All civilizations need gods to worship. The Romans had Mars and Minerva, the Norse had Thor and Odin. The present age is different only in its choice of church: The multiplex is our temple, and the great stars standing 30 feet tall on a polyvinyl screen are our sources of aspiration. We respond so strongly to performers as different as John Wayne and Fred Astaire, Marilyn Monroe and Katharine Hepburn, because they’re aspects of ourselves made perfect with blissful ease. That they’re human makes them more fascinating, as if Zeus had come to earth with a SAG card.
We like to make lists at Entertainment Weekly, but this one may well have been the toughest. We set out to pick the 30 greatest stars of all time — not actors, not sex symbols, but stars, with all the charisma, appeal, and influence that the word brings with it. Here are our picks, along with the three films (available on video) that best sum up each performer. Warning: They aren’t always the star’s best-known movies. If there are favorites left out, well, that’s the nature of making choices. If there are few recent faces, that’s because time is a proving ground. The movies have always had flashy one-day wonders, pretenders, and false gods. The faces you’re about to see are the pantheon.