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Top 10 Decade Defining Actors: 1960s

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Written by Sean Harris It’s flower power on film, and swing on the silver screen! Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 Decade Defining Actors of the 1960s! 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. Special thanks to our users Norris Vaughn, Ceione Pafford, movielover459 and HannibalTheCannibal for submitting the idea for this video through our Suggestions Tool at WatchMojo.comSuggest
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Written by Sean Harris

Top 10 Decade Defining Actors of the 1960s


It’s flower power on film, and swing on the silver screen! Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 Decade Defining Actors of the 1960s!

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: Warren Beatty
1937 -

A cinematic stalwart, Warren Beatty’s illustrious film career began with a role opposite Natalie Wood in 1961’s “Splendor in the Grass.” A movie concerned with love, critics loved Beatty’s performance, and he was nominated for a Golden Globe. Beatty would star in many a ‘60s movie, but his overriding achievement was “Bonnie and Clyde.” He produced and acted in the movie, which was nominated for 10 Academy Awards. Beatty’s box-office power was, from this point, indisputable!

#9: Michael Caine
1933 -

An actor who could be considered a defining figure in more than one decade, for Michael Caine the ‘60s were especially special. He was scouted for movie work following his work on the stage, and Cy Endfield, the director of “Zulu” was particularly drawn to his cockney accent. Ironically, Caine ended up playing an upper-class officer in the film, but became famous for more modest roles. The womanizing character, ‘Alfie,’ and his part in “The Italian Job” confirmed him as the working-class hero!

#8: Peter Sellers
1925 - 1980

Sellers’ film career was as varied as his lifestyle. He played out quite destructive family relationships off-screen, but had us all laughing hysterically when he was on it! His role as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in “The Pink Panther” is among the best remembered. A character devised entirely independently, Sellers’ work during the five weeks of filming has been compared to the great Charlie Chaplin! “Dr. Strangelove” is another great Peter Sellers performance (or 3!). That’s right: his versatile ability led Stanley Kubrick to give him 3 parts – and he sold every one!

#7: Sean Connery
1930 -

The name’s Connery… Sean Connery! As James Bond, the Scottish actor appeared in five films, beginning with 1962’s “Dr. No.” He understood the role perfectly, and that’s because partly he created it! A lot of the mannerisms, personality traits and one-liners were written into Ian Fleming’s novels, but Connery brought a swagger and an accent that the writer worked to include in later books. He couldn’t, however, provide everything… Connery had to wear a toupee to play Bond, as he’d begun balding at 21!

#6: Peter O’Toole
1932 - 2013

This actor’s big break came in one of the biggest films of the decade. “Lawrence of Arabia” earned O’Toole the first of eight Oscar nominations for Best Actor – though he never once won. He continued a tendency toward epic roles, playing Henry II twice, once in “Becket” and once in “The Lion in Winter.” By no means a ‘one trick pony’ though, O’Toole also paired up with fellow decade definer, Peter Sellers, in the Woody Allen-scripted comedy, “What’s New Pussycat?”

#5: 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!

#4: Steve McQueen
1930 - 1980

A break into the big-time was thrown Steve McQueen’s way when Frank Sinatra recast the role of Bill Ringa in his movie, “Never So Few.” He gave the part to McQueen, McQueen had lots of screen time, and Hollywood had their new it-guy! From there success streamed into the ‘60s with “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Great Escape.” McQueen became known for tough-guy roles, and fast car-chases – a feature most apparent in 1968’s “Bullitt.” He was handsome, he had attitude, and, boy, could he accelerate!

#3: 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!

#2: Paul Newman
1925 - 2008

He’s one of the few actors to successfully carry his movie career from the 1950s into the ‘60s, ‘70s and beyond. That’s likely because his rebellious streak entertained and resonated with younger generation after younger generation. Roles in movies like “The Hustler” and “Hud” stand out from the early part of this decade, “Cool Hand Luke” earned him his fourth Oscar nod, and a partnership with Robert Redford garnered him even more fame. As the former in, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” he saw the ‘60s out in style!

Before we unveil our pick for Decade Defining Actor of the 1960s, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Burt Lancaster
1913 - 1994
- Jack Lemmon
1925 - 2001
- Christopher Lee
1922 -
- George C. Scott
1927 - 1999
- Richard Burton
1925 - 1984
- John Huston
1906 - 1987

#1: Gregory Peck
1916 - 2003

By the beginning of the ‘60s, Gregory Peck had already been in the film-acting game for over fifteen years, but his best was still to come! He’ll be forever remembered for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird:” released at the height of the civil rights movement, it spoke beyond the screen. “The Guns of Navarone” was another sure-fire success, and Peck filled the boots of a lawyer once more with distinction for “Cape Fear.” His gentlemanly charm and masculine edge win him our top spot!

Do you agree with our list? Which 1960s actor did we forget? For more glitzy Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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