The subject of who is the greatest film actor ever is a touchy, difficult and especially prickly one. Much of the debate is unconsciously going to depend on quantity as much as quality. Those who might argue that James Dean belongs in the discourse (I am not one) will need constant reminding that Dean only made three movies in his career.
A much more realistic nomination goes to Rod Steiger who appeared in so many movies that most actors have a lower degree of separation from Steiger than from Kevin Bacon. Unfortunately, Steiger appeared in a number of dogs over the course of his career, especially toward the end. It is worth mentioning that in nearly every case-the dogs as well as the masterpieces-that Rod Steiger was the best thing in the film and easily rose above the worst material. Which could lead to the argument branching off into the sphere of whether the best of all time should lean more toward actors who transcend mundane material or actors who never allow themselves to be less than the most impressive thing about even films that are considered masterpieces.
Gene Hackman appeared in far more movies than James Dean and it is actually quite accurate to assert that he appeared in far fewer movies than Rod Steiger, believe it or not. Any argument over the best actor in movie history that does not include both Steiger and Hackman is not an argument I would consider worth wasting my time entering. I cannot recall Gene Hackman ever giving a bad performance and Rod Steiger proved on numerous occasions that he was an Oscar-winning actor even when movie he was making was destined to be nominated for a Razzie.
Another element to consider is time. Since the year 2000, the South Korean actor Kang-ho Song has delivered one brilliant performance after another. During that period, Kang-ho Song has appeared in more than a dozen movies. The same period of time has seen Daniel Day-Lewis on the big screen just five times. It is way too early to put Kang-ho Song into the discourse of being the best film actor ever, but he has to be mentioned as the best actor making movies right now. On the other hand, one can make a pretty good argument that within those five movies and in the span of less than half a decade that Daniel Day-Lewis has turned in two of the ten most unforgettable performances of all time by a male actor.
So who is the best actor of the past decade? I'm not sure. But I think in the argument of who is the best film actor of all time…everything is starting up to come up Daniel Day-Lewis!
- Arts & Entertainment
- Rod Steiger
- James Dean
- Gene Hackman