Great Character and Supporting Actors

The other day I thought I'd put together a list of character actors and actresses that guys could rely on to be entertaining in movies. Nothing ends up simple like that. You see, when I first started watching movies and learning el lingo, I thought that a character actor was the same as a supporting actor. It turns out that I was wrong, but at least I understood where my mistake lied.

It turns out that a character actor is someone who plays the same sort of character over and over again. Usually, supporting actors are character actors, but character acting isn't limited to supporting characters. For example, an "actor" like the Lone Ranger's horse Silver might be the perfect example of a character actor in a supporting role, Lassie, a big name star, can be seen as the perfect example of a character actor in a lead role.

Not Calling Anyone Wilbur

Moving away from the bestiary, there are people like Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Renée Zellweger who play the same character over and over again. In fact, anyone that my father used to critique as, "Not acting," fits the category. Jack's Jack. Arnold's Arnold. Renée's a dishrag.

On a side note, the true definition of a character actor probably explains to some small extent why Cary Grant had such a hard time at the Oscars. (Other factors included his decision to become the first actor who was independent of a studio and, on the whole just making the acting thing seem too easy.) He was basically Cary Grant in all of his movies. He was watchable, bankable, and a role model for cool and smooth. But, since he was a character actor he was never rewarded for any single film. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy than he when he won the honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in 1970.

Anyway, understanding what character actors really are has led me to divide up actors. all actors and actresses who appear in primarily guy films, into four lists. The first list contains the great supporting actors. These are the guys and gals who might only get top billing once in a while, but you know who they are and they make every movie they're in better. The second list names the great leading men/women character actors. These are people whose individual tried and true formula keeps you coming back for more. The third collection is THE list. These are the all time winners, the great actors who can be plopped into any situation and they'll adapt and shine. They can be heroes, villains, dorks, or drunks. (Or, to quote David Bromberg, "...prophets and punks...kings and old drunks.")

The last is the list of the honorable/dishonorable mentions. These are actors and actresses who may or may not be stars and although they've had one or more films worth watching you can't bank on them to always be in a movie that you, a guy, would like.

When I came up with this, I had some problems with categories. Is John Hurt a lead actor or supporting actor? Is Kurt Russell a character actor or a versatile actor? I took my best stab at it.

Another problem I had was separating the off-screen person with their acting ability. For example, Mr. Sean Connery, a.k.a. 007, the man who made a living using weapons, bit the hand that fed him when he came out and campaigned for banning handguns in Scotland. Whether or not to include Mr. Connery is, as much as possible, a decision that I tried to make exclusive of the man's personal hypocrisy.

Finally, the last issue had to do with the subjective understanding of a "guy movie". For example, Katherine Hepburn is probably the greatest actress that ever lived. But with only a few possible exceptions, like The African Queen, she hasn't been in enough "guy friendly" movies to make me recommend her as someone whose movies you should seek out.

I like to think that I've sampled enough movies to give a good picture of actors and actresses, but I could be wrong. Still, there are people from movies you may not have heard of that I've included. I did this to avoid the pitfall of selecting, say, all of the participants in a particularly great movie and then stop there claiming it was a representation (although Casablanca does have more than its fair share of great stars). I've tried hard to represent vintage stars as well as contemporary thespians.

Here are the lists:
1) Supporting Actors/Actresses
2) Leading Character Actors/Actresses
3) Leading Versatile Actors
4) Excluded Actors/Actresses

Here, in alphabetical order, are the supporting actors. It's not limited to character actors. You know their face if not their name and you smile a bit when they show up in a movie that you're watching. All movies listed are no worse than candidates for the Not Shabby list, so check them out.

  Supporting Actor/Actress A Summary and Movies That They Made Entertaining
Alan Arkin Even in atrocious movies like Bad Medicine, Alan Arkin is worth watching.

Movies: Catch-22 (1970), Little Murders (1971), Freebie and the Bean (1974), The In-Laws (1979), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Ward Bond The mustachioed sidekick for everybody from John Wayne to Henry Fonda to James Stewart.

Movies: Gentleman Jim (1942), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), The Quiet Man (1952), Rio Bravo (1959)
Steve Buscemi Always slightly off center, but always compelling.

Movies: Reservoir Dogs (1992), Airheads (1994), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), Ghost World* (2001)
Eddie Deezen That voice. That delivery. That face. That voice! It can only be Eddie Deezen.

