The most underrated actors and actresses

by karlericsson | created - 10 Jun 2012 | updated - 21 Apr 2013 | Public

A list of professionals that should have been known (compared to those who are known!)

1. Viola Davis

Actress | Fences

Actress Viola Davis was born on her grandmother's farm, at the then-Singleton Plantation in St. Matthews, South Carolina. When she was two months old her family moved to Central Falls, Rhode Island, where her father, Dan Davis, worked as a horse groomer and trainer. Her mother, Mary Alice (Logan), ...

I'm not kidding you. For the performance in "The Help" (=Niceville), this actress has managed to deliver the most impressive piece of acting that has so far reached the silver screen. For that achievement alone, I put her at the top of my list for the most underrated actors/actresses of all time, even when I consider that she probably got an Oscar for this role (I'm not sure). She still belongs here, since her performance even overshadowed Brando's in "The Godfather". What she does with the smallest of expressions is pure magic!

2. Robert Donat

Actor | The 39 Steps

Robert Donat's pleasant voice and somewhat neutral English accent were carefully honed as a boy because he had a stammer and took elocution lessons starting at age 11 to overcome the impediment. It was not too surprising that freedom from such a vocal embarrassment was encouragement to act. His ...

Probably the most charismatic actor ever to grace the silver screen! Humphrey Bogart has had his revivals and is not on this list, like many others. But this guy? This actor alone make films worth while. We would not know that a guy like this existed were it not for films. When will there be a proper revival of his films?

3. Joel McCrea

Actor | Foreign Correspondent

One of the great stars of American Westerns, and a very popular leading man in non-Westerns as well. He was born and raised in the surroundings of Hollywood and as a boy became interested in the movies that were being made all around. He studied acting at Pomona College and got some stage ...

Even I did at first not even think about this actor for this list - that's how underrated he is! Just like with Robert Donat, this actor seems to possess some decency that just stays with him no matter what part he played and therefore he was often assumed not to be such a good actor. And maybe he wasn't. Maybe he just always played himself. But that was a most exciting self and never totally predictable. I guess he had more influence over the movies he was in, because regardless of director he never crept below a certain standard. There was no boasting here, no superficial toughness. This guy was as good as they come and it shone through. Gary Cooper had a little of this but not as much and Cooper is well known. So is McCrea but nevertheless underrated for I consider his range in presenting feelings and nuances to be greater than Coopers and he definitely belongs to this list.

4. Rebecca De Mornay

Actress | The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

Rebecca De Mornay was born 1959 as Rebecca Jane Pearch in Santa Rosa, California. She is the daughter of Julie (Eagar) and Wally George (born George Walter Pearch), a television and radio commentator. Her paternal grandmother was child actress Eugenia Clinchard. Her parents divorced when she was ...

Ever since "Runaway Train" a most impressive actress. Maybe the best actress that I have ever seen on film. Totally different in her different roles - this woman really can act! Abominably underrated!

5. Manfred Krug

Actor | Liebling Kreuzberg

In 1950, Krug moved to East Germany where he worked in heavy industry before he started his career as an actor and, later on, as a singer and entertainer in the communist GDR. In 1968, he got the national prize and was only at the beginning of his career. He starred in many successful East German ...

If this man was English-spoken he would be a name in the world. Now he is still a name but only for German-speaking people. Therefore underrated.

6. Tom Adams

Actor | The Great Escape

Tom Adams was born on March 9, 1938 in Poplar, London, England as Anthony Frederick Charles Adams. He was an actor, known for The Great Escape (1963), The 2nd Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World (1965) and O.K. Yevtushenko (1968). He died on December 11, 2014 in Slough, Berkshire, England.

Played The Second Best Secret Agent In the Whole Wide World, which was a lie, since he was simply the best! His films, except the minor parts, are impossible to get.

7. Françoise Dorléac

Actress | L'homme de Rio

The radiant Francoise Dorleac is better remembered today as the elder, ill-fated sister of French film star Catherine Deneuve. The Paris-born actress, however, was actually the first to become a star and had quite a formidable career of her own in the 1960s until it was cut short. Born into a ...

The more interesting sister of Catherine Deneuve. Died in a car accident, I think, and could not finish many films but the few of her that exist we are grateful for, or should be!

8. Valerie Hobson

Actress | Bride of Frankenstein

Elegant, quintessentially English (although born in Northern Ireland) Valerie Hobson was the daughter of a British army officer. She studied dancing at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) and appeared on the stage for the first time at age 16, but she contracted a case of scarlet fever and ...

Acting but, before all else, a truly natural beauty. This woman had class or was great in faking it if she didn't. Much too little known.

