The 25 Best Actors of the 21st Century
17. Tom Hardy
Remember the Titans, Training Day, John Q, Antwone Fisher, Out of Time, Man on Fire, Inside Man, American Gangster, The Great Debaters, The Book of Eli, Flight, FencesBronson, Inception, Warrior, Lawless, The Dark Knight Rises, Locke, The Drop, Mad Max: Fury Road, Legend, The Revenant
Remember the Titans, Training Day, John Q, Antwone Fisher, Out of Time, Man on Fire, Inside Man, American Gangster, The Great Debaters, The Book of Eli, Flight, FencesEnglish actor Tom Hardy began his feature film career in Ridley Scott’s 2001 Black Hawk Down, and would gain further prominence in 2010’s Inception and 2011’s The Warrior. Hardy was acknowledged for his early roles by winning the 2011 BAFTA Rising Star Award.
In 2015 Hardy had a huge year playing a supporting role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant, and starring in the critically acclaimed films Legend and Mad Max: Fury Road. The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road both received Best Picture Oscar Nominations and Hardy received his first Oscar nomination for his supporting role in The Revenant.
16. Viggo Mortensen
Lord of the Rings Trilogy, A History of Violence, Appaloosa, Eastern Promises, The Road, A Dangerous Method, Far from Men, Captain Fantastic
An actor, poet, photographer, and painter, Viggo Mortensen’s talents are as diverse as the film roles he has played. These wide range of performances in the 21st century include critically acclaimed films such as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, A History of Violence, Appaloosa, Eastern Promises, The Road, A Dangerous Method, and Captain Fantastic.
Mortensen received both BAFTA and Oscar nominations for Best Actor for his performances in Eastern Promises and Captain Fantastic.
15. Matthew McConaughey
Bernie, Killer Joe, Mud, Magic Mike, Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street, Interstellar, Gold
Known primarily for roles in romantic comedies in the early 2000’s, Matthew McConaughey redefined his career in recent years appearing in substantive roles in independent cinema. His 2013 performance in Dallas Buyers Club as a cowboy diagnosed with AIDS received critical acclaim and awards recognition throughout the year.
McConaughey portrayed the true-life story of Ron Woodroof, who worked around the healthcare system to assist other patients afflicted with the disease to receive medication. McConaughey lost nearly 50 pounds for the role, and won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance.
14. Ryan Gosling
The Believer, The Notebook, Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, Blue Valentine, All Good Things, Drive, Crazy Stupid Love, The Ides of March, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Big Short, La La Land
A child star from the Mickey Mouse Club, Ryan Gosling came to film prominence with his performances in 2004’s The Notebook and 2006’s Half Nelson. In Half Nelson, Gosling portrayed a junior high school teacher addicted to drugs who befriends one of his students who is dealing with her own obstacles in life.
Gosling received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance in Half Nelson, and has gone on to performance in multiple critically acclaimed films such as Blue Valentine, Drive, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Big Short, and La La Land.
Along with his Oscar nomination for Half Nelson, Gosling also received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for La La Land. Gosling also received Screen Actors Guild nominations for his roles in Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, and La La Land. Gosling received Independent Spirit Award nominations for his roles in The Believer and Drive, and won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Actor for Half Nelson.
Gosling received Golden Globe nominations for his roles in Lars and the Real Girl, Blue Valentine, Crazy Stupid Love, The Ides of March, and won the Golden Globe Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Award for La La Land.
13. Casey Affleck
Gerry, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Gone Baby Gone, The Killer Inside Me, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Out of the Furnace, Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck’s career broke through in 2007 with his performance as Robert Ford in Andrew Dominik’s film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. In the film Affleck played a fragile, insecure outlaw infatuated by the infamous gang leader Jesse James. Affleck’s performance was a revelation, and he would go on to receive an Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work.
In 2016 Affleck starred as a grief stricken alcoholic in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. Affleck won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance, solidifying himself as one of the top leading actors in contemporary film.
12. Christoph Waltz
Inglourious Basterds, Water for Elephants, Carnage, Django Unchained, The Zero Theorem, Big Eyes, Spectre
Christoph Waltz gained international acclaim during the 21st century for his work with director Quentin Tarantino. Waltz played a prominent supporting role in Tarantino’s 2009 Inglourious Basterds and 2012 Django Unchained. Waltz’s performance as the despicable Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds was particularly stellar, helping the film to receive a Best Picture Oscar Nomination. Django Unchained also received a Best Picture nomination at the 2013 Oscars.
Waltz won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in Inglourious Basterds, and won the BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Inglourious Basterds in 2010 and Django Unchained in 2013.
11. Sean Penn
Sweet and Lowdown, Before Night Falls, I Am Sam, Mystic River, 21 Grams, Milk, The Tree of Life, This Must Be the Place
With a film career spanning back to the early 1980’s, Sean Penn’s name has been listed among great actors for quite some time. In 1996 Penn received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his powerhouse performance as a convicted killer in the film Dead Man Walking. In the 21st century Penn received additional accolades for his performance in multiple critically acclaimed films.
Penn starred in 3 Best Picture Oscar nominated films during the 21st century with The Tree of Life, Milk, and Mystic River. Penn received Best Actor Oscar nominations for 2000’s Sweet and Lowdown, and 2002’s I Am Sam. Penn finally won the Best Actor Oscar in 2004 for his performance in Mystic River, and again in 2009 for his performance as the late activist Harvey Milk in Gus Van Sant’s film Milk.
10. Benicio Del Toro
Traffic, The Hunted, 21 Grams, Sin City, Things We Lost in the Fire, Che, Escobar: Paradise Lost, Inherent Vice, Sicario
Benicio Del Toro received wide recognition in 2000 for his role as a Mexican border policeman struggling amongst the corruption of drug trafficking in his local area in Steven Soderbergh’s film Traffic. In the film, Toro shows a sincerity within his character among the chaos and brutality surrounding him that was riveting. Del Toro would go on to star in another riveting role focusing on the escalating war against drugs at the US-Mexico border area in Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario.
Del Toro received BAFTA nominations for his roles in Traffic, 21 Grams, and Sicario, winning the Best Supporting Actor BAFTA for Traffic. Del Toro also won Best Actor at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival for his performance as the late revolutionary Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh’s Che. Del Toro received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and SAG nomination for his performance in 21 Grams, and won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Best Actor SAG Award for his role in Traffic.
9. Javier Bardem
Before Night Falls, Mondays in the Sun, The Sea Inside, No Country for Old Men, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Buitiful, Skyfall
Javier Bardem received international recognition for his performance as the late Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls. Bardem received mainstream recognition in 2007 with his performance as the ruthless killer Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brother’s No Country for Old Men.
In Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s 2010 Biutiful, Bardem plays a father of two children who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Bardem gives a haunting, delicate performance in the role, reconnecting in death with the father who had died before his birth.
Bardem won Best Actor at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival for his performance in Biutiful. Bardem received Golden Globe nominations for his role in Before Night Falls, The Sea Inside, No Country for Old Men, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona; winning the Globe for No Country for Old Men.
Bardem also won the BAFTA for No Country for Old Men and received nominations for Biutiful and Skyfall. Bardem received Best Actor Oscar nominations for Before Night Falls and Biutiful, and won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2008 for his performance in No Country for Old Men.