Movies: 1941 (1979), Surf II (1984), Beverly Hills Vamp (1989), The Polar Express* (2004)
Benicio del Toro Maybe he's working up to leading man, but his supporting roles are the best.

Movies: The Usual Suspects (1994), Snatch (2000), Sin City (2005)
Sandy Dennis Forgotten perhaps and underrated, her characters brim with a combination of naïveté and quirkiness.

Movies: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), The Out of Towners (1970), The Four Seasons* (1981), Parents (1989)
Bruce Dern Even in his 20s, Bruce Dern could best be described as a crazy old coot.

Movies: Hang 'Em High (1968), Silent Running (1972), The 'Burbs (1989), Diggstown (1992)
Brad Dourif The characters he plays are as psychotic as Brad Dourif looks. But he brings a pathos to the crazies that makes you root for them. Weird.

Movies: Eyes of Laura Mars² (1978), Dune (1984), Blue Velvet (1986), Mississippi Burning (1988)
Dan Duryea The well dressed chap in the fedora and zoot suit from the wrong side of the tracks.

Movies: Too Late for Tears (1949), Criss Cross² (1949), Winchester '73 (1950), Thunder Bay² (1953)
Jack Elam That one blind eye made him look crazy, so that's the type of character he over two hundred movies and television episodes. Anyone remember his series "Struck By Lightning"? He played Frank(enstien's monster) without even needing makeup.

Movies: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Pocketful of Miracles (1961), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Rio Lobo (1970)
Paul Giamatti When he's in the zone, he becomes the character to the point that Paul Giamatti the man disappears.

Movies: Saving Private Ryan (1998), Paycheck (2003), Cinderella Man (2005), The Illusionist (2006)
Sydney Greenstreet Lots of fat men have come and gone and tried to steal Sydney's thunder, but he's irreplaceable. He started acting in movies when he was in his sixties.

Movies: The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), Passage to Marseille² (1944), Flamingo Road² (1949)
James Hong For years I didn't pay attention to him because I thought that anyone as arrogant on-screen as he was had to be the same off-screen. Then I saw him in a couple of comedies and changed my mind. All that his career proves is that he's great in every role.

Movies: Airplane! (1980), Blade Runner (1982), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Balls of Fury (2007)
Linda Hunt Excels at roles where her diminutive size belies a composed and in-control force that must not be disobeyed.

Movies: The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), Dune (1984), Kindergarten Cop (1990), Prêt-à-Porter (Ready to Wear)* (1994)
John Hurt Is he a star or a supporting actor? He never quite became a marquee name, so he's part of this group.

Movies: Alien (1979), The Hit (1984), 1984² (1984), Frankenstein Unbound (1990), V for Vendetta (2005)
Elsa Lanchester She had a penchant for playing eccentric, funny characters. In chick flicks, she was a fine dramatic actress.

Movies: Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Mary Poppins* (1964), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), The Bishop's Wife (1947), Bell, Book, and Candle (1958)
Peter Lorre A chameleon of an actor. He could successfully be anything from a child killer to a fop to a dashing raconteur.

Movies: M¹ (1931), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), The Mask of Dimitrios² (1944) Tales of Terror - "The Black Cat" segment (1962)
Eugene Pallette Imagine a voice like a frog and disposition that enjoys pranks even when they're played on him.

Movies: The Greene Murder Case² (1929), My Man Godfrey (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Topper (1937)
Harry Dean Stanton When you see him, you wonder if he's acting or just being animated. He's a cultural avatar for the loosely tethered.

Movies: Kelly's Heroes (1970), Escape from New York (1981), Paris, Texas* (1984), Repo Man (1984), The Pledge (2001)
 Woody Strode   Mostly portrayed the strong, silent, threatening type because of his screen presence, but he had range as well. For a side note, at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, although he did not compete because of a college obligation, Woody Strode still impressed Adolf Hitler to the point that Der Fuehrer commissioned a painting of Strode.

Movies: Pork Chop Hill (1959), Spartacus (1960), Sergeant Rutledge² (1960), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), The Professionals (1966)
Mary Woronov Tall with a husky voice and perhaps a touch of the androgynous, her unique features allowed for aloof and condescending characters. When she plays a villainess, it's fun to watch.

Movies: Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979), Eating Raoul (1982), Nomads (1986), Prison-A-Go-Go!² (2003)

*a chick flick that you may wish to give a pass to
¹ a foreign film so get ready to read the subtitles
² not seen, so the recommendation is second hand

This next list contains leading men or ladies who are character actors. They're always the same person but with different dialogue. A large percentage of these people can't act, but they're watchable regardless. Once again, the list is in alphabetical order although I would have liked to place Cary Grant first on any list.

