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Special Feature: The Evolving Face of the All Time Box Office Stars List

January 3rd, 2004

The New Year makes for an interesting time to look at how last year's blockbusters have affected our All Time Top Box Office Stars list. As usual, there are some familiar names doing well, and some surprise new entries.

First a little bit of history, with a look at how the list has evolved over the last 20 years.

While 2003 will be remembered as the year of the last part of the Lord of the Rings series, 1983 is remembered as the year of the last part of another very succesful trilogy - the orginal Star Wars trilogy. The box office impact of that blockbuster can be seen by looking at the All Time Top Box Offce Stars list that just includes movies released before 1984.

Guess what, the first 11 spots on the list were taken by actors from the Star Wars trilogy:

Top Stars of pre-1984 Movies
1 Harrison Ford $1,594,817,923
2 Alec Guinness $1,297,352,478
3 Carrie Fisher $1,172,582,780
4 James Earl Jones $1,113,206,416
5 David Prowse $1,109,724,851
6 Kenny Baker $1,096,430,907
7 Mark Hamill $1,094,375,046
8 Peter Mayhew $1,076,475,046
9 Denis Lawson $1,060,475,046
10 Anthony Daniels $1,060,475,046
11 Frank Oz $917,817,039

The rest of the 1980s saw the rise of the big budget action movie, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone making names for themselves. Even so, by 1990, only Richard Dreyfuss and Dan Aykroyd had established themselves between the Star Wars actors in the top 10.

Dreyfuss was already in 12th place in 1984, and a steady flow of successful movies through the rest of the decade was enough to put him into the top bracket. Aykroyd, meanwhile, was propelled into the chart by the success of the GhostBusters series, and a cameo in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Schwarzenegger was in 54th place with a shade over $600 million by now, and Stallone was in 14th place, having just crossed the $1 billion mark.

Top Stars of pre-1990 Movies
1 Harrison Ford $2,219,402,188
2 James Earl Jones $1,510,075,148
3 Carrie Fisher $1,374,528,684
4 Alec Guinness $1,326,338,178
5 Kenny Baker $1,223,824,687
6 Mark Hamill $1,205,918,525
7 Richard Dreyfuss $1,116,309,652
8 David Prowse $1,109,724,851
9 Dan Aykroyd $1,106,802,671
10 Peter Mayhew $1,076,475,046

By 1995 Tom Hanks had reached the 3rd spot and Gene Hackman, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Sean Connery and Robin Williams had also made it to the top 10.

At that time, the difference in cumulative gross between Harrison Ford and Tom Hanks was still 1.2 billion dollars.

Top Stars of pre-1995 Movies
1 Harrison Ford $2,708,708,151
2 James Earl Jones $2,272,578,852
3 Tom Hanks $1,563,517,746
4 Carrie Fisher $1,547,341,789
5 Gene Hackman $1,472,120,269
6 Dan Aykroyd $1,421,202,942
7 Clint Eastwood $1,336,682,956
8 Sylvester Stallone $1,333,205,537
9 Sean Connery $1,333,033,862
10 Robin Williams $1,332,691,335

The year 2000 has Tom Hanks in 2nd place after Harrison Ford with still $600 million difference in cumulative gross. Samuel L. Jackson is in 4th spot $200 million behind Tom Hanks. Other newcomers in the list are Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise and Eddie Murphy.

Top Stars of pre-2000 Movies
1 Harrison Ford $3,185,046,380
2 Tom Hanks $2,539,049,555
3 James Earl Jones $2,337,906,630
4 Samuel L. Jackson $2,311,295,470
5 Bruce Willis $2,081,886,118
6 Robin Williams $2,044,393,839
7 Mel Gibson $1,993,498,286
8 Tom Cruise $1,954,962,870
9 Gene Hackman $1,940,468,997
10 Eddie Murphy $1,843,477,043

Harrison Ford's string of hits had run out after 2000, and by the beginning of last year, Samuel L. Jackson (now 2nd) and Tom Hanks had approached to within $400 million of his box office total.

Rance Howard (father of Ron, and maker of more cameo appearances than anyone else in the history of movies, even more than his other son Clint) pushed Bruce Willis out of the top 10, but the difference in cumulative gross between the numbers 9 and 13 was only 70 million dollars.

