In this thread, someone mentioned that Vin Diesel is not an A-list actor because he is:

.... a niche actor, he's not got the breadth of roles I would expect an A lister to have. With the exception of Riddick, it's hard to credit him with all of the draw on the box. He doesn't have the kind of draw or range that someone like DiCaprio or Will Smith have, that's all I was trying to say. If you google "a list actor list" there's even a scroll bar of them, that doesn't include him.

Since Vin Diesel is a "niche actor", he is not an A-list actor - according to that premise.

However, Jim Carrey, for example, is a niche actor as well. He - besides of a few exceptions like The Number 23 (2007) - plays mainly in comedies and always the same goofy guy.

But according to the list of bankable stars created by journalist James Ulmer, Jim Carrey was the 1999 5th highest, 2002 5th highest and 2006 3rd highest bankable star.

But since he is a "niche actor", he would not be an A-lister.

And even though he is not part of that (top 10!) list, Vin Diesel, with total grossings of more than $5 billion with the Fast and the Furious, Guardians of the Galaxy and Riddick, has to be specified as a bankable star as well. But not as A-lister?

As a reference someone mentioned the google result of "a list actor":

enter image description here

But does Google create the list now? Or who does? When does an actor become an A-lister? After $10B grossing? $100B? If he played more than just the same brawler or goof? Even though he is super famous for this role and made billions at the box office?

And to take another Google result:

enter image description here

Liam Neeson. Adam Sandler. Kevin Hart. Melissa McCarthy. No A-list actors?

To keep to the original question:

What makes an actor an A-lister?

  • 6
    There is no difference between comedy or an action movie. Jim Carrey carries comedies just as Tom Cruise carries action movies. They're both very powerful main actors, capable of carrying entire movie pretty much solo, just in different genres. Both genres are mainstream genres, none is niche. Niche means something narrow and done (sucessfully) by pretty much nobody else. The sheer amount of goofy roles done by other actors makes it non-niche. I think the term you looked for Carrey is "typecast".
    – Agent_L
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 13:46
  • 3
    Good idea to turn this into a question, I'm curious as to the 'correct' answer myself.
    – Paul
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 14:20
  • 1
    @Agent_L thank you for clarification on the niche topic
    – David Seek
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 18:32
  • Being an A-Lister is not a permanent thing, and I'm not sure that Jim Carey is still considered an A-list star. Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 11:47

5 Answers 5



"A-list" actors are exceptionally successful, their notoriety extends beyond the silver screen, and their name guarantees a box office hit.

Long Explanation:

As per Oxford Definition:

A real or imaginary list of the most celebrated or sought-after individuals, especially in show business.

And from Wikipedia:

A-list is a term that alludes to major movie stars, or the most bankable in the Hollywood film industry or to major recording artists, major international sports stars or other occupations such as the most successful film directors, certain high-profile media and entertainment moguls and the most notable international TV broadcasters.

Another Definition (still from Wikipedia):

In popular usage outside the film industry, an "A-list celebrity" simply refers to any person with an admired or desirable social status. In recent times, the term has given rise to any person, regardless of profession, in the limelight. Even socialites with popular press coverage and elite associations have been termed as "A-list" celebrities. Similarly, less popular persons and current teen idols are referred to as "B-list" – and the ones with lesser fame "C-list". Entertainment Weekly interpreted C-list celebrity as "that guy (or sometimes that girl), the easy-to-remember but hard-to-name character actor".

To answer

What makes an actor an A-lister?

From an old article

"A-list" actors are exceptionally successful, their notoriety extends beyond the silver screen, and their name guarantees a box office hit. Some "A-list" actors include: Will Smith, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep, and Johnny Depp. The "A-list" actors are usually made up of male actors as with more high earning positions.

A new definition from a year old article of The Sydney Morning Herald

The phrase has been tossed around so much it's lost some of its meaning. It started off as a bit of industry jargon, which studios and financiers used to consider whether they should cast someone in a project.

