Top 10 Decade Defining Actors: 1920s

Written by Sean Harris For the following list of actors, silence was definitely golden! Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 Decade Defining Actors of the 1920s! For our series on the Top 10 Decade Defining Male Actors Per Period, we’ve made our choices based on a combination of their commercial success, their box-office scores, their productivity, their awards and how they helped set the tone and raise the standard in Hollywood for the era. If you want to see one of your ideas become a WatchMojo video, be sure to submit it through our Suggestions Tool at WatchMojo.comSuggest
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Written by Sean Harris

Top 10 Decade Defining Actors of the 1920s


For the following list of actors, silence was definitely golden! Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 Decade Defining Actors of the 1920s!

For our series on the Top 10 Decade Defining Male Actors Per Period, we’ve made our choices based on a combination of their commercial success, their box-office scores, their productivity, their awards and how they helped set the tone and raise the standard in Hollywood for the era.

#10: Harold Lloyd
1893 - 1971

A standout performer of the silent movie era who transitioned to talkies, Harold Lloyd was one of the most prolific actors of his time. Performing many of his risky stunts himself, he reportedly made almost $16-million in the ‘20s, finding fame as an onscreen everyday man, who could display unwavering confidence and optimism. His ‘Glasses character’ was particularly effective, and reflective of the average American. “A Sailor Made Man” was his first feature, but his most famous moment came when he hung from the clock tower in “Safety Last!”

#9: Rudolph Valentino
1895 - 1926

An actor who achieved iconic status, Rudolph Valentino was one of the first pop-culture sex symbols. Born in Italy, he had a sexy name, a pretty face and an attractive body – a historic Hollywood hunk! But the Latin Lover could also entertain, and 1921’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” was the sixth highest-grossing silent movie of all time. 1921 was also the year he defined his persona as “The Sheik.” His death by illness was tragically untimely, but in his 31 years he built a legacy!

#8: Walt Disney
1901 - 1966

Though not an actor in the conventional sense, Walt Disney’s impact on the movie industry is arguably unrivalled. The man behind the mouse, he spent the early part of the decade building the beginnings of an animation empire. He often worked as a voice actor in his productions, and provided all of the largely unintelligible sounds in “Steamboat Willie.” Though that film is widely considered Mickey Mouse’s debut, he and Minnie actually appeared in an earlier short, “Plane Crazy,” but both films went a long in establishing Walt Disney as a Hollywood heavyweight.

#7: John Barrymore
1882 - 1942

The head of a prominent acting dynasty, which stretches until the present day with his granddaughter Drew, John Barrymore enjoyed fame throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s. He was a strong performer in the silent era who shifted easily to talkies, appearing with major roles in “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” as well as “Sherlock Holmes.” He also took the lead in “Don Juan,” a pioneering film in terms of sound effects and music, although there wasn’t yet any dialogue. Handsome, charming and with a stage-trained voice, Barrymore passed his traits down his talented family tree!

#6: Lon Chaney
1883 - 1930

Next, we have an actor who revolutionized cinema, even before the invention of ‘talkies’! Lon Chaney was a celebrated, versatile, silent movie master, and a famous experimenter with make-up and costume. His roles in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Phantom of the Opera” garnered him particular praise within the horror genre for their grotesque but sympathetic natures. His creative costumes even led to the nickname, ‘The Man Of A Thousand Faces’ – which later became the title for a film in which James Cagney played Chaney!

#5: Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy
1890 - 1965; 1892 - 1957

Perhaps the greatest double act to ever grace our screens, Laurel and Hardy began their reign in the ‘20s. Great friends away from the camera, they were slapstick supremos in front of it! Stan Laurel a tall thin Englishman, and Oliver Hardy a portly American; they complimented each other, and contrasted for comedic effect. Often they’d have difficulty performing the simplest of tasks, and jokes were found in their repeated misfortunes. “Putting Pants on Philip” was their first official feature together, but the pair produced over 100 movies in their lifetime.

#4: Douglas Fairbanks
1883 - 1939

A founding member of United Artists, and of the Motion Picture Academy, Douglas Fairbanks was the husband of Mary Pickford, and the first to be titled, ‘The King of Hollywood.’ He was most famous for swashbuckling roles in movies like “The Mark of Zorro” and 1922’s “Robin Hood,” and he also starred in “The Black Pirate,” which was one of the first ever full-length Technicolor films! His career didn’t flourish with the invention of ‘talkies,’ but by then he’d more than made his mark in the silent era!

#3: Groucho Marx
1890 - 1977

Groucho was the youngest of the three Marx brothers, but also the funniest and the most successful. He made 13 movies with his siblings, most notably “The Cocoanuts” and “Animal Crackers,” and later remained famous as the host of 1940s radio and TV quiz show, “You Bet Your Life.” Marx had worked as a vaudeville performer before acting, and the stage’s influence showed in his costume. The thick moustache, eyebrows and rimmed glasses look has since become iconic, and a staple component to any dress-up box!

#2: Buster Keaton
1895 - 1966

One of the most influential figures of the decade, Buster Keaton spent the ‘20s directing and acting in an incredible amount of movies. “The General” is perhaps his greatest contribution to cinema, and the film is still ranked among the best ever made! He worked primarily as a comedy actor, though it was rare that he himself would smile. A trademark deadpan expression earned him the nickname, ‘The Great Stone Face,’ as he chiseled out a career by making people cry with laughter!

Before we unveil our pick for Decade Defining Actor of the 1920s, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Max Schreck
1879 - 1936
- Emil Jannings
1884 - 1950
- John Gilbert
1897 - 1936
- Conrad Veidt
1893 - 1943

#1: Charlie Chaplin
1889 - 1977

Charlie Chaplin is not only one of the greatest names in cinema; he’s one of the icons of the modern world! His character, ‘The Tramp,’ has come to be an almost instantly recognizable figure in history, and his movies are considered masterpieces of the era. He was as bumbling and slapstick-y as many other performers; but his films also carried social motivation, and often-political controversy. “The Kid” was his first feature-length, the toothbrush moustache will forever be his(!), and this decade was defined by him!

Do you agree with our list? Which 1920s actor do you think is the most iconic? For more classic Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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