“Oh yes, I’d turn gay for him,” said a staunchly heterosexual male friend after seeing the young Alain Delon in Plein soleil, René Clément’s 1960 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley. Delon, then in his early twenties, was at the height of his pulchritude; in shot after shot, his beauty takes your breath away. After a while, you stop asking yourself whether or not he’s just too beautiful for the role of Tom Ripley, the charming psychopath who assumes the identity of the friend he has killed, and you tell yourself yes, this is what films are all about.
Delon would continue to be beautiful for another decade. His face is still flawless in The Leopard (1963), Le samouraï (1967) and La piscine (1969), but in Borsalino (1970) it’s beginning to show faint traces of rumpled character. Thereafter, throughout the 1970s, the signs of ageing would slowly encroach. He continued to be – and still is, well into his seventies – an exceptionally good-looking man. But in his prime he was something else, something almost not human, something like an angel. If you went on a date with a man like that, you wouldn’t want him to talk (and what could he possibly say that would live up to the way he looked?) and you probably wouldn’t even want to touch; you would just want to stare at him, and maybe weep a little.
Traditionally, it’s female film stars who are the objects of beauty, there to be gazed at. Male film stars are supposed to be manly, rugged, active not passive. Of course all male film stars – as opposed to character actors – are handsome, but just occasionally they are more than that; they’re young gods, not of this earth, and if Keats were still around he would write odes to them. Perhaps it has something to do with the bloom of youth, which fades so quickly, and perhaps it requires a certain blankness or inscrutability that makes it impossible to guess what is going on these actors’ heads. All I know is it has nothing to do with sex – sex appeal is earthier, less ethereal, more rumpled and crumpled. These actors are perfect.
Here then are my Top Ten Most Beautiful Male Film Stars.
(Please note – not all the pictures are taken from the films in question. But some of them are.)
Gary Cooper in Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
The young Cooper is the epitome of the laconic action star. With a face like that, he didn’t need to say anything; as life (and illness) caught up with him, the face continued to say it all for him.
Hurd Hatfield in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
“I never understood why I got the part, and have spent my career regretting it,” Hatfield said of his fine performance as Oscar Wilde’s corrupt anti-hero. In a reversal of the story, the actor himself grew older while his image was preserved, eternally beautiful, in Albert Lewin’s fine adaptation.
Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Was there anyone who did more for white T-shirts than the young Brando? Already looking a little pudgy in The Wild One (1953), he would later comprehensively sabotage his own smouldering beauty by putting on excessive weight. Possibly deliberately.
James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Dean starred in only three films before taking the “live fast, die young” credo literally by crashing his Porsche Spyder on Route 466. Even prettier than Brando, and with better hair, he died before he had a chance to grow bored with his own beauty.
Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Newman proved that it is possible for a stunningly beautiful actor to grow old gracefully, and seemingly without vanity. Was he always a character actor trapped in a blue-eyed matinee idol’s body?
Alain Delon in Plein soleil (1960)
Delon was almost indecently beautiful for at least a decade after René Clément’s film, but continued to be a handsome screen presence in later films such as Mr Klein (1976), as the Baron de Charlus in Swann in Love (1983) and as Julius Caesar in Asterix at the Olympic Games (2008).
Christopher Walken in The Anderson Tapes (1971)
Walken is such a familiar presence nowadays that it comes as quite a shock to see him as an ethereal 28-year-old Adonis in his Hollywood debut. God only knows how indecently beautiful he must have been before he started making films. Out of all the actors here, Walken is probably the one changed the most by time; the camera still loves him, but for different reasons, not least because he looks utterly at ease with himself and the way he has changed.
Keanu Reeves in River’s Edge (1986)
Reeves’s beauty has been as unexpectedly durable as his career as, unfazed by critical scorn, he has repeatedly reinvented himself – from teen pin-up to action hero, action nerd, character actor and, lately, martial arts director. While showing no sign of desperately wanting to hang on to his youth, he now looks just as beautiful as he ever did – if not more so. Check out the picture of him in suit and raincoat, below right.