  Leading Character     Actor/Actress A Summary and Movies That They Made Entertaining
Charles Bronson Never in a rush, the low, slow spoken Charles Bronson fathered the genre of vigilante movies. His rough looks added credence to all of his tough characters.

Movies: The Dirty Dozen (1967), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Death Wish (1974), From Noon Till Three (1976), Telephon (1977), Death Hunt (1981)
Geneviève Bujold       Helena Bonham Carter always reminds me of Geneviève Bujold but Geneviève Bujold doesn't remind me of Helena Bonham Carter. I guess that means that in spite of Marla Singer, Geneviève Bujold is the one to watch.

Movies: Coma (1978), Anne of the Thousand Days* ² (1969), Tightrope (1984), Trouble in Mind² (1985), Dead Ringers (1988)
Bruce Campbell I've said it before and I'll say it again - the man can't act. Who cares? He's a classic for a reason. He also has some of the best quotes this side of Kurt Russell. Is he a supporting character or a leading man? The Evil Dead series makes him a leading man. It's his cameos that put him on this list.

Movies: The Evil Dead (1981), Darkman (cameo) (1990), Spider-Man (cameo) (2002), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), The Woods (2006)
James Coburn Cocky, self-assured, formidable, unapologetic, and hell with the ladies. Bruce Lee taught him martial arts. Try and top all that! Now he was the guy I wanted to be like.

Movies: The Magnificent Seven (1960), Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966), Our Man Flint (1966), The President's Analyst (1967), Hard Times (1975), Payback (cameo) (1999)
Sean Connery Suave arrogance is his stock in trade. He is the archetypal James Bond for all time.

Movies: From Russia With Love (1963), A Fine Madness (1966), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), Outland (1981), Family Business (1989), The Hunt for Red October (1990)
Clint Eastwood Another one of those guys that really can't act. When he's trying to deliver more than one line of pithy dialog, it's almost painful to watch. Still, he created not one, but two iconic characters - the man with no name and Dirty Harry. In Clint Eastwood roles, there's no substitute.

Movies: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Kelly's Heroes (1970), Dirty Harry (1971), Million Dollar Baby (2004)
W.C. Fields A dry, biting wit combined with a less than angelic outlook on life resulted in quotable, watchable characters in every one of Fields' films and short films. The more surreal the circumstances, the more at home he felt.

Movies: The Bank Dick (1940), You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939), It's a Gift² (1934), The Fatal Glass of Beer (short) (1933), The Golf Specialist (short) (1930)
Errol Flynn Buckle that swash when you talk about Errol Flynn! One of the few cultured action heroes. Before being diagnosed with Athlete's Heart, he performed his own fast paced stunts. Sword fighting, rope swinging, boxing, cavalry charges, you name it and if it was manly, Errol Flynn did it in movies.

Movies: Captain Blood (1935), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), Gentleman Jim (1942)
Clark Gable How good was he? As the fast talking womanizer, he could sell anything. He could sell male audience members on the idea of watching chick flicks, that is he could if he was in them. Years after he died, he could still sell Glenn Danzig on the idea of naming a band after his last movie. He was that good.

Movies: It Happened One Night (1934), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Test Pilot (1938), Gone With the Wind (1939), The Hucksters (1947)
Cary Grant Urbane, dashing, collected...the superlatives for just being cool at all times can go on and on. The best part wasn't his self-deprecating nature or his mugging for the camera but his timing when delivering a line. To this day it's peerless.

Movies: She Done Him Wrong (1933), The Philadelphia Story* (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), North by Northwest (1959), Charade (1963)
Pam Grier Every bit a paradigm as anyone else on this list. She starred in blaxploitation films and had the ability to really star in them. She played the same streetwise, no nonsense character over and over but she had that character down to an art form.

Movies: Coffy (1973), Scream Blacula Scream² (1973), Foxy Brown² (1974), Jackie Brown (1997)
Samuel L. Jackson Frankly, I'm sick of Samuel L. Jackson. He's the same loudmouth in every movie and what was once fresh and entertaining is now stale and grating. But, there was a time before he believed all the hype about his greatness when he really was great.