9. Eddie Constantine

Actor | Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution

Iconic American-born singer and actor in international films since the 1950s. Born in L.A. to Russian immigrant parents, Constantine studied voice in Vienna. He returned to the US, where his singing career wavered and he found work as a film extra. Constantine first achieved fame in Paris, where he...

Today sadly neglected. Not much of an actor but much of an anti-actor, which is almost better. Always played himself, regardless of what he played! Had no actor ambitions whatsoever - what a relief! I've been trying to get all his films but that isn't easy because of the neglect. Especially his own favorite "Bonne chance, Charlie" is nowhere to be found and I haven't seen it.

10. Clifton Webb

Actor | Laura

Already trained in dance and theater, he quit school at age 13 to study music and painting. By 19 he was a professional ballroom dancer in New York, and by his mid-twenties he was performing in musicals, dramas on Broadway and in London, and in silent movies. His first real success in film came in ...

Was the star in "Sitting Pretty" and the other "Belvedere-films". Maybe if they were out on DVD or Blu-ray he would be better known. As it is, he is most known for one of his lesser roles as in "Laura". Neglected, for sure.

11. Gloria Grahame

Actress | The Bad and the Beautiful

Gloria Hallward, an acting pupil of her mother (stage actress and teacher Jean Grahame), acted professionally while still in high school. In 1944 Louis B. Mayer saw her on Broadway and gave her an MGM contract under the name Gloria Grahame. Her debut in the title role of Blonde Fever (1944) was ...

What screen-presence and charisma! And that voice of hers! Always interesting to look at - saved more than one movie and is not enough remembered today.

12. George Sanders

Actor | All About Eve

George Sanders was born of English parents in St. Petersburg, Russia. He worked in a Birmingham textile mill, in the tobacco business and as a writer in advertising. He entered show business in London as a chorus boy, going from there to cabaret, radio and theatrical understudy. His film debut, in ...

Always a treat to see. You forgive him his excellent sleepy upper-class-twit English, since you know he's only putting it on, unlike, for instance, Sir Guilgood or what's his name and all those other real twits. Known but not known enough!

13. Michael Moriarty

Actor | Courage Under Fire

As one of Hollywood's tallest actors standing at 6' 4", he will always be noticed. Michael Moriarty is one of the great character T.V. actors of all time. He was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1941. Moriarty was to move to London, England, where he built up a name as a great stage actor. It was also...

Admittedly not as good as villain as he is as fragile hero. Could you imagine a more touching performance than the one he delivered in "Report to the Commissioner (Operation Undercover)"? Or would you find a better anti-hero than in "Who'll Stop the Rain?" in which, by the way, Nick Nolte plays a fantastic hero. Sadly often miscast as in Holocaust. Maybe therefor not well known.

14. Dan Duryea

Actor | Scarlet Street

Dan Duryea was educated at Cornell University and worked in the advertising business before pursuing his career as an actor. Duryea made his Broadway debut in the play "Dead End." The critical acclaim he won for his performance as Leo Hubbard in the Broadway production of "The Little Foxes" led to ...

That smile! What a delight! Always interesting. In a way an enigma because I cannot really say why he's always interesting. Underrated, for sure.

15. Yaphet Kotto

Actor | Alien

Yaphet Kotto was born on November 15, 1939 in New York City, New York, USA as Yaphet Frederick Kotto. He is an actor and writer, known for Alien (1979), Homicide: Life on the Street (1993) and Live and Let Die (1973). He has been married to Tessie Sinahon since July 12, 1998. He was previously ...

Good as villain, better still as hero. Disappeared into television. Probably a leftist and therefore did not play ball as he was supposed to in order to make it big. Surely underrated.

16. David Morse

Actor | The Green Mile

David Morse, a 6' 4" tall blue-eyed blond who performed on stage for 10 years before breaking into film, has become established as a respected supporting, character actor and second lead.

He was born the first of four children of Charles, a sales manager, and Jacquelyn Morse, a schoolteacher, on ...

What was mentioned about Michael Moriarty could be said about this actor too. Always a delight to see. Neglected.

17. Al Lettieri

Actor | The Godfather

Menacing looking Italian American actor who developed into the quintessential on-screen hoodlum via several strong roles in key crime films of the early 1970s. Lettieri played the villain against some of Hollywood's biggest screen names including chasing Steve McQueen in The Getaway (1972), ...

Was as menacing as a villain as any movie villain ever was and yet he could play other roles and be almost totally different without changing anything in his appearance but his acting. He got the role of villain most often because the producers knew he was box office. But did he get the appreciation due to him? Hardly!

