The entertainment industry is full of a wide variety of actors. Some stick to only one genre or only a few character themes, whether that is their forte or because they’ve been pigeonholed by the industry. Still others have found much success by being versatile in their craft. They pick a wide variety of roles and could act in any script that’s handed to them.
Daniel Radcliffe has it right when he said, “I think any actor worth their salt wants to show as much versatility as they possibly can.” Not only do the more versatile actors win the serious awards, they also end up making a lot of money in the process.
Read on for our list of the top 20 versatile actors in the industry. Not only do these actors have a wide range of roles on their resume, they’ve also made quite a bit of bank from this career choice.
20. Emma Thompson
Not only does British actress Emma Thompson choose varied movies to work on, she also acts in such versatile roles that she is often unrecognizable. She looks nothing like herself as the titular nanny in 2005’s Nanny McPhee or as Professor Trelawney in the Harry Potter series. The Oscar-winning actress has also starred as Elinor in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility (she wrote the screenplay, too!), a downtrodden housewife in Love Actually (2003) and the troubled author/creator of Mary Poppins in Saving Mr. Banks (2013).
19. Anne Hathaway
Despite starring in a wide range of roles over the years, Anne Hathaway has only been a big name in the business since the early 2000s. Her breakout screen role was as the nerdy Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries (2001). She has since starred as Jane Austen in Becoming Jane (2007), a recovering drug addict in Rachel Getting Married (2008) and super-villain Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Anne even impressed audiences with her singing talents for her role in Les Misérables, for which she won a 2012 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
18. Kathy Bates
Early in Kathy Bates‘ career, she was relegated to Broadway productions, soap operas and small film roles. It wasn’t until the 1990 horror movie Misery that we got to see Kathy’s true acting range. She was so impressive as the scary and intense fan of a horror author that she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for the role. Since then, she’s kept choosing versatile roles. She played a dissatisfied housewife in Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), the Unsinkable Molly Brown in Titanic (1997) and a precocious house-owner in About Schmidt (2002), for which she won another Oscar.
17. Ewan McGregor
Although Ewan McGregor had a few small roles in the early ’90s, it wasn’t until his lead role as a heroin addict in 1996’s Trainspotting that he finally started getting attention. He didn’t get stuck in gritty roles after that, though. He’s had a variety of roles since then, including playing an oft-naked glam rocker in Velvet Goldmine (1998), wise mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi in the new Star Wars trilogy and romantic writer in Moulin Rouge! (2001), for which he sang his own songs.
16. Angelina Jolie
Though the start of Angelina Jolie‘s career may be attributed to being a part of a famous acting family–her father is Jon Voight–she has since earned her place in the industry due to her versatile acting talent. She played the drug-addicted, AIDS-positive supermodel Gia Carangi in Gia (1998), an adventurer in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and a classic Disney villain in Maleficent (2014). She also won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a sociopathic mental patient in Girl, Interrupted (2000).
15. Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren has an Academy Award, four Emmys and nearly 20 other film awards–and she’s showing no signs of stopping now. Her immense success and acclaim could be attributed to her varied acting roles. She has starred as a sensual Roman in Caligula (1979), a sadistic history teacher in Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999) and Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen (2006), for which she won the Oscar. She’s even done voice-acting, lending her pipes to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Monsters University and others.
14. Hilary Swank
Hilary Swank‘s roles have been all over the map when it comes to personality. Early in her career, she played the lead in The Next Karate Kid (1994), showing off her martial arts skills. In 1999, she won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as a female-to-male transgendered person in the drama Boys Don’t Cry. She won that same award again in 2004 for her role as a scrappy and persistent boxer in Million Dollar Baby. It’s easy to see that Hilary hasn’t followed the safe path when it comes to her career–and it’s paid off.
13. Meryl Streep
When it comes to awards for best actress, Meryl Streep is usually the one to beat. She has won over 150 awards, including three Oscars and eight Golden Globes. She first impressed audiences with her role as a complicated and ultimately neglectful wife and mother in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). Since then, she’s starred as a holocaust survivor in Sophie’s Choice (1982), a mean boss in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2011). She even sang her own songs in Mamma Mia! (2008).
12. Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett is one accomplished actress. So far, she has earned two Oscars, three Golden Globes, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and three Baftas, not to mention numerous other awards from smaller organizations. She has won these awards by playing Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator (2004), Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth (1998) and a high elf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, among other award-winning roles. There are no signs of stopping for this Australian powerhouse.
11. Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman started out her acting career with a bang. Her very first role was as a young orphan who befriends a hitman in the 1994 thriller Léon: The Professional. She was 13 at the time. Since then, she’s a princess in the new Star Wars trilogy, Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) and a troubled ballet dancer in Black Swan (2010). She even shaved her head for her role in V for Vendetta (2006). Now that’s dedication!
10. Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis is well known for his dedication to method acting. When he’s working on a role, he devotes himself to the character and stays as that person for the entirety of filming, both on- and off-camera. That could explain his nearly 100 awards, including three Oscars. Over the years, he’s starred as an honorable warrior in The Last of the Mohicans (1992), a villainous gang-leader in The Gangs of New York (2002), a greedy oilman in There Will Be Blood (2007) and the iconic 16th American president in Lincoln (2012).
9. Matthew McConaughey
In the beginning of Matthew McConaughey‘s career, he tended to stick with similar characters: the cool, laid-back guys. Fortunately for his mantel, which is now lined with awards, he started to go for more variety in his roles in recent years. He played a hardened fugitive in Mud (2012) and a troubled detective in the TV drama True Detective (2014). But it was his role as a cowboy diagnosed with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club, for which he reportedly lost over 40 pounds, that earned him the 2013 Academy Award for Best Actor.
8. Christian Bale
Christian Bale is known for going through extremes for his movie roles, both in the choice of characters and the lengths he’ll go through to become them. He lost an alarming amount of weight for The Machinist (2004), bulked up for his roles as Batman and gained a large amount of belly fat for American Hustle (2013). He’s also played a singing newspaper-slinger in Newsies (1992) and a suave serial killer in American Psycho (2000). It looks like those dozens of awards were well-earned.
7. Hugh Jackman
Hugh Jackman‘s versatility spans both film and stage. While he’s best known for his role as Wolverine in the X-Men movies, he doesn’t just play buff tough guys. He has won two Tony Awards and even had a music-filled one-man show. Over the years, he’s starred as a aristocratic time-traveling baron in Kate & Leopold (2001), an angsty and ruthless magician in The Prestige (2006) and a beleaguered prisoner in Les Misérables (2012), for which he sang his own songs.
6. Charlize Theron
Often known for her unmatched beauty, actress Charlize Theron isn’t afraid to get ugly for a role. That’s what she did for her Oscar-winning performance as the real-life serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, in 2003’s Monster. She’s unrecognizable in the role. Among many other roles, she’s also played a complicated superhero in Hancock (2008), an immature and neurotic 37-year-old in Young Adult (2011) and the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Hunstman (2012).
5. Robin Williams
The late Robin Williams began his career in comedy. He made audiences laugh on Mork and Mindy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. While he continued to secure comedy roles throughout his career, like in Hook (1991) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), he was able to break out of the comedy business and work on many other kinds of roles. He played an inspiring English teacher in the drama Dead Poets Society (1989), a horrifyingly creepy stalker in One Hour Photo (2002) and a passionate physician in Patch Adams (1998).Williams even won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a therapist in Good Will Hunting (1997). He’s played a gay man, Teddy Roosevelt and even a bright blue genie, making him one of the most versatile actors.
4. Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp‘s list of movie characters is so versatile, it’s rare that he plays a similar character in more than one movie–the Pirates of the Caribbean movies being an exception. No other actor can list a man with scissors on his hands, a slurring, staggering pirate or a murderous barber all on one resume. He played an emotional bad boy in Cry-Baby (1990), an undercover cop in Donnie Brasco (1997) and a comic vampire in Dark Shadows (2012). Many of these varied roles are thanks to Depp being one of director Tim Burton‘s favorite actors to work with.
3. Robert De Niro
Like Daniel Day-Lewis on this list, Robert De Niro is known for delving into his characters through method acting. De Niro is no stranger to drastic body changes for his roles. He gained 60 pounds for his role as a boxer during the making of Raging Bull (1980). He has played a mohawk-wearing delinquent in Taxi Driver (1976), a mob boss in The Godfather Part II (1974) and he even rocked a comedic role as an over-protective father in Meet the Parents (2000).
2. Will Smith
While Will Smith is best known for playing confident funny men with sassy one-liners, he isn’t just a one-trick pony. He donned special effects makeup for the role of Mohammad Ali in the drama biopic Ali in 2001 and starred alongside his young son for the heart-wrenching role of a down-and-out father looking for a job in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), both of which earned him Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations.
1. Tom Hanks
Not only is Tom Hanks a versatile actor, but he can also switch back and forth from these varying roles with little time between them. His very first Oscar for Best Actor was for his role as an AIDS-positive man looking for justice in the drama Philadelphia (1993). The very next year, he won another Best Actor Oscar for his role as a lovable guy in Forrest Gump (1994). He was nominated in 1998 for an Oscar for playing a soldier in Saving Private Ryan and again in 2000 for his role as a man stuck on a deserted island in Cast Away. Hanks definitely has lots of tricks up his sleeve.
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