WE’VE ASSEMBLED SOME PRETTY DIFFICULT LISTS OVER THE YEARS—ALL THAT CHISELING ONTO STONE TABLETS, ALL THAT LUGGING DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAINTOP—BUT CHOOSING THE 25 BEST ACTORS OF THE 1990S FOR THIS WEEK’S COVER STORY WAS BY FAR THE MOST CHALLENGING INSCRIBING WE’VE EVER ATTEMPTED. Not just because it’s so subjective—one man’s killer performance is another’s tour de crap—but also because there’s a tremendous amount of extraordinary talent out there these days. How to whittle it down to a mere 25?
We started by establishing some parameters. First, we decided to concentrate on male performers (we’ll get to the ladies in a later issue) whose best work has been primarily on film (which is why Broadway stars like Nathan Lane and TV greats like Andre Braugher didn’t make the cut). Then we trimmed the roster down to those actors whose best work—whether as leading men or supporting players—can be seen right now, in the 1990s (you can find Jack Nicholson and other graying greats on page 28, in a separate list we call the Pantheon). We also cropped pure movie stars—Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt—larger-than-life screen idols whose charisma outstrips their ability to disappear into any role (they’re great, but this list isn’t about star quality). Finally, we sat down and argued a lot.
The results, we think, are pretty interesting—and are bound to cause further debate among our readers. Ultimately, we chose those actors who have most moved us over the past 10 years, whose presence on the screen always makes us perk up in our seats, whose technical finesse never fails to impress us. Maybe you’ll agree with our choices, maybe not. If you don’t, all we can say is…better luck next decade.
EDITED BY MARK HARRIS AND JESS CAGLE WRITTEN AND REPORTED BY REBECCA ASCHER-WALSH, ANDREW ESSEX, DANIEL FIERMAN, JEFF GORDINIER, DAVID HOCHMAN, DAVE KARGER, HEIDI NAM, CHRISTOPHER NASHAWATY, BENJAMIN SVETKEY