The 25 Best Actors of the 21st Century

8. Jake Gyllenhaal

Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, Jarhead, Zodiac, Rendition, Brothers, Love & Other Drugs, Source Code, End of Watch, Prisoners, Enemy, Nightcrawler, Southpaw, Nocturnal Animals

Born into a Hollywood film industry family, Jake Gyllenhaal has created an appeal in his career playing sensitive characters with tortured souls. Gyllenhaal has thrived in dark, indie films from Donnie Darko, Jarhead, Zodiac, Rendition, Brothers, End of Watch, Prisoners, Nightcrawler, and Nocturnal Animals.

Gyllenhaal was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Brokeback Mountain, and won the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor for Brokeback Mountain. Gyllenhaal also received BAFTA Best Actor nominations for his performances in Nightcrawler and Nocturnal Animals.


7. Leonardo DiCaprio

Gangs of New York, Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator, The Departed, Blood Diamond, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island, Inception, J. Edgar, Django Unchained, The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Revenant

django unchained (2012)

Arguably the most famous actor of his generation, Leonardo DiCaprio’s performances and list of directors whom he has worked with are among the most impressive of any living actor. During the 21st century DiCaprio has worked with the likes of Danny Boyle, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino, Sam Mendes, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and Martin Scorsese 5 times. DiCaprio’s 21st century filmography includes 7 Best Picture Oscar nominated films.

DiCaprio received BAFTA nominations for his roles in The Aviator, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Revenant for which we won the Best Actor BAFTA Award. DiCaprio received Golden Globe nominations in the 21st century for his roles in Catch Me if You Can, The Departed, Blood Diamond, Revolutionary Road, J. Edgar, and Django Unchained; and won the Best Actor Golden Globe for The Aviator, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Revenant.

DiCaprio received Best Actor Oscar nominations for The Aviator, Blood Diamond, and the Wolf of Wall Street, finally winning the Best Actor Oscar in 2016 for his performance in The Revenant.


6. Michael Fassbender

Hunger, Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds, Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method, Shame, 12 Years a Slave, Macbeth, Steve Jobs

Among the most promising actors in current film, Michael Fassbender came to international prominence for his performance as IRA activist Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen’s 2008 Hunger.

McQueen and Fassbender would also collaborate in McQueen’s subsequent films Shame and Best Picture Oscar winning 12 Years a Slave. Fassbender received BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for his roles in Shame, 12 Years a Slave, and Steve Jobs. Fassbender also received Oscar nominations for his performances in 12 Years a Slave and Steve Jobs.


5. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai

In the Mood for Love, Hero, Infernal Affairs, 2046, Lust / Caution, Red Cliff, The Grandmaster

Infernal Affairs movie

Considered as one of the most successful Hong Kong actors of his generation, Tony Leung stars in the most acclaimed film of the 21st century, Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love. Leung stars as newspaper editor Chow Mo-Wan, who moves into an apartment complex with his spouse at the same time as neighbor Su Li-zhen does with her husband. The two spend much of their time together as their spouses are away, and soon make a discovery about their spouses that creates an even stronger bond between them.

Leung won Best Actor at the Asian Film Awards for his role in Lust Caution, and won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for In the Mood for Love. The BBC named In the Mood for Love the #2 film of the 21st century in their 2016 poll. In the Mood for Love is also listed as the 45th greatest film of all time, and the #1 film of the 21st century on the film list compilation website ‘They Shoot Pictures Don’t They’.


4. Mads Mikkelsen

Shake It, Open Hearts, Pusher II, King Arthur, Flame and Citron, Casino Royale, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, Valhalla Rising, A Royal Affair, The Hunt

the hunt

Mads Mikkelsen began his acting career in 1996, and has since emerged as one of the most respected actors on the international stage. In 2012’s The Hunt, Mikkelsen plays a kindergarten school teacher in a small Danish town who is falsely accused by one of this student of molestation. Mikkelsen soon becomes a target in the local community, ostracized by his friends and losing his job.

The Hunt was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, along with Best Foreign Languange Film at the BAFTA’s and Oscars. Mikkelsen won Best Actor at Cannes and the European Film Awards for his performance in The Hunt.


