Special Report

Every Movie Genre's Top-Grossing Actor

Actors are often associated with a certain genre. Bruce Willis is known as an action star; Tom Hanks is known for gripping dramas and offbeat comedies. However, it may surprise people to learn that many noted performers’ most profitable movies are in genres other than those for which they are best-known.

To determine the top-grossing actor by genre, 24/7 Tempo reviewed genre classifications from IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon, and box office returns from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services. Actors were ranked based on the total worldwide box office receipts for their movies in a specific genre, adjusted for inflation. Films in which an actor received first, second, third, or fourth billing according to IMDb were included in an actor’s box office total. Only actors with at least one lead credit in the genre were considered for inclusion. Worldwide box office data was adjusted for inflation using historical ticket prices from the National Association of Theatre Owners.

Many actors in Hollywood have a reputation of being capable of playing a variety of roles, and winning prestigious awards for doing it. But there are also plenty of actors who have delivered such an outstanding performance playing a particular character that they are now typically only cast to play one type of role. (Here, on the other hand, are actors who turned down iconic roles.)

Ten actors on this list have played in more than 10 movies of the same genre – highly successful films that have made a total of over $1 billion at the worldwide box office. There are also a few examples of actors who have made the most money starring in movies of a genre not typically associated with them. (Here are 44 actors who are always typecast.)

Click here to see every movie genre’s top-grossing actor

For example, there is no doubt that John Wayne is the top-grossing actor in Westerns. But the top-grossing actor in the war movies category is…Brad Pitt.

Film Noir: Claude Rains
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $769.5 million
> Number of films in genre: 8
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 7.9/10 (112,373 votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: Notorious (1946)

The British actor was making movies, both for the big screen and TV, for more than four decades. The four-time Oscar nominee was well-known for his distinct voice. He often played supporting roles that often turned out to be the most memorable characters in his movies. In “Notorious,” directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Rains plays a Nazi who falls in love with an American spy.

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War: Brad Pitt
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $983.2 million
> Number of films in genre: 4
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 8.0/10 (2.0 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Brad Pitt had been one of the most famous Hollywood A-listers since the mid-1990s. He has starred in movies of various genres, from comedies to historical dramas to sci-fi. Four of his most famous movies, however, are war films. In “Inglorious Basterds,” Pitts plays a U.S. officer who assembles a team of Jewish soldiers planning to kill Nazi leaders in German-occupied France.

Western: John Wayne
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $1.5 billion
> Number of films in genre: 31
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 7.5/10 (461,302 votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: True Grit (1969)

John Wayne was one of the most popular movie stars of the 1940s through ’70s, and his most famous roles were in classic westerns. Most associated with the stoic-man archetype, Wayne portrayed strong but reserved cowboys with sheer excellence. In “True Grit,” Wayne plays the role of aging U.S. marshal Rooster Cogburn, who is recruited by a teenage girl to find the man who killed her father. The role brought Wayne the only Oscar of his career.

History: Richard Burton
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $2.0 billion
> Number of films in genre: 8
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 7.4/10 (123,494 votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: The Robe (1953)

Though in pop culture Richard Burton is probably best remembered for his often-turbulent relationship with another Hollywood icon, Elizabeth Taylor, Burton was revered by his peers as a fine actor. The Welsh stage and motion-picture star, with his resonant voice and commanding presence, often portrayed smart men who were cynical or self-destructive. One of them was Marcellus Gallio, his character in “The Robe,” a biblical epic. Gallio is ordered to crucify Jesus but feels guilty afterwards.

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Mystery: Bruce Willis
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $2.2 billion
> Number of films in genre: 9
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 7.8/10 (2.1 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: The Sixth Sense (1999)

Bruce Willis’s career evolved from TV sitcom star to go-to every-type action hero. Willis, who retired from acting following an announcement earlier this year that he has aphasia, a neurological disorder that affects the use of language, has starred in many mysteries as well – as a powerful businessman (“Perfect Stranger”), a caring husband who somehow can’t physically get hurt (“Unbreakable”), a time-traveling convict (“12 Monkeys”), and more. However, the highest-grossing mystery starring Willis is “The Sixth Sense.” In it Willis plays a disheartened child psychologist trying to help a patient who can communicate with spirits.

Horror: Max von Sydow
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $2.4 billion
> Number of films in genre: 7
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 7.7/10 (445,549 votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: The Exorcist (1973)

In his 70-year career, Swedish actor Max von Sydow played spies, knights, villains, even Jesus Christ, but he also appeared in half a dozen horror films, including the original “Exorcist” and its first sequel. That 1973 classic is his highest-grossing horror movie. In “The Exorcist,” the Oscar-nominated von Sydow plays a priest trying to help a teenage girl who is possessed by what he thinks is the devil.

