Top 10 Most Influential British Actors

Credits: Richard Bush Sean Harris
Written by Candice Onyeama These Brits changed the face of cinema for good! Welcome to WatchMojo UK, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 most influential British actors. For this list, we’re looking at male and female British screen actors whose iconic characters and careers have had the biggest impact on film and pop culture. Special thanks to our user WordToTheWes for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 Most Influential British Actors


These Brits changed the face of cinema for good! Welcome to WatchMojo UK, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 most influential British actors.

For this list, we’re looking at male and female British screen actors whose iconic characters and careers have had the biggest impact on film and pop culture.

#10: Ian McKellen

Letting us through first, an actor best known as one of the wisest figures in all Middle Earth, as well as for his magnetising performances in “X-Men”. A firm fan favourite at Comic Con, Ian McKellen is one of Britain’s leading big screen talents. Not bad for a guy who once said that people didn’t ‘want him in their movies’. His tireless campaigning for LGBT rights and proud advocacy for the arts has also made Mckellen an icon beyond the screen and one of the UK’s most influential voices.

#9: Maggie Smith

While some actors are best known for one or two huge parts, Dame Maggie Smith has routinely delivered stellar performances throughout a career spanning seven decades. From ‘65’s “Othello” to ‘69’s “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, ‘85’s “A Room with a View” and 2001’s “Gosford Park”, her highlights are stand-out moments of cinema. She’s also loved by a whole new generation as Professor McGonagall in the “Harry Potter” films, while a turn as Miss Shepherd in “The Lady in the Van” had critics cooing all over again.

#8: Helen Mirren

All rise for acting royalty. Helen Mirren is instantly recognised for her 2006 portrayal of Elizabeth II, which won her an Academy Award and praise from the Queen herself who reportedly invited the actress for dinner, but Mirren couldn’t make it. She was made a Dame in 2003 however, so we’re sure she’s had a good nosey around the palace already. Away from the throne, parts in “Cal”, “The Madness of King George”, “Hitchcock” and “Red” prove Helen’s unprecedented acting range.

#7: Judi Dench

To one of the UK’s most decorated actresses. Judi Dench has won ten BAFTAs, two SAG Awards, two Golden Globes and she bagged an Oscar in 1998 for just eight minutes of screen time as Elizabeth I, in “Shakespeare in Love”. But she’s arguably best known for her role as the first female M in “James Bond”, playing a major part in seven 007 stories. Considering the damning feedback she reportedly received after one of her earliest auditions, her career is quite something.

#6: Michael Caine

A Godfather for the on-screen East End gangster, he was championing gritty genre roles long before the likes of Guy Ritchie were on the scene. From his trademark cockney accent to badass one-liners and famous fight sequences, Michael Caine’s a no nonsense national treasure. And thanks to roles in the “Dark Knight” trilogy and the “Kingsman” franchise, he has continually bridged the generation gap, too. Everyone seems to have a favourite Caine character, which is testament to his staying power at the very top of the game.

#5: Anthony Hopkins

While undoubtedly best known for his Oscar-winning turn as the charismatic cannibal, Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins takes today’s fifth spot for a rich, varied and award-winning career which continually raises the bar. From “Shadowlands” to the “Elephant Man”, he can play good guys, bad guys, characters with ulterior motives, characters with very definite motives, caring husbands and devoted fathers. That said, he does play a bloody good villain! Lecter still chills to the core, his costume is still a Halloween favourite, and he’ll always be an iconic film character.

#4: Sean Connery

Did someone say Bond? Forever known as the first 007, Sean Connery sets a gold standard for spy movies. He’s suave, sophisticated, he can get out of a tight squeeze, and he’s very definite about how he takes his refreshments. Away from international espionage, Connery boasts roles in films including “The Hunt for Red October”, “Finding Forrester” and “The Untouchables”, which landed him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1988. A legend in his own lifetime, the Scot also scored two BAFTAs and three Golden Globes in a glittering career.

#3: Daniel Day-Lewis

“My Left Foot”, “There Will Be Blood”, “Lincoln”… We could continue listing definitive movies from this man’s outstanding back-catalogue. As one of Britain’s most decorated actors, Daniel Day-Lewis has set new standards time and time again. A meticulous method actor, he has been known to stay in character for months at a time, such is his dedication to the role. And the effort always proves worthwhile. With three Best Actor Oscars under his belt, he’s a record-breaking giant of the industry.

#2: Julie Andrews

She’s supercalifragilistic and then some. An actor who charmed her way into everyone’s childhoods as Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews is also famous for Maria in “The Sound of Music”, and younger generations know her as Queen Clarisse from “The Princess Diaries”. It all started with the magical nanny though, a big screen debut role which won Andrews an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Grammy for the catchiest of soundtracks. The film was one of Disney’s first forays into live-action features, changing the climate for kids’ movies forever.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honourable mentions:

Christopher Lee

Alan Rickman

Peter Sellers

#1: Charlie Chaplin

Also known as the ‘Little Tramp’ thanks to his iconic slapstick character, Charlie Chaplin is probably the most famous actor of the silent era. He was involved in every aspect of filmmaking, including writing, directing, editing, scoring, and distribution. Perhaps his defining role came after the transition to talkies however, a change which Chaplin didn’t always support. “The Great Dictator” took on Hitler and the Nazis at a time when some countries still upheld appeasement policies toward Germany. Today, the film is one of cinema’s most famous satires.
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