What is an A-List Actor

An A-list actor is a leading movie star, one of the most sought-after and bankable stars in the Hollywood film industry. They are considered the foremost actors, with their name alone being enough to guarantee a hit at the box office.

 But what is the significance of being an A-list actor? This article will explore the definition of an A-list actor, how they differ from other actors, and what makes them so successful.

Please note that for this article, “actor” refers to a group of men and women with acting as their profession. It is not only male actors who give studios large profits; female actors also do.


An A-list actor is a big movie star or one of the most bankable actors in the movie industry. This group of major movie stars is usually the highest-level actors most desired by entertainment moguls.

Where did the term come from?

A-List refers to famous, successful, top-earning professionals like prominent recording artists and celebrities, with a social status coveted by many, including current teen idols, with more high-earning opportunities.

The term “A-list actor” has been used in the entertainment business since the early 1900s and has gained widespread usage. It is a title given to actors on the silver screen who are considered the most bankable and exceptionally successful in their field.

These actors have achieved fame and success, putting them at the top of their profession. Their box-office success would also be at the hands of the most successful film directors who eventually earn celebrity status with them.

A-list actors are usually famous for their work in blockbuster movies, television shows, and other media outlets. They repeatedly appear on magazine covers, red carpets, and talk shows. When these actors grace these events like notable international TV broadcasters and major international sports stars, public attention, and interest are guaranteed.

The term “A-list” first appeared in Variety magazine in the 1920s when they began ranking Hollywood stars based on box office performance. From that time, the term was accepted to refer to the creme de la creme of Hollywood talents.

Nowadays, A-list actors typically starred in multiple blockbuster films or Oscars or Golden Globes awards or at least nominees. Reality stars, that is, actors in reality television shows, are generally not considered on this list.

A-lister actors also get high-paying contracts. They can easily negotiate for higher pay than other actors citing their star influence on the audience and within showbusiness.

The term continues to refer to Hollywood’s shining-est stars. For as long as audiences want to see them on screen, A-list actors will keep on dominating the “wanted” talent roster in entertainment.

How Actors are rated A-list, B, C, etc.

In the movie business, there is a rating system for actors, the “A-list” rating is traditionally used. This system guides the categorization of actors and performers with fame and box office returns as the biggest metrics.

The A-list celebrities are the highest-grossing stars in Hollywood each year, typically actors who have starred in multiple blockbuster films or major award winners. Producers and casting directors seek them out because they can draw in press coverage and viewership.


Other ratings may include B-list celebrities, C-list, D-list, etc. Still, these ratings tend to be more subjective and less formal than the A-list rating since they are based on something other than any particular metric, such as box office numbers or award wins.

Filmmakers continue to rely on the A-list rating system to identify the actors that would bring in huge returns for their projects.

MPAA and IMDb Rating Systems

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) have rating systems for actors and actresses.

The MPAA rating system is for the classification of films as to their appropriateness for their audiences, like the rating G for general audiences or the rating NC-17 for no admittance to anyone under 17.

The IMDb has what is called a StarMeter which is a ranking system that computes the actors’ or actresses’ popularity on their website. The computation factors in page views, searches, and other user data.

For the movie rankings, the IMDb rating system uses a scale of 1-10 stars. This system’s main factor is user reviews, which can give useful insights into how an actor or actress performed in a given project.

The MPAA rating system, the IMDb’s StarMeter, and movie ranking are invaluable in gauging the quality of an actor’s or actress’ overall performance. Knowing how these two systems work can give you the opportunity to discern and foresee how an actor or actress will fare at the box office.

Among A-lister actors and actresses acquiring an IMDb StarMeter rating of at least 8 are Robert de Niro, Marlon Brando, Denzel Washington, Jack Nicholson, Katharine Hepburn, Meryl Streep, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Humphrey Bogart.

Significant Trademarks of A-List Actors


Members of the acting profession receive varying salaries in each movie based on their presence in the A-list and other variables. Different studios have their own factors in consideration of their stars’ fees. The actors’ managers could also play a role in negotiating their fees.

Many actors with A-List status could earn as much as 50 to 100 million US dollars. As of mid-2022, the most bankable A-list actors, including Samuel Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Hanks, etc., collectively gathered more than five billion dollars at the US and Canadian box offices.