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Biography: Christopher Plummer
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $2.9 billion
> Number of films in genre: 10
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 8.0/10 (1.5 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: The Sound of Music (1965)

Christopher Plummer is famous for his classical roles both on stage and in motion pictures, mostly in supporting roles. The legendary Canadian actor played several real people during his decades-long career, winning an Oscar for one of them – J. Paul Getty in “All the Money in the World.” One of his most famous roles – Captain Georg von Trapp – is also the one he liked the least. Still, the movie was a major blockbuster and remains the highest-grossing biopic of his career. Plummer plays the widowed naval officer in the movie about the young governess who is the reason the famous real-life Von Trapp Family singers fall in love with music.

Music: John Travolta
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $3.5 billion
> Number of films in genre: 6
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 6.7/10 (538,991 votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: Grease (1978)

“Saturday Night Fever,” noteworthy for its dance scenes as much as for its soundtrack, arguably made John Travolta famous. The actor earned his first of two Oscar nominations playing the ambitious paint-store clerk who wants to make it in the disco world. Travolta followed up with another smash hit, “Grease,” a musical romance about a 1950s “greaser” and a goody-two-shoes (played by the late Olivia Newton-John) outgrossed all other movies in 1978. Though Travolta branched out and starred in movies of different genres throughout his career, he did a few more musicals that remain popular to this day, including “Staying Alive” (1983) and “Hairspray” (2007).

Sport: Sylvester Stallone
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $4.1 billion
> Number of films in genre: 12
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 7.2/10 (2.0 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: Rocky (1976)

Sylvester Stallone has played a few characters that have become a part of American culture – Rambo, for one, but most of all Rocky – a small-time boxer from Philadelphia who gets the chance of a lifetime to fight a world heavyweight champion, after which his life changes forever.

In addition to the Rocky movies – which the three-time Oscar nominee says he considers dramas, not sports film – he played a different boxer in “The Grudge Match,” an open-wheel cart champion in “Driven,” and tough-as-nails cross-country car racer Machine Gun Joe Viterbo in “Death Race 2000” – but the original “Rocky” remains his No. 1 sports flick, whether he calls it that or not.

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Animation: Tom Hanks
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $4.5 billion
> Number of films in genre: 5
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 8.0/10 (2.7 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: Toy Story 3 (2010)

There’s no doubt that Tom Hanks is one of the country’s most beloved actors. The multiple-Oscar-winning star has an impressive filmography, both as an actor and as a director. Which of Hanks’ movies are his greatest performances could be endlessly disputed – is it in “Philadelphia” or perhaps “Saving Private Ryan?” Though he is known for playing a diverse set of characters – from an English teacher who becomes a soldier to a slow-witted man who becomes an inspiration for everyone he meets – Hanks’ top-grossing animated movie is “Toy Story 3” in which he voices the character of Sheriff Woody, a cowboy doll.

Romance: Julia Roberts
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $4.7 billion
> Number of films in genre: 19
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 6.5/10 (1.6 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)

Julia Roberts is considered one of the biggest movie stars ever. Though her résumé shows her versatility, at the beginning of her career she made a name for herself by starring in romantic comedies. She became an international star when “Pretty Woman” came out in 1990, but it’s a movie she did seven years later that is still her top-grossing romcom. In the comedy “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” Roberts plays a woman who realizes she loves her childhood friend and vows to stop him from getting married.

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Crime: Robert De Niro
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $5.2 billion
> Number of films in genre: 35
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 8.0/10 (8.3 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: Sleepers (1996)

Robert De Niro is one of the biggest names in Hollywood. He has played major roles in several absolute classics, many of which are crime dramas where he plays mobsters. De Niro’s highest grossing crime film, however, is not about the mafia – it’s a legal thriller. “Sleepers” is about four friends growing up in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, with little guidance except from Father Bobby Carillo, played by De Niro. A botched robbery lands the friends in jail where they suffer continued abuse at the hands of the guards. Years later, two of the boys are on trial for murdering one of the guards and need Father Carillo as a character witness.

Sci-Fi: Jeff Goldblum
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $5.8 billion
> Number of films in genre: 6
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 7.3/10 (2.3 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Jeff Goldblum has amassed a long résumé of science fiction roles, including his appearances in the Jurassic Park franchise as well as “Independence Day.” One of his most memorable roles is that in the 1986 film “The Fly,” in which he plays an eccentric who transforms into a man-fly hybrid while testing a teleportation device. However, Goldblum’s top-grossing sci fi movie to this day is the original “Jurassic Park.” His character in the epic blockbuster, the charismatic Malcolm, who is willing to risk his life to save the others, became as iconic as the T-Rex chasing them.

