The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary British Actors of all time. This list of famous British Actors is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of British Actors.
With an HPI of 90.72, Charlie Chaplin is the most famous British Actor. His biography has been translated into 182 different languages on wikipedia.
Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977) was an English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer who rose to fame in the era of silent film. He became a worldwide icon through his screen persona, The Tramp, and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry. His career spanned more than 75 years, from childhood in the Victorian era until a year before his death in 1977, and encompassed both adulation and controversy. Chaplin's childhood in London was one of poverty and hardship, as his father was absent and his mother struggled financially, and he was sent to a workhouse twice before the age of nine. When he was 14, his mother was committed to a mental asylum. Chaplin began performing at an early age, touring music halls and later working as a stage actor and comedian. At 19, he was signed to the prestigious Fred Karno company, which took him to America. He was scouted for the film industry and began appearing in 1914 for Keystone Studios. He soon developed the Tramp persona and formed a large fan base. He directed his own films and continued to hone his craft as he moved to the Essanay, Mutual, and First National corporations. By 1918, he was one of the best-known figures in the world. In 1919, Chaplin co-founded the distribution company United Artists, which gave him complete control over his films. His first feature-length film was The Kid (1921), followed by A Woman of Paris (1923), The Gold Rush (1925), and The Circus (1928). He initially refused to move to sound films in the 1930s, instead producing City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936) without dialogue. He became increasingly political, and his first sound film was The Great Dictator (1940), which satirised Adolf Hitler. The 1940s were a decade marked with controversy for Chaplin, and his popularity declined rapidly. He was accused of communist sympathies, and some members of the press and public found his involvement in a paternity suit, and marriages to much younger women, scandalous. An FBI investigation was opened, and Chaplin was forced to leave the United States and settle in Switzerland. He abandoned the Tramp in his later films, which include Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Limelight (1952), A King in New York (1957), and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in, and composed the music for most of his films. He was a perfectionist, and his financial independence enabled him to spend years on the development and production of a picture. His films are characterised by slapstick combined with pathos, typified in the Tramp's struggles against adversity. Many contain social and political themes, as well as autobiographical elements. He received an Honorary Academy Award for "the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century" in 1972, as part of a renewed appreciation for his work. He continues to be held in high regard, with The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator often ranked on lists of the greatest films of all time.
With an HPI of 84.81, Anthony Hopkins is the 2nd most famous British Actor. His biography has been translated into 93 different languages.
Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins (born 31 December 1937) is a Welsh actor, director, producer, composer, and painter who holds both British and American citizenship. He is the recipient of multiple accolades, including an Academy Award, four BAFTAs, two Emmys, and the Cecil B. DeMille Award. In 1993, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the arts. Hopkins received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003 and the BAFTA Fellowship for lifetime achievement from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 2008. After graduating from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in 1957, Hopkins trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and was then spotted by Laurence Olivier who invited him to join the Royal National Theatre in 1965. Productions at the National included King Lear, his favourite Shakespeare play. His last stage play was a West End production of M. Butterfly in 1989. In 1968, Hopkins achieved recognition in film, playing Richard the Lionheart in The Lion in Winter. In the mid-1970s, Richard Attenborough, who would direct five Hopkins films, called him "the greatest actor of his generation." In 1991, he portrayed Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, winning the Academy Award for Best Actor. He reprised the role in its sequel Hannibal and the prequel Red Dragon. Other notable films include The Elephant Man (1980), 84 Charing Cross Road (1987), Howards End (1992), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), Shadowlands (1993), Legends of the Fall (1994), Meet Joe Black (1998), The Mask of Zorro (1998), Thor (2011), Thor: The Dark World (2013), Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), and Thor: Ragnarok (2017). He has since been nominated for five other Academy Awards for the films The Remains of the Day (1993), Nixon (1995), Amistad (1997), The Two Popes (2019), and The Father (2020), the latter of which made him the oldest Best Actor nominee to date.Since making his small screen debut with the BBC in 1967, Hopkins has continued to appear on television. In 2015, he starred in the BBC television film The Dresser alongside Ian McKellen. In 2018, he starred in King Lear opposite Emma Thompson. In 2016 and 2018, he starred in the HBO television series Westworld, for which he received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination.
With an HPI of 84.46, Sean Connery is the 3rd most famous British Actor. His biography has been translated into 115 different languages.
