in the television world. In the Netflix series House of Cards he plays charming yet conniving U.S. Congressman Frank Underwood who uses cutthroat and downright illegal tactics to seek revenge on his political friends who crossed him. The role has brought new life to Spacey's career and is redefining the nature of dramatic television acting.


09. George Clooney

A lot can be said about George Clooney. He's one of the most recognizable men in Hollywood, an avid activist and humanitarian, and one of the most profitable actors in the 21st Century so far. However some have made the claim that Clooney is often typecast into playing roles of successful men in positions of power with little variation in his characters. But if one looks closer at his work, one would find that Clooney is just really good at what he does. He came to fame in the 1990s playing the role of Dr. Douglas Ross on the NBC medical drama E.R. He played leading roles in films such as Batman and Robin (1997), Three Kings (1999), and the remake of Ocean's Eleven (2001). But it was his head-turning, Oscar winning role as a troubled CIA agent in Syriana (2005) that brought new life to his career and many began seeing him in a more critically acclaimed light. He has since scored Oscar nominations for Best Actor as a "fixer" for a law firm in Michael Clayton (2007), a man who travels from place to place to fire people from their jobs in Up in the Air (2009) and a conflicted father who deals with extensive family issues in The Descendants (2011).


08. Bryan Cranston

Very few television actors can bring such greatness to the small screen that they are put on the same level as the feature film guys. Bryan Cranston, however, has gone above and beyond greatness with a television role so good that it beats most of the last few winners for the Oscar for Best Actor with it's brilliance and sheer power. Cranston is well known for his role as slick dentist Tim Whatley in Seinfeld and as the loveable yet wacky dad Hal in Malcolm in the Middle, the latter resulted in Emmy nominations for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. But it was his role as Walter White in the AMC series Breaking Bad that has turned him into one the most compelling performers of our time. His Breaking Bad role as a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher who turns to cooking and selling crystal meth after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis has been called one of the best roles in television history. He transforms from the protagonist into an antagonist, a hero into a villain, which had never been done before on TV and by doing so reaches levels of emotion that puts Cranston on par with any film actor out today.


07. Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks was considered a top performer of the 1990s and he dominated that decade with several memorable performances. He became the first actor in decades to win two consecutive Oscars for Best Actor as an AIDS stricken lawyer in Philadelphia (1993) and a mentally challenged man who witnesses some of the most important historical events of the second half of the 20th Century in Forest Gump (1994). He continued to wow viewers with roles in films such as Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Green Mile (1999), and Cast Away (2000). But in the 2000s his career suffered a few setbacks and he fell off of many people's best actor lists for a while. In the 2010s he made a stirring comeback with his roles as a ship captain whose ship gets boarded by pirates in Captain Philips (2013) and as Walt Disney himself in the film Saving Mr. Banks (2013).


06. Christian Bale

Christian Bale is an actor whose range and seriousness is both stunning and hard to come by these days. Getting his start as a child actor in the 1980s, Bale delivered two hard-hitting, psychological performances in American Psycho (2000) and The Machinist (2004). He then became a well known and commercially successful actor with his portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman in the films Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). He has recently won praise for his roles in the David O. Russell films The Fighter (2010), as a former Boxing champ who becomes a crack addict, and American Hustle (2013) as a con artist who unwillingly gets tied into an FBI operation. Bale is known for his method actor approach and often loses himself in his roles to an inspiring degree.


05. Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt is another of the more recognizable men in Hollywood these days and many see him as blockbuster actor rather than a serious performer. However, it would be foolish of someone to write Pitt off as just another face in Hollywood. The man has certainly paid his dues with roles in films such as Legends of the Fall (1994), Seven (1995), and 12 Monkeys (1995) which resulted in an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. One of Pitt's most astounding performances came in the 1999 cult film Fight Club where he played the cooler alter ego of a man with insomnia. Since 2000, Pitt has dominated with both high grossing films (Ocean's Eleven, Troy, and World War Z) as well as critically acclaimed performances as the outlaw Jesse James in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), a man aging backwards in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), and as baseball GM Billy Beane in Moneyball (2011). The latter two performances resulted in Oscar nods for Best Actor.