Family: Daniel Radcliffe
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $10.7 billion
> Number of films in genre: 7
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 7.7/10 (4.9 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

Daniel Radcliffe tops the list of leading men in the highest-grossing family movies because of his portrayal of Harry Potter. The 2001 movie about the young wizard’s adventures was a massive hit and started a franchise that has spawned video games, theme parks, tourist attractions, tattoos, and more in one of the biggest pop culture sensations in recent history. When adjusted for inflation, the first film of the franchise – “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – is still the highest-grossing. In it, young Harry Potter is thrown into a magical society and a secret war that began before he was born. He quickly becomes friends with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, joins Gryffindor house, meets several other wizards, and develops a rivalry with Draco Malfoy. (Radcliffe actually starred in eight “Harry Potter” movies, but for some reason, IMDb doesn’t tag “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” as “family,” so it’s not included in our count.)

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Thriller: Tom Cruise
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $8.0 billion
> Number of films in genre: 14
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 7.1/10 (4.4 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: Mission: Impossible (1996)

Tom Cruise has been a leading man in major Hollywood productions for about four decades. His breakout role came in the 1983 teen comedy “Risky Business,” and he achieved superstar status with the 1986 action film “Top Gun,” in which he played a naval aviator known as “Maverick.” As well as his star turn in a series of “Mission: Impossible” thrillers, Cruise has proved his acting chops in such serious movies as “Rain Man” and “A Few Good Men.” Sequels to one of Cruise’s biggest thriller roles are in the works and set to be released in 2023 and 2024. For now, the top-grossing film in the Mission: Impossible franchise is the one that started it all. In the first installment of the spy series based on a television show of the same name, Cruise plays Ethan Hunt, who has to uncover a mole who framed him for the murders of most of his team.

Fantasy: Johnny Depp
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $8.7 billion
> Number of films in genre: 14
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 7.2/10 (5.1 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

It may seem to many movies fans that in Hollywood the go-to guy for the leading role in fantasy movies, especially those written and directed by Tim Burton, is Johnny Depp. Though it’s worth noting that Depp’s films have diversified from action and adventure to horror and even to dramas and romances, perhaps his most famous role is that of Captain Jack Sparrow. It’s that role in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise that lands him in the spot of the highest-grossing actor in the fantasy genre. The top-grossing movie of the series is its second installment, the 2006 “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” In it, Sparrow is on a mission to recover the heart of ghostly pirate Davy Jones or risk being damned for life.

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Drama: Leonardo DiCaprio
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $9.4 billion
> Number of films in genre: 23
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 7.9/10 (10.7 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: Titanic (1997)

Leonardo DiCaprio’s dedication as an actor can’t be denied, and his work with big directors like Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese has produced some of the best films of the last 30 years. He has received six Oscar nominations for acting since 1994, finally winning the Best Actor award in 2016 for his starring role in “The Revenant.”

The top-grossing movie with DiCaprio in the drama category is perhaps the actor’s most iconic role to this day. In the historic-fiction blockbuster “Titanic,” DiCaprio portrays Jack Dawson, a free-wheeling traveler with a knack for portraiture, who falls in love with an upper-class beauty on the infamous doomed ocean liner.

Comedy: Eddie Murphy
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $11.7 billion
> Number of films in genre: 39
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 6.6/10 (3.7 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Eddie Murphy took the comedy world by storm when he first appeared on “Saturday Night Live” at age 18. Murphy is also an accomplished standup comedian, ranking No. 10 on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time, and is well-known for his skillful impersonations, especially of Muhammad Ali, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder. Murphy’s lead role in the 1984 comedy “Beverly Hills Cop,” his top-grossing comedy so far in his career, cemented his status as a young Hollywood legend. He plays fast-talking Detroit cop Axel Foley, who brings his quick wit and unique charms to swanky Beverly Hills. The film spent a whopping 13 weeks at the top of the box office.

Adventure: Harrison Ford
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $11.7 billion
> Number of films in genre: 13
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 8.1/10 (6.4 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Harrison Ford played two swashbuckling heroes of the 1970s and 1980s – first Han Solo in “Stars Wars,” then the title character in the Indiana Jones films. Outside of these series, Ford has starred in numerous blockbuster action films and thrillers, but his top-grossing films are still in the adventure category. The Indiana Jones franchise has grossed more than $1.9 billion worldwide. (The fifth movie from the series is due to be released in June 2023.) After adjusting for inflation, Ford’s top-performing adventure movie is the first installment of the franchise, “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.” In it, archeologist Jones tries to keep the Ark of the Covenant, said to hold the Ten Commandments, from falling into Nazi hands.

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Action: Robert Downey Jr.
> Worldwide genre box office, inflation-adjusted: $14.7 billion
> Number of films in genre: 14
> Avg. IMDb rating of films in genre: 7.7/10 (9.3 million votes)
> Highest-grossing film in genre: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Robert Downey Jr. tops the category of action movies as its most bankable actor largely due to his appearance as Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. “Avengers: Endgame” is the top grossing film in the hugely popular franchise. The movie, which runs for more than three hours, once again finds the Avengers teaming up to restore order to the universe in the wake of Thanos’s destructive actions. The film is the second highest-grossing movie ever at the worldwide box office, making nearly $2.8 billion.

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