Movies: Pulp Fiction (1994), Deep Blue Sea (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
Lee Marvin Tough as nails on-screen and off, with a military record to prove the latter. Yet it was for his dual roles in the comedy Cat Ballou that he won his Oscar. Always worth watching because of the conviction with which he portrayed each of his characters.

Movies: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Point Blank (1967), Emperor of the North (1973), The Third Man (1949)
Groucho Marx That grease paint moustache. That cigar. Those glasses. They can only belong to Groucho Marx. The effronery and scathing wit? Still Groucho. Even without his siblings he was entertaining.

Movies: The Cocoanuts (1929), Monkey Business (1931), Duck Soup (1933), A Night at the Opera (1935), Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (cameo) (1957)
Steve McQueen I was on the fence about Steve McQueen. But his résumé cannot be argued with. I didn't normally think of guys in turtlenecks when I thought of guy movie stars. I will from now on.

Movies: The Blob (1958), The Great Escape (1963), The Sand Pebbles (1956), Bullitt (1968), The Getaway² (1972)
Robert Mitchum Good guys or bad guys, as long as they were tough guys Mitchum was happy. His deep, rumbling bass voice was unmistakable. He portrayed archetypal characters like Max Cady and Harry Powell.

Movies: Out of the Past (1947), The Night of the Hunter (1955), Cape Fear (1962), Farewell, My Lovely (1975)
Jack Nicholson No one does nearly certifiable like Jack. He just ratchets himself up a bit and he's ready to deliver his lines. He's the complete package and each of his characters has their own unique mannerisms, facial expressions, and appearance but in the end they are just different sides of Jack.

Movies: Easy Rider (1969), Chinatown (1974), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Wolf (1994), The Departed (2006)
William Powell His love of life and innocuous one liners make him entertaining. He always displayed an inner glow that radiated happiness with himself and the state of world.

Movies: The Canary Murder Case² (1929), The Thin Man (1934), My Man Godfrey (1936), How to Marry a Millionaire* (1953), Mister Roberts (1955)
Vincent Price Was he craven and lovelorn? Suave and debonair? Shady and diabolical? He was actually distilled class, combining equal parts ham and gentleman. Could he act? When his role called for it. Could he entertain? Always.

Movies: The Three Musketeers (1948), The Ten Commandments (1956), The Fly (1958), House of Usher (1960), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Witchfinder General (1968), Theatre of Blood (1973)
Jean Reno Rumor has it that he started out in romantic comedies. He can do comedies, but he made a name for himself as the big, tough French guy. Really. French. Forgive him Godzilla because everyone needs a payday.

Movies: The Big Blue (1988), La Femme Nikita (1990), Léon: The Professional (1994), Ronin (1998), Wasabi (2001)
John Wayne Besides nearly single-handedly winning most of America's wars, John Wayne developed a low-key screen persona that no one else even dares imitate unless it's for a laugh. Each of his films is like all of the others, but that's a good thing.

Movies: Stagecoach (1939), The Fighting Seabees (1944), Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), The Searchers (1956), El Dorado (1966), Brannigan (1975)
Orson Welles With an ego bigger than his eventual huge waistline, Orson Welles had a hard time finding work because he wanted things done his way. But when he did agree to follow instructions, and he was sober, you realized that his sense of self-importance was actually deserved. His character? Why the pompous, bombastic ass of course.

Movies: Citizen Kane (1941), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), The Third Man (1949), Touch of Evil (1958)

What follows next is the big list of heavy hitters that you can watch in any movie no matter what type of character they play. Do you want a clown? How about a CEO? Maybe a hobo? A wimp? A he man? The people on the next list can do it all and do it all well.

Up to this point, I've been non-committal about rating people. It's easier to simply arrange them in alphabetical order without making an ordinal judgement call. I've changed that for this list. In this list, the people will appear in order from nearly great at the start to the greatest of all as the last.

