April 30, 2016

50 Greatest Character Actors of All Time

So I’m reading Premiere, and they’re doing this 50 Greatest Movie Stars of All Time thing, because apparently they’ve decided to become Entertainment Weekly, and it occurs to me that I’ve never seen a 50 Greatest Character Actors List.

I’m talking about the M. Emmet Walshes. The Stephen Tobolowskys. The Patricia Clarksons. The actors who’ve been in, like, a billion films and made them all better. The HITG‘s. They’re the tags of the film world.

Lemme throw a few names at you…

Danny Trejo
Tom “Tiny” Lister Jr.
J.T. Walsh
Clint Howard

Who else?

Kev asked a similar question not too long ago, but I want to codify it. Let’s make a canon, kiddies.

So put your suggestions in the comments and we’ll see if we can put together a list to make the very bowels of VH1 tremble in awe.

Yeah, you should probably forget that last image.


  1. Kevin says:

    Jon Polito, Ed Harris (I know he flirted with leading man status, but the man is a great character actor), David Straithairn, Paul Giamati, Ian Holm, Tim Roth, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Cooper and John Turturro.

  2. amanda says:

    I second Patricia Clarkson and add Christopher Walken, Frank Whaley and everyone’s favorite Nazi, Thomas Kretschmann.

  3. David says:

    Good. Good. Kev, where is that post where you talked about this before? I’d like to link to it but I couldn’t find it.

  4. Kevin says:

    I think you’re talking about Smokler, not me (Lawver). His is here. From that list, JK Simmons, and I also want to add Clancy Brown (he’s in Carnivale now, but was great in Shawshank as well), Michael Jeter, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener and Peter Stormare (Big Lebowski, Fargo, one of those asteroid movies).

  5. David says:

    Thanks, Kev. Sorry for the confusion. Now, to address one of your earlier choices, I agree that Ed Harris is a great character actor (and just a great actor) but with him (and Chris Cooper to a lesser extent) I begin to wonder if they’re not too big. It’s an issue I ran into running through those exact names with Nina last night. Is there a point at which an actor’s roles or career becomes too high profile for them to qualify as a sort of niche player? The weird part is, when I think of Steve Buscemi, who is arguably as well known as Harris and probably more than Cooper, I don’t see a problem at all classifying him for this list (in a fairly high spot at that). There’s something about the way I think of his career. Still can’t put my finger on it, though.

  6. Justin says:

    Looking at Kev’s link, which Kev pointed us to, I stand by Steve Buscemi. Depp and JJ Leigh have been leads too often to be considered character actors. I’ll also throw in Steven Root, John Goodman, and Illeana Douglas (the art teacher in “Ghost World” and one of the leading “Hey It’s that Girl!” actresses working today.

  7. JerH says:

    I second Stephen Root, Clancy Brown and J.K. Simmons; I’d add Vincent Schiavelli, only because I think everything is better with a little Vincent Schiavelli. I’d suggest that anyone that a casual filmgoer would recognize and place a name to would probably be too famous to be considered a character actor. I think that would negate Buscemi, Goodman, and Giamatti.

  8. David says:

    Ahh, Vincent. Did you see him in “Badaasssss!!!”? Fantastic.

  9. Nina says:

    How about John C. Reilly, Brian Cox, Peter Dinklage, Gary Cole, Yaphet Kotto, Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott (much missed), and Toni Collette?

  10. My absolute favorite. Oliver Platt.

  11. Kevin says:

    Yay for Oliver Platt, Gary Cole, Illeana Douglas (she was awesome in a limited role on Six Feet Under) and Yaphet Kotto (who was IT on Homicide).

  12. Kevin says:

    This question has consumed me, Dave. I’ve got three more, that came to me as I was trying to get to sleep last night: Ernie Hudson, Jim Broadbent and Brad Dourif. Brad Dourif gets in for his role in Deadwood alone. Jim Broadbent has never turned in anything less than a stellar performance no matter how small the role, and dammit, I just love Ernie Hudson (especially in The Crow).

  13. David says:

    Brad Dourif is on Deadwood? Crap, I totally have to start watching this show!

  14. Chris says:

    Harry Dean Stanton

  15. Alvaro Castellon says:

    John Ireland, Ward Bond, Walter Brennan, Paul Fix, Lyle Bettger, Hank Worden, Leo Gordon, Robert J Wilke

  16. Tim says:

    Claude Rains (Casablanca; Now, Voyager; Mr. Smith goes to Washington; Lawerence of Arabia), Henry Travers (It’s a Wonderful Life), Strothar Martin (Cool Hand Luke), Walter Brennan (To have and Have Not), Alan Hale Sr. (The Adventures of Robin Hood), Peter Lorre (Casablanca; The Maltese Falcon), Sydney Greenstreet (Casablanca; The Maltese Falcon; They died with their boots on), Hume Cronyn (Shadow of a Doubt). Ward Bond (Gone with the Wind; The Searchers; The Quiet Man; The Maltese Falcon), William H. Macy (Fargo; Boogie Nights). Claude Rains is my favorite, and, I think the greatest actor of all time.

  17. Jerry Owen says:

    Strother Martin is my favorite of all time and very often stole the scenes from the main stars. – - He ruled the 1960′s and 70′s in many memorable movies. One of the best that comes to mind is Cool Hand Luke, in which he played the prison captain. – He also had many great TV appearances during this period. We miss him.

  18. jacob says:

    arent we forgetting Michael Rooker

  19. Earl says:

    Love the replies, but where in the world is Roy Scheider in all of this? THAT GUY WAS A GENUIS!

  20. LoveGreen says:

    Yeah I think people forget about Roy because he died, but he still has a movie coming out right?

  21. cooties says:

    Roy Scheider is always overlooked because he had a simple, humble talent. He was great. RIP.

  22. robert says:

    strother martin,ernest borgnine,walter brennan,ben johnson,harry carey jr,ken curtis,r lee ermey,brian keith, john c reilly,john c mcginley, gary busey,l.q. jones, bruce dern, james best, jack elam, richard jaeckel, tom sizemore, hank wordon….as u might have guessed , im a big fan of westerns & war movies..!

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