18. Richard Boone

Actor | Have Gun - Will Travel

Richard Allen Boone was born in Los Angeles, California, to Cecile Lillian (Beckerman) and Kirk Etna Boone, a wealthy corporate lawyer. His maternal grandparents were Russian Jewish immigrants, while his father was descended from a brother of frontiersmen Daniel Boone and Squire Boone.

Richard was a...

Like an iceberg, only showing one tenth of what is there. Always interesting and elevated the whole of television by his presence alone. Underrated.

19. Sydney Greenstreet

Actor | The Maltese Falcon

Sydney Greenstreet's father was a leather merchant with eight children. Sydney left home at age 18 to make his fortune as a Ceylon tea planter, but drought forced him out of business and back to England. He managed a brewery and, to escape boredom, took acting lessons. His stage debut was as a ...

Only 23 films to his credit but his presence made the film from Maltese Falcon onwards. He's the fat guy speaking meticulous English, in case you wouldn't know. However, if there was a picture on the side here, I would not have to write anything. If he was in the film, the film was never a total waste.

20. Tom Conway

Actor | Cat People

Tom Conway played "The Falcon" in ten of that series' entries. He starred in three Val Lewton horror classics. He appeared in comedies, musicals, two Tarzan films and even science fiction films.

He was early television's Detective Mark Saber, but Conway will probably be best remembered as George ...

The brother of George Sanders, who was at his most charismatic in "I Walked With a Zombie". Always good though. There should have been more of him.

21. Mylène Demongeot

Actress | Les sorcières de Salem

Mylène Demongeot, one of the blond sex symbols of French cinema during the 1950s and 1960s, managed to overcome typecasting and survived a long hiatus before a stellar comeback in her 70s. She appeared in more than 70 films, including such classics as the Fantomas trilogy.

She was born Marie-Helene ...

One of them really sweet girls. Actress? Well, certainly not worse than most but had that something special as well. Underrated.

22. Burl Ives

Actor | The Big Country

Burl Ives was one of six children born to a Scottish-Irish farming family. He first sang in public for a soldiers' reunion when he was age 4. In high school, he learned the banjo and played fullback, intending to become a football coach when he enrolled at Eastern Illinois State Teacher's College ...

Quite well known as singer but most underrated as actor. Cannot remember a film in which his acting was not outstanding. Always lit up the screen with his presence. Maybe the only one who was truly great as both singer and actor. Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald were great singers, for instance, but the acting? They did not have to act, they were just in their films in order to sing - almost (they did convey a lot of feeling while singing, which is maybe a form of acting after all).

23. Cuba Gooding Jr.

Actor | Jerry Maguire

Cuba Gooding Jr. was born on January 2, 1968, in The Bronx, New York. His mother, Shirley (Sullivan), was a backup singer for The Sweethearts. His father, Cuba Gooding, was the lead vocalist for the R&B group The Main Ingredient, which had a hit with the song "Everybody Plays The Fool". His ...

Could play any role, written for black men or white men. Erases all barriers of race. Always interesting. Always underrated.

24. Akim Tamiroff

Actor | Touch of Evil

Though born in Russia and having a Russian-sounding name, Akim Tamiroff is actually of Armenian descent. At 19 he decided to pursue acting as a career and was chosen from among 500 applicants to the Moscow Art Theater School. There he studied under the great Konstantin Stanislavski, and launched a ...

What a character. Could anyone be more sarcastic than he when he put his mind to it? Sadly misunderstood and underrated.

25. Robert Morley

Actor | Marie Antoinette

English character actor Robert Morley was educated in England, Germany, France and Italy. His family planned for him to go into the diplomatic service but he liked the idea of acting more. After studying at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London he appeared on the London stage in 1929 ...

Did almost never play a leading role but helped many a film from mediocrity. In that respect much like Sydney Greenstreet. Underrated by most critics.

26. James Robertson Justice

Actor | The Guns of Navarone

James Robertson Justice was always a noticeable presence in a film with his large stature, bushy beard and booming voice. A Ph.D., a journalist, a naturalist, an expert falconer, a racing car driver, JRJ was certainly a man of many talents.

He entered the film industry quite late in life (37) after ...

Bombastic to say the least. But you forgive him, since he overdoes it so deliciously. Always a great joy to behold and never got the appreciation due to him.

27. Ossie Davis

Actor | Do the Right Thing

Ossie Davis was born on December 18, 1917 in Cogdell, Georgia, USA as Raiford Chatman Davis. He was an actor and writer, known for Do the Right Thing (1989), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) and Grumpy Old Men (1993). He was married to Ruby Dee. He died on February 4, 2005 in Miami Beach, Florida, USA.

