12 Highest Grossing Actors Of All-TimePublished on March 19, 2015. Updated April 3, 2017
There are a few keys to success if you want to become one of the 12 Highest Grossing Actors Of All-Time. First, you have to be willing to put in the work necessary to become a really, really good actor. Secondly, you have to be able to put together a relatively long career filled with successful movies and thirdly, you have to be able to cash in big and build a franchise around your most financially successful flicks.
Those are the common themes you’ll notice when you roll through this list. Unfortunately for women in Hollywood, all of the top 12 Highest Grossing Actors Of All-Time are male, but it should be noted that Cameron Diaz comes in at the number 14 spot, grossing well over $3.025 billion at the box office in the 34 movies she’s appeared in throughout her career. As promised here are the top 12.
12. Robert Downey Jr.
If there is one actor that will be eternally grateful for the concept of comic book-based movies it would be none other than Robert Downey Jr. From 1996 to 2001, he was arrested multiple times for drug-related offenses and it seemed like his career might be over. Fast forward to today, and it’s been so long since that time that most of us can’t even remember what his career used to be like before movies like the Iron Man series put him back on the map.
That big break came in 2008 and Downey Jr. continued to do well with the release of the movie Tropic Thunder. Just like that he was back and now that it’s been seven years since the Iron Man movies have made their return, and Downey Jr.’s bank account has never been stacked with more money. The comic book-based movie The Avengers racked up over $623 million at the box office bringing the total gross earnings of Downey Jr.’s movies to over 3.08 billion dollars, enough to give him the number 12 spot. For that amount of money any of us would put a heavy iron suit on, but nobody would do it with the charisma and humor of Robert Downey Jr.Featureflash / Shutterstock.com
11. Ian McKellen
When you’ve made as much money in the film industry as Ian McKellen and your British, people don’t call you Mr. McKellen anymore, you get called, Sir McKellen. Being knighted is no doubt a special achievement, and odds are even if he didn’t receive the honor way back in 1991, there’s a good chance the 75-year-old actor would have got it after cashing in as Gandalf in the Lord Of The Rings series. If McKellen and Robert Downey Jr. prove anything it’s that you can still make it in Hollywood even if it takes you a little bit longer than expected to get to the really high grossing movies of your career.
While all of his Lord Of The Rings films were hugely successful of course, the highest grossing of the whole series so far was The Return Of The King, which made just under $378 million at the box office. Overall, McKellen’s movies have brought in an estimated $3.115 billion, which is pretty impressive when you consider that he’s appeared in only 30 big-budget Hollywood movies in his career. That may sound like a big number but no other actor on this list has made more money with less work. To put it in perspective, the majority of actors in the top 10 have done at least 50 big budget flicks in their respective careers.Featureflash / Shutterstock.com
10. Michael Caine
Well, well, well… it looks like there must be something in the water in Britain because following up Sir Ian McKellen is Sir Michael Cain, best known by us younger folks as Alfred in The Dark Knight version of the Batman movies. The first in the series, The Dark Knight, represents Cain’s highest grossing film of all time. It raked in just under $535 million at the box office. Those of us who don’t remember any of his other movies could be excused depending on our age, but you should know that Caine has been around for a long time and like McKellen, is one of the elder statesmen of Hollywood.
He is one of the most recognizable actors in all of the United Kingdom, having appeared in 115 films. That’s a lot of acting work. His first ever Oscar award nomination came way back in 1966 for the movie Alfie. In 1986 he actually won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters. In the last number of years he’s been in a lot of commercially successful films outside of the Batman series, including Cars 2, Inception and Interstellar. He may be 81 years old now, but Caine is giving Hollywood’s young guns a run for their money… literally.Photo by James Shaw/REX
9. Bruce Willis
Only one person on our list of the top 12 Highest Grossing Actors Of All-Time has done more movies than action star Bruce Willis. At 58 career Hollywood flicks, it’s no wonder Willis’ movies have raked in over $3.186 billion. Most of the money that he personally put in his pocket is thanks to the Die Hard movies and of course, the thriller The Sixth Sense, which accounted for $293.5 million in movie ticket sales. Although The Sixth Sense will probably stand as his highest grossing movie for the remainder of Willis’ career, the Die Hard movies are much more indicative of the type of roles he was best in.