3. Joaquin Phoenix

Gladiator, Signs, The Village, Walk the Line, We Own the Night, Two Lovers, I’m Still Here, The Master, The Immigrant, Her, Inherent Vice, Irrational Man

The Master (2012)

Known for his awkward personality and intense film roles, Joaquin Phoenix has proved to be one of the most talent actors in recent years. Joaquin first came to film prominence with his role in Ridley Scott’s 2000 film Gladiator, and has since gone on to star in critically acclaimed films like Walk the Line, We Own the Night, Two Lovers, The Master, The Immigrant, Her, and Inherent Vice.

His performance as Freddie Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 film The Master may be his best to date. In the film, Phoenix plays a disenchanted World War II veteran who meets the charismatic leader of a religious group. Phoenix’s performance contains an uninhibited raw emotion and intensity that has seldom been seen on the screen before or since.

Phoenix was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Gladiator, and received Best Actor Oscar nominations for his performance in Walk the Line and The Master.


2. Philip Seymour Hoffman

Almost Famous, Love Liza, Punch-Drunk Love, 25th Hour, Owning Mahowny, Cold Mountain, Along Came Polly, Capote, Mission: Impossible III, The Savages, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Charlie Wilson’s War, Synecdoche New York, Doubt, Jack Goes Boating, Moneyball, The Master, A Late Quartet, A Most Wanted Man


Philip Seymour Hoffman became known in the late 1990’s for his distinctive character actor supporting roles in films like Boogie Nights, Happiness, Magnolia, and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Hoffman continued his unique supporting roles during the 21st century in films like Almost Famous, 25th Hour, Punch-Drunk Love, Along Came Polly, and Moneyball; but also took a further leap becoming a lead actor. Hoffman starred in independent cinema films like The Savages, Love Liza, A Late Quartet, and Jack Goes Boating, along critically acclaimed films like Doubt, Capote, Synecdoche New York, and The Master.

Hoffman received numerous accolades during his career, including Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominations for his role in Charlie Wilson’s War, Doubt, and The Master. Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar in 2006 for his role as Truman Capote in Capote. Hoffman tragically died of combined drug intoxication in 2014.

By the time of his death Hoffman was considered among the greatest actors of his generation, and will be remembered for his fearless roles bringing a tenderness and depth to characters. His work will live on in film history.


1. Daniel Day-Lewis

Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood, Lincoln

there will be blood daniel day lewis

Considered one of the best actors of his generation, Daniel Day-Lewis is known for his method acting, often staying in character throughout the duration of his films. Day-Lewis’ filmography is often sporadic, with only 6 films in the past 20 years. Day-Lewis’ performance as Daniel Plainview, a miner turned successful businessman in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 There Will Be Blood is among the most widely acclaimed film performances of the 21st century.

Daniel Day-Lewis won the Best Actor BAFTA for his performances in Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood, and Lincoln. Having already won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in 1989’s My Left Foot, Day-Lewis won the Best Actor Oscar again in 2008 for There Will Be Blood and then again in 2013 for Lincoln, becoming the only actor is film history to have won three Best Actor Oscars. Day-Lewis is expected to reunite with Paul Thomas Anderson on the big screen in late 2017 in a film set amongst the fashion world of 1950’s London.

Honorable Mentions:

Issey Ogata (Yi Yi, Tony Takitani, The Sun, Silence), Ricardo Darin (Nine Queens, The Aura, The Secret In Their Eyes, XXY, White Elephant, Wild Tales), Ralph Fiennes (The Constant Gardener, In Bruges, The Reader, The Grand Budapest Hotel, A Bigger Splash),  Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac, The Kids Are All Right, Margaret, Now You See Me, Foxcatcher, Spotlight), Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, W., Milk, True Grit, Inherent Vice, Sicario), Russell Crowe (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, American Gangster, Les Miserables, Noah), Ethan Hawke (Waking Life, Training Day, Before Sunset, Taking Lives, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Brooklyn’s Finest, Before Midnight, Boyhood, Born to Be Blue), Min-sik Choi (Failan, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, I Saw the Devil, Lucy, The Tiger), Johnny Depp (Before Night Falls, Chocolat, Blow, Pirates of the Caribbean, Finding Neverland, Sweeney Todd, The Rum Diary, Black Mass), Samuel L. Jackson (Unbreakable, Black Snake Moan, Lakeview Terrace, Mother and Child, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight, I Am Not Your Negro).