AFI Top 50 Screen Legends

Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and Grace Kelly just 3 of the AFI Top 50 Screen Legends

Sometime in 2011 we decided it would be fun to do a Ultimate Movie Rankings (UMR) movie page on the AFI Top 50 Screen Legends.  The AFI list of the top 50 greatest screen legends in American film history, included 25 male and 25 female stars. The list was unveiled by the American Film Institute on June 15, 1999.  The American Film Institute defined an “American screen legend” as an actor or a team of actors during the classic film era with a significant screen presence in American feature-length films whose screen debut occurred in or before 1950, or whose screen debut occurred after 1950 but whose death has marked a completed body of work.

When we started doing these pages 6 of the 50 Screen Legends were still alive.  Sadly Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley Temple and Lauren Bacall passed away before we could finish our quest.  Kirk Douglas, Sidney Poitier and Sophia Loren are still alive and well.  Douglas will be 100 later this year…and just last week we received an autograph from that screen legend…but that is another story.  After spending the last 5 years looking at the AFI list…we can say we like the list…BUT….there is one massive injustice.  How Olivia de Havilland did not make the list makes no sense to us….ok done ranting.

The first AFI screen legend we researched and wrote about was Clark Gable….the last AFI screen legend we did was Mary Pickford.  Between the Gable and Pickford pages….5 years passed, we changed our website home 2 times, we took a statistical look at 2,267 movies and we saw our classic movie pages become the most popular on our website….easily kicking our current movie star pages to the curb.  So we decided to put all 50 of our AFI Screen Legends on one page.  Each link below will take you to that star’s UMR page….where you will find box office grosses, reviews and awards for every single movie that star made during their career.  John Wayne and Robert Mitchum are tied with the most movies (83) while James Dean has the least (3 movies).

afi top 25 actors

AFI’s Top 25 Screen Legend Actors….with links to our movie pages on the Screen Legend

1.   Humphrey Bogart  58 Movies Ranked….from Casablanca (1942) to Swing Your Lady (1938)
2.   Cary Grant 58 Movies Ranked… from North by Northwest (1959) to Born To Be Bad (1934)
3.   James Stewart 73 Movies Ranked Mr. Smith Goes to Washington(1939) to Big Sleep(1978)
4.   Marlon Brando 37 Movies Ranked….from The Godfather (1972) to Christopher Columbus (1992)
5.   Fred Astaire 39 Movies Ranked The Towering Inferno (1974) to The Amazing Dobermans (1976)
6.   Henry Fonda 81 Movies Ranked… On Golden Pond (1981) to City on Fire (1979)
7.   Clark Gable 63 Movies Ranked….from Gone With The Wind (1939) to Parnell (1937)
8.   James Cagney 61 Movies Ranked….from Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) to Boy Meets Girl (1938)
9.   Spencer Tracy 53 Movies Ranked….from Boy’s Town (1938) to Up the River (1930)
10. Charles Chaplin 12 Movies Ranked….from The Kid (1921) to A Countess from Hong Kong (1967)
11. Gary Cooper 67 Movies Ranked….from Sergeant York (1941) to Fighting Caravans (1931)
12. Gregory Peck 53 Movies Ranked To Kill a Mockingbird(1962) to Amazing Grace & Chuck(1987)
13. John Wayne 83 Movies Ranked….from True Grit (1969) to Brannigan (1975)
14. Laurence Olivier 48 Movies Ranked….from Rebecca (1940) to Inchon (1982)
15. Gene Kelly 40 Movies Ranked….from Anchors Aweigh (1945) to Viva Knievel! (1977)
16. Orson Welles 75 Movies Ranked….from Citizen Kane (1941) to Treasure Island (1972)
17. Kirk Douglas 71 Movies Ranked….from Spartacus (1960) to Diamonds (1999)
18. James Dean 3 Movies Ranked….from East of Eden (1955) to Giant (1956)
19. Burt Lancaster 67 Movies Ranked From Here to Eternity (1953) to Executive Action (1973)
20. Marx Brothers 18 Movies Ranked….from Horse Feathers (1932) to The Story of Mankind (1957)
21. Buster Keaton 28 Movies Ranked….from The Cameraman (1928) to The Intruder (1936)
22. Sidney Poitier 46 Movies Ranked….from In the Heat of the Night (1967) to Fast Forward (1985)
23. Robert Mitchum 83 Movies Ranked….from The Longest Day (1962) to Matilda (1978)
24. Edward G. Robinson 67 Movies Ranked 10 Commandments(1956) to BiggestBundleofAll(1968)
25. William Holden 66 Movies Ranked….from The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) to Ashanti (1979)


America Film Institutes’ Top 25 Screen Legend Actress and UMR’s Links That Rank All Of Their Movies.

