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There are some actors who can practically guarantee a good box office return for their movies, no matter what the subject matter is, who the director is, the genre, or their co-stars.  It’s these stars who can make all the difference as to whether or not a movie has just a strong opening weekend, or develops (as the industry has it) “legs”.  Here is the current Top 10, based on the box office returns for their career to date.  Some of the stars might come as a surprise – I was completely bowled over by the actor at No 2 – while most of their biggest grossing movies probably won’t, but overall this is an intriguing glimpse into how successful an actor can be if they choose their projects wisely.

NOTE: HGM stands for Highest Grossing Movie, and the figures represent the worldwide gross.  And all figures are courtesy of boxofficemojo.com.

10 – Robert Downey Jr / HGM: The Avengers (2012) – $1,518,594,910

Robert Downey Jr - The Avengers

With The Avengers (2012) weighing in at number three on the all-time box office list, it’s not exactly a stretch to expect one of that movie’s cast to be included in the list, but Downey Jr might not be your first choice (the motherf*cker at number three might earn that approval), but it’s safe to say that his career renaissance has helped him tremendously (although it does seem to have been going on for some time now).  Downey Jr’s arch mannerisms and free styling acting abilities make him immensely likeable, and he has a charisma that virtually bounces off the screen (and is even more effective in 3D).  With another outing (or two) for Marvel on the horizon it’s unlikely he’ll drop out of the Top 10 anytime soon, and may even head on up the list once a certain bad guy called Ultron gets his comeuppance.

9 – Johnny Depp / HGM: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) – $1,066,709,725

Johnny Depp - Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man's Chest

Depp’s inclusion in the list is thanks mainly to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but he’s made enough mildly successful movies over the last thirty years to warrant his placing.  Depp’s choices haven’t always been the most box office friendly – The Man Who Cried (2001), anyone? – but he’s a mercurial actor, always watchable, and he’s often the best part of any movie he appears in.  Upcoming movies might include a further instalment in the Pirates series, but even if that doesn’t happen, Depp is likely to remain a reliable box office draw for some time to come.

8 – Robin Williams / HGM: Night at the Museum (2006) – $574,480,841

Robin Williams - Night at the Museum

Williams isn’t someone I would have expected to have been so high up on the list, but on closer inspection, he’s appeared in over a dozen movies that have taken over $100 million at the box office, as well as several movies that have performed better than they may have been expected to, such as Insomnia (2002) and Flubber (1997).  Bearing this in mind it seems Williams makes more right choices than most, and has a canny knack of picking movies that, while savaged by critics, still bring home the moolah.  With a third Museum movie due this December, and a follow-up to Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) in the works as well, it’ll be a while before Williams’ ranking is likely to change.

7 – Bruce Willis / HGM: The Sixth Sense (1999) – $672,806,292

Bruce Willis - The Sixth Sense

The fact that Willis’s HGM is the brilliant The Sixth Sense is one of the nicest surprises to come out of exploring the list, and shows that no matter how many blockbuster movies an actor appears in – and the Die Hard series hasn’t been as successful as you might think – it’s the movies that sneak in under the radar, as M. Night Shyamalan’s eerie chiller thriller did, that make all the difference.  Everyone’s favourite everyman action star will probably continue to balance big-budget extravaganzas with more idiosyncratic fare (and remind us what a good actor he really is), but if he does he’ll still be the likeable rogue that we’ve all come to appreciate.

6 – Tom Cruise / HGM: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) – $694,713,380

Tom Cruise - Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol

You might have expected Cruise to be further up the list, his well-known box office mojo putting him in the top three, say, but while he has a proven track record, his recent movies haven’t really set the box office alight.  Edge of Tomorrow is still out there crunching numbers (and Mimics), but in the US it hasn’t cracked the $100 million mark yet, and movies such as Jack Reacher (2012) and Oblivion (2013) have under-performed, even overseas where Cruise is even more popular.  And yet, Cruise has a fan base that will continue to keep him in the Top 10, and with another Mission in the works, his place is assured for some time to come.

5 – Eddie Murphy / HGM: Shrek 2 (2004) – $919,838,758

Donkey - Shrek 2

Trading very much on past glories, Murphy has an animated donkey to thank for his high ranking, along with some of his older movies that have remained popular after thirty years – yes, that’s how long it’s been since Beverly Hills Cop came out.  His wisecracking, cracker-baiting manner earned him box office pre-eminence back in the Eighties, but since then it’s been a long slog, with only the Shrek franchise and an Oscar-nominated turn in Dreamgirls (2006) to remind us how good he actually is.  Axel Foley should be back on our screens in 2016, and if that potential treat is prepped right, then Murphy’s place on the list should be assured.

4 – Harrison Ford / HGM: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) – $786,636,033

Harrison Ford - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

While Star Wars (1977) might have been the obvious choice as Ford’s top movie at the box office, it’s the fourth (and least) of the Indiana Jones movies that takes first place.  But two of the biggest franchises in movie history alas haven’t been as profitable at the box office as you might think, and so my choice for the top spot can only make it to number four.  Still, Ford has been consistent at the box office for forty years now and that’s no mean feat, and with the upcoming Star Wars sequels, as well as the oft-wished for Blade Runner sequel likely to happen at long last, his place in the top five should be secure for quite a while.

3 – Samuel L. Jackson / HGM: The Avengers (2012) – $1,518,594,910

Samuel L. Jackson - The Avengers

Joining his S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague, Mr Downey Jr, Jackson secures the third spot by virtue of being in just about every movie made in the last twenty years, and by appearing in two other movies that have broken the $1 billion barrier, namely Jurassic Park (1993) and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999).  Even movies such as XXX (2002) and S.W.A.T. (2003) have performed in excess of expectations, while Jackson’s gruff but likeable screen persona is consistently entertaining (and even endearing).  With the second Avengers movie hitting cinemas next year, as well as further Marvel appearances (including his own Nick Fury movie) alongside a whole raft of other projects, the second hardest working Afro-American in movies isn’t going anywhere anytime soon from this list.

2 – Morgan Freeman / HGM: The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – $1,084,439,099

Morgan Freeman - The Dark Knight Rises

The hardest working Afro-American in movies – all rise for the man who has played both God and the President of the United States – Freeman has a pretty impressive box office resumé dating all the way back to Driving Miss Daisy (1989).  He’s the star you can always rely on, even in the direst piece of rubbish – Moll Flanders (1996) – or the movie that should have been a lot better but wasn’t – Invictus (2009).  With his rich, mellifluous tones, and friendly patrician manner, Freeman’s presence in a movie is sometimes all you need.  He’s as busy as ever, with several projects in various stages of completion, but rest assured, he’s not retiring anytime soon, thus ensuring his very surprising place on the list.

1 – Tom Hanks / HGM: Toy Story 3 (2010) – $1,063,171,911

Tom Hanks - Toy Story 3

Capturing the number one spot with ease, and with a slew of movies that have all been strong performers at the box office, Hanks rules the roost thanks to the Toy Story trilogy mainly, and some obviously clever choices made in a career that dates back to 1980.  As dependable an actor as you’re ever likely to see, Hanks may not be as prolific as his nearest rivals, but he is one of the most consistent actors working in movies today, and his wry, affable charm is always a pleasure to watch.  The good news?  He’s working with Steven Spielberg again.  The bad news?  He’s also making another appearance as Robert Langdon in The Lost Symbol (release date to be confirmed).  Either way, his place at the top of the tree should be okay for now, but let’s see what happens when Avengers: Age of Ultron blasts onto our screens next April.