Top 10 Ultimate Decade Defining Actors

Written by Sean Harris These are the timeless men who made Hollywood great. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 ultimate decade defining actors. 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 in which they excelled. Special thanks to our users kevin najera, Ceione Pafford, Francis FNT, zombie101tactics, Vivek Varghese, MJdawg10, Andrew A. Dennison, Coolhand67, perryhigh, periwinklepower, Kizza1000, PokemaniacNate, a25kaitlynrocks, Hassanstark and Whit Warren for submitting this idea through our Suggestions Tool at WatchMojo.comSuggest
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Written by Sean Harris

Top 10 Decade Defining Actors of All Time


These are the timeless men who made Hollywood great. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 ultimate decade defining actors.

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 in which they excelled.

#10: John Wayne
1907 - 1979

An all-out icon, John Wayne reigned supreme for many a decade, but in the ‘50s he produced some of his most notable work. He starred in 142 movies throughout his career (most of them Westerns) – and set the archetype for masculinity at the time. “The Quiet Man,” “The High and the Mighty,” “The Searchers” and “Rio Bravo” were particular successes. He was undeniably typecast, but he was also undeniably good at what he did. Wayne exuded charisma, and cinemagoers just couldn’t get enough!

#9: James Stewart
1908 - 1997

In a decade when Humphrey Bogart and Orson Welles were also influential, Jimmy Stewart stole the show! During the 1940s, while he was also dedicating time to WWII military service, Stewart’s roles as the ‘average,’ aspiring American resonated with, and gave encouragement to, just about everyone! His natural style won him an Oscar for “The Philadelphia Story,” having been previously nominated for Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” However, he found everlasting fame as George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” – a captivating performance in a Christmas classic! His was the highest standard during one of Hollywood’s highest points!

#8: Tom Cruise
1962 -

“Risky Business” is thought of as his breakthrough movie, and it ensured that working with Tom Cruise would be anything but ‘risky’ from then on. A stellar name in cinema for over three decades now, the impact he had in his first ten years was unrivalled. With “Top Gun” he flew further up the acting ladder, and with “Born on the Fourth of July” he picked up his first major award, a Golden Globe for ‘Best Actor.’ Setting the standard for a glittering career, Cruise controlled Hollywood, in the ‘80s and that’s why he makes our list.

#7: Al Pacino
1940 -

This guy’s career is particularly hard to nail down to one decade, but largely for his part in “The Godfather” series, he was a huge star of the ‘70s. He played mobster Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic gangster film, and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He boycotted the ceremony though, believing his role to be ‘lead actor’ material! Ironically, he went on to be nominated for the desired award four times during the decade – including one nomination for “The Godfather: Part II.”

#6: Clint Eastwood
1930 -

The Spaghetti Western, so called because of the Italian directors behind them, is an iconic film-genre of the ‘60s… And one in which Clint Eastwood ruled. As ‘the man with no name’ he portrayed one of the most convincing anti-heroes ever captured on film. The part was supposedly offered to Eric Fleming, Eastwood’s co-star in TV western drama, “Rawhide.” He turned it down, and Eastwood went on to own it! Forever after, his name would be synonymous with the wild, Wild West!

#5: Sidney Poitier
1927 -

When trying to achieve success early on in his acting career, Sidney Poitier struggled because he was tone-deaf – he couldn’t meet the expectation of black performers at the time, because he couldn’t sing! But, years of dedication were finally followed with acceptance and excellence. In ‘63 he became the first black man to receive the Academy Award for Best Actor for “Lilies of the Field.” The commercial peak of his career didn’t come for a further 4-years, however, when “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” became an instant classic, cementing his spot as a ‘60s-era mainstay!

#4: Robert De Niro
1943 -

He’s as A-List as they come, and the ‘70s were his era – those he’s had non-stop success ever since! De Niro found fame within a partnership he formed in the early ‘70s with director Martin Scorsese, beginning with “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver.” By ‘77, everyone was ‘talking to him’ (or at least about him!), and a role as Michael Vronsky in the Vietnam War movie “The Deer Hunter” further established his reputation. Of course, he also managed the small feat of playing the Oscar-winning part of Vito Corleone in “The Godfather: Part 2” – what a man!

#3: Cary Grant
1904 - 1986

Our champ spent the ‘30s as an official Englishman, before obtaining American citizenship in 1942. Mae West is largely credited with giving this definitive leading man his breakthrough opposite her in “She Done Him Wrong” and “I’m No Angel.” “The Awful Truth” was a pivotal movie though, as it established Grant as Rom-Com royalty! After that he paired up with the likes of Katharine Hepburn in “Bringing up Baby” and Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday.” Grant is a legend of laughter, and a legend of love – a romantic, comedic winner!

#2: Jack Nicholson
1937 -

Like other actors on our list, it’s hard to confine Nicholson’s excellence to one time period; after all, he’s had such an illustrious career. But Oscar nominations for his roles in “The Last Detail” and “Chinatown,” as well as the first of three wins for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” make the 1970s a particular success! As Randle McMurphy he plays a forcibly repressed man who tries to break out; and as an actor, Jack Nicholson sure breaks the mold!

Before we unveil our pick for the Ultimate Decade Defining Actor, here are a few honorable mentions:
• Daniel Day-Lewis
1957 -
• Leonardo DiCaprio
1974 -
• Humphrey Bogart
1899 - 1957
• Charlton Heston
1932 - 2008
• Charlie Chaplin
1889 - 1977
• Tom Hanks
1956 -

#1: Marlon Brando
1924 - 2004

Rock-and-Roll was bursting through our radios and our chart-topper was personifying it on the movie screen! Marlon Brando was one of the coolest, trendiest, most desirable guys on the planet! He was also a fine actor! Picking up an Oscar for his role in “On the Waterfront,” Brando also starred in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Viva Zapata!,” “Julius Caesar” and “The Wild One” to name but a few. He had magnetism, masculinity and an attitude that established him as the ‘50s male sex symbol, and as our number one decade-definer!

Do you agree with our list? Which 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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