Sir Sean Connery (born Thomas Connery; 25 August 1930 – 31 October 2020) was a Scottish actor. He was the first actor to portray fictional British secret agent James Bond on film, starring in seven Bond films between 1962 and 1983. Originating the role in Dr. No, Connery played Bond in six of Eon Productions' entries and made his final appearance in the Jack Schwartzman-produced Never Say Never Again. Connery began acting in smaller theatre and television productions until his breakout role as Bond. Although he did not enjoy the off-screen attention the role gave him, the success of the Bond films brought Connery offers from notable directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Lumet and John Huston. Their films in which Connery appeared included Marnie (1964), The Hill (1965), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Highlander (1986), The Name of the Rose (1986), The Untouchables (1987), as Henry Jones, Sr. in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Hunt for Red October (1990), Dragonheart (1996), The Rock (1996), and Finding Forrester (2000). Connery officially retired from acting in 2006, although he briefly returned for voice-over roles in 2012. His achievements in film were recognised with an Academy Award, two BAFTA Awards (including the BAFTA Fellowship), and three Golden Globes, including the Cecil B. DeMille Award and a Henrietta Award. In 1987, he was made a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France, and he received the US Kennedy Center Honors lifetime achievement award in 1999. Connery was knighted in the 2000 New Year Honours for services to film drama.In 2004, a poll in the UK Sunday Herald recognized Connery as "The Greatest Living Scot" and a 2011 EuroMillions survey named him "Scotland's Greatest Living National Treasure". He was voted by People magazine as the "Sexiest Man Alive" in 1989 and the "Sexiest Man of the Century" in 1999.
With an HPI of 83.54, Richard Burton is the 4th most famous British Actor. His biography has been translated into 71 different languages.
Richard Burton, (; born Richard Walter Jenkins Jr.; 10 November 1925 – 5 August 1984) was a Welsh actor. Noted for his mellifluous baritone voice, Burton established himself as a formidable Shakespearean actor in the 1950s, and he gave a memorable performance of Hamlet in 1964. He was called "the natural successor to Olivier" by critic and dramaturge Kenneth Tynan. A heavy drinker, Burton's purported failure to live up to those expectations disappointed some critics and colleagues and added to his image as a great performer who had wasted his talent. Nevertheless, he is widely regarded as one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation.Burton was nominated for an Academy Award seven times, but never won an Oscar. He was a recipient of BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and Tony Awards for Best Actor. In the mid-1960s, Burton ascended into the ranks of the top box office stars. By the late 1960s, Burton was one of the highest-paid actors in the world, receiving fees of $1 million or more plus a share of the gross receipts. Burton remained closely associated in the public consciousness with his second wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor. The couple's turbulent relationship was rarely out of the news.
With an HPI of 82.50, Elizabeth Taylor is the 5th most famous British Actor. Her biography has been translated into 106 different languages.
Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor (February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011) was an English-American actress, businesswoman, and humanitarian. She began her career as a child actress in the early 1940s and was one of the most popular stars of classical Hollywood cinema in the 1950s. She continued her career successfully into the 1960s, remaining a well-known public figure for the rest of her life. In 1999, the American Film Institute named her the seventh-greatest female screen legend of all time. Born in London to socially prominent American parents, Taylor moved with her family to Los Angeles in 1939. She made her acting debut with a minor role in the Universal Pictures film There's One Born Every Minute (1942), but the studio ended her contract after a year. She was then signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and became a popular teen star after appearing in National Velvet (1944). She transitioned to mature roles in the 1950s, when she starred in the comedy Father of the Bride (1950) and received critical acclaim for her performance in the drama A Place in the Sun (1951). Despite being one of MGM's most bankable stars, Taylor wished to end her career in the early 1950s. She resented the studio's control and disliked many of the films to which she was assigned. She began receiving more enjoyable roles in the mid-1950s, beginning with the epic drama Giant (1956), and starred in several critically and commercially successful films in the following years. These included two film adaptations of plays by Tennessee Williams: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959); Taylor won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for the latter. Although she disliked her role as a call girl in BUtterfield 8 (1960), her last film for MGM, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. During the production of the film Cleopatra in 1961, Taylor and co-star Richard Burton began an extramarital affair, which caused a scandal. Despite public disapproval, they continued their relationship and were married in 1964. Dubbed "Liz and Dick" by the media, they starred in 11 films together, including The V.I.P.s (1963), The Sandpiper (1965), The Taming of the Shrew (1967), and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Taylor received the best reviews of her career for Woolf, winning her second Academy Award and several other awards for her performance. She and Burton divorced in 1974, but reconciled soon after, and remarried in 1975. The second marriage ended in divorce in 1976. Taylor's acting career began to decline in the late 1960s, although she continued starring in films until the mid-1970s, after which she focused on supporting the career of her sixth husband, United States Senator John Warner (R-Virginia). In the 1980s, she acted in her first substantial stage roles and in several television films and series. She became the second celebrity to launch a perfume brand, after Sophia Loren. Taylor was one of the first celebrities to take part in HIV/AIDS activism. She co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research in 1985 and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991. From the early 1990s until her death, she dedicated her time to philanthropy, for which she received several accolades, including the Presidential Citizens Medal. Throughout her career, Taylor's personal life was the subject of constant media attention. She was married eight times to seven men, converted to Judaism, endured several serious illnesses, and led a jet set lifestyle, including assembling one of the most expensive private collections of jewelry in the world. After many years of ill health, Taylor died from congestive heart failure in 2011, at the age of 79.