Tony Chiu Wai Leung in In the Mood for Love (2000)
Not to be confused with Tony Ka Fai Leung (an equally fine actor), Hong Kong-born Tony Leung was for many years the most beautiful of all the beautiful actors in the films of John Woo and Wong Kar-Wai before reaching international audiences with Wong’s romantic arthouse hit, Hero, Infernal Affairs and Lust, Caution. Which pretty much made him the Most Beautiful Male Film Star in the World, for a while.
Lee Byung-hun in A Bittersweet Life (2005)
Inheritor of Tony Leung’s mantle, as far as I’m concerned, is this Korean star who built up a reputation in films for directors as Park Chan-wook and Kim Ji-woon before branching out into big Hollywood productions such as the G.I. Joe movies and RED 2. Most Beautiful Male Film Star in the World right now, no question. In 2015 we’ll be seeing him as T-1000 in Terminator Genisys and I, for one, can’t wait. Damn, those machines have stepped up their game.
This piece was first posted on the Telegraph website in August 2013, to tie in with a U.K. rerelease of Plein soleil. It has been lightly edited, and the picture selection is different.
I was amused and bemused by comments from some readers, who refused point blank to admit the adjective “beautiful” could ever be applied to a man.
Have I left someone out? Please feel free to post your suggestions in the comments.
I think Hurd looks like too much of a goof — but then I’d go for George Sanders anyway. And what? No love for Leslie Cheung?! Swoon.
But so hard to choose between all those gorgeous Hong Kong actors in Wong Kar-Wai movies!
Leslie Cheung (God rest his soul) was certainly beautiful; I think I plumped for Tony Leung because of his CV, more than anything, and because it would have been more likely western audiences (and certainly Telegraph readers) would have seen him in something.
Though, yeah, there was Farewell My Concubine…
Errol Flynn beautiful in every role. The most perfect looking man ever!
I’d probably add:
David Bowie, probably in The Hunger
Mickey Rourke in Rumblefish
Michael Sarrazin in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Ido Kier in Blood for Dracula
Nicholas Tse in Gen X Cops
Rob Lowe in The Hotel New Hampshire
It’s all about the bone structure, I reckon.
Oh, and what about poor Monty Clift?
All great suggestions.
Maybe one day I’ll put together an addendum to this page with pictures of all the alternates. Then it will become a one-stop-shop post for anyone seeking to ogle at the altar of male loveliness.
James Spader had something really beautiful about him, and Tom Hardy is rather special too…
Ah yes, young Spader! Especially in Pretty in Pink… “The girl is, was and will always be nada.” Much more exciting than Andrew McCarthy.
And I very much enjoyed Tom Hardy’s puppy-nuzzling in The Drop. His performance in that was pretty good too.
Excellent choices, though I would have to add Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets, Al Pacino in The Godfather, Dirk Bogarde in anything. Alive today would have to be Gael Garcia Bernal.
It’s easy to forget how gorgeous Keitel and Pacino used to be; you are right to remind me. Not so sure about Bogarde, mainly because I remember him older, but totally with you on Gael Garcia Bernal. This post definitely needs an annex!
The list is endless to be fair. Because thankfully, there are just a lot of really hot male actors.
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I would also add Tsuyosh Ihara from Letters of Iwo Jima. and Sagamore Stevenin.
Tsuyosh Ihara was the horse-riding Baron? Yes, he was fabulous in that. Couldn’t remember Sagamore Stevenin from Romance (I chiefly remember Rocco Sifredi!) but yeah, having checked out some pictures of him I shall definitely be on the lookout from now on. Thanks!
Paul Newman is unbelievably sexy. Agree with Brando and Dean too. I would add Harrison Ford in his professor mode in Indiana Jones!
