The Decade in Review: The Top 10 Actors of the Decade

I guess it goes without saying that without actors, there would be no movies, unless it is a silent animated movie or a documentary. The overall quality of a movie can be decided by the quality of an actor’s work. Sometimes a good performance saves the movie from being average or from being a complete failure. At the same time they can also bring down a movie with great production values,  a great script, and mostly good performances from the entire cast.

Today I’m going to focus on the actors that showed their excellence throughout this decade. It may have been one project that made them stand head and shoulders above others, or their entire filmography, but all these actors have done something very special that blew me away.

I have picked five men and five women and ranked them within their respective gender. However, I do point out who I think is the most outstanding of their profession for this decade.

(FYI, the picture represents their best performance of the decade)

Without further ado, here are my picks for the top 10 actors of the decade.


5. Denzel Washington

Sadly, this was not a good decade for African-American actors. Yes, Jamie Foxx won an Oscar, but since that he has not done anything worthwhile. Will Smith is definitely growing as an actor, but he is not quite there yet. And if we don’t count Morgan Freeman and Forest Whittaker, who always do great in not so great movie, all we are left with is Denzel Washington. Denzel has always been great, and this decade was no different. Yes, he may not be the greatest at picking scripts, but he alwas bring his A-game. From his Academy-Award winning performance in Training Day, to his collaborations with Tony Scott, he brings this feeling of power that very few others actors can bring.

4. Daniel Day-Lewis

He was not very active this decade, but two powerful performances are enough to put him on my list. First there was his performance as Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorsese’s 2002 movie Gangs of New York.  Alright movie, great performance. However, in 2007 he would top all of his work in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. His performance in this went straight to my list of the best performances of all time. The character is despicable, and Day-Lewis plays him as such. He never seems afraid to say the horrible things he says or do what he does. It is just an incredible performance.

3. Matt Damon

He ended the last decade with an Oscar win for his Good Will Hunting and a great performance in The Talented Mr. Ripley. This decade he really grew as an actor. He showed his comedic chops in comedies like Stuck on You and his role in the Ocean’s Trilogy, plus I hear he is great in The Informant! Then he showed his dramatic side in Syriana, The Departed, and The Good Shepherd. Plus, he was the star in The Bourne Trilogy, the best action trilogy of the decade. He’s still got a bit of growing to do as an actor, but he has really excelled this decade.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio

After his breakthrough in Titanic, he did not do much work of importance. It was not until 2002 when we saw the DiCaprio who gave an Oscar-worthy performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape come back. This was in Gangs of New York. As I’ve already said, it was not a great movie, and Daniel Day-Lewis overshadows him, but it was only the beginning of his rise as one of the top actors this decade. He then went on to do great, award-worthy performances in Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator, The Departed, Blood Diamond, and Revolutionary Road, where he gives his best performance yet. He is already off to a great start this next decade with Scorsese’s Shutter Island in February and Christopher Nolan’s Inception in July.

1.Johnny Depp

I don’t think anyone saw coming that he would become so big because of a Disney movie. It was widely thought that he was definitely a good actor due to his work on movies like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Edward Scissor Hands, Sleepy Hollow, and many others. However, in 2003 he took the world by storm with his performance as Captain Jack Sparrow in Gore Verbisnki’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The movie could have been good just with regular performances from the cast, the elaborate production, and thrilling action sequences. However, Depp elevated it to greatness by making an icon out of nothing. The script did not call for Sparrow’s personality or body language, that was all Depp’s doing. He got an Oscar nomination for his work here, and many thought he could pull an upset win. After that he earned two more Oscar nominations, one for Finding Neverland where he played J.M. Barrie, and for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, his best collaboration with Tim Burton yet. He also turned in great work in The Libertine, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. However, his creation of the now iconic Jack Sparrow alone earns him the honor of being the best actor of the decade.


5. Kate Winslet

After starring in the biggest movie of all time, and earning an Oscar nomination for it, she went on to do great things. This decade alone, she earned four Oscar nominations, three of them worthy of winning, while for the other one she did not deserved to be nominated. These movies were Iris, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Little Children, and The Reader. She is amazing in the first three. She also did outstanding work in Quills, Fiding Neverland, and Revolutionary Road, the 2008 movie she should have been nominated for and should have won for. Regardless of how I feel about her award for The Reader, it is great that she finally has an Oscar to make up for all the snubs.

4. Meryl Streep

The greatest actress of all time. The only reason she is at number four is because of her choice of projects. She doesn’t really take any risks any more. However, that does not mean that she does not give great performances always, even in the crappy ones. The ones that would fall in that category are The Hours, Prime, Evening, Rendition, Lions for Lambs, and Mamma Mia! She is great in every one of them despite the fact that the material does not quite live up to her talent. Then there are Adaptation, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Devil Wears Prada (her best performance of the decade), and Doubt, where the movie does match her. I’ve yet to see Julie & Julia, and she still has It’s Complicated coming out this year, and I’m sure she is/will be great in both.