1.  Katharine Hepburn  43 Movies Ranked..On Golden Pond (1981) to Grace Quigley (1985)
2.  Bette Davis 79 Movies Ranked…from All About Eve (1950) to Wicked Stepmother (1989)
3.  Audrey Hepburn 24 Movies Ranked…from My Fair Lady (1964) to The All Laughed (1981)
4.  Ingrid Bergman  32 Movies Ranked..Gaslight(1944) to Files of Mrs. Basil E.Frankweiler(1973)
5.  Greta Garbo 24 Movies Ranked.. from Ninotchka (1939) to Torrent (1928)
6.  Marilyn Monroe 23 Movies Ranked…from Some Like It Hot (1959) to Ladies of the Chorus (1948)
7.  Elizabeth Taylor 47 Movies Ranked..Who’s Afraid of Va.Woolf?(1966) to A Little Night Music(1977)
8.  Judy Garland 31 Movies Ranked…from A Star Is Born (1954) to I Could Go On Singing (1963)
9.  Marlene Dietrich 30 Movies Ranked…from Shanghai Express (1932) to Just A Gigolo (1978)
10. Joan Crawford 72 Movies Ranked…from Mildred Pierce (1945) to The Law of the Range (1928)
11. Barbara Stanwyck 72 Movies Ranked.. Double Indemnity (1944) to The Bride Walks Out (1936)
12. Claudette Colbert 48 Movies Ranked..It Happened One Night(1934) to Royal Affairs(1954)
13. Grace Kelly 11 Movies Ranked.. from The Country Girl (1954) to Green Fire (1954)
14. Ginger Rogers 54 Movies Ranked.. from Kitty Foyle (1940) to The Groom Wore Spurs (1951)
15. Mae West 12 Movies Ranked.. from She Done Him Wrong (1933) to Sextette (1978)
16. Vivien Leigh 15 Movies Ranked.. from Gone With The Wind (1939) to Dark Journey (1937)
17. Lillian Gish 31 Movies Ranked.. from Intolerance (1916) to Hambone and Hillie (1983)
18. Shirley Temple 37 Movies Ranked.. from Since You Went Away (1944) to Honeymoon (1947)
19. Rita Hayworth 35 Movies Ranked.. from Gilda (1946) to The Naked Zoo (1970)
20. Lauren Bacall 36 Movies Ranked.. from To Have and Have Not (1944) to Diamonds (1999)
21. Sophia Loren 29 Movies Ranked.. from El Cid (1961) to Firepower (1979)
22. Jean Harlow 22 Movies Ranked.. from The Public Enemy (1931) to Riffraff (1936)
23. Carole Lombard 39 Movies Ranked from My Man Godfrey (1936) to It Pays To Advertise(1931)
24. Mary Pickford 31 Movies Ranked.. from The Little Princess (1917) to Rosita (1923)
25. Ava Gardner 40 Movies Ranked.. from The Killers (1946) to City on Fire (1979)
The amount of hours that went into this quest is mind boggling....but now that it is over....gotta admit...damn glad I did it. Of course that brings out the question...What Now?

The amount of hours that went into this quest is mind boggling….but now that it is over….gotta admit…damn glad we did it. Of course that brings out the question…What Now?

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74 thoughts on “AFI Top 50 Screen Legends

    1. Hey Patty. I have always felt that the AFI did a much better job with the actors than they did the actresses. But if I had to take a couple off the list…the candidates would be James Dean (3 movies really sticks out on this list of actors with long careers) and Edward G. Robinson (great actor but one of the Top 25 of all-time?). Another one I would look at would be The Marx Brothers…..a limited amount of movies. Thanks for stopping by and checking out our AFI legends page.

  1. I can’t find the link from yesterday with the films with 3 or more AFI legends in them so I posted what I found here. You had about 20 listed and they’re probably all here, but maybe there’s 1 or 2 new ones listed.