"'A-list' has a colloquial kind of consumer charm to it, but it really is a serious business when you're in the business," said James Ulmer, the Los Angeles author whom many credit for conceptualising letter-based star rankings.

It describes 10 new metrics of A-Lister as well.

If you want to get a list of A-Lister, you can visit Hollywood Reporter

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    so it is safe to say, that it's still fairly opinion based who is and who is not an a-lister? because all the definitions i read count for stars like Vin Diesel. even tho he is a niche actor. vin diesel may not guarantee a box office hit. but wild wild west sucked. even with will smith. lone ranger with johnny depp sucked... (opinion AND box office!)
    – David Seek
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 9:47
  • 4
    This is a good answer. Yes, it's opinion based, but the thing to remember is, the only person whose opinion matters is the People With The Money. Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 11:45
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    @ShantnuTiwari That would be us, movie goers. If nobody would pay to see to the next few Tom Cruise movies, he would lose his status.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 13:51
  • 1
    @DavidSeek It's not really opinion based. It's hard dollars earned by the movies where person X starred. What is opinion based is "who should we cast in our movie", but as soon as the movie hits cinemas, life verifies it with cold facts.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 13:55
  • 2
    @Agent_L: if it were true that it's hard dollars, not opinion-based, then we could just give a number, and observe that everyone earning more than that is an A-lister, anyone less than that is not. This answer wouldn't need to be anything like as long as it is. Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 15:24

The terms "A-list" and "Bankable star" are intricately related, and basically revolve around how much profit an actor's role in a movie can bring in for a studio.

The term "A-list" has become an industry standard in Hollywood and is part of a larger guide called "James Ulmer's Hot List", in which he defines an actor's starpower as a measurement of:

  • Bankability: How the actor's name alone guarantees a sale up front in today's global marketplace.
  • Career management: How well has the actor chosen roles to maximize career potential?
  • Willingness to travel and promote: How cooperative is the actor in promoting projects?
  • Professionalism: How reliable is the actor to work with, both on and off the set?
  • Inside Dirt: The truth about what it's like to work with the top 200 actors worldwide.
  • Box office bait: Who the actor has worked for and how much the project made.

Contemporary lists get updated independently from publication to publication, but a good example, The Hollywood Reporter, updates its A-list annually, polling agents and studio executives, to rank actors accordingly.

For more info specifically about James Ulmer's The Hot List scale for actors, consult this page on his website.

  • 3
    thank you for the information and input and since this James Ulmer seems to be a thing in hollywood it's surprising that the 90s just called me. they want his webpage design back :D but for real. thanks for the quote and the links
    – David Seek
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 9:52

I think a list is opinionated but ultimately the niche or typecast doesn't matter as much.

During his prime, a movie Jim Carrey was in would be automatically considered a hit. Same for Adam Sandler.

Vin diesels limitation I believe comes from most of his success has been with the fast and furious movies that have such a large cast of prominent actor and actresses the success of the movies can't be attributed solely to him.

What I've always understood is that an A list actor is someone that guarantees a box office hit.

B list actors are ones that have some notable success but are cast in supporting roles and rarely in a main role. When they are cast in a main role it's usually in a movie that supports a certain niche or cult following.

Bruce Campbell is a good example of this. He has been in many tv shows and a good number of movies, he has moderate success but is not a big name star. But Evil Dead has a cult following and he is known for it.


I always thought of an "A-list" movie star as someone that is extremely popular (a broad cross section of the population knows their name). This influences their status as "bankable" stars because having their name attached to the movie will draw people to watch the film that might have not watched it otherwise. This additional draw is the "bankability" of the star, and relies on people recognizing the name (weak) as well as whether they recall enjoying this actors films in the past (strong).

