Hollywood Film Legends: 25 Best Actors and Actresses of the 20th Century

From Marlon Brando's raw intensity to Audrey Hepburn's timeless beauty and grace, some incredible actors and actresses have shaped the film industry. Their legacies continue to inspire and entertain audiences today. Here are 25 of the best actors and actresses from the 20th century.

1. Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando 1953
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

The first movie with Marlon Brando that I ever saw was Julius Caesar, where he played the amiable character of Mark Antony, and I thought he was strikingly good-looking. Known for his intense and brooding performances, Brando is considered one of the greatest actors ever.

2. Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn
Image Credit: Embassy Pictures.

Katharine Hepburn is one actress who completely rocks her roles. Critics have praised her for taking up complex parts and making the best of them. A trailblazer for women in Hollywood, Hepburn won four Academy Awards for Best Actress, the most for any performer.

3. Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart 1
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

A true icon of the noir genre, Bogart's tough-guy persona and calm demeanor made him one of Hollywood's biggest stars. His role in the film High Sierra was his breakthrough to stardom.

4. Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest actresses of her generation, Meryl Streep has been nominated for a record-breaking 21 Academy Awards. She's the kind of actress who is not only versatile in her roles, but also has excellent accent adaptability.

5. James Stewart

James Stewart
Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

Known for his everyman charm and likability, Stewart was one of Hollywood's most beloved actors. James is the actor every aspiring actor wants to be. Writer Scott Eyman described him as an instinctive actor. Despite his shy off-screen personality, he was natural and at ease in front of the camera.

6. Bette Davis

Bette Davis 1943
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Unarguably, Bette Davis is a true Hollywood legend. Her career spanned six decades. She was known for her intense and compelling performances. Directors had little work to do on her on set and always longed to have Davis star in their movies.

7. Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn 1966 20th Century Studios
Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

Audrey Hepburn was a British actress, model, dancer, and humanitarian. She is known for her charming and elegant appearance, evident in her films, such as Breakfast at Tiffany's, Roman Holiday, and My Fair Lady. Her style and grace have made her an iconic figure in Hollywood and a beloved actress to this day.

8. Paul Newman

Cool Hand Luke 1967 Paul Newman
Image Credit: Warner Bros.-Seven Arts.

Paul Newman was an American actor, director, and producer. He is known for his roles in films such as Cool Hand Luke, The Hustler, and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. He was also known for his philanthropy work and for founding Newman's Own, a food company that donates all its profits to charity.

9. Gregory Peck

The Guns of Naverone 1961 Gregory Peck
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Gregory Peck's performances in the popular films To Kill a Mockingbird and Roman Holiday have had him at the top of the best actors list by critics. He had a career that spanned over five decades, won an Academy Award for Best Actor, and was respected in Hollywood and beyond.

10. Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman
Image Credit: AB Fribergs Filmbyrå.

One thing I can tell you about Ingrid Bergman is that she was a stellar performer. With her natural beauty and captivating performances, Bergman became one of Hollywood's most beloved actresses, winning three Academy Awards and starring in classics like Casablanca and Notorious.

11. Spencer Tracy

Spencer Tracy 1942
Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Loew's Inc.

Spencer Tracy was a consummate actor who won two Academy Awards for Best Actor for his Captain Courageous and Boys Town roles. He starred in many other classic films, including Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Adam's Rib.

12. Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor A Place in the Sun Paramount Pictures
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Most are familiar with the name Elizabeth Taylor, an actress who was known for her beauty, talent, and turbulent personal life. She won two Academy Awards for Best Actress for her roles in Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She starred in many other classic films, including Cleopatra and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She was a powerhouse!

13. Laurence Olivier

Laurence Olivier 1960
Image Credit: Bryanston Films.

When they describe one as the “actor's actor,” you know what stuff they are made of. Laurence Olivier was a British actor who brought Shakespeare to the masses. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Hamlet. He also starred in many other classic films, including Wuthering Heights and Spartacus.

14. Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo 1931
Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Greta Garbo was a Swedish actress who captivated audiences with her natural beauty and emotional depth. She starred in many classic films, including Anna Karenina and Grand Hotel.

15. Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich 1931
Image Credit: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.

Marlene Dietrich was that one actress who defied convention with her androgynous style and powerful performances. She starred in many classic films, including The Blue Angel and Witness for the Prosecution, and was known for her iconic song “Falling in Love Again.”

16. Clark Gable

Clark Gable 1936
Image Credit: Loews Cineplex Entertainment.

Sometimes, you lack words to describe someone phenomenal, and Clark Gable is surely that kind of actor. Known as the “King of Hollywood,” Clark Gable was a leading man who brought charm and charisma to his roles. Winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in It Happened One Night was, of course, expected.

17. Sidney Poitier

Uptown Saturdayb Night 1974 Sidney Poitier
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Sidney Poitier was an American actor who broke down racial barriers in Hollywood with his dynamic performances. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field.

18. Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin 1925
Image Credit: Wiki Commons – Doctor Macro.

Charlie Chaplin was a comedic genius who revolutionized the film industry with his unique brand of comedy. He was phenomenal at combining writing, directing, and producing, yet he kept up with the list of best actors of the 20th century. Judge for yourself after watching these classic films: The Kid, City Lights, and Modern Times.

19. Tom Hanks

shutterstock 275775614 scaled e1675536351460
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

It's impossible to find a person who dislikes Tom Hanks, as he's one of the best actors of our time, and with good reason. With over five decades of acting under his belt, he's played every possible role you can imagine. From cowboy to astronaut to Elvis' manager. He's the human equivalent of a warm blanket on a cold night.

20. James Dean

James Dean 1955
Image Credit: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis.

James Dean was a cultural icon and one of the most promising actors of his generation. He starred in only three major films, East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. Still, his performances left a lasting impact on Hollywood.

21. Montgomery Clift

Montgomery Clift 1949
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Montgomery Clift was a method actor who was known for his intense, brooding performances. Montgomery starred in films like A Place in the Sun and From Here to Eternity.

22. Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly Film Fourteen Hours 1951 20th Century Studios
Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

Grace Kelly was an American actress who became a princess when she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Country Girl and also starred in classic films like Rear Window and To Catch a Thief.

23. Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck in Forty Guns
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Barbara Stanwyck was known for her versatility in acting. She could practically play tough and vulnerable characters, switching in the blink of an eye. She was featured in many classic films, including Double Indemnity and The Lady Eve.

24. Cary Grant

Cary Grant 1943
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Do you want to see a suave, sophisticated actor who epitomized the ideal leading man? Then watch Cary Grant perform! He starred in many classic films, including North by Northwest and Charade. His charm and charisma made him one of the most beloved actors of his time.

25. Judy Garland

Judy Garland - MGM
Image Credit: MGM.

Judy Garland was a talented actress and singer who captured hearts with her performances in classic films such as The Wizard of Oz and A Star Is Born. Her voice and spirit continue to inspire generations of fans today.

Boloere Divine Seibidor, fondly called B.S., is a Nigerian-based writer and poet. Her favorite topics include music, especially Hip-Hop, film, lifestyle, and fashion. She's been published by Feral Journal, Fantasy Magazine, The Temz Review, and most notably, Wealth of Geeks. She enjoys romantic dinners, movie nights, and touring new sights. When she's not writing, she's delving back in time to the underground world of Hip-Hop, watching TikTok, or visiting the cinema.