    A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) CHARLES CHAPLIN
    A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) MARLON BRANDO
    A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) SOPHIA LOREN
    All About People (1967) BURT LANCASTER
    All About People (1967) EDWARD G. ROBINSON
    All About People (1967) HENRY FONDA
    Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) CAROLE LOMBARD
    Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) CLARK GABLE
    Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) GARY COOPER
    Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) JOAN CRAWFORD
    Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) LILLIAN GISH
    Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) MARY PICKFORD
    Boom Town (1940) CLARK GABLE
    Boom Town (1940) CLAUDETTE COLBERT
    Boom Town (1940) SPENCER TRACY
    Duel in the Sun (1946) GREGORY PECK
    Duel in the Sun (1946) LILLIAN GISH
    Duel in the Sun (1946) ORSON WELLES
    Fort Apache (1948) HENRY FONDA
    Fort Apache (1948) JOHN WAYNE
    Fort Apache (1948) SHIRLEY TEMPLE
    Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) KATHARINE HEPBURN
    Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) SIDNEY POITIER
    Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) SPENCER TRACY
    Hollywood Canteen (1944) BARBARA STANWYCK
    Hollywood Canteen (1944) BETTE DAVIS
    Hollywood Canteen (1944) HUMPHREY BOGART
    Hollywood Canteen (1944) JOAN CRAWFORD
    How the West Was Won (1962) GREGORY PECK
    How the West Was Won (1962) HENRY FONDA
    How the West Was Won (1962) JAMES STEWART
    How the West Was Won (1962) JOHN WAYNE
    How the West Was Won (1962) SPENCER TRACY
    In Harm’s Way (1965) HENRY FONDA
    In Harm’s Way (1965) JOHN WAYNE
    In Harm’s Way (1965) KIRK DOUGLAS
    It’s a Great Feeling (1949) EDWARD G. ROBINSON
    It’s a Great Feeling (1949) GARY COOPER
    It’s a Great Feeling (1949) JOAN CRAWFORD
    Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) BURT LANCASTER
    Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) JUDY GARLAND
    Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) MARLENE DIETRICH
    Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) SPENCER TRACY
    Key Largo (1948) EDWARD G. ROBINSON
    Key Largo (1948) HUMPHREY BOGART
    Key Largo (1948) LAUREN BACALL
    Kid Galahad (1937) BETTE DAVIS
    Kid Galahad (1937) EDWARD G. ROBINSON
    Kid Galahad (1937) HUMPHREY BOGART
    Mogambo (1953) AVA GARDNER
    Mogambo (1953) CLARK GABLE
    Mogambo (1953) GRACE KELLY
    Monkey Business (1952) CARY GRANT
    Monkey Business (1952) GINGER ROGERS
    Monkey Business (1952) MARILYN MONROE
    Now and Forever (1934) CAROLE LOMBARD
    Now and Forever (1934) GARY COOPER
    Now and Forever (1934) SHIRLEY TEMPLE
    On the Beach (1959) AVA GARDNER
    On the Beach (1959) FRED ASTAIRE
    On the Beach (1959) GREGORY PECK
    Paris – When It Sizzles (1964) AUDREY HEPBURN
    Paris – When It Sizzles (1964) MARLENE DIETRICH
    Paris – When It Sizzles (1964) WILLIAM HOLDEN
    Reunion in France (1942) AVA GARDNER
    Reunion in France (1942) JOAN CRAWFORD
    Reunion in France (1942) JOHN WAYNE
    Sabrina (1954) AUDREY HEPBURN
    Sabrina (1954) HUMPHREY BOGART
    Sabrina (1954) WILLIAM HOLDEN
    Seven Days in May (1964) AVA GARDNER
    Seven Days in May (1964) BURT LANCASTER
    Seven Days in May (1964) KIRK DOUGLAS
    Tales of Manhattan (1942) EDWARD G. ROBINSON
    Tales of Manhattan (1942) GINGER ROGERS
    Tales of Manhattan (1942) HENRY FONDA
    Tales of Manhattan (1942) RITA HAYWORTH
    That’s Entertainment (1974) FRED ASTAIRE
    That’s Entertainment (1974) GENE KELLY
    That’s Entertainment (1974) JAMES STEWART
    The Cassandra Crossing (1976) AVA GARDNER
    The Cassandra Crossing (1976) BURT LANCASTER
    The Cassandra Crossing (1976) SOPHIA LOREN
    The Devil’s Disciple (1959) BURT LANCASTER
    The Devil’s Disciple (1959) KIRK DOUGLAS
    The Devil’s Disciple (1959) LAURENCE OLIVIER
    The Johnstown Flood (1926) CAROLE LOMBARD
    The Johnstown Flood (1926) CLARK GABLE
    The Johnstown Flood (1926) GARY COOPER
    The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) BURT LANCASTER
    The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) KIRK DOUGLAS
    The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) ROBERT MITCHUM
    The Longest Day (1962) HENRY FONDA
    The Longest Day (1962) JOHN WAYNE
    The Longest Day (1962) ROBERT MITCHUM
    The Philadelphia Story (1940) CARY GRANT
    The Philadelphia Story (1940) JAMES STEWART
    The Philadelphia Story (1940) KATHARINE HEPBURN
    The Shootist (1976) JAMES STEWART
    The Shootist (1976) JOHN WAYNE
    The Shootist (1976) LAUREN BACALL
    The Slippery Pearls (1931) BUSTER KEATON
    The Slippery Pearls (1931) EDWARD G. ROBINSON
    The Slippery Pearls (1931) GARY COOPER
    The Slippery Pearls (1931) JOAN CRAWFORD
    The Unforgiven (1960) AUDREY HEPBURN
    The Unforgiven (1960) BURT LANCASTER
    The Unforgiven (1960) LILLIAN GISH
    Variety Girl (1947) BARBARA STANWYCK
    Variety Girl (1947) BURT LANCASTER
    Variety Girl (1947) GARY COOPER
    Variety Girl (1947) WILLIAM HOLDEN
    Wife vs. Secretary (1936) CLARK GABLE
    Wife vs. Secretary (1936) JAMES STEWART
    Wife vs. Secretary (1936) JEAN HARLOW
    Ziegfeld Follies (1946) FRED ASTAIRE
    Ziegfeld Follies (1946) GENE KELLY
    Ziegfeld Follies (1946) JUDY GARLAND