Top Stars of pre-2003 Movies
1 Harrison Ford $3,224,831,016
2 Samuel L. Jackson $2,828,087,931
3 Tom Hanks $2,807,710,869
4 Tom Cruise $2,446,409,768
5 James Earl Jones $2,337,924,965
6 Eddie Murphy $2,300,000,784
7 Mel Gibson $2,299,636,698
8 Robin Williams $2,230,226,656
9 Rance Howard $2,195,131,871
10 Gene Hackman $2,182,304,361

By the end of 2003, not much had changed in the top half of the list. But things were more fluid in the bottom half. Most actors didn't really appear in any box office hits, which explains that without having a real hit, Bruce Willis is back in the top 10 list on number 7. Jim Cummings, a voice talent in innumerable animated features, made the top 10 for the first time.

The very top of the chart is much more stable. Tom Cruise, now number 4, still appears in a lot of box office hits. And we have to go back to 1996 for a movie that starred Tom Hanks and earned less than 100 million dollars - his run of 7 consecutive $100 million movies is a record.

Samuel L. Jackson is a different story. Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford seem to limit themselves to the lead role in a movie, but Samuel L. Jackson also plays in supporting roles, such as Mace Windu in the second Star Wars trilogy and NSA Agent Gibbons in the xXx franchise. Samuel L. Jackson has now approached to within $300 million of Harrison Ford.

Current All-Time Top Movie Stars
1 Harrison Ford $3,255,038,801
2 Samuel L. Jackson $2,967,770,015
3 Tom Hanks $2,807,710,869
4 Tom Cruise $2,531,766,274
5 Eddie Murphy $2,468,885,691
6 James Earl Jones $2,337,924,965
7 Bruce Willis $2,326,332,740
8 Mel Gibson $2,299,962,668
9 Jim Cummings $2,253,349,139
10 Gene Hackman $2,231,198,122

If we look at the release schedule for the next couple of years, we see the Samuel L. Jackson will star in 8 different movies. It is likely that the combined gross of these movies (including Star Wars Episode III and xXx2) will be enough to surpass Harrison Ford, unless, perhaps, Indiana Jones 4 is released before these movies and is a big hit.

The question is, will that be enough to stay ahead of Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise? I predict it will and that at the latest in the summer of 2005 have a new number one on the All Time Box Office Star list. Which is about time, because Harrison Ford has been on top since 1980!

Although nobody from The Lord of the Rings trilogy made it to the top 10, it definitely had an impact on the list. By the time the last movie is out of theaters, the three movies will have a combined gross of 1 billion dollars. This puts every actor that appeared in all 3 movies in the 1+ billion dollar list, just like the original Star Wars trilogy did 20 years ago.

None of the actors in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was already a major box office star before these movies, but actors like Elijah Wood (42) and Orlando Bloom (83) are still young and might find themselves in a higher spot of the list some day.

Orlando Bloom in particular is someone to keep a close eye on. In the next two years he will star in Ned Kelly, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven and probably a sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean. Each of these movies are potentially big box office hits.

What we have also seen the last couple of years is actors that have never been real box office stars, but are now climbing the list because of supporting roles in different succesful franchises. Examples are Hugo Weaving (position 38) in Matrix and Lord of the Rings, John Cleese (43) in James Bond and Harry Potter, Ian McKellen (60) in X-Men and Lord of the Rings, and Christopher Lee (101) in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

Other actors to look at in the future:

Jim Carrey (27). It seems he has given up on winning an Oscar and he has 6 movies lined up for the next two years the allow him to show his comic talents. We know from Bruce Almighty that people still want to see him in such movies.

Steve Buscemi (32). This guy plays in more movies than Samuel L. Jackson. He often appears in Adam Sandler movies, but has also supporting roles in box office hits like Armaggedon and Con-Air.

Cameron Diaz (56). If she stops wasting her time on movies like The Sweestest Thing and Very Bad Things, who knows where she will end up on the list?

Will Smith (71) hasn't been in a movie in a while, but has scored a lot of hits over the years. He is one of the few actors that have an average of 100+ million dollars per movie as a lead actor.

Submitted by: Pim (

Filed under: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Star Wars Ep. III: Revenge of the Sith, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Casino Royale, XXX: State of the Union