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

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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

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.

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