  2. Now that Cogerson has done a list of the top ticket-sellers among actresses, I wanted to compare the top 25 of that list with this legends list. I used the same criteria. Entered movies prior to 1950 or career completed because of death. ( ) is used to give position in AFi legends list.

    1—–Myrna Loy
    2—–Olivia de Havilland
    3—–Barbara Stanwyck (11)
    4—–Joan Crawford (10)
    5—–Elizabeth Taylor (7)
    6—–Ginger Rogers (14)
    7—–Lana Turner
    8—–Bette Davis (2)
    9—–Claudette Colbert (12)
    10—Maureen O’Hara
    11—Susan Hayward
    12—Judy Garland (8)
    13—Katherine Hepburn (1)
    14—Ingrid Bergman (4)
    15—Shirley Temple (18)
    16—Doris Day
    17—Betty Grable
    18—Deborah Kerr
    19—Natalie Wood
    20—Paulette Goddard
    21—Ava Gardner (25)
    22—Mary Pickford (24)
    23—Gene Tierney
    24—Joan Fontaine
    25—Lucille Ball

    My question. Which list is a better reflection of the top 25 actresses?

    1. To comment on my own question,

      I think the top ticket-seller list is better. (I’m not considering rank order, only who made and who should have made such a list). Several actresses I thought that should have been on the AFI list, and were gross omissions, are here–Myrna Loy, Olivia de Havilland, Maureen O’Hara, Deborah Kerr. Irene Dunne just missed at #26. If she had made it, it would have been a home run of my top five “screwed by the AFI voters” list. I also like that Doris Day made this list. Several dubious choices on the AFI list were edited out–Mae West, Sophia Loren. On this list, the one who really doesn’t deserve it, in my opinion, is Lucille Ball. What about Garbo and Dietrich? Well, despite the critics, I don’t think they actually made as many top movies as several of the women excluded from the legends list but found here.

      1. Hey John….I can hear lots of people saying great box office means nothing about quality of an actress. Those people would shoot down your list very quickly. Garbo, Monroe, A. Hepburn, Dietrich and Garland have huge followings and are considered some of the greatest actresses ever….so them not making the Top 25 would probably upset them.

        That being said. I think box office grosses is very important…but maybe looking at the average per movie with a minumum requirement might be a better way to include box office grosses in a ranking.

        As for the actresses you mentioned….we are thinking the same way….when I did a 1950-2010 legend page….I put Loy, Dunne, de Havilland and Kerr on the classic list and moved people like Monroe, Kelly and Loren on the current list.

        As for Ball….I think you are correct….her movie career was ok…..but not up there with these other greats…her movie roles were either supporting or leads in B movies. After her success in television she had some hits but they are far from classic movies.

        Great, thought provoking comment….glad to see people using the numbers our database spits out.