04. Leonardo DiCaprio

Even at a young age, DiCaprio always wowed as an actor. He blew critics away with his roles in films such as This Boy's Life (1993) and What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993). He then rose to international fame as Jack Dawson in the James Cameron epic Titanic (1997). But it was in the 2000s when DiCaprio started to truly stand out as an actor. He, like Robert De Niro before him, became well known for his collaborations with director Martin Scorsese. For Scorsese he first played a young man who avenges his father's murder in Gangs of New York (2002), then he starred as Hollywood mogul and plane designer Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004), and he went on to play an undercover cop who infiltrates a crime boss's crew in The Departed (2006). In the 2010s DiCaprio has played various roles ranging from a dream-stealer in Inception (2010) to a manic slave owner in Django Unchained (2012). He recently teamed back up with Scorsese to delivery a powerful, somewhat shocking performance as drug-addicted stockbroker Jordan Belfort in the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street.


03. Sean Penn

When Sean Penn's career exploded in 1982 with his role as surfer and stoner Jeff Spicoli in the coming-of-age film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, few probably thought he would turn into one of the most celebrated actors of the early 21st Century. After several bad boy roles in the 80's, in the 1990s Penn developed into more serious roles such a racist murderer in Dead Man Walking (1995) and his role as a jazz guitarist with a massive ego in Sweet and Lowdown (1999). But some of his most powerful work came in the 2000s. That decade he won two Oscars for Best Actor, one for playing a dad devastated by the death of his daughter in Clint Eastwood's film Mystic River (2003) and another for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to political office, in the 2008 film Milk. Penn has also become well-known for his political and social activism and he currently serves as the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti.


02. Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp is a performer who truly loses himself in every role he plays to such a degree that it sometimes scares us how good he is at what he does. Like many other actors on this list, Depp got his start as a teen actor and he became an idol in the 1980s with his role as Officer Tom Hanson in the TV series 21 Jump Street. After leaving that show, Depp quickly began playing more challenging roles starting with the titular role in Edward Sissorhands (1990). That role propelled him to even greater fame and he went on to become known for his stark portrayals of real people such as odd, cult filmmaker Ed Wood in Ed Wood (1994), undercover FBI agent Joesph D. Pistone in Donny Brasco (1997), eccentric writer Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), and cocaine dealer George Jung in Blow (2001). In the 2000s Depp went on to become a top box office draw with huge films such as the Pirates of the Caribbean film series and Alice and Wonderland (2010). His films have grossed over $7.6 billion as of 2014.

Read More From Reelrundown


01. Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis is by far the greatest actor of the last three decades despite recently only taking on a small number of roles giving him a reputation as one of the most selective actors in Hollywood. Throughout the 1980s he played numerous roles in British theater, film and television and by the end of that decade he received international attention for his portrayal of Christy Brown, a writer and painter who had cerebral palsy and could only paint and write by using one foot, in the 1989 film My Left Foot. This role resulted in the first of an unprecedented three wins for the Academy Award for Best Actor. In the 1990s he continued to impress with films such as The Last of the Mohicans (1992), The Age of Innocence (1993), and The Crucible (1996). In 2002, after a few years away from the industry, Day-Lewis returned better than ever in the Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York playing vicious 1860s gang leader William Cutting. He went on to win two more Oscars for Best Actor for his role as a morally questionable oil tycoon in the 2007 masterpiece There Will Be Blood and for his stark, frighteningly realistic portrayal of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (2012).


Solid List , Christian Bale should be Number 2 on January 03, 2019:

Solid List , Christian Bale should be Number 2

michael maskaron on August 28, 2018:

what about dustin hoffman ?!