Movies To Watch

There are many entertainment and movie websites that list memorable movies and blockbusters that you could watch to see what it takes to be an actor or actress on the A-list. Recent examples would be The Wolf of Wall Street with Leonardo DiCaprio, American Hustle with Bradley Cooper, Transformers Age of Extinction with Mark Wahlberg and Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr.

The IMDb has come up with a list of the 50 top-grossing films from the 1990s to 2020.

The list includes Avatar, The Avengers End Game, Titanic, Star Wars, Jurassic World, The Lion King, Fast & Furious, Frozen, Black Panther, Beauty & The Beast, The Incredibles, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, Transformers, Toy Story, Aladdin, Finding Dory, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, The Jungle Book, etc.


Earlier decades had top-grossing films holding the box office at #1 for ten weeks or more, like ET (1982) at 16 weeks, Titanic (1997) at 15, Beverly Hills Cop (1984), and Tootsie (1982) at 14 weeks, Home Alone (1990) at 12 weeks, Back to the Future (1985) at 11 weeks, and Ghostbusters (1984) at ten weeks.

James Ulmer and the Hollywood Hot List

James Ulmer is an influential Hollywood insider, director, and producer of films and television shows that have gained critical and commercial successes, winning an Emmy for Outstanding Directing for his work on NBC’s ‘The West Wing.’

Ulmer has become famous for his Hollywood Hot List, which he publishes yearly to feature top and rising talent in film, television, and music. He has made what is now known in Hollywood as the Ulmer Scale, from which those who score 90+ get into the A+ list. Being listed means the actor’s name alone can generate most if not all, the financial backing to greenlight a project.

Following the A+ list are the A list, B+ list, B list, C list, and  D list. The actors in all the lists are not all the same each year.

Ulmer’s list presents top-tier actors, directors, writers, producers, musicians, and rising stars worldwide. It is an opportunity to discover an international talent that may not be as popular yet in the US.

The popularity of Ulmer’s list has caused this list to be featured in huge publications like Variety Magazine and even in The New York Times. Film studio giants and production companies have also been relying on the list for scouting new talent for their projects.


Examples of current A-list actors include Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Robert Downey Jr., Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, and Tom Cruise.

The 2000s gave audiences and the public an amazing line-up of A-listers who have made impressive performances etching their names forever in the audience’s (and the studios’) minds. From Meryl Streep to Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks to Johnny Depp, Hilary Swank to Michelle Williams, Matt Damon to Brad Pitt, and Leonardo DiCaprio to Kate Winslet, these stars have all made their mark in the 21st century.

Other notable names include Eva Gabor, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jacqueline Gadsden, Lady Gaga, Tilda Swinton, Brendan Fraser, Austin Butler, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Paul Mescal, Bill Nighy, Andrea King, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, André Kostelanetz, and Annette Kellerman.

Many of these actors aren’t just famous or high profit-earners for their studios. They are also great actors with the talent to boost their fame, often getting nominations or awards for Best Actor or Actress in the prestigious awards bodies and festivals of the movie and television industry.


You have read how an A-list actor is famous, in demand by producers and studio executives, gets huge salaries and usually does not need to audition for roles. B-listers are usually the second or alternate choices and may need to audition for roles.

The path to becoming an A-list actor is not easy, but it is possible with hard work and dedication. It requires honing your craft, networking with industry professionals, and building relationships with casting directors. It also involves being prepared for auditions and having a good understanding of the business side of acting.

With time and effort, persistence and determination, and enough practice and experience, you can join the elite group of successful actors who command high salaries for their work and the attention of high-profile media.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What makes someone an A-list actor?

A: An A-list actor is a major movie star or one of the most bankable actors in the film industry. The A-list is part of The Hot List, a guide that ranks the bankability (i.e., profitability) of movie actors worldwide and has become an industry-standard guide in Hollywood.

Q: What is a B-list actor?

A: A B-list actor is also admired, famous, or bankable, but not as much as A-listers. B-listers have lesser fame, usually given supporting roles despite being great actors. Their names are not as easy to remember by studio executives or directors.

Q: What is a Z-list actor?

A: Z-list actors are only slightly famous; whatever fame they have acquired is not for something worth remembering.