Agree with Brando and Dean. And wow Newman is the epitome of sexy cool. I would maybe plump for Harrison Ford in his professor attire in Raiders of the Lost Ark!
Yes, Spader in Sex, Lies, Clift in Place in the Sun, Pacino in ANYTHING, but pref Scarecrow, Panic, Dog Day. Colin Farrel in films with long hair, like Ondine
…I feel rather faint.
Great post and what a great selection. I’d add Ivor Novello in The Lodger, Cary Grant in just about anything (especially the early screwball comedies), Johnny Depp in Cry Baby and River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho. And I have a strange soft spot for 1960s Michael Caine.
How can you make such a list without River Phoenix on it?!
Alain Delon in Plein soleil makes a mockery of imagined divisions between male/female beauty. He’s so beautiful even fish fancy him (probably). Gave me funny feelings when I first saw/it him as a teen.
Yes. No comparison. Many misunderstand “beautiful” in the comments and mention very masculine men like Brad Pitt who has never been beautiful, just masculine and hot I suppose.
Alain Cuny, Jean Marais, Jean Babilee, ah, those heavenly French actors.
And the first glimpse of Mads Mikkelson as Sir Tristan in King Arthur (of course, Tristan would look like that!) or Nicolai Coster-Waldau as Paul Bettany’s friend in Wimbledon.
Also, gazing with satisfaction at young Horatio Hornblower and Ciaran Hinds in Persuasion.
A great list and some great suggestions in the comments…..
And no Michael Fassbender??? Put it this way, when we did a “film star in theory” lecture last year and the lecturer asked about who of today’s male movie stars we considered beautiful/sexy Fassbender’s name generated an “ohhhhh yes” from nearly all the women and quite a lot of the men (my self included!)
Brad Pitt is also a beautiful male, where is he on this list? HELLO!!!! remember him in Legends of the Fall, Meet Joe Black!!!!!!
He isn’t beautiful, he has been more like a hot guy.
Of course Delon! La Piscine is amzing; he, Jane Birkin and Romy Schneider are just so beautiful. In fact, is that the greatest concentration of beauty on screen ever? Not that I’m piling on the hyperbole or anything…
I think if I had to choose just one, it would probably be Delon. And considering such beauty is so ephemeral, he had a pretty good run.
Some brilliant suggestions here – thank you everyone – though I would contend that some of the candidates are handsome or sexy or charming rather than beautiful.
That said, I realise it’s a fine line, and that any such Top Ten is bound by its very nature to be subjective anyway. But who doesn’t like looking at pictures of beautiful people?
I think 1930s era Henry Fonda was beautiful – the eyes have it.
You’d probably need to do another top 20 or 50 but Terence Stamp merits mention, and not just at the comments section, I do feel.
Hmm yes, you might be right about Terence Stamp. Clearly this list is madly subjective, but even so I would have little trouble thinking of a couple of dozen other contenders. The movies are full of beautiful men! And for that, at least, we should be thankful.
Joel McCrea in The Palm Beach Story for example.
I love Joel McCrea and think he’s sexy. I’ve never found him beautiful though.
Where are Errol Flynn? Jeffrey Hunter? Gregory Peck? Tyrone Power? Oh well, a list like this should probably be a hundred names long. But I enjoyed looking at your selections – who wouldn’t? 🙂
Ah, but surely half the fun with a list like this is disagreeing with it! All lists like this one are so subjective. These guys are just the ones I think are the most beautiful (as opposed to handsome, or attractive, which I don’t think are necessarily the same thing).
Though I do like those actors you mention too!
None of those were beautiful :s. Especially not among the ten most beautiful of all times, etheral beauty etc. They all look lime quadruplets and I think more like a slimey neighbour.
You forgot Tyrone Power in anything.
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SAGAMORE STEVENIN !!!!!!!!!!………..And don’t forget young MEL GIBSON in the film Mad Max
Alain Delon is the ost beautiful of all time and Cillian Murphy who was forgotten here comes second 😉