  Leading Actor/Actress Movies and Roles That Prove They're Ubiquitous
George C. Scott Mister Intensity also had a flair for comedy when his pride allowed it. His later roles were weak.
Movies: The Hustler (1961) - a collections manager and gambling manipulator
Dr. Strangelove (1964) - the buffoonish General Buck Turgidson
Patton (1970) - the arrogant, titular general with limited emotional control
The Hospital (1971) - chief of medicine in an entropy riddled workplace
They Might Be Giants² (1971) - a current day man with a Sherlock Holmes complex
Firestarter (1984) - a Native American with a morbid pursuit
Bruce Willis Known as a smart alec, he's credible in lots of roles. (It surprised me, too.)
Movies: Die Hard (1988) - a stubborn cop with a quick tongue
Death Becomes Her* (1992) - a henpecked plastic surgeon
Nobody's Fool (1994) - a construction contractor in a loose marriage
The Sixth Sense (1999) - a fatalistic psychiatrist with a problem
Unbreakable (2000) - an ordinary man with a superhuman gift
16 Blocks (2006) - a washed up cop with a conscience
Christopher Lee Surprising range for a Hammer Films graduate.
Movies: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) - Frankenstein's monster, Hammer Films version
The Horror of Dracula (1958) - the best Dracula portrayal ever (evah!)
Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962) - Sherlock Holmes, too! (but in a weak film)
The Three Musketeers (1973) - Compte de Rochefort, an enemy of the Musketeers
The Wicker Man (1974) - a naif of a police officer and a victim of Wikka
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) - Scaramanga, the title character, an enemy of 007
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring² (2001) - a coveter of collectable jewelry
Kurt Russell You cannot succeed with his range of roles without being an excellent actor. Beware of his pre-1979 stuff.
Movies: Used Cars (1980) - a shady used car salesman
Escape from New York (1981) - mercenary Snake Plissken saving the POTUS
The Thing (1982) - an average Joe, in the Antarctic, trying to save the world from an alien invasion
Big Trouble in Little China (1986) - Jack Burton, a man with as much bluff as bravado
Captain Ron (1992) - a sailboat captain for hire
Tombstone (1993) - the western hero Wyatt Earp
Soldier (1998) - a laconic soldier of tomorrow
Michael Caine An excess of bad roles nearly excluded him. But even his bad ones have a kitsch factor.
Movies: Zulu (1964) - a British officer facing thousands of Zulus
The Ipcress File (1965) - a sarcastic secret agent in a poorly funded agency
Alfie* (1966) - a gigolo forced to understand accountability
The Last Valley (1971) - a knight and captain in the Thirty Years' War
Get Carter (1971) - a mob member on the run but needing to avenge his brother
Sleuth (1972) - a working class hairdresser in a battle of wits with a cuckolded writer
The Man Who Would Be King (1975) - a scamp trying to fleece Himalayan dwelling monks
Willem Dafoe Lots of "indie cred" means an eclectic mix of roles.
Movies: Streets of Fire (1984) - a gang leader in an alternate world inner city
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) - a detail oriented, ruthless counterfeiter
Platoon (1986) - a squad leader with a conscience
Clear and Present Danger (1994) - a leader of a special operations group
The Boondock Saints (1999) - an FBI crime scene investigator with an alternative lifestyle
Spider-Man (2002) - a corporate tycoon with a dark side
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) - a dedicated assistant to an underwater explorer
Charlton Heston Bigger than life but more nuanced than you'd think.
Movies: The Naked Jungle (1954) - a plantation owner at odds with his new bride and a million ants
The Ten Commandments (1956) - it doesn't get much bigger than Moses
Touch of Evil (1958) - a low key Mexican police officer
Ben-Hur (1959) - from prince to slave to Roman chariot champion
The Agony and the Ecstasy² (1965) - he portrays Michaelangelo
Planet of the Apes (1968) - an astronaut needing his wits to survive
The Omega Man (1971) - a human holding out against the next evolution of homo sapiens
Soylent Green (1973) - a cop of the near future doing his best to get by
Gene Hackman Look at his roles one by one and he's very good. But look at them in toto and he's great.
Movies: The French Connection (1971) - a monomaniacal cop based on a real one
Prime Cut (1972) - an amoral crime boss in cattle country
The Conversation (1974) - a weaselly wire tapper who's in over his head
Eureka² (1981) - an embattled, wealthy recluse who must stave off impending mob advances
Unforgiven (1992) - a western villain