Some of his other big-time movies include The Fifth Element, Armageddon, Ocean’s Twelve and Sin City to name a few. He may be 59 years old now but Willis isn’t showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. He currently has three more feature films in postproduction that will be set to release in 2015. The rich definitely get richer in Hollywood and Willis has the resume to back it up. Given how quickly he seems to churn out the next big hit, there’s lots of room for him to move up on this list.Featureflash / Shutterstock.com
8. Johnny Depp
Before Johnny Depp played Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, he was known for his success in cult type movies and not for being huge box office success in a leading role. But when the stars finally aligned and he did play Captain Jack, Depp hit it big. The first movie in the series launched on a Wednesday and at the conclusion of its first full week had made over $70.6 million at the box office. With that kind of a number it’s safe to say that both Depp and Disney knew they were onto something. All of the Pirates movies have been incredibly successful at the box office and in terms of branding and merchandising for the actor, but Dead Man’s Chest turned out to be the biggest draw of Depp’s career, bringing in $423.3 million.
That equates to what was likely a not too shabby pay day for Depp. Rumor has it that when the fifth Pirates Of The Caribbean movie comes out in 2017, Depp will receive as much as $95 million for the movie. While that’s not completely indicative of how it will do at the box office, there’s no signs of the franchise slowing down anytime soon. Add Depp’s incredible success as Captain Jack to a whole list of quirky, crazy and loyally followed flicks like Edward Scissorhands, Alice In Wonderland, and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, and when Depp’s career is over, he may very well be the richest actor in the history of movies.DFree / Shutterstock.com
7. Robin Williams
When shocking news came out last year that Robin Williams had passed away, all of Hollywood and moviegoers around the world were absolutely dumbfounded. How could one of the greatest comedic minds in film and television history get to a point of taking his own life? That’s a question we will never know the answer to, but without a doubt, the numbers tell the story when it comes to Williams’ success on the big screen and at the box office. The highest grossing film of his career was actually The Night At The Museum, with one more film in the series still set to come out featuring Williams. The first one brought in $250.3 million.
Over his entire career, Williams appeared in 48 films and managed to help make 3.265 billion-plus, good enough for seventh on this list. He will undoubtedly be passed by actors like Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. over time, but his impact on Hollywood and our personal lives will never be forgotten. He was able to come into our homes and make us laugh like no one else through lovable characters like Patch Adams and Mrs. Doubtfire, and his ability to connect with people through the big screen was what made his films so financially successful.Featureflash / Shutterstock.com
6. Tom Cruise
In 2012, Tom Cruise was Hollywood’s highest-paid actor. At this point in his career his level of success is fairly obvious to even the average moviegoer. Cruise has parlayed his incredible on-screen charm into $3.392 billion at the box office. Raking in that amount of money is even more impressive when considering that he has done it by appearing in just 35 movies throughout his career to this point. His highest grossing movie ever is War Of The Worlds, which brought in 234-plus million dollars.
While Cruise definitely made a lot of money thanks to the Mission Impossible franchise, a lot of his success comes not from being part of one huge series of flicks, but rather incredible consistency across any of the movies that he appears in. Think about this…Tom has appeared in at least 21 movies that have made over $200 million at the box office worldwide. He may never do another big franchise type movie again after the next Mission: Impossible that has yet to come out, but he’s probably the closest thing to an absolute box-office draw that exists in Hollywood today, and with a track record like Cruise’s, who could argue that?Featureflash / Shutterstock.com
5. Eddie Murphy
Not only does comedian Eddie Murphy bring us into the top 5 of the highest grossing actors of all time, he also holds the distinction of being one of the highest grossing African-American actor ever. Much like Robin Williams, Murphy built himself up first as a standup comedian, and even before he ever appeared on the big screen, it was obvious to many of his fans that he was bound to be a superstar. Unlike Tom Cruise, Murphy has made the majority of his money off of franchises that produced sequels and trilogies, including Beverly Hills Cop, The Nutty Professor and Shrek.
