Special Report

Top Box Office Stars in Classic Movies Made Every Year Since 1945

Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Casting movies is a complicated process. Directors usually make the final call, but sometimes producers or the financiers of the movie may demand to choose the lead actors  — and their choice is often based on bankability.

Such actors are often offered roles without auditioning, based on the strength of their prior performances or potential to bring in audiences.

To determine the top grossing actor in America’s classic movies made every year between 1945 and 2000, 24/7 Tempo calculated total box office earnings for each actor for each of those years using data from the Internet Movie Database, Rotten Tomatoes, and film industry site The Numbers. Only films with at least 25,000 votes on IMDb were considered in our analysis.

Some of history’s top-grossing actors — such as Will Smith and Tom Hanks — made movies that ended up with huge profits over the course of long careers. Others starred in huge hits with recurring roles in franchises early on. 

Before COVID-19 devastated the motion picture industry, movies were making more money at the box office than ever. It was not unusual for blockbuster films to gross more than $100 million domestically. In 2021, a year when movie theaters gradually started reopening, the top grossing movie is “Godzilla vs. Kong” — it has made over $306 million so far. These are the top-grossing movies of all time

Click here to see top box office stars in America’s classic movies made every year since 1945

To determine the top box office star in America’s favorite movies, 24/7 Tempo calculated total box office earnings for each actor for every year since 1945, using data from the Internet Movie Database, Rotten Tomatoes, and film industry site The Numbers. Only films with at least 25,000 votes on IMDb were considered in our analysis.

Actors were ranked based on the domestic box office for all films in which they were listed as lead actor on IMDb in a given year. 

Only actors with at least five lead credits throughout their entire careers were considered. For years in which no films with box office data starring an actor with at least five career lead film credits were released, the threshold was lowered to four films, or three films, two films, and so on. 

Domestic box office data came from IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, and The Numbers.

1945: Ray Milland
> Most famous movie(s) with Ray Milland made in 1945: The Lost Weekend
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Ray Milland: $11,000,000

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1946: Cary Grant
> Most famous movie(s) with Cary Grant made in 1946: Notorious
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Cary Grant: $24,464,742

1947: Rita Hayworth
> Most famous movie(s) with Rita Hayworth made in 1947: The Lady from Shanghai
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Rita Hayworth: $10,000

1948: John Wayne
> Most famous movie(s) with John Wayne made in 1948: Red River
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with John Wayne: $9,012,000

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1949: Orson Welles
> Most famous movie(s) with Orson Welles made in 1949: The Third Man
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Orson Welles: $450,000

1950: Toshirô Mifune
> Most famous movie(s) with Toshirô Mifune made in 1950: Rashômon
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Toshirô Mifune: $100,000

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1951: Humphrey Bogart
> Most famous movie(s) with Humphrey Bogart made in 1951: The African Queen
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Humphrey Bogart: $540,000

1952: John Wayne
> Most famous movie(s) with John Wayne made in 1952: The Quiet Man
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with John Wayne: $10,550,000

1953: Burt Lancaster
> Most famous movie(s) with Burt Lancaster made in 1953: From Here to Eternity
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Burt Lancaster: $30,500,000

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1954: James Stewart
> Most famous movie(s) with James Stewart made in 1954: Rear Window
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with James Stewart: $36,760,000

1955: Cary Grant
> Most famous movie(s) with Cary Grant made in 1955: To Catch a Thief
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Cary Grant: $8,750,000

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1956: Charlton Heston
> Most famous movie(s) with Charlton Heston made in 1956: The Ten Commandments
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Charlton Heston: $85,400,591

1957: William Holden
> Most famous movie(s) with William Holden made in 1957: The Bridge on the River Kwai
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with William Holden: $33,300,000

1958: James Stewart
> Most famous movie(s) with James Stewart made in 1958: Vertigo
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with James Stewart: $3,200,000

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1959: Charlton Heston
> Most famous movie(s) with Charlton Heston made in 1959: Ben-Hur
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Charlton Heston: $73,000,000

1960: Kirk Douglas
> Most famous movie(s) with Kirk Douglas made in 1960: Spartacus
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Kirk Douglas: $30,000,000

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1961: Paul Newman
> Most famous movie(s) with Paul Newman made in 1961: The Hustler
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Paul Newman: $7,600,000

1962: Gregory Peck
> Most famous movie(s) with Gregory Peck made in 1962: Cape Fear, To Kill a Mockingbird
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Gregory Peck: $89,529,846

1963: Sean Connery
> Most famous movie(s) with Sean Connery made in 1963: From Russia with Love
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Sean Connery: $24,800,000

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1964: Sean Connery
> Most famous movie(s) with Sean Connery made in 1964: Goldfinger
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Sean Connery: $51,100,000

1965: Sean Connery
> Most famous movie(s) with Sean Connery made in 1965: Thunderball
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Sean Connery: $63,600,000

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1966: Clint Eastwood
> Most famous movie(s) with Clint Eastwood made in 1966: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Clint Eastwood: $6,100,000

1967: Dustin Hoffman
> Most famous movie(s) with Dustin Hoffman made in 1967: The Graduate
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Dustin Hoffman: $104,950,000

