Can you guess who is the highest grossing actor of all time? You might think it’s Johnny Depp, or Harrison Ford, or Michael Caine – but you’d be wrong.
The key to being one of the highest grossing actors of all time seems to be to get involved in successful franchise movies – it’s the enormous blockbuster success of these titles, plus the endless DVD, TV and streaming replays, which really make for a highest grossing actor. Then there are the image rights and spin-offs – all those little action figures add up to a pretty penny over the years.
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So let’s go through the top ten highest grossing actors of all time, starting from number 10 and working our way up to number 1. See if you can guess who is the highest grossing actor of all time.
10. Michael Caine
Sir Michael Caine, CBE (born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite Jr., 14 March 1933) is another English actor who had a long career starting with starring roles in Zulu (1964), The Ipcress File (1965), and Alfie (1966. His greatest critical successes came in the 1980s with Educating Rita (1983) and in 1986 he received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters.
Again, though, Michael Caine’s place as one of the highest grossing film actors was fixed by his appearance as butler Alfred Pennyworth in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy. He also appeared in several other of Nolan’s films, including The Prestige (2006), Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014), and Tenet (2020).
His movies have grossed over $3.5 billion in the US and over $7.8 billion worldwide.
9. Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman cut his teeth as a serious actor in theatre in 1979 and made his film debut in Remembrance (1982). His burgeoning film career was accompanied by a successful career on the stage. He appeared in Cabaret, Romeo and Juliet, Entertaining Mr Sloane, Saved, The Country Wife, and Hamlet, but really rose to prominence as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy (1986), and Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears (1987).
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His Hollywood career exploited the habit of casting British actors as villains – he appeared in The Fifth Element (1997), Léon: The Professional (1994), and Dracula (1992).
But it’s as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter franchise and James Gordon in The Dark Knight Trilogy that Gary Oldman cemented his place as one of the biggest grossing actors of all time, with an estimate of $11b.
8. Tom Cruise
Like Robert Downey Jr, Tom Cruise’s career hit a sticky patch after early success with films like Risky Business (1983) Top Gun (1986) and Rain Man (1988). Clunkers such as Days of Thunder (1990) and Far and Away (1992) followed, but Tom Cruise’s career got back on track with the Mission Impossible franchise starting in 1996. Perhaps surprisingly, his highest grossing movie is War of the Worlds (2005). He is now regarded as one of the highest paid actors in the world, and one of the 10 highest grossing actors of all time as his films have grossed over $4 billion in North America and over $10.1 billion worldwide.
7. Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman’s career success seems to be as much about longevity as it is appearing in the highest grossing movies. Born in 1937, he won an Academy Award in 2005 for Best Supporting Actor with Million Dollar Baby (2004) and has received Oscar nominations for his performances in Street Smart (1987), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Invictus (2009). He has also appeared in many box office hits, including Glory (1989), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Seven (1995), Deep Impact (1998), The Sum of All Fears (2002), Bruce Almighty (2003), and Wanted (2008).
But his place as one of the highest grossing actors of all time was settled when he landed the part of Lucius Fox, Batman’s technical assistant, in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Morgan Freeman’s movies are estimated to have grossed $4.522 billion in the US alone.
6. Eddie Murphy
After success as a standup comedian, in 48 Hours (1982), in Trading Places (1983), and in the Beverly Hills Cop series (starting (1984), Eddie Murphy plunged into a career slump throughout the 1990s and 2000s – The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002) is on record as one of the biggest theatrical money-losers of all time, grossing just $7 million worldwide on a reported $110 million budget.
While Eddie Murphy’s adult movies performed poorly, his career was revived by children’s films including as a voice actor in the Shrek animated features. His biggest-grossing movie remain Shrek II (2004), though he has now announced a fourth movie in the Beverly Hills Cop franchise. In 2015, his films made him the sixth-highest grossing actor in the United States.
5. Tom Hanks
Born in 1956, Tom Hanks’ films have grossed more than $4.9 billion in North America and more than $9.96 billion worldwide, making him the fifth highest-grossing actor in North America.
His breakthrough leading roles came in comedies Splash (1984) and Big (1988), but he proved his dramatic abilities in Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994). He has worked with Steven Spielberg on five films: Saving Private Ryan (1998), Catch Me If You Can (2002), The Terminal (2004), Bridge of Spies (2015), and The Post (2017), as well as the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers, which launched him as a director, producer, and screenwriter.
As the voice of Sheriff Woody in the Toy Story series, Tom Hanks has taken part in one of the most successful movie franchises of all time. Toy Story is the 20th-highest-grossing franchise worldwide, the fourth-highest-grossing animated franchise, and is among the most critically acclaimed franchises of all time. The films, produced on a total budget of $520 million, have grossed more than $3 billion worldwide.
4. Harrison Ford
If proof were needed that the way to become one of the highest grossing movie actors of all time is to get involved in blockbusting movie franchises, consider the career of Harrison Ford. Almost unknown (except for his part in American Graffiti, 1973) when he was cast as Han Solo in the original Star Wars trilogy (1977), Harrison Ford returned to the role in The Force Awakens (2015) and The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
In between he starred as Jack Ryan in two movies based on the novels of Tom Clancy, Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994), as Rick Deckard in sci-fi classic Blade Runner (1982) and its sequel in 2017, and of course as Indiana Jones in the four movies starting with Raiders of the Lost Ark in 198a
As of 2019, the U.S. domestic box-office grosses of Ford’s films total over $5.1 billion, with worldwide grosses surpassing $9.3 billion, making him the fourth highest-grossing domestic box-office star of all time.
3. Johnny Depp
John Christopher Depp II (born June 9, 1963) is an American actor, producer, and musician, and has been nominated for ten Golden Globe Awards, winning one for Best Actor for his performance of the title role in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). He has appeared in Cry-Baby (1990), Dead Man (1995), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Corpse Bride (2005), Public Enemies (2009), Alice in Wonderland (2010) and its 2016 sequel, The Tourist (2010), Rango (2011), Dark Shadows (2012), The Lone Ranger (2013), and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018), but the role he is best known for, Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, 2003–present, cemented his place as the third highest-grossing actor worldwide, as his films have grossed over US$3.7 billion at the United States box office and over US$10 billion worldwide.
2. Robert Downey Jr.
After success in early years in Weird Science (1985), Less Than Zero (1987) and Chaplin (1992), Robert Downey Jr. struggled with drug abuse which derailed his career for many years. Making a comeback first on TV in Ally McBeal then As Tony Stark in the Marvel Comics Universe movies, he redeemed himself to the extent that he’s now regarded as the second highest-grossing actor of all time, as his films have grossed over $14.4 billion worldwide.
1. Samuel L. Jackson
Born in 1948, Samuel L Jackson is another example of a prolific, jobbing actor whose long career was capped by involvement in several blockbusting movie franchises.
He rose to fame with films including Goodfellas (1990), Jungle Fever (1991), Patriot Games (1992), Amos & Andrew (1993), True Romance (1993), and Jurassic Park (1993), but really broke through with his part in the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction (1994), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
He has appeared in over 150 films, including the Star Wars prequel trilogy (1999–2005), and 11 of the Marvel Comic Universe films in which he played Nick Fury. Films in which he has appeared have collectively grossed over $27 billion worldwide, making him officially the highest-grossing actor of all time.
So it turns out that if you think the highest grossing actor of all time is Johnny Depp, or Harrison Ford, or Michael Caine, you’d be wrong.