While some comedic actors like Robin Williams and Jim Carrey have done the occasional serious or dramatic film, everybody knows Murphy for his comedy and his numbers at the box office prove that he pretty much represents the definition of comedic gold. While his style has produced numerous hits, of all of the actors on this list, Murphy probably has more dud movies than anyone else… at least when it comes to box office performance. But he has proven to be resilient and that’s what has brought him tremendous success.lev radin / Shutterstock.com
4. Harrison Ford
In 1997, Harrison Ford was named Empire magazine’s top movie star of all time. Nearly 20 years later, he still ranks number four overall on this list of the highest grossing actors of all time. He’s had a pretty incredible career and at the age of 72, Ford is still going. There are too many classics of his to name, but some of them include The Indiana Jones series, the Star Wars series, Blade Runner and Clear & Present Danger. He will probably be most remembered as Indiana Jones, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that every key actor in the Star Wars series made boat loads of money for themselves and the entire production.
Star Wars is indeed Ford’s highest grossing movie ever reaching over $461 million. What’s impressive about his overall gross totals is that Ford amassed it by appearing in just 39 films. Of every actor on this list only Sir McKellen appeared in fewer movies. Ford has clearly benefited from some good fortune and the fact that he was involved with two of the greatest movie franchises of all time, but we definitely give him credit for playing lead roles in both of them. Any time you can accomplish what he has, you’re going to make a lot of people in the film industry a lot of money.Featureflash / Shutterstock.com
3. Samuel L. Jackson
Of all of the top grossing actors in the history of film, few have done more movies than Samuel L. Jackson. Everybody in the industry knows that Jackson seldom turns down an opportunity to make a big-time box office hit and it’s obviously led to a lot of zeros in his bank account over the years. For goodness sake the guy made a movie called Snakes On A Plane, a movie he reportedly refused to do if it had it’s name changed prior to being released, which was rumored to be the case at one point.
He’s a funny, larger-than-life personality that can take on serious roles in action movies when required. He may not be the type of actor that you can picture in a hugely dramatic film that makes him worthy of a Best Actor Oscar, but Jackson definitely has an eye for movies that are going to be popular, and he doesn’t stop working to seek out the next big role. There’s a good chance that with his work ethic, Jackson may one day be the highest grossing actor of all time, despite the fact his movies average $64 million at the box office, the third lowest average in this top 12.Featureflash / Shutterstock.com
2. Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman’s career is full of classic movies and a lot of that has to do with his talent and the fact that he has an absolutely remarkable voice people remember. He can be funny and his on screen presence is evident in every single movie that he does. He’s played God, Nelson Mandela and the president of the United States. Talk about having a thing for big-time roles. The pressure of having to be those kind of characters can destroy someone’s career if it’s not done right, but Freeman has nailed it every single time. His talent, work ethic and acting skills are on par with any of the great actors in Hollywood.
Freeman’s highest grossing film is The Dark Knight, but his other great and high grossing movies include Seven, The Lego Movie, The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby and more. His voice is so unique, golden and rich that unlike most other actors, Freeman got quite a lot of acclaim for a documentary he took part in, March Of The Penguins, a film following penguins in their natural habitat that cost a whopping $8 million to make and rolled in a whopping $127 million-plus at the box office. Only an actor like Morgan Freeman could pull that off.JStone / Shutterstock.com
1. Tom Hanks
It doesn’t take much to figure out why Tom Hanks is the highest grossing actor of all time, all you have to do is add up the list of classic movies that he’s been involved with: Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, You’ve Got Mail, Castaway, The Toy Story series, Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code and many more. In the mid 90s, he became only the second actor of all time to win back-to-back Oscar awards for Best Actor. Its safe to say that with the performances he put together in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, the rest of Hanks’ career was pretty predictable.
Even long after he is gone, few actors will be able to match what Hanks has accomplished throughout his lifetime. Many actors can be successful at the box office and many of them can impress the Academy by doing films that may not be hugely successful at the box office, but tend to be classified more as “art” films (aka less poplar films). But Hanks is just a rare breed and everything he touches in Hollywood turns to gold. That superpower has led him to grossing over $4.264 billion at the box office throughout his career.Jaguar PS / Shutterstock.com