Maybe at his best in "The Hill" but also quite enjoyable in "The Scalp-hunters" as in many other films. Always underrated.

28. Michael Gambon

Actor | Gosford Park

Sir Michael Gambon was born in Cabra, Dublin, Ireland, to Mary (Hoare), a seamstress, and Edward Gambon, an engineer. After joining the National Theatre, under the Artistic Directorship of Sir Laurence Olivier, Gambon went on to appear in a number of leading roles in plays written by Alan Ayckbourn...

The Singing Detective indeed. Good as villain and good as hero. Who can look more astonished than this actor and don't mean a bit by it. Underrated, for sure.

29. Roger Livesey

Actor | The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

The son of Joseph Livesey and Mary Catherine (nee Edwards), Roger was educated at Westminster City School, London. His first stage appearance was the office boy in Loyalties at St. James' theatre in 1917. Subsequently, he played in everything from Shakespeare to modern comedies. He played various ...

Class and not in a bad sense even if he often played upper class. A charming voice. Underused and underrated.

30. Jonathan Winters

Actor | It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Jonathan Harshman Winters III was born on November 11, 1925 in Dayton, Ohio. His father, Jonathan Harshman Winters II, was a banker who became an alcoholic after being crushed in the Great Depression. His parents divorced in 1932. Jonathan and his mother then moved to Springfield to live with his ...

Never got a film-role that truly showed the full scale of his abilities. What little we have of him on film is however still delightful.

31. John Phillip Law

Actor | Barbarella

John Phillip Law was born on September 7, 1937 in Los Angeles, California, USA. He was an actor and producer, known for Barbarella (1968), Space Mutiny (1988) and Danger: Diabolik (1968). He was married to Shawn Ryan. He died on May 13, 2008 in Los Angeles.

Had charisma but just disappeared. Pity.

32. Joan Greenwood

Actress | Kind Hearts and Coronets

Joan Greenwood, of the plummy feline voice, was born in the well-to-do London section of Chelsea, the daughter of renowned portrait painter Sydney Earnshaw Greenwood (1887-1949). Dancing from the age of eight, she took ballet lessons and later enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). ...

That voice revealing so much intelligence. Except for "The Man In the White Suit", she never got a truly decent role to play.

33. Anne Baxter

Actress | All About Eve

Anne Baxter was born in Michigan City, Indiana, on May 7, 1923. She was the daughter of a salesman and his wife, Catherine, who herself was the daughter of Frank Lloyd Wright, the world-renowned architect. Anne was a young girl of 11 when her parents moved to New York City, which at that time was ...

Those dreamy eyes. Unforgettable and always lovely to look at. Even if well known, still underrated.

34. Susannah York

Actress | Superman

The lovely Susannah York, a gamin, blue-eyed, cropped blonde British actress, displayed a certain crossover star quality when she dared upon the Hollywood scene in the early 1960s. A purposefully intriguing, enigmatic and noticeably uninhibited talent, she was born Susannah Yolande Fletcher on ...

Delightful and intelligent. Well known but not nearly enough.

35. Madeleine Carroll

Actress | The 39 Steps

The original ash-blonde "iceberg maiden", Madeleine Carroll was a knowing beauty with a confident air, the epitome of poise and "breeding". Not only did she have looks and allure in abundance, but she had intellectual heft to go with them, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from Birmingham ...

Maybe well known in her time but now forgotten, which is a shame.

36. Marlène Jobert

Actress | Le passager de la pluie

Jobert was born in 1940 in Algeria. She studied drama and fine art in Paris, made her acting debut on the stage in 1963 and secured her first film role in Louis Malle's The Thief of Paris (1967) in 1966. Her big break came with her casting as "Elisabeth" in Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin Féminin...

Delicious and too easily forgotten.

37. Shirley Anne Field

Actress | Peeping Tom

Shirley Anne Field is one of Britain's most highly respected actresses. She has starred opposite Laurence Olivier, Albert Finney, Steve McQueen, Michael Caine, Daniel Day-Lewis and Ned Beatty in such classic films as The Entertainer, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The War Lover, Alfie, My ...

Had that special liveliness, which can be witnessed in Twin Peaks. Interesting and most underrated face.

38. Jennifer Wilson

Actress | Special Branch

Jennifer Wilson was born on April 25, 1932 in London, England as Jennifer Wenda Wilson. She is an actress, known for Special Branch (1969), Nicholas Nickleby (1957) and BBC Sunday-Night Theatre (1950). She has been married to Brian Peck since 1959. They have one child.

