Ah, the Golden Age of Hollywood. Some lament that the pictures aren’t what they used to be, and although this fossilized stereotype may be imagined wearing a homburg and chewing tobacco, they have a point. Classic Hollywood is a bygone notion, a time dominated by films now regarded as classics, as well as stars.
The industry is just so different now, and while it’s easy to say that “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” that is more a studio issue than a talent one. Yet still, these modern talents are the closest we’ll get to some classic stars.
10Jimmy Stewart — Tom Hanks
Comparisons have been made for years between Jimmy Stewart and Tom Hanks: both represent the same thing in pictures, a heroism that upholds American ideals from the “common man.” While Hanks himself has thrown water on the likeness, others, such as Steven Spielberg, Hanks’s multi-time collaborator, have drawn a parallel between the two screen icons.
Although Hanks started out being better known for his comedic work, he and Stewart became renowned for their on-screen decency and valor in pressure situations. While the two may not be identical, they occupy the same place in the American zeitgeist, the all-American star you can trust on screen and have buy-in when you purchase a ticket to their film.
9Lauren Bacall — Kathleen Turner
With her husky timbre and seductive presence, Lauren Bacall is one of the all-time great screen sirens. A major star in the ’40s and ’50s, Bacall’s archetype seemed bound to that era until Kathleen Turner came along. Making her “jaw-dropping” film debut in Body Heat, Turner and the movie itself was redolent of Bacall in one of her early noirs. Although both actors were renowned for their deep vocal tonality and erotic physicality, they were also very versatile performers.
While Bacall became best known for her roles in noirs like The Big Sleep and Key Largo, she also appeared in light comedies such as How to Marry a Millionaire and Designing Women. Meanwhile, although Turner grew to fame for Body Heat, her star bloomed with films like Peggy Sue Got Married and — Romancing the Stone. Turner was not unaware of this comparison, as upon meeting Bacall, she introduced herself by saying: “Hi, I’m the young you.”
8Peter Sellers — Steve Carell
One of the greatest comedic performers of all time, Peter Sellers’ arsenal may be as great as any comic actor that has ever lived. Equipped with both a great ear and brilliant physicality, Sellers could be “extremely subtle and over the top all at the same time.” While many actors have been influenced by Sellers, none resemble him more than Steve Carell.
Carell has that awkward, endearing quality of Sellers, particularly in the late 60s. In addition, both forayed into more dramatic roles at various points in their careers, Carell with Foxcatcher and Sellers with Lolita. At one point, Carell was even in talks to remake Sellers’ 1967 film, The Bobo.
7Jack Lemmon -— Robin Williams
For two completely unique actors, Jack Lemmon and Robin Williams actually share quite a lot of similarities. Lemmon, a 2-time Oscar winner, has been described as “the most successful tragi-comedian of his age.” Meanwhile, besides being a beloved comedian, Williams became a true movie star, renowned for his pathos and improvisational ability.
Particularly later in their careers, as they shifted away from more traditional comedies, both actors garnered acclaim playing against type, Lemmon with movies like Save the Tiger and The China Syndrome and Williams with movies like Insomnia and One Hour Photo. Both actors often played dire, desperate men and used their traditional personas to subvert expectations.
6James Dean — River Phoenix
There is an obvious parallel between James Dean and River Phoenix: both were mammoth talents whose careers ended prematurely. However, more than that, both seem to occupy a similar place in culture and media. Off-screen, both idols had an aloof magnetism and androgyny, attracting men and women equally.
While Phoenix never achieved the iconic-ness that Dean did as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause, he did play some celebrated characters, including a young Indiana Jones. Having worked with legendary directors, Dean with Elia Kazan and Nicholas Ray and Phoenix with Steven Spielberg and Sidney Lumet, their impact will long outlast their limited filmographies.
5Tony Curtis — Alec Baldwin
There is something about Alec Baldwin that is redolent of Tony Curtis. Both started to achieve success on the big screen in their early 30s; both were slick, quick-talking, handsome guys who projected a certain swagger. Curtis first gained widespread recognition for his 1957 film The Sweet Smell of Success, ironically one of Baldwin’s all-time favorite movies.
In addition to having a certain dramatic bravado, both performers became known for their comedic roles, Baldwin as Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock and Curtis for a string of films in the 1960s. However, unlike Baldwin, who found new levels of success on a sitcom, Curtis’s career hit a steep decline after he transitioned to more farcical films.
4Timothy Carey — Nicolas Cage
Timothy Carey walked so Nicolas Cage could run. One of the pre-eminent character actors of his generation, Carey, towering at 6 feet, 4 inches, was known for his portrayals of manic and violent characters. Known equally for his eccentricity off-screen, Carey would be right at home in the modern cinematic landscape, as he would fit seamlessly in a Tarantino or Coen Brothers film.
On-screen and off, these traits are reminiscent of Cage. Carey was never the star that Cage has become, but their singular screen spirits are strikingly similar. In addition, facially, both actors look quite alike. Even actor and cinephile Patton Oswalt has made the connection, calling Carey the “Nicolas Cage of the 40s.”
3Grace Kelly — Gwyneth Paltrow
Providing a contrast to the sultry starlets that soared the silver screen in the ’50s, Grace Kelly was the quintessential film star of the era, projecting the poise and elegance of an heiress. In addition to her distinguishing physical features, her blonde hair and lithe saunter, an actor that conveys similar aristocracy is Gwyneth Paltrow.
While it may be forgotten now, Paltrow was one of the most naturally talented actors of the late ’90s, exceptional in films like The Talented Mr. Ripleyand Shakespeare in Love, for which she would win the Oscar. Besides sharing an air of maturity and slight elitism, both actors faded away from the movie industry, Paltrow for business ventures and Kelly to become the Princess of Monaco.
2Laurence Olivier — Daniel Day-Lewis
Perhaps the two finest thespians of their respective ages, the only way for modern audiences to understand the reverence that Laurence Olivier occupied during his time is to look at Daniel Day-Lewis. Classically trained on the English stage, both actors became titans on the big screen, known for their physical inhabitations and accent work.
Unlike Day-Lewis, Olivier continued on the stage and was certainly less choosy when it came to projects. However, Olivier set the marker for who Day-Lewis would become, with Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, when praising Day-Lewis in The Age of Innocence, noting, “Not since Olivier in Wuthering Heights has an actor matched piercing intelligence with such imposing good looks and physical grace.”
1Cary Grant — George Clooney
Two of the defining leading men of their respective eras, the screen personas of Cary Grant and George Clooney, are eerily akin. Despite their classical handsomeness, both actors have an unusual lack of self-consciousness, utilizing their elastic faces for comedic potential.
Both actors became famous in crime movies with elements of romantic comedy, Clooney with Out of Sight, and Grant with She Done Him Wrong. While the screwball comedies that Grant became best known for weren’t as popular when Clooney was in his prime, he did try his hand with Intolerable Cruelty. Further, Grant’s transition to working with Alfred Hitchcock in thrillers such as To Catch a Thief and North by Northwestmimics Clooney’s dramatic turn in the 2000s with thrillers Syriana and Michael Clayton.