Top Ten British Actors of All Time



There are reasons why we are called Great Britain, and the following are ten of the very best. We're counting down our picks for the Top Ten actors from the United Kingdom. We're talking about homegrown male actors who have garnered international fame and success, and these are the greatest of all time so there are no era-specific boundaries.

10. Cary Grant


If there has ever been an archetype for Hollywood's leading man then Cary Grant is it. The English actor gained American citizenship in 1942 (such was his impact in the States) and he remains one of Britain's best exports. From 'Bringing Up Baby' to 'The Philadelphia Story' and 'Notorious', Grant proved he could do screwball and romcom just as well as he could do thriller. He was an all-star all-rounder and the perfect choice for opener on our list.


9. Alan Rickman


Classically criminal or criminally classy? Alan Rickman trod the line between the bad and the beautiful with a skill that very few actors possess. In 'Die Hard' as Hans Grubber he very nearly hypnotised us into vying for the villain. And in Harry Potter, he slipped between murderous and misunderstood as Severus Snake. Even in 'Love Actually' he managed to play a loveable adulterer. Alan Rickman, we don't know how you did it, but we thank you.


8. Sir Ian McKellen


With a career as long as Gandalf's whiskery white beard, McKellen waited quite a while to achieve absolute superstardom, and he deserved it when it came. At the turn of the millennium, he was cast as the evil Magneto in 'X-Men', but he clearly wanted more than simple malevolence. In 2001, McKellen assumed the role of Gandalf in 'TLOTR' and proved he could be as wonderful at being a wizard as he was at being wicked.


7. Sir Charlie Chaplin


A truly great Britain, Chaplin isn't just an icon within the UK, he's an icon within motion picture history. As his character 'The Tramp' Chaplin brought style and slapstick together to create a unique brand of humour that was often copied but never bettered. He was a United Artists co-founder in 1919, a well-known perfectionist throughout his career and a sometimes controversial figure within the industry. 'The Kid' made him, 'City Lights' made him even better, and 'The Great Dictator' confirmed him as a legend.


6. Gary Oldman


A wide cinematic range is a common feature on this list, but there aren't many who can boast a variety of roles to rival Gary Oldman. He rose to fame playing punk rocker Sid Vicious, gained worldwide recognition for his portrayal of the presidential assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, the notorious vampire, Count Dracula and he also became well know with kids all around the world for his role in 'Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban'. Not to mention Gotham City's good guy, Commissioner Gordon. Oldman makes acting look easy.

5. Peter O'Toole


Scoring a solid 5th place but falling short of our podium is Peter O'Toole. An incredible actor, that he should just miss out on the top spots is reflective of his career. O'Toole achieved a record of eight Academy Award nominations without once winning the golden statuette. Though his title role in 'Lawrence of Arabia' is probably his most famous, this Thespian was at his best when given epic parts. He played Henry II twice, Hamlet once and even if he never won an Oscar he did win absolute international respect.

4. Lord Laurence Olivier


This countdown contains a few Sirs, but Olivier is the only Lord to make our list. He took acting to an altogether different level during the 40s and 50s, bringing a particular sophistication to the silver screen. That he found most success adapting the works of William Shakespeare is proof enough that he is one of the UK's own. And one of our greatest. But the longevity of Olivier's career is also incredible. As an actor, he was active for 62 years.

3. Sir Michael Caine


As a youngster, Caine was exciting. At middle age he was excellent. As an older man, he's exemplary. Michael Caine didn't exactly get better with age but only because he was so good to begin with. As a Londoner growing up with a clear Cockney accent he might have easily been typecast. However, Caine proved versatile enough to play an army officer in 'Zulu', dangerous enough to get the title role in 'Get Carter' and charming enough as Charlie Crocker in 'The Italian Job'. And those were just the beginnings of a brilliant British career.


2. Sir Anthony Hopkins


Few actors possess an intensity the likes of which seems to flow through this man's body when he appears on stage or on screen. Anthony Hopkins can play classical, criminal and downright creepy. And he does it all with a steely glint in his eye and an enigmatic edge to his tone. The Welshman will probably always be best remembered for his role as Hannibal Lector in 'Silence of The Lambs' and with or without his straight jacket, he has been firmly locked up in our second spot.


Before we come to the top spot, here's another couple of brilliant actors we simply couldn't let slip by without at least an honourable mention:


Sir Alec Guinness, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Sir Christopher Lee, Ewan McGregor and last but not least, Christian Bale.


1. Sir Daniel Day-Lewis


Another crowned knight of Queen Elizabeth II's roundtable, we're pretty sure Sir Daniel Day-Lewis will be just as proud to take the top position on our list. His career has length but it doesn't particular volume. Day-Lewis is notoriously choosy about his roles, but he is unfalteringly brilliant in nearly everything he does. A meticulous method actor, he doesn't just portray his characters, he lives them. Anyone who can convince us he's Bill the Butcher one moment and Abraham Lincoln the next clearly has range and ridiculous amounts of talent.


Do you agree with our list? Why not drop us a line and tell us who we missed out and why? We'd love to hear who your favourite British actors are. Happy viewing!

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