1968: Charlton Heston
> Most famous movie(s) with Charlton Heston made in 1968: Planet of the Apes
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Charlton Heston: $33,395,426

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1969: Paul Newman
> Most famous movie(s) with Paul Newman made in 1969: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Paul Newman: $102,308,900

1970: Dustin Hoffman
> Most famous movie(s) with Dustin Hoffman made in 1970: Little Big Man
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Dustin Hoffman: $31,560,000

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1971: Clint Eastwood
> Most famous movie(s) with Clint Eastwood made in 1971: Dirty Harry, Play Misty for Me
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Clint Eastwood: $47,700,000

1972: Gene Hackman
> Most famous movie(s) with Gene Hackman made in 1972: The Poseidon Adventure
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Gene Hackman: $84,560,000

1973: Paul Newman
> Most famous movie(s) with Paul Newman made in 1973: The Sting
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Paul Newman: $159,616,327

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1974: Paul Newman
> Most famous movie(s) with Paul Newman made in 1974: The Towering Inferno
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Paul Newman: $116,000,000

1975: Jack Nicholson
> Most famous movie(s) with Jack Nicholson made in 1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Jack Nicholson: $108,981,275

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1976: Sylvester Stallone
> Most famous movie(s) with Sylvester Stallone made in 1976: Rocky
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Sylvester Stallone: $117,235,147

1977: Richard Dreyfuss
> Most famous movie(s) with Richard Dreyfuss made in 1977: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Richard Dreyfuss: $169,100,479

1978: John Travolta
> Most famous movie(s) with John Travolta made in 1978: Grease
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with John Travolta: $181,813,770

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1979: Dustin Hoffman
> Most famous movie(s) with Dustin Hoffman made in 1979: Kramer vs. Kramer
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Dustin Hoffman: $106,260,000

1980: Gene Hackman
> Most famous movie(s) with Gene Hackman made in 1980: Superman II
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Gene Hackman: $108,185,706

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1981: Harrison Ford
> Most famous movie(s) with Harrison Ford made in 1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Harrison Ford: $225,686,079

1982: Dustin Hoffman
> Most famous movie(s) with Dustin Hoffman made in 1982: Tootsie
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Dustin Hoffman: $177,200,000

1983: Eddie Murphy
> Most famous movie(s) with Eddie Murphy made in 1983: Trading Places
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Eddie Murphy: $90,400,000

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1984: Bill Murray
> Most famous movie(s) with Bill Murray made in 1984: Ghostbusters
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Bill Murray: $242,212,467

1985: Sylvester Stallone
> Most famous movie(s) with Sylvester Stallone made in 1985: Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rocky IV
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Sylvester Stallone: $278,285,432

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1986: Tom Cruise
> Most famous movie(s) with Tom Cruise made in 1986: Top Gun
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Tom Cruise: $179,800,601

1987: Michael Douglas
> Most famous movie(s) with Michael Douglas made in 1987: Fatal Attraction
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Michael Douglas: $156,645,693

1988: Dustin Hoffman
> Most famous movie(s) with Dustin Hoffman made in 1988: Rain Man
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Dustin Hoffman: $172,825,435

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1989: Michael Keaton
> Most famous movie(s) with Michael Keaton made in 1989: Batman
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Michael Keaton: $251,188,924

1990: Patrick Swayze
> Most famous movie(s) with Patrick Swayze made in 1990: Ghost
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Patrick Swayze: $217,631,306

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1991: Kevin Costner
> Most famous movie(s) with Kevin Costner made in 1991: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, JFK
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Kevin Costner: $235,899,406

1992: Mel Gibson
> Most famous movie(s) with Mel Gibson made in 1992: Lethal Weapon 3, Forever Young
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Mel Gibson: $200,691,527

1993: Robin Williams
> Most famous movie(s) with Robin Williams made in 1993: Mrs. Doubtfire
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Robin Williams: $219,195,051

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1994: Matthew Broderick
> Most famous movie(s) with Matthew Broderick made in 1994: The Lion King
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Matthew Broderick: $421,785,283

1995: Tom Hanks
> Most famous movie(s) with Tom Hanks made in 1995: Toy Story, Apollo 13
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Tom Hanks: $366,296,000

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1996: Tom Cruise
> Most famous movie(s) with Tom Cruise made in 1996: Mission: Impossible, Jerry Maguire
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Tom Cruise: $334,934,478

1997: Leonardo DiCaprio
> Most famous movie(s) with Leonardo DiCaprio made in 1997: Titanic
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Leonardo DiCaprio: $659,363,944

1998: Tom Hanks
> Most famous movie(s) with Tom Hanks made in 1998: Saving Private Ryan, You’ve Got Mail
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Tom Hanks: $332,156,580

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1999: Ewan McGregor
> Most famous movie(s) with Ewan McGregor made in 1999: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Ewan McGregor: $474,544,677

2000: Mel Gibson
> Most famous movie(s) with Mel Gibson made in 2000: What Women Want, The Patriot, Chicken Run
> Domestic box office of most famous movie(s) with Mel Gibson: $402,929,380

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