3. Naomi Watts

I would say she is the breakthrough of the decade. Prior to starring in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. She was not well known. Since then she has become one of the most sought-after actresses. She gives great performances in the aforementioned Mulholland Dr., The Ring, Eastern Promines, and 21 Grams, for which she received her only Oscar nomination so far. However there are two performances that trump all those. One is in The Painted Veil, where she plays the suffering wife of a doctor who moves to China to work on saving the people from a cholera pandemic. Then there is her work in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. She is one of the few actresses that have the star quality from someone from the 1930s, and she brings that here to great effect. Plus, it is even more impressive when you realize that she acting by herself most of the time. I didn’t realize it until the end. That proves how powerful the performance was. I now look forward to every movie she stars in.

2. Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett, AKA The Great Cate. Ever since giving one of the best performances of all time in Elizabeth in 1998 she has been on fire. First, there is her work in Lord of the Rings. Her role is brief, but important, and she is amazing. There is also her Oscar-winning performance as Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, where she embodies the character like no one else could have. In Notes on a Scandal she had to go one-on-one with the great Judi Dench, and she managed to be on par. Elizabeth: The Golden Age saw her return to the character that made the world notice her, and she was as good as ever, but the rest of the movie let her down, sadly. In Babel and The Good German she was good, but didn’t have much to do, and in both movie everything around her was bad enough to distract from her performance. She was a fun villain in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. She was amazing in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as the woman who tells Button’s story, as well as the person who he was destined to be forever with. That would have been my choice for her best performance, but there is also her supporting role in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There. Here she plays Jude, an alter ego of Bob Dylan’s. To many it may seem like just an imitation, but she truly embodies the character and gives Dylan a special touch that no other of the actors portraying him were able to do. A performance for the ages.

1.Nicole Kidman

I recently wrote an essay about her being the best actress of her generation and defended it by going over every performance of hers that I had seen. She may have shown how talented she was in the 90s, but this decade she showed that she is willing to take risks in order to improve her craft. She started out the decade in a great way by giving great performances in Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others and Baz Luhrman’s  Moulin Rouge! the latter one instantly becoming one of my favorite of all time. 2002 saw her give a good, if overrated, performance as Virginia Woolf in The Hours, for which she won an Oscar for. In 2003 she gave two more great performances in Lars Von Trier’s Dogville and in Anthony Mighella’s Cold Mountain, the former being her most courageous one. Birth, as a movie is an interesting failure, and she gives one of her most interesting performances yet. In Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, The Invasion, The Golden Compass, Margot at the Wedding, and The Intrerpeter she gives performances that are much better than the movie, although I quite enjoyed the last one listed. Finally, in Australia she gives one of the most underrated performances in the last few years, her best since Moulin Rouge! This year she has one more movie coming out, Nine, where she plays a small, but crucial part. For the future, she is making some interesting movies, teaming up with John Cameron Mitchell and Tomas Alfredson for movies that continue to show her bravery. This is why Nicole Kidman is not only the best actress of the decade, but the most outstanding in her profession.

Thanks for reading feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section.


9 thoughts on “The Decade in Review: The Top 10 Actors of the Decade

  1. Hi, great post!, i agree with you on the list, i was looking for a decent top 10 actors of the decade list and this is by far the best!. But i was looking for one because i was saying what a great actor and awesome performances in every genre Phillip Seymour Hoffman has done this past decade and i cant find him on any list, i think that he is the best actor of the decade as Meryl Streep is the best actress, So this concludes to 2 questions, why didnt you include Seymour Hoffman on the list and why i cant find him on any other list. I think he should be here instead of Matt Damon.


    • Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a great actor, and his work in Capote is on my list of the top 50 performances of the decade, But that was the only performance of his that I found completely outstanding. Meanwhile, Damon grew more as an actor and his work shows it.

  2. any list that puts Daniel Day-Lewis (even with two performances) below the likes of Johnny Depp clearly cannot be taken seriously.

  3. sean penn – Javier Bardem – Christian Bale ?

    and the best Actress ever Natalie Portman !?

    anyway good list …

  4. Best actors (in order): Daniel Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt (not because he’s a prettyboy but because he’s a terrifc actor), Christian Bale, Javier Bardem, Denzel Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Benicio del Toro

  5. Johnny Depp is overwhelmingly overrated. Oh my god, we get it – girls like him and he’s weird. It doesn’t make him the best actor of the decade. Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Hilary Swank and Nicole Kidman for best actresses

  6. missed brad pitt, sean penn and obviously philip seymour hoffman….kate winslet would’ve been in my top 2…though i think depp being the greatest actor is overrated…he is great entertainer -ok but not the greatest actor

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