Darla Sue Dollman from Coolidge, Arizona on February 03, 2018:

I also disagree with the choices on this list. No Denzel Washington, Joaquin Phoenix or Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who are both Oscar winners? And which generation are you discussing--Daniel Day Lewis is 60, Tom Hanks is 62. If Lewis and Hanks are included in "our generation," then what about Robert DeNiro, Jack Nicholson, Anthony Hopkins, or the great Robin Williams? The writing and research is fine, but many of the actors on this list do not deserve the honor they've been given and the title of "our generation" is confusing.

Darla Sue Dollman from Coolidge, Arizona on February 03, 2018:

The comments are a bit harsh, but I agree about the choices on this list. No Denzel Washington, Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro? The writing and research is fine, but many of the actors on this list do not deserve the honor they've been given.

DrStevens on December 19, 2017:

No Denzel Washington??? That makes this a BOGUS list!!!

Wallace Damned on July 10, 2017:

Sean Penn!?!?! Sean Penn?!?! This list is descent, but Penn is mediocre at best. He gets his name printed because he's in politics, and he's not even very good at that. Where is Tom Hardy, James McAvoy, Will Smith, etc.( too many way better choices to list.) I could make a top 10 list with actors you excluded that you oils be stronger than your top 10 list. Spacey at night mover 10?!? Whoever wrote this article must of loaded up a little too much fucking entitled retard powder in their pipe before they typed this. Hopefully immediately after we turning in this article they quit writing for good, and started directing traffic or washing windows because this is garbage. Also, to the person that approved it to go online, you are just as stupid as the writer. Tell me, how does it feel to live life with your head CONSTANTLY up your ass? I'm curious, how do you drive? Or make love? Do you just lick your lips and in turn toss your own salad? Reel rundown, I was looking for a legitimate list of the best actors of our time, but instead I found this editorial word vomit excuse of an article. Because I have read this, you have now made me hate the human race. Thank you for the disappointment.

Correia Ricardo on July 10, 2017:

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix are better than everyone in the list, excluding DDL (and Sean Penn maybe)

Ryan on March 31, 2017:

No De Niro? Pacino?

Bill on January 06, 2017:

No Tom Hardy? C'mon!

Michael on August 23, 2016:

Personally, I would get rid of the overrated, one note George Clooney and replace him with the superb and versatile Russell Crowe. Denzel deserves a mention too. Other than that, agree 100%.

Michael on April 27, 2016:

Are you kidding me??? This list without D. Washington is a joke. I'm a white man but not one black actor on the list should tell you something. Brad Pitt before Morgan freemen??

Johnny boy on March 23, 2016:

I agree with the list but take out Brad Pitt and swap in Denzel Washington. Denzel Washington is one of the few actors who's preformances wow me even when the film itself isn't that great.

Ally on January 26, 2015:

At last! Someone with real exesptire gives us the answer. Thanks!

Javier on December 03, 2014:

My Rank

#1 Tom Hanks

#2 Daniel Day Lewis

#3 Johnny Depp

#4 Denzel Washington

#5 Leonardo Dicaprio

saifhayel on September 12, 2014:

I strongly agree with Daniel Day-Lewis being ranked #1 however, I think Denzel Washington should be there.

Steeve on August 22, 2014:

Denzel Washington has to be in there. He's an incredible actor.

JOC from Syracuse, NY on June 22, 2014:

Anyone other than DD-L at one would have been just wrong.

Bernie Ment from Syracuse, NY on March 12, 2014:

Indeed. Nice article, although I personally think that Leo DiCrapio is over rated. Again, voted up.

Jeannie Randall from South Dakota on February 04, 2014:

You got them all! Great choices and nice article.

rushmaster on January 26, 2014:

I agree that these are all great actors, and they have done some of my favorite movies of all time. I agree that Daniel Day Lewis is #1 too. I also think Bryan Cranston's performance as Walter White on Breaking Bad is some of the greatest acting of all time.

Kevina Oyatedor on January 25, 2014:

Love them all, can't pick one. Amazing gorgeous actors. Great hub.

Related Articles