There have been a lot of cool actors over the years, but some actors transcend the typical actor cool and set new standards in our collective cultural understanding of cool. They have an unflappable style, and the ability to make everyone in the room stop and stare just because they walk in the door. They are human magnets, and whether they’re all pumped up and fresh off a movie shoot, or whether they’re old and feeble, wearing diapers and drooling their applesauce, they’re still so cool that they could take your girlfriend in a heartbeat, beat you up and you’d still ask for their autograph afterward. They are the eleven coolest actors ever.
11. Sean Connery
He’s James Bond. Really, what more needs to be said? It’s been 50 years since he first took the role, and he hasn’t been Bond at any point in the last 30, but no matter who plays Bond, they’re always in the shadow of Sean Connery. He made Bond, Bond didn’t make him, and that’s a crucial thing to understand. He did it with a sultry, swaggering sort of cool, ice cold on the outside, all fire and menace and sex on the inside. Just ask Alex Trebek’s mother.
10. Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier is style personified. He always looks like he just stepped off the cover of GQ, nobody has better command and presence, and he’s capable of sonning any idiot hillbilly who even looks at him the wrong way. He won’t beat you up and take your lady. He’ll just smile at her, maybe have a quick dance, sip some champagne, and then leave you a note telling you to wash and wax his car while they bone down in your bed. And you’ll do it.
9. Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando was the coolest dude alive back in the day. People forget this once he became a gigantic eccentric recluse, but he pretty much defined sex appeal when he was on his game. He could be the ultimate working-man, a menacing thug, the definitive rebel, or the leading man, and he could do it all because he was cooler than everybody else. Even in his later years, when he became a weirdo who everybody sort of laughed at, he could still stop an entire room just with his presence. He lived life on his own terms and didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought. After all, even when he was insane, he was still Colonel Kurtz, and nobody messes with that dude.
8. Samuel L. Jackson
He’s the dude with the wallet that says “Badass Motherfucker” on it. And the thing is, is that not everyone could have pulled that off like he did in Pulp Fiction. It’s a ridiculous line, and you’ll probably look like an idiot if you try to say it. People will laugh at you, but Samuel L. Jackson pulled it off, and that’s because he is a badass mofo. He’ll yell and he’ll weave swearwords into his patter like a profane Shakespeare, but he’s at his coolest when he’s just sitting across the table from some chump, and calmly explaining that he’s, well, that he’s the man.
7. James Dean
James Dean was so cool that he barely even seemed human. He seemed more like a symbol, a logo for the Cool brand. Nobody talks about him in relatable, personable terms. They just talk about how goddamn cool he seemed. People have basically just been trying to imitate him for half a century, whether it’s Fonzie slapping a jukebox in the ‘70s, those 90210 goofs and their hair in the ‘90s or James Franco now. But none of them can match the innate cool of James Dean.
6. Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford isn’t interested in playing games, and so whenever he’s interviewed he comes across as almost awkward, with a cross between gruff boredom and lazy, half-drunk ennui. It’s been said that he was the inspiration for Bill Murray’s character in Lost in Translation, and I believe it. But beneath the “this is dumb” exterior, there is a vast cauldron of cool. After all, this was the dude who was both Han Solo and Indiana Jones, and the defining moments of cool for both of those characters– the “I know” line from The Empire Strikes Back and the casual shooting of the swordsmen in Raiders of the Lost Ark – were reportedly ad-libbed by Ford. He doesn’t give a shit what you think, because he knows that no matter what, he’ll always be cooler than you.
5. Paul Newman
Paul Newman was the laid-back bro, a wise-ass who everybody wanted to be best friends with, but who you knew you didn’t want to piss off because he had an edge to him that was always just underneath the surface. How cool was Paul Newman? Robert Redford of all people was reduced to his sidekick whenever they were together. Robert Redford! That’s how much alpha-male coolness Paul Newman had. George Clooney wishes every day of his life that he could be Paul Newman.
4. Robert Mitchum
Robert Mitchum was just ridiculously cool. Roger Ebert called him “the soul of film noir” for a reason. He was dark and complex, but he hid it all behind a dangling cigarette and the smooth patter of a lounge lizard. He was so cool that he was arrested for smoking weed in the 1940’s like the proto-Snoop Dogg, and after serving a week in jail (there’s a famous photo-set of him casually sweeping his cell, drinking coffee like he’s chilling at a Paris café, and generally carrying on like a boss even though he’s incarcerated) he remarked that it was “like Palm Springs, but without the riff-raff.” Now that’s cool.
3. Clint Eastwood
Sure, he became a bit of a laughingstock with his whole hollering at empty chairs bit at the Republican National Convention, but even then, people were willing to give him a pass because he’s Clint freaking Eastwood. Most people would have gotten all defensive after, but Clint basically just laughed it off and admitted the whole thing was dumb. He just doesn’t give a shit. And why should he? He’s a billion years old, he’d still kick your ass, and he’s the only man alive who makes people hear the theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly whenever he walks into a room. He can do whatever the hell he wants.
2. Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson is so cool that he could probably wander onto the court during a Lakers game and the referee would throw himself out and give Jack his whistle. He’s Hollywood’s alpha-male, the dude who always gets the best seat at sporting events, restaurants, the Oscars and anywhere else he wants to go. He’s Jack Nicholson. Enough said.
1. Steve McQueen
His nickname was “the King of Cool.” The King of Cool. The King. Of Cool. Forget actors, I’m not sure if there has ever been anyone in human history cooler than Steve McQueen. He’s the ultimate symbol of American masculinity in all its beautiful and tragically flawed grandiosity. He’s the Marlboro Man crossed with Don Draper crossed with a ’68 Bullitt Mustang. He was a wife-stealing, chain-smoking, hard-drinking, laconic glacier of cool. They don’t make him like that anymore, and to be honest with you, they never did to begin with. To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, he was one of God’s own prototypes. He was the King of Cool.
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