50 Greatest Character Actors

Underrated but never underseen

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    • alanrk76

      Mar 22nd 2012, 9:04

      How can the late great JT Walsh not be in the list. In so many great roles that when he dies 2 films were in memory of him at the end.

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    • Lagedor

      Mar 22nd 2012, 9:08

      No black actors/actresses? What about the great character actor Charles S. Dutton?

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    • ChrisWootton

      Mar 22nd 2012, 9:55

      Danny Trejo? Are you serious? The reason why Machete was c**p was because it showed having Danny Trejo on screen talking for more than 8 seconds at a time means that your film is going to be s**t. Agreed on Charles S Dutton and the late great JT..

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    • drbond1978

      Mar 22nd 2012, 12:00

      shannon is a great actor but "my son, my son" was prettty bad

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    • DecadeofDuke

      Mar 22nd 2012, 12:50

      Totally agree about JT Walsh. No way he's not on this list. And what about Clancy Brown? The man's a beast on the silver screen!

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    • RaveyDaveyGravy

      Mar 22nd 2012, 12:52

      Ive never really understood or liked the term 'character actor', surely every actor is a character actor, and should therefore be called 'actors'. If by 'character actor' you mean 'actors who have been in loads of films but never quite made it into the mainstream' then OK. In which case 'character actor' is certainly catchier than 'awhbilofbnqmiitm'

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    • Hadouken76

      Mar 22nd 2012, 13:25

      I agree with Lagedor, where for art thou Bill Cobbs, Dennis Haysbert, Don Cheadle, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Angela Bassett? Plus, how can actors if be classed as underrated if they have won Oscars?.

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    • FBTLee

      Mar 22nd 2012, 13:29

      Denzel Washington Maggie Smith Johnny Depp Brad Pitt Will Smith Ed Norton Paul Newman Jamie Foxx Bob Hoskins Michael Caine Christian Bale Tom Hardy Toni Collette Tom Hanks Alan Rickman Michael Fassbender James Franco Seth Rogen (only joking) Anyway, my point is this list is c**p.

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    • MrKaplin

      Mar 22nd 2012, 13:36

      Guys seriously, Gary Oldman... what were you thinking with this list. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000198/

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    • marc96

      Mar 22nd 2012, 13:40

      was going to say wheres gary oldman? i also think the late Michael Jeter should be on the list... great to see the always awesome Brad Dourif on the list... lets face it though this is the sort of list that should be a top 200

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    • FBSSumaric

      Mar 22nd 2012, 13:41

      Charles Dutton, JT Walsh!!!, charles durning, john carroll lynch, gena rowlands

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    • Lagedor

      Mar 22nd 2012, 13:50

      I guess the best way to qualify the term "character actor" is :always the bridesmaid, never the bride, i.e. actors who are more likely to win best supporting actor, rather than best actor. And credit is due to actors that took this knowledge and yet shone sometimes more brightly than the leads they shared the screen with. P.s. Jt walsh in breakdown is one of the great hitchcockian bad guys. true legend

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    • FBDKellermeye

      Mar 22nd 2012, 14:39

      A few things: First, I agree with many of your picks. It's a decent list. Second, the fact that you only have actors from the last two decades belies a problem with most of theses film sites: No film education. How can you have a list without PETER LORRE or KARL MALDEN or LEE J. COBB or JAMES COBURN, or ,probably the most prolific character of them all, WARD BOND; the guy was in like 200 movies for chrissake, at least four of which I can name off the top of my head are on AFI's top 100 list. You go watch a film with LEE MARVIN in it and tell me in it and tell me that Danny Trejo or Frank Whaley (really?) hold a candle to him. You won't.

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    • FBTNetto

      Mar 22nd 2012, 14:43

      I missed JT Walsh, Charles S Dutton, Colm Feore, Bill Paxton, Karl Malden, Joan Cusack, Gena Rowlands, Andy Serkis, John Hurt, Laurence Fishburne, Chales Durning and so many others...

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    • FBDKellermeye

      Mar 22nd 2012, 14:48

      @FBS Sumaric, Walsh definitely needs to be on the list. I was sad to see him go.

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    • FBDHoad

      Mar 22nd 2012, 15:24

      I agree with FBTNetto on Maggie Smith, Johnny Depp, Ed Norton and Toni Collette (Joan Cusack? Have you lost your mind? She's the same in everything.) and Hadouken76 on Don Cheadle (he's brilliant!). Glad to see Chris Cooper made it in, but where are Maggie Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger? And it does seem odd to leave Meryl Streep out, too. And to RaveyDaveyGravy, a character actor isn't a little-known or underrated actor. It's an actor who absorbs into each character. Some actors are great, but you never quite forget it's them. They have certain behaviours and mannerisms that make it into every character they play. I think Meg Ryan is a good example of this - same little head shake, same voice, etc for every character. Character actors become the character and change everything - their mannerisms, voice, walk to do it. I had seen Chris Cooper in about six films before I even realised it was the same guy.

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    • craigisdead

      Mar 22nd 2012, 15:49

      A good list, lots of actors I love, got to agree about JT Walsh though, was waiting and waiting for him to pop up, unforgivable!!!

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    • lewdameron

      Mar 22nd 2012, 16:38

      So everyone in Con Air pretty much. got it.

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    • FBCFerguso58

      Mar 22nd 2012, 17:15


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    • daley2509

      Mar 22nd 2012, 18:32

      I agree with your inclusion of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. You should gave a special mentioned to his awesome, film stealing performance in Mi3

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    • thedanieljson

      Mar 22nd 2012, 19:01

      Stephen Lang in Avatar... Is the worst thing about that film. And there's a LOT to hate about that film. Otherwise, I agree with this list, it's pretty spot on.