The most underrated beauty of all time? Maybe. Never got a decent film role - totally disappeared in television.

39. Charlize Theron

Actress | Monster

Charlize Theron was born in Benoni, a city in the greater Johannesburg area, in South Africa, the only child of Gerda Theron (née Maritz) and Charles Theron. She was raised on a farm outside the city. Theron is of Afrikaner (Dutch, with some French Huguenot and German) descent, and Afrikaner ...

An actress with that little extra which is so important. Always interesting and often underrated.

40. Bridget Fonda

Actress | A Simple Plan

Bridget Jane Fonda was born in Los Angeles, California, to Susan Brewer and actor Peter Fonda. She is the granddaughter of Henry Fonda and niece of Jane Fonda, both famous actors. Bridget made her film debut at age five as an extra in Easy Rider (1969), but first became interested in acting after ...

Truly sympathetic and generous in showing what nature had bestowed her.

41. Kelly Reilly

Actress | Flight

Jessica Kelly Siobhán Reilly (born 18 July 1977) is an English actress. Her performance in After Miss Julie at the Donmar Warehouse made her a star of the London stage and earned her a nomination for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress of 2003. Reilly was born and brought up in Chessington, ...

A wonderful mixture of brains and sex. Hopefully, she will get better roles before it is too late.

42. Emmanuelle Seigner

Actress | Bitter Moon

Emmanuelle Seigner is the daughter of a well known photographer and her mother is a journalist. She was born in Paris, France on June 22, 1966. Her grandfather was Louis Seigner, chairman of the Comédie Française and who also appeared in several movies. Emmanuelle was raised at a convent school . ...

Most touching actress as in "Frantic". Could have done more if given the chance.

43. Iris Berben

Actress | Krupp - Eine deutsche Familie

Iris Berben was born on August 12, 1950 in Detmold, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. She is an actress, known for Krupp: A Family Between War and Peace (2009), Rosa Roth (1994) and Silberhochzeit (2006).

Prisoner of the German language. A looker for sure.

44. Holly Hunter

Actress | The Piano

Holly Hunter was born in Conyers, Georgia, to Opal Marguerite (Catledge), a homemaker, and Charles Edwin Hunter, a part-time sporting goods company representative and farmer with a 250 acre farm. She is the youngest of seven children. Her parents encouraged her talent at an early age, and her first...

A truly good actress. Deserved better roles.

45. Jenny Seagrove

Actress | Nate and Hayes

British actress Jenny Seagrove distinguished herself as a sensitive heroine during the 1980s in plush TV romances such as The Woman in White (1982), Diana (1984) and, in particular, the adaptations of Barbara Taylor Bradford's A Woman of Substance (1984) wherein she played Emma Harte, and Hold the ...

Something about her looks.

46. Vladek Sheybal

Actor | From Russia with Love

Looking back at his filmography, it isn't difficult to imagine Vladek Sheybal in a scene, lobbing Molotov cocktails at advancing German troops, against a backdrop of war-torn Warsaw. However, this part of his life played out for real. A member of the Polish underground, he was twice captured and ...

Unforgettable face. Always played some vermin of a man. Overplayed everything but no film suffered from his presence. I do not think I ever saw him as something else than a villain. Not really threatening but always deliciously ridiculous.

47. Walter Slezak

Actor | Born to Kill

Tall, portly Viennese character actor Walter Slezak simultaneously pursued two different careers after his arrival in America in 1930: one, as a star of musical comedy on the stage, and another, as a portrayer of villains, impish rogues or pompous buffoons on screen.

Walter was born in May 1902 in ...

Sleazy Slezak as in "The Fallen Sparrow". Totally uninteresting when he was young and of normal weight. Got better with every pound he got fatter. Deserves to be forgotten in his early roles but not for the latter ones in which he often played the villain that you love to hate.

48. Steven Seagal

Actor | On Deadly Ground

Steven Frederic Seagal was born in Lansing, Michigan, to Patricia Anne (Fisher), a medical technician, and Samuel Seagal, a high school math teacher. His paternal grandparents were Russian Jewish immigrants, and his mother had English, German, and distant Irish and Dutch, ancestry. The enigmatic ...

Very well known and still underrated. The fatter, the better. I only wait for the time, when he is so fat that he must sit in a wheel-chair and can hardly move but still kicks the *beep* out of every conceivable villain. Of course, I do not hope, for his sake, that he ever gets to be that fat for fatness is the worst curse of all but I am deeply impressed by his mockery of the film kingdom. A truly sympathetic man and totally misunderstood and underrated.

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