Get Shorty (1995) - a pompous, arrogant Hollywood producer
Absolute Power (1997) - a self-absorbed POTUS
Lon Chaney All but one are silent films. But the pre-Hayes Office films are worth watching.
Movies: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) - Quasimodo becomes a compelling character
He Who Gets Slapped (1924) - his character descends into masochism
The Unholy Three (1925) - the leader of a unique gang of thieves
The Phantom of the Opera (1925) - his interpretation is still the one used
West of Zanzibar² (1928) - a revenge seeking, crippled "king"
Edward G. Robinson Identified primarily with gangster parts, he did vulnerable or schizophrenic as well as anyone.
Movies: Little Caesar (1930) - a defining moment for bootlegging gangster portrayals
Tiger Shark (1932)² - a control freak of a tuna fisherman
Double Indemnity (1944) - a wise and savvy veteran insurance investigator
Scarlet Street (1945) - a milquetoast driven to murder
The Red House (1947) - a cripple with a touch of the unhinged
The Cincinnati Kid (1965) - a smooth, urbane professional card player
Soylent Green (1973) - an old intellectual who knows that his time has passed
Toshirô Mifune The perfect Samurai, but in other roles his gift of pathos came out.
Movies: Stray Dog¹ ² (1949) - a police detective
Seven Samurai¹ (1954) - the leader of Samurai who save a village
The Rikisha-Man¹ ² (1958) - a man in love driven to self-destruction
Yojimbo¹ (1961) - a Ronin who invented Spaghetti Western mannerisms
Red Beard¹ ² (1965) - an altruistic physician
Hell in the Pacific² (1968) - World War II enemy/friend hybrid (watch alternate ending if you can)
Charles Laughton   He is just flat-out fun to watch. A trivial item, Elsa Lanchester was his only wife. But then, he was gay.
Movies: Island of Lost Souls (1932) - the twisted Dr. Moreau
The Private Life of Henry VIII² (1933) - Oscar winning portrayal of the monarch
Ruggles of Red Gap² (1935) - a stuffy English butler in America's old west
Mutiny on the Bounty² (1935) - the definitive depiction of the tyrant Captain Bligh
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) - a better Quasimodo than Lon Chaney's
The Canterville Ghost (1944) - a cowardly ghost
Witness for the Prosecution (1957) - a barrister between a rock and a hard place
Max von Sydow Born in Sweden, not Germany, his Swedish films are among his best if you don't mind the subtitles.
Movies: The Seventh Seal¹ (1957) - a knight tired of the war but still a protector
Through a Glass Darkly¹ ² (1961) - a doctor who is powerless to help his wife as she goes insane
The Exorcist (1973) - a priest who attempts an exorcism
Ägget är löst! (The Softening of the Egg )¹ (1975) - a dictatorial patriarch in this surreal comedy
Dune (1984) - a planetary ecologist
Hannah and Her Sisters* (1986) - a pompous artist
Citizen X (1995) - a psychological profiler
Paul Newman So many good characters, there's not enough room to list all of his worthwhile movies.
Movies: Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) - real-life boxer Rocky Graziano
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof* (1958) - a twisted, angry young man depicted through innuendo
The Hustler (1961) - a pool hustler named "Fast" Eddie Felson with a chink in his armor
Hud (1963) - so good, he's tough to watch as the self-destructive, self-centered rancher's son
Harper (1966) - an update on the film noir private eye, Newman style
Cool Hand Luke (1967) - will his iconoclastic chain gang character bend or break?
The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968) - a rogue in an Italian POW "camp" for generals
Slap Shot (1977) - a player-coach for a minor league ice hockey team
Peter O'Toole He can mask his ethereal quality when he needs to.
Movies: Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - a tortured soul military commander with a Messiah complex
What's New Pussycat? (1965) - a gentle soul who cannot resist women
How to Steal a Million (1966) - a burglar with class
The Night of the Generals (1967) - a Nazi general
The Lion in Winter (1951) - an irrepressible Henry II
My Favorite Year (1982) - an Errol Flynn clone
Creator (1985) - a college professor and geneticist
Humphrey Bogart He was and still is the best of the best.
Movies: The Petrified Forest (1936) - an escaped convict
They Drive by Night (1940) - a working stiff
Casablanca (1942) - a suave and debonair nightclub owner
The Big Sleep (1946) - a film noir gumshoe
The African Queen (1951) - a curmudgeonly recluse who finds love and wins an Oscar
Beat the Devil (1953) - a shady, whimsical con man
The Caine Mutiny (1954) - an insecure captain of a navy destroyer