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    • BeeNL

      Mar 22nd 2012, 19:24

      I don't see the point of this list if we all know everyone on it. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Helena Bonham Carter are great BUT that's hardly news to anyone. Underrated, very good (or: 'character') actors should be the ones that are little known and haven't won big awards. Like the guy that played 'Stephen the mad Irishman' in Braveheart and who was also in The Departed, Harry Potter, Cowboys and Aliens... You don't know him, but you remember the scenes he's in.

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    • Giles83

      Mar 22nd 2012, 19:31

      Lance Henriksen John C Reilly Colm Meaney Yaphet Kotto James Spader James Woods Robert Shaw Giovanni Ribisi Sean Young Rutger Heuer I really could go on all day here, but you get my drift, some many glaring omissions.

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    • FBDClancy

      Mar 23rd 2012, 2:46

      Ron Perlmans finest role was in the movie, Quest for Fire. Must see movie based on three prehistoric cavemen seeking fire for their ailing tribe. Contains no modern dialogue, good make-up and effects and some nice touches of humour.

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    • elise

      Mar 23rd 2012, 4:51


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    • CSB23

      Mar 23rd 2012, 16:03

      Agreed with almost everything on this list! Would have been good to see Willem Dafoe and John Goodman though.

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    • obi1kivobi

      Mar 23rd 2012, 22:08

      Yes missing Willem Defoe, Sir Tony Hopkins, G. Oldman obviously but what about Michael Sheen... David Frost, Brian Clough et al... the man's a frikin' chameleon & the always awesome Paddy Considine!

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    • Mozkiwi

      Mar 24th 2012, 3:07

      Agree with FBDKellermeye, why does this list only include actors from the last two decades?... and let me throw in my two cents' worth... Rod Steiger. Now there was a character actor! Oh, and what about Alec Guiness and John Mills? I guess I'm dating myself! Can I ask how old is the author of this list, Mr Wales?

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    • Hadouken76

      Mar 25th 2012, 8:53

      Basically anyone that wasn't Billy Baldwin in Backdraft

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    • FBLPedroza

      Mar 25th 2012, 23:40

      And Bruce Campbell? he is the certainly the king of this category

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    • 2Dglasses

      Mar 26th 2012, 11:13

      Keith David? David Keith? Mark Strong must also be knocking on the door of this list.

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    • DanRose

      Mar 26th 2012, 15:42

      @Mozkiwi... Judging by his twitter name, he was born in 85. Decent list, but yeah missing some obvious ones. JT Walsh was 'Mr. character actor'.... Also how about Peter Stormare, R Lee Ermey, Ted Levine, Michael Rooker, Scott Glen... The list should be faces you recognise all the time in movies but don't know their name!

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    • Ichi1

      Mar 26th 2012, 16:13

      Good God people always wanna cry like 4 year olds who's mama won't buy them no Skittles. Obviously TotalFilm can not include everybody's choices here. What is important is that there is not one dud on this list. Excellent list.

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    • ThePrestige85

      Mar 29th 2012, 11:11

      What about JAMES REMAR??????? He is the definition of a great character actor.

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    • FBJBrown22

      Apr 2nd 2012, 23:12

      cracking list, well done mr G. Wales. Bruce Dern should have been in there and what about Samuel L Jackson ??????

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    • NewsHit

      Apr 3rd 2012, 9:38

      Total Film sure has a short memory. Where are Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty, John Hurt, Charles Durning, Yaphet Kotto (his performance in 'Homicide' wipes the floor with anything most of these other guys did), Martin Landau, Dean Stockwell, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Hal Holbrook, Lee Grant, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Dianne Wiest, Diane Ladd or Judy Davis? Where are the pros whose achievements inspired many of the actors on this list? Oh, wait: you have Frank Whaley, which makes up for the absence of many of these greats.

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    • henryjr

      Sep 23rd 2012, 17:26

      No Jackie Earle Haley? Or Ben Mendelsohn? Or Michael Smiley?

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    • josephineulnits

      Dec 28th 2012, 2:33

      Okay, I've enjoyed many of your lists and of course there will always be stuff you miss, that is the curse of any such top list. But this one - and I have been through the commentaries also, and noone bothered. What the f**k. Hello - DANIEL DAY-LEWIS!! Got it? I'll try again. DANIEL DAY-LEWIS. I was calmly expecting him to be no. 1 - of course. Nobody commits harder to their roles than him, actually becoming the person he portrays - which is done completely without compromise. Do you know what he goes through in every movie he makes? THAT is what a character actor means, being able to BE the characters, aside from not being just typecast because of a special look or style. I have lost all serious respect for Total Film actually knowing movies when you completely leave him out of a list of 50 spots. One thing is that he ought to be no. 1 - but to completely leave him out is downright ridiculous. Shame on you - and everyone who commented who didn't bother to complain about this either. You must all be movie ignorants.

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    • timothychurch

      Mar 27th 2013, 20:44

      You forgot that he was in one of the best movies ever, Cool Hand Luke!

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    • timothychurch

      Mar 27th 2013, 20:45

      Shut the f**k up, Danny.

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    • alecnorton

      Jun 2nd 2014, 9:52

      There are and have been so many damned good actors/actresses in the movies it is almost impossible to draw up a list limiting their numbers. With only three British actors mentioned there is an unmined field of great character actors.

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    • tinamaria

      Sep 29th 2014, 19:38


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