Which Actors Were in the Best Movies?

There are many subsets in the world of movies.  Best Performance by a Chimpanzee is one (the immortal Cheetah, in “Tarzan and His Mate,” is the clear winner there). Worst Performance by Someone Trying to Throw a Baseball is another. The 10 Lamest Depictions of Jesus. Five Most Disruptive Examples of Speeding Up the Film. You get the idea.

One subset I got to thinking about the other day (a rainy one) is which actors had the good fortune to appear in the best movies. I mean, if you take the best five movies an actor ever performed in, how do those five stack up against everyone else’s top five? I did a little research and came up with the following ranking of my own top group – with a surprising winner (whose acting I don’t even really like very much). Maybe you can think of someone whose top five should be on the list, too. Maybe you can suggest two to fill out my Top 10. Remember, it’s not necessarily a recognition of superior acting, it’s all about the quality of the movies they were in. (And I will have to do actresses next.)

1. Joseph Cotten: Citizen Kane, Gaslight, Shadow of a Doubt, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Third Man.

2. Jimmy Stewart: It’s a Wonderful Life, Vertigo, The Philadelphia Story, The Shop Around the Corner, Anatomy of a Murder.

3. Cary Grant: Notorious, His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story, North by Northwest, Bringing Up Baby.

4. Robert Duvall: The Godfather (I and II), Apocalypse Now, MASH, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lonesome Dove (TV).

5. Dustin Hoffman: The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, Tootsie, All the President’s Men, Kramer Vs. Kramer.

6. Henry Fonda: Grapes of Wrath, The Lady Eve, My Darling Clementine, 12 Angry Men, Fort Apache.

7. Jack Nicholson: Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shining, Reds, 5 Easy Pieces.

8. Claude Rains: The Invisible Man, Now, Voyager, Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Notorious.


One thought on “Which Actors Were in the Best Movies?

  1. John Cazale. I believe he acted in only five feature films, all of which were nominated for or won best picture; The Deer Hunter, The Godfather I & II, The Conversation & Dog Day Afternoon. Godfather II is arguably as good as any American film and the rest are pretty damned good too. More importantly, not a single Ishtar in this oeuvre. Unlike poor Dustin Hoffman who has been stinking up the world with tripey cum treacly dreck since the Kramers went all hammers & tongs. Perhaps it would be fun to make a list of once decent actors who continue to make one crappy film after another, call it the Nic Cage award or something.

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