With an HPI of 81.25, Roger Moore is the 6th most famous British Actor. His biography has been translated into 83 different languages.
Sir Roger George Moore (14 October 1927 – 23 May 2017) was an English actor. He is best known for portraying fictional secret agent James Bond in the Eon Productions film series, playing the character in seven feature films between 1973 and 1985. Moore was the third actor in the role, and his seven appearances as Bond, from Live and Let Die to A View to a Kill, are the most of any actor in the Eon-produced entries.On television, Moore played the lead role of Simon Templar, the title character in the British television series The Saint (1962–1969). He also had roles in some American television shows and films in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including replacing James Garner and portraying Beau Maverick in the Maverick series (1960–1961). Moore starred with Tony Curtis in The Persuaders! television series from 1971 to 1972, and had roles in several theatrical films in the 1970s and 1980s. Moore was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1991 and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003 for services to charity. In 2007, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the film industry. In 2008, the government of France made him a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.
With an HPI of 81.20, Ian McKellen is the 7th most famous British Actor. His biography has been translated into 72 different languages.
Sir Ian Murray McKellen (born 25 May 1939) is an English actor whose career spans six decades. He has performed in genres ranging from Shakespearean and modern theatre to popular fantasy and science fiction. He is the recipient of seven Laurence Olivier Awards, a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a BIF Award, two Saturn Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, and two Critics' Choice Awards. He has also received nominations for two Academy Awards, five Primetime Emmy Awards, and four BAFTAs. He achieved worldwide fame for his film roles, including the titular King in Richard III (1995), James Whale in Gods and Monsters (1998), Magneto in the X-Men films, and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. The BBC states that his "performances have guaranteed him a place in the canon of English stage and film actors". A recipient of every major theatrical award in the UK, McKellen is regarded as a British cultural icon. He started his professional career in 1961 at the Belgrade Theatre as a member of their highly regarded repertory company. In 1965, McKellen made his first West End appearance. In 1969, he was invited to join the Prospect Theatre Company to play the lead parts in Shakespeare's Richard II and Marlowe's Edward II, and he firmly established himself as one of the country's foremost classical actors. In the 1970s, McKellen became a stalwart of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Great Britain. McKellen was knighted in the 1991 New Year Honours for services to the performing arts, and made a Companion of Honour for services to drama and to equality in the 2008 New Year Honours. He is gay and has been open about his sexuality since 1988, and continues to champion LGBT social movements worldwide. He was awarded Freedom of the City of London in October 2014.
With an HPI of 81.09, Maggie Smith is the 8th most famous British Actor. Her biography has been translated into 77 different languages.
Dame Margaret Natalie Smith (born 28 December 1934) is an English actress. She has had an extensive career on stage, film, and television, which began in the mid-1950s. Smith has appeared in more than 60 films and over 70 plays, and is one of Britain's most recognisable actresses. She was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990 for contributions to the performing arts, and a Companion of Honour in 2014 for services to drama.Smith began her career on stage as a student, performing at the Oxford Playhouse in 1952, and made her professional debut on Broadway in New Faces of '56. For her work on the London stage, she has won a record six Best Actress Evening Standard Awards for The Private Ear and The Public Eye (both 1962), Hedda Gabler (1970), Virginia (1981), The Way of the World (1984), Three Tall Women (1994), and A German Life (2019). She received Tony Award nominations for Private Lives (1975) and Night and Day (1979), before winning the 1990 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for Lettice and Lovage. She appeared in Stratford Shakespeare Festival productions of Antony and Cleopatra (1976) and Macbeth (1978), and West End productions of A Delicate Balance (1997) and The Breath of Life (2002). She received the Society of London Theatre Special Award in 2010. On screen, Smith first drew praise for the crime film Nowhere to Go (1958), for which she received her first nomination for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award. She has won two Academy Awards, winning Best Actress for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) and Best Supporting Actress for California Suite (1978). She is one of only seven actresses to have won in both categories. She has won a record four BAFTA Awards for Best Actress, including for A Private Function (1984) and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1988), a BAFTA Best Supporting Actress for Tea with Mussolini (1999), and three Golden Globe Awards. She received four other Oscar nominations for Othello (1965), Travels with My Aunt (1972), A Room with a View (1985), and Gosford Park (2001).Smith played Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter film series (2001–2011). Her other films include Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973), Death on the Nile (1978), Clash of the Titans (1981), Evil Under the Sun (1982), Hook (1991), Sister Act (1992), Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993), The Secret Garden (1993), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012), and The Lady in the Van (2015). She won an Emmy Award in 2003 for My House in Umbria, to become one of the few actresses to have achieved the Triple Crown of Acting, and starred as Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, on Downton Abbey (2010–2015), for which she won three Emmys, her first non-ensemble Screen Actors Guild Award, and her third Golden Globe. Her honorary film awards include the BAFTA Special Award in 1993 and the BAFTA Fellowship in 1996. She received the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's Legacy Award in 2012, and the Bodley Medal by the University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries in 2016.
