Welcome to this year’s look at the great and good amongst movie actors, those stars who keep us coming back to the cinema time after time, and help put as many bums on seats as they possibly can. As with last year’s list, I was going to do this post nearer to Xmas to get a picture of the year as a whole, but with the summer period now over (bar the screams from those who’ve yet to see It), there has been enough movement to warrant returning it to its usual appearance in September. In the lower half there are some changes as we say goodbye to Michael Caine and Anthony Daniels, but the upper half still resembles a shoving match at a Russell Crowe impersonators’ convention. So whose turn is it in the top spot this year? Read on to find out.
NOTE: HGM stands for Highest Grossing Movie, and the figures represent the worldwide gross. And all figures are courtesy of boxofficemojo.com.
10 – Johnny Depp / HGM: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) – $1,066,179,725
Last year’s number nine drops one place and faces dropping even further, despite his appearance in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and a cameo in J.K. Rowling’s franchise starter, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Depp hasn’t impressed since he played James “Whitey” Bulger in Black Mass (2015), and before then you have to go back to Public Enemies (2009). If he’s going to retain his place on the list then he’ll need to make some much better choices than he has done over the last ten years or so, but looking at the movies he has got lined up, his place on the list next year isn’t guaranteed.
9 – Ian McKellen / HGM: Beauty and the Beast (2017) – $1,262,852,042
The first of the two new entrants on the list, McKellen’s placement is due entirely to his playing a clock in a movie that was always going to do well at the box office even as it drained the magic out of its story with every scene. With this and his appearances as Gandalf in a certain sextet of movies, McKellen may hold on to a place in the Top 10 come this time next year, but with only a couple of voice roles and a reworking of Hamlet on the horizon, McKellen is just as vulnerable as Johnny Depp, and may make a swift return back to the outer fringes of the list.
8 – Tom Cruise / HGM: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) – $694,713,380
Last year, and despite his being at number seven on the list, Cruise was considered to be something of a good bet to be off the list this year, but here he is, down one to eight and hanging in there (no pun intended) despite a relatively poor showing for Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and a disastrous showing for The Mummy. Cruise has yet another impossible mission to go on next year (if he can remain uninjured for the rest of the shoot that is), but otherwise his slate is pretty clear. Whether that means anything though is yet to be seen…
7 – Stanley Tucci / HGM: Beauty and the Beast (2017) – $1,262,852,042
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the other new entrant on the list is also there because he’s played an inanimate object given specious life, but Tucci’s appearances in the Hunger Games quartet have also helped boost him to the number seven spot. Tucci is keeping himself busy with a number of upcoming projects, but none of them scream huge box office winner, so his continued appearance here is just as hard to predict as his fellow thespians below him. Still, it’s good to see someone who’s generally regarded as a supporting actor make it onto the list, even if it does only turn out to be for this year.
6 – Eddie Murphy / HGM: Shrek 2 (2004) – $919,838,758
Murphy’s downward slide since this thread began comes to a halt, and he continues to provide proof that you don’t have to be appearing in every latest blockbuster under the sun in order to make the list, and that you don’t even have to be making that many anyway. Murphy is attached to just three projects at present, and only one of them, the long-proposed sequel to Twins (1988), is anywhere near being made, but it probably won’t make the slightest difference to his position on the list. And that’s completely and totally okay.
5 – Robert Downey Jr / HGM – The Avengers (2012) – $1,518,812,988
Another non-mover on the list, Downey Jr’s place is likely to be much higher next year once Avengers: Infinity War hits our screens, empties our wallets, and paves the way for Untitled Avengers Movie in 2019. He has a couple of equally high profile projects heading our way as well – the long-rumoured third Sherlock Holmes movie, and The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle – so Downey Jr could well be in contention for a top three spot come September next year.
4 – Morgan Freeman / HGM: The Dark Knight (2008) – $1,004,558,444
Another non-mover, Freeman’s presence on the list – like Murphy’s – is a potent reminder that sometimes it only takes a handful of successful movies to make the list. After that, you can make as many small, financially under-achieiving movies as you like and it won’t make a difference. Like Tucci he’s keeping himself busy over the next year – including, God help us, appearing in Angel Has Fallen – but whatever happens, his place on the list is assured for some time to come.
3 – Tom Hanks / HGM: Toy Story 3 (2010) – $1,066,969,703
Even though Hanks is still in third place for the second year running, and even though he’s made a few unsuccessful choices in the last few years – Sully aside, of course – he’s still made enough bona fide classics and box office successes to keep his place in the top five until the end of recorded time and beyond. There’s the small matter of a fourth Toy Story movie coming up, but that’s not until 2019, and in the meantime there aren’t that many projects with Hanks’ name attached to them. He may well be slowing down, or maybe he’s becoming more choosy. Either way, he’s not going anywhere except a place or two down the list; out of it altogether, though? Not a chance.
2 – Harrison Ford / HGM: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – $2,068,223,624
So Ford’s reign at the top lasts just a year, and though his dropping down to second place isn’t entirely surprising, whether or not he’ll drop another place next year may not be so surprising either. With only Blade Runner 2049 occupying his time between now and 2020’s Untitled Indiana Jones Project (they do know he’ll be seventy-eight by then, right?), Ford doesn’t have to work if he doesn’t want to, and if he doesn’t it won’t have too much of an effect on the list – he’ll still be on it somewhere – but having hit the top spot, it would be a shame to see him out of contention in the years to come.
1 – Samuel L. Jackson / HGM: The Avengers (2012) – $1,518,812,988
He’s back, he’s… ah, you get the gist. The sweariest actor this side of Joe Pesci in GoodFellas (1990) continues to dominate the list, aided by the success of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and Kong: Skull Island. Jackson makes a lot of movies each year, some of which are big box office draws, others that don’t fare so well, and others that just make the viewer want to scream “motherf*cker!” at the screen they’re so bad (The Legend of Tarzan, anyone?). And even though Jackson as Nick Fury won’t be in Avengers: Infinity War, he’s got plenty of other movies in the pipeline that should bring huge box office returns. Still at the top next year? Don’t bet against it.