        1. Cogerson

          Thanks for the comment. But one thing. Judy Garland is on my list, although it isn’t my list exactly. It is just the top 25 ticket-sellers.

          This list did reward a long and productive career, though.

          The weakest candidates are those down near the bottom. If I were making a personal list, I might wash out five of the bottom six (Goddard, Wood, Tierney, Fontaine, & Ball) and replace them with Monroe, A Hepburn, Hayworth, Garbo, and Dietrich.

          “I did the 1950-2010 legends page”

          Yes. I have to comment on that one day. Stay tuned.

          1. Hey John….somehow I missed that you had included Judy Garland…..I should have realized that mistake….because almost everyone of her movies was a monster hit.

            I think the elimination of those bottom six and the inclusion of the six would make the list better.

            This got me thinking of a “fun stat project” we did awhile ago….did a combined look at box office, awards and reviews…and came up with a Top 222 actor page….if is way out of date now….but it was fun to do…I thought the points per movie (using a minimum worked out the best)… might find it interesting.


    2. Thanks for the break down, John. I actually like both lists. My mother loved Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn their inclusion on the AFI list and their exclusion on your list would be my biggest concern. Have to admit my classic movie knowledge is not as impressive as others that linger around her.

    3. Hey John….wow only 11 (or 44%) if AFI made the top ticket sellers….meaning 56% failed to do so. I will answer your question in one of my other responses to your comments.

  3. AFI made one of the most idiotic “greatest” compilation with this 50 screen legends list. So many injustices done to better actress and actors in here. I shall mention some of them below.

    First and the foremost, James Dean? Who did like 3 movies made the list? I mean, yes East of Eden was great. But seriously? Whereas Monty Clift is not there? Even James Dean himself considered Clift the better actor, and anyone with a brain knows that this is true? Have the daft dumbos who made this list seen movies like From here to Eternity, A Place in the Sun, Red River, The Heiress, The Search??? Where he outacted his costars? No? No wonder.

    Also Paul Newman? Jack Lemmon? Errol Flyn? Richard Burton? John Barrymore? Where are they??? Fred Astaire above Clark Gable, Buster Keaton, Spencer Tracey???

    And seriously Marilyn Monroe??? Are you kidding me? Audrey Hepburn at #3??? That is also above Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor etc. I mean, yes Audrey was a screen icon, but better actress than the ones mentioned?? No way in h***. Marilyn Monroe on the other hand was a mediocre actress in comparison to almost all of the mentioned ones as well as unmentioned actresses like Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, Shirley MacLaine, Deborrah Kerr etc.

    I cannot express the bewilderment this list generated in me. It’s sacrilegious towards the profession of acting. AFI should be condemned for overlooking some of the greatest, viz Montgomery Clift, Errol Flyn, Jack Lemmon, Paul Newman, Richard Burton, John Barrymore, Leslie Howard, Norma Shearer, SHirley MacLaine, Deborrah Kerr, Natalie Wood, Greer Garson, William Powell, Joseph Cotten, Miriam Hopkins and many more.

    1. Hey Wong.
      1. First of all….I love your comment…your passion on the subject really comes through in your comment.
      2. As for the AFI list… main complaint is that they did not really provide the rules that got people on the list….and the reasoning some stars failed to make the list.
      3. It took a few years…but I was able to write a page on all 50 AFI picks….some were no brainers….but the ones in the 20s sometimes left me wondering what they were thinking.
      4. After I finished that massive project…I created my own Screen Legends for 1950 to 2010…..on the actress side….I moved some off the classic list and moved them to the current list….Monroe, A Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Loren…..and I added Myrna Loy, Irene Dunne, Olivia de Havilland and Deborah Kerr to the classic list.
      5. By doing a current list…I was able to include many of the people you mentioned….Lemmon, Newman, Burton, MacLaine, Kerr and Wood……so I guess I am saying I understand your thinking….and I agree with it.
      6. As for some of the actors…..sometimes it comes to just too many good actors for a list of only 100….so some greats did not make my list or their list….Errol Flynn, Charlton Heston, Monty Clift come to mind.
      7. As for their rankings….yes they do not make a whole lot of sense…Astaire is wonderful….but when people name famous classic actors….Astaire is not in the first group….he pops up only after people have thought about it for awhile. Same think about Hepburn….she was an all-time favorite….but her film career was not too long…..but she remained a celebrity her whole life….and that carried lots of weight when they were coming up with this list.
      Once again…great comment…..hopefully you will check out our close to 200 classic movie pages here on our website. 🙂

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