I would also say that A-list status and bankability aren't always hand-in-hand even though they are very related. One handy heuristic I'd offer for bankability is if the movie is being described among your peers as "the new " then that actor is probably a bankable star for your peer. The fact that the movie is described as a certain actor's film means that actor is bankable in direct relation to the number of people talk favorably about it in those terms. For example Scarlett Johansson by box office take is in the top 10 highest grossing stars by box office take. This clearly gives her A-list status (because many people know her name due to the success of her movies), but I don't know if I would consider her as bankable as Tom Cruise. This is because I have heard many people talk about "the new Tom Cruise movie", but I've never heard someone say they were excited about "the new Scarlett Johansson movie".

I know the presence (bankability) of a certain star does influence my decision to watch a movie or not. For example I saw the movie Hot Pursuit for rent a while ago and I decided to rent it because I've enjoyed several Reese Witherspoon movies in the past. As it turns out I hated the movie, so now I'll be more careful about renting a movie based on her presence in the future. This is why actors need to balance accepting any role that comes their way to earn money and stay on the public's radar with avoiding movies that are likely to flop. To bring this back to my example Reese Witherspoon definitely earned money with her starring role in Hot Pursuit but her bankability suffered with me. That doesn't compromise her A-list status though.

  • 1
    just a thought: just because you havent heard of anyone saying: "excited about the new Scarlett Johansson movie" doesnt makes it a thing. it's just a matter of perspective and your community. i'm super sure that young guys, fans of avengers, might actually go to a movie with her because they like her just as much as they would not go to the movies for a tom cruise appearance
    – David Seek
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 22:37
  • @DavidSeek For sure. This is why a band that is popular with preteen girls traditionally (and maybe still?) is more bankable than a band popular with my demographic. It is the amount of people drawn by the star multiplied by the amount of money they are willing to spend that gives bankability. I doubt people went to see Avengers just because she was in it. I'm sure her fan base grew because of Avengers and they will want to watch one of her movies now they know about her which increases her bankability.
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 22:46
  • I doubt it as well that someone went into the Avengers honestly just because of her. But as my point stated: I'm sure that AFTER Avengers she now has at least someone on this planet that would go into a movie just because of her.
    – David Seek
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 23:03
  • But the point also is. I for example, I have seen every single movie of Seth Rogen, of Jason Statham and Nicholas Cage. Simply because I like them. And Seth Rogen alone is able to make a sucky movie less sucky for me. So for me, Seth Rogen is a super A-lister... That's what I meant with "matter of perspective"
    – David Seek
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 23:04
  • @DavidSeek Sure I totally agree with that. What I was trying to say is that her box office pull doesn't directly reflect her bankability. As to your Seth Rogen comment, I would say that he is super bankable for you because you will go to one of his movies just because he is in it. That is the concept of bankability as distinct from fame (A-list vs B-list). Now the size of his fan base that feels like you is his broad bankability. Does that make sense?
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 23:08

Vin Diesel is an A-list actor. He banked globally. That’s why they call it “A” list, his name is known like the first letter of the Alphabet in places they don’t even speak English or enough schools to teach it. A-list actors educate about the talents of an American all around the world. My only question regarding Vin is if he’d ever do a movie with me and not the kind where I’m his love interest, but a possible cohort working with the FBI. Jim Carey can be in it too, his role is top secret, but important to note Vin Diesel is a more relevant A list actor than Jim in 2020. Jim is a niche actor, I honestly think it should’ve stayed that way. He doesn’t even act more than just play himself in every movie, a complete moron. We have to reconsider how the entertainment industry categorizes talent, and people should be compensated for their showcases of talent; representative of an American skill set of theater appreciation. Not complete mockery of what is a douchebag in America. He would agree to it. I can fix this by being in a movie with him. Jim Carey so desperately wants to be taken seriously before he dies. That’s why he grew a beard that one time. I’m kidding about him being a moron, having a healthy sense of humor can be a token to success in American culture. Let’s just be hopeful.

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