Roger Ebert Home

AFI list is full of talent but empty of meaning

As part of its ongoing national effort to lead the nation to discover and rediscover the classics, the American Film Institute (AFI) today announced the 50 greatest American screen legends - the top 25 women and top 25 men naming Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart the number one legends among the women and men.

The preeminent national organization dedicated to advancing and preserving the moving image arts, AFI revealed the list on a three-hour CBS television special last night hosted by Shirley Temple Black, who was named among the greatest legends. Following Hepburn in the top 10 among the female legends, in order, were: Bette Davis (#2), Audrey Hepburn (#3), Ingrid Bergman (#4), Greta Garbo (#5), Marilyn Monroe (#6), Elizabeth Taylor (#7), Judy Garland (#8), Marlene Dietrich (#9) and Joan Crawford (#10). Following Bogart in the top 10 among the male legends, in order, were: Cary Grant (#2), James Stewart (#3), Marlon Brando (#4), Fred Astaire (#5), Henry Fonda (#6), Clark Gable (#7), James Cagney (#8), Spencer Tracy (#9) and Charlie Chaplin (#10). Shirley Temple Black was #18.

AFI defines an "American screen legend" as an actor or a team of actors with a significant screen presence in American feature-length films whose screen debut occurred in or before 1950, or whose screen debut occurred after 1950 but whose death has marked a completed body of work. The list was selected by leaders from the American film community, including artists, historians, critics and other cultural leaders, who chose from a list of 250 nominees in each gender category, as compiled by AFI historians.

The list is the centerpiece of AFIs 100 Years 100 Stars, part of AFIs continuing celebration of 100 years of American movies, which began last year with AFIs list of the 100 greatest films. Last years AFI list led to a national dialogue about American film history, a 1,600 percent rise in video rentals of the number one film, "Citizen Kane" and the theatrical re-release of many films on the list.

AFI hopes this list will spark a renewed interest in the screen icons and classic movies that create Americas great film heritage, said AFI Director and CEO Jean Picker Firstenberg. AFI certainly expects this list to ignite passions, spark debate and invite criticism, all of which we welcome as a means of engaging the nation in a discussion of American movie history and bringing movie fans back to the classics.

The full list of the 25 top male and 25 top female legends is:


1. Katharine Hepburn

2. Bette Davis

3. Audrey Hepburn

4. Ingrid Bergman

5. Greta Garbo

6. Marilyn Monroe

7. Elizabeth Taylor

8. Judy Garland

9. Marlene Dietrich

10. Joan Crawford

11. Barbara Stanwyck

12. Claudette Colbert

13. Grace Kelly

14. Ginger Rogers

15. Mae West

16. Vivien Leigh

17. Lillian Gish 

18. Shirley Temple

19. Rita Hayworth

20. Lauren Bacall

21. Sophia Loren

22. Jean Harlow

23. Carole Lombard

24. Mary Pickford

25. Ava Gardner


1. Humphrey Bogart

2. Cary Grant

3. James Stewart

4. Marlon Brando

5. Fred Astaire

6. Henry Fonda

7. Clark Gable

8. James Cagney

9. Spencer Tracy

10. Charlie Chaplin

11. Gary Cooper

12. Gregory Peck

13. John Wayne

14. Laurence Olivier

15. Gene Kelly

16. Orson Welles

17. Kirk Douglas

18. James Dean

19. Burt Lancaster

20. The Marx Brothers

21. Buster Keaton

22. Sidney Poitier

23. Robert Mitchum

24. Edward G. Robinson

25. William Holden

In an effort to encourage movie fans to discover and rediscover each legends body of work, AFI has organized a major video program in video stores across America that highlights one film, selected by AFI, from the careers of each of the 50 legends. AFI has also selected one film to highlight the careers of each of the 50 stars that took part in the AFI television special on CBS.

AFIs 100 Years100 Stars is sponsored, in part, by General Motors, Blockbuster, the United States Postal Service, AT&T, Pepsi, Warner Bros. Home Video, Warner Bros. Pictures, Disney/Buena Vista, Buena Vista Home Video, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Best Buy, New Line Pictures, Miramax, Schering-Plough, Gateway, Universal Pictures, P&G/Max Factor, Oldsmobile and Sony Electronics.

AFI is the preeminent national organization dedicated to advancing and preserving the art of film, television and other forms of the moving image. AFI trains the next generation of filmmakers, coordinates nationwide film preservation efforts and explores new technologies in movie-making. AFI presents the best of film through its major film festival in Hollywood, at the AFI Theater in the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and through the annual AFI Life Achievement Award, the highest honor given for a career in film. More information about AFI can be found by visiting its award-winning website, located at

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

Code 8 Part II
God Save Texas
Article 20
They Shot the Piano Player


comments powered by Disqus