* a chick flick
¹ subtitled foreign language film
² I haven't seen it, so the recommendation is second hand

There are thousands of actors and actresses, tens of thousands. I'm sure that someone's favorite character actor is missing from the above lists. In fact, I wondered why certain people I like are also absent. So, here's another list. This time, it's actors and actresses that were considered for mentions elsewhere on the page, but I removed them. It also contains people that are well known but don't have the "guy film" pedigree so I included them in this final list just to head off any comment beginning with, "But you forgot about..."

People that I deliberately omitted because they are overrated are flagged with ye olde Jolly Roger: .

Character Actor/Actress Why They Cannot Be Relied Upon to Be in"Guy" Movies
Gracie Allen A near miss for the list of leading character actresses. She's ditzy but can beat anyone with her dense and simple take on life. By anyone, I mean George Burns, W.C. Fields, or Jack Benny. She missed the list because she didn't have enough screen time in otherwise loser movies. Movies worth seeing include International House, Six of a Kind, Many Happy Returns², and A Damsel in Distress² (yes, it's a musical but what the heck).
Helena Bonham-Carter Oh, sure she was The Red Queen and perfect as Marla Singer, but she also had roles in things like The Heart of Me and Conversations with Other Women plus a number of historical romances. Considering her range, maybe she's more of a pure actress than a character actress, but she's also in the category of people where just seeing their name doesn't mean that you'll like the movie.
Marlon Brando For every Godfather there was a Reflections in a Golden Eye. For every On the Waterfront there was a Guys and Dolls . There were too many of the latter and not enough of the former.
  Richard Burton A heavyweight in Shakespearean theater and an icon for some reason (Elizabeth Taylor, perhaps?), he bears mentioning. But his prowess on the stage does not equate to being watchable at the movies. He had some entertaining, hammy roles in movies but also some unwatchable dreck. Was he good in Where Eagles Dare or was he unconvincing? How about Breakthrough²? How really, really bad was it? His voice was commanding, but his screen persona usually failed.
  George Clooney Women like George Clooney. George Clooney? Really? His social conscience is admirable but why all the hype about his acting ability? When I first saw him it was in O Brother, Where Art Thou? At the time, I thought that he might turn into the new millenium version of Clark Gable. He didn't and the harder he tried to show how great he was, the more he failed to deliver. The Men Who Stare at Goats could have been a good movie. But, George Clooney was in it dragging it down. Burn After Reading? Someone spent money to make that? Ocean's Twelve? One of the most insultingly bad movies ever made. Intolerable Cruelty? What a lousy portrayal in what might have been a decent movie.
Jeffrey Combs Even with Re-Animator and its sequels, even with, From Beyond and Castle Freak, there just weren't enough decent movies with Jeffrey Combs in them to justify adding his name to any list.
Robert De Niro In an effort to prove that he's versatile, he took on roles of people who weren't involved with organized crime. All he proved is that he's best in roles of people who are involved with organized crime. Although he can also sometimes do farce, it only works if he's somehow involved with the mob. Less and less frequently he shows up in the types of movies that are his meat and potatoes. He's been heading away from guy movies since Stanley & Iris. But he didn't go completely to the chick flick side until Meet the Fockers. I quit thinking of De Niro as a man's man after that one. Be leary of De Niro movies, but don't miss Cape Fear, Goodfellas, Midnight Run, Once Upon a Time in America, or Taxi Driver.
Kirk Douglas His westerns are a great venue for his overacting. Even some of his police movies aren't bad. But when Kirk Douglas makes a social point, he does so with a subtlety that makes William Shatner seem like a wall flower. You, the viewer, may even come away with a black eye because his passion cannot be confined to the screen. Definitely check him out in Paths of Glory, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, or The War Wagon. You may find youself wanting to see more of him.
Morgan Freeman His time on-screen has turned into a soapbox harangue of his personal opinions. So he's untrustworthy in his roles, which is a shame. I cringed when he showed up in the fun filled RED. He could've easily ruined the movie. Fortunately, he didn't. Check out Se7en, The Shawshank Redemption, and Million Dollar Baby.
Lou Gossett, Jr. He's definitely attention getting and entertaining. The problem is that some of his characters are annoying. Enemy Mine for example is written in such a way that Lou Gossett is a stereotyped member of a biker gang from a 50s movie. That his character can show emotions under the make-up is a testament to the man's acting chops, but doesn't make him favorably memorable. Watch him in Diggstown, The Choirboys, Toy Soldiers, The Highwayman².
Boris Karloff The undisputed king of horror movies in the early days, he suffered through bad scripts and directors as often as he was fortunate enough to be involved with good scripts and directors. That's why he's worth watching, but be selective. Among his best are Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, Scarface (1932), The Black Cat, and The Raven (1963).