With an HPI of 80.96, Christopher Lee is the 9th most famous British Actor. His biography has been translated into 99 different languages.
Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, (27 May 1922 – 7 June 2015) was an English actor, singer and author. With a career spanning nearly seven decades, Lee was well known for portraying villains, gaining recognition for appearing as Count Dracula in a sequence of Hammer Horror films. His other film roles include Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel trilogy (2002–2005), and Saruman in both the Lord of the Rings film trilogy (2001–2003) and the Hobbit film trilogy (2012–2014). Lee was knighted for services to drama and charity in 2009, received the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011, and received the BFI Fellowship in 2013. Lee credited three films "for bringing me to the fore" as an actor, A Tale of Two Cities (1958), in which he played the villainous marquis, and two horror films, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958). He considered his best performance to be that of Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the biopic Jinnah (1998), and his best film to be the British cult film The Wicker Man (1973). He frequently appeared opposite his friend Peter Cushing in many horror films, and late in his career had roles in five Tim Burton films.Prior to his acting career, Lee served in the Royal Air Force, where he was attached to the No. 260 Squadron RAF as an intelligence officer where he was a liaison officer for the Special Operations Executive, although he was unlikely to have been behind enemy lines. Following his World War II service he retired from the RAF in 1946 with the rank of flight lieutenant. Always noted as an actor for his deep, strong voice, Lee was also known for his singing ability, recording various opera and musical pieces between 1986 and 1998, and the symphonic metal album Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross in 2010, after having worked with several metal bands since 2005. The heavy metal follow-up Charlemagne: The Omens of Death was released on 27 May 2013, Lee's 91st birthday. He was honoured with the "Spirit of Hammer" award at the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards ceremony.
With an HPI of 80.86, Michael Caine is the 10th most famous British Actor. His biography has been translated into 92 different languages.
Sir Michael Caine (born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite Jr., 14 March 1933) is an English actor. Known for his distinctive Cockney accent, he has appeared in more than 130 films during a career spanning over 60 years, and is considered a British film icon. As of February 2017, the films in which he has appeared have grossed over $7.8 billion worldwide. He is ranked at No. 20 on the list of highest-grossing box office stars.Caine made his breakthrough in the 1960s with starring roles in British films such as Zulu (1964), The Ipcress File (1965), Alfie (1966), The Italian Job (1969), and Battle of Britain (1969). He was nominated for an Academy Award for Alfie. His roles in the 1970s included Get Carter (1971), The Last Valley (1971), Sleuth (1972), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), and A Bridge Too Far (1977). He earned his second Academy Award nomination for Sleuth and went on to achieve some of his greatest critical success in the 1980s, with Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill (1980), and Educating Rita (1983) earning him the BAFTA and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor. In 1986 he received great acclaim for his performance in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters earning him his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Caine is also known for his performance as Ebenezer Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), and for his comedic roles in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), Miss Congeniality (2000), Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), and Secondhand Lions (2003). He received his second Golden Globe Award for Little Voice (1998). In 1999, he received his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as a sympathetic doctor in The Cider House Rules. In 2002 he received acclaim as a conflicted British journalist in Vietnam in The Quiet American (2002) earning his sixth Academy Award nomination. In 2006 he appeared in Alfonso Cuaron's dystopian drama film Children of Men (2006). Caine gained worldwide popularity for his portrayal of Alfred Pennyworth in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012). He appeared in several other of Nolan's films, including The Prestige (2006), Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014), and Tenet (2020). He also appeared in the heist thriller film Now You See Me (2013), and the action comedy film Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), and the Italian drama Youth (2015) which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Alongside Laurence Olivier, Paul Newman, and Jack Nicholson, Caine is one of only four male actors to be nominated for an Academy Award for acting in five decades. Caine has appeared in seven films that featured in the British Film Institute's 100 greatest British films of the 20th century. In 2000, he received a BAFTA Fellowship and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his contribution to cinema.
Pantheon has 1,135 people classified as actors born between 1566 and 2007. Of these 1,135, 840 (74.01%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living actors include Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, and Ian McKellen. The most famous deceased actors include Charlie Chaplin, Richard Burton, and Elizabeth Taylor. As of October 2020, 104 new actors have been added to Pantheon including Anthony Dawson, Patrick Magee, and Ray Cooney.
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Which Actors were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Actors since 1700.