Burt Lancaster A boy who ran away to join the circus, Burt Lancaster eventually made it to Hollywood where he dominated, or attempted to dominate, every movie he appeared in. See him match screen charisma with Lee Marvin in The Professionals. It's worthwhile. But he never seemed real; he always seemed phony. And he took a lot of dry, boring roles. Besides The Professionals, check him out in Seven Days in May, The Swimmer (which is slow but intrguing), and The Killers. You might forgive him for the sappy From Here to Eternity and the socially relevant but nevertheless dull A Child Is Waiting.
Lotte Lenya I just had to mention Lotte Lenya if for no other reason, the actress' name comes up in the song Mack the Knife as in "Look out to Miss Lotte Lenya". Bit of trivia, the song was an update of the "Ballad of Mack the Knife" from "The Three Penny Opera" which starred Lotte Lenya in the early 1930s. Cool, but this is about movies. Lotte Lenya is part of this honorable mention for one movie. At the end of From Russia with Love, she's the woman with the knife in her shoe. She took out Sean Connery's James Bond, kicked his fanny so to speak, and that makes her watchable.
Myrna Loy Sophisticated with a touch of whimsy, her role as Nora Charles in The Thin Man and its many sequels would seem to indicate that she should be someone to watch. But she had too many "for women only" films to her credit, so she didn't make the cut.
Bela Lugosi He was too hammy for his own good. You'd think that after Dracula he'd blow people away with his screen charisma. In fact, the role of his lifetime seemed to solidify some need within him to be too quick to change moods. Perhaps he should've gone to the stage on occassion after the advent of the "talkies" where such quicksilver shifts are more appreciated. Still, movies like Dracula, White Zombie, Island of Lost Souls, The Black Cat, and The Raven² (1935) prove that he's still a good time for the right frame of mind.
  Edward Norton I know that he has a cult following.. For me, he's only one rung up the ladder from Keanu Reeves with regards to excitement. Although he was the narrator in Fight Club, it's the only great performance he's turned in. His character in The Illusionist was pretty good because it was a low key character. The rest? Ugh!
Al Pacino I consider him the greatest American character actor working today. Yet he's not on the list. Well, consider 88 Minutes, Gigli (he tainted himself with his cameo), Insomnia (what's up with the hairline?), Bobby Deerfield, Author! Author!, Frankie and Johnny, and some of his Scarface knockoffs that aren't watchable. That makes him suspect so you can't just grab any old Al Pacino film and expect greatness. But when you grab a good one, he's incredible.
Zasu Pitts With a name like Zasu Pitts, you know she's going to be dotty. And she was. Oh, not in the silent films like Greed² but in the "talkies" like Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch where she starred oppposite W.C. Fields. She had too many musicals and melodramas on her résumé for her to be a go-to-gal but she almost made the list.
Oliver Reed He was like digging into a bag of Skittles and discovering windowpane. Some of his roles were mesmerizing and others were so far outside of the range of sanity you wonder if he used a Ouija or dart board when selecting a script. Too many of his movies were attempts at sappy or boring mainstream. But for the others! Buckle your seat belts! Look (out) for him in Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype, The Four Musketeers, The Devils, Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf. If you're adventuresome, also check out The Assassination Bureau (it's what I think of when someone mentions "steampunk"), Royal Flash, The Brood, and The Fall of the House of Usher.
Arnold Schwarzenegger With Arnie, there are many movies to avoid, movies like Scavenger Hunt, Red Sonja, Twins, Junior, and Collateral Damage to name five. But when the plot is related to aliens or the future check him out.
Kathleen Turner Many of her movies are worth watching, just not enough of them. Definitely check out Romancing the Stone, Crimes of Passion, Prizzi's Honor, The War of the Roses, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Christopher Walken Another tough call. But too many of his "starring" roles gave him too little screen time. Then there were movies like Heaven's Gate, A View to a Kill, Last Man Standing , and Joe Dirt. Still, his screen persona is mesmerizing, so only check out his better films like The Deer Hunter, The Dead Zone, King of New York, True Romance, and even Brainstorm.
George Zucco As a supporting actor he's been in good movies like The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Should he have been on the supporting actor list? Well, he had more "starring" roles than supporting roles so, "No." But when he was the lead actor, the movies were really, really bad. Where do you put him? Here, in the honorable mention for lead character actors. If you can handle Torn and Frayed movies like The Black Raven or Under a Rock items like Tarzan and the Mermaids then George Zucco's your man. He's always fun to watch. I've got to track down a copy of The Mad Monster just because of the name!

That's it. Those are my lists. I hope that you understand why I chose whom I did. Maybe I introduced you to someone new or let you see someone old from a new point of view.

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