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The other day, during my ramblings online, I came across this Wikipedia page regarding something called Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll. Although I knew something of it (for example, I knew that Shirley Temple had been named the top movie star for several years in the 1930s), I had no idea how that determination had been made.
It turns out that a company called Quigley Publishing, involved in the emerging movie industry, developed a poll of the nation’s movie theater owners who were the top movie stars in bringing paying customers into their theaters in the previous year and published the results of same annually. There were apparently other polls on this subject; but, the Quigley poll pretty quickly became the authoritative poll or list on this topic within the industry.
In looking at the annual results on the Wikipedia page, I thought I might be able study it in some detail and see what comes to light. Specifically, I wanted to have a way to list the top money-making movie stars over the time (1912-2013) the poll was extant. I should note that although the poll is called the Top Ten Money Making Stars, in most years, Quigley (which published the results annually in one of their publications) listed more than ten performers each year (usually 25). It would probably result in a more “accurate” result to use those top 25 lists, but I didn’t for two reasons: 1) the top 25 lists are not shown every year (they apparently don’t exist for the years (1915-1925, 1930-31, and all years after 2000), and 2) I’m too lazy. It would take a lot more effort to study the top 25, rather than just the top 10 annual results.
What I did was weight each year’s results based on each performer’s finish each year (1st, 2nd, … 10th) plus award a certain number of points for each appearance in the annual top 10. Specifically, I awarded 15 points for a first-place finish, 10 points for a second-place finish, 8 points for a third-place finish and on down to one point for a tenth-place finish, plus 5 points for each appearance on the top 10 list. I’ll provide a little more detail on this and add a few comments after I list the top 75 actors and actresses based on the annual Quigley poll. I’ll explain the information in my list after I list the top performer. Let’s see what the results are.
Top 10 Money Making Stars Poll Results, 1912-2013
1st – John Wayne 322 25(4-5-3-7-0-0-1-2-1-2) 1948-1974
OK, let me explain what I’m including in this. John Wayne finished in first place with 322 points. He earned those 322 points by making the Quigley Top Ten list in 25 different years, and in those 25 appearances, he finished first four times, second five times, third three times, fourth seven times, seventh once, eighth twice, ninth once, and tenth twice. He first made the Top 10 list in 1948 and he last made the list in 1974. Note that I put Wayne’s name in bold. I’ll do that for everyone to make it a little easier to read the list without getting bogged down in the numbers. Back to the list now.
2nd – Clint Eastwood 301 21(5-6-3-1-3-1-1-1-0-0) 1968-1993
3rd – Tom Cruise 290 20(7-4-0-3-1-2-1—1-0-1) 1983-2007
4th – Tom Hanks 219 17(5-1-1-1-2-2-1-2-0-2) 1988-2013
5th – Bing Crosby 212 15(5-1-1-3-2-0-2-1-0-0) 1934-1954
6th – Gary Cooper 203 18(1-2-2-3-3-1-3-1-1-1) 1936-1957
7th – Clark Gable 181 16(0-6-2-1-0-0-3-1-0-3) 1932-1955
8th – Burt Reynolds 175 12(5-0-0-3-0-3-1-0-0-0) 1973-1984
8th – Mary Pickford 175 13(2-3-2-3-0-1-2-0-0-0) 1914-1926
10th – Paul Newman 157 14(2-1-3-0-1-0-2-0-4-1) 1963-1986
11th – Bob Hope 155 13(1-2-1-1-4-2-0-2-0-0) 1941-1953
12th – Douglas Fairbanks 149 11(2-3-1-2-1-0-0-2-0-0) 1916-1926
13th – Doris Day 142 10(4-0-2-1-0-0-1-1-1-0) 1951-1966
14th – Johnny Depp 134 9(3-2-1-0-1-2-0-0-0-0) 2003-2013
15th – Julia Roberts 126 10(1-3-1-1-1-1-1-0-0-1) 1990-2004
15th – Harrison Ford 126 12(1-0-1-1-3-1-1-2-1-1) 1981-2008
17th – Betty Grable 123 10(1-2-1-3-0-0-1-1-1-0) 1942-1951
18th – Rock Hudson 122 8(2-3-2-0-1-0-0-0-0-0) 1957-1964
19th – Eddie Murphy 121 9(1-4-0-2-0-0-1-1-0-0) 1983-1998
20th – Jerry Lewis 112 9(1-3-1-0-1-0-1-0-2-0) 1951-1963
21st – James Stewart 111 10(1-0-2-1-1-1-1-2-1-0) 1950-1965
21st – Cary Grant 111 10(0-1-2-0-3-2-1-1-0-0) 1945-1966
23rd – Dean Martin 107 8(1-3-0-1-1-1-1-0-0-0) 1951-1968
24th – Robert Redford 106 7(3-1-0-0-2-0-1-0-0-0) 1973-1984
25th – George Clooney 103 9(0-2-2-1-0-2-0-1-1-0) 2000-2011
25th – Elizabeth Taylor 103 9(1-1-1-1-0-3-0-0-1-1) 1957-1968
27th – Abbott & Costello 102 8 (1-0-4-1-0-1-0-1-0-0) 1941-1951
28th – Sylvester Stallone 100 8(2-0-2-0-0-2-0-1-0-1) 1977-1993
28th – Barbra Streisand 100 10(0-2-0-1-2-1-0-0-2-2) 1969-1980
30th – Mel Gibson 99 10(0-2-0-0-1-1-2-3-0-1) 1987-2002
30th – Shirley Temple 99 6(4-0-0-0-1-0-0-1-0-0) 1934-1939
32nd – Spencer Tracy 98 19(0-1-1-0-4-0-0-0-2-2) 1938-1951
33rd – Denzel Washington 97 9(1-0-0-1-2-2-1-1-0-1) 2001-2013
34th – Will Smith 95 8(1-1-1-1-0-0-3-1-0-0) 1997-2008
35th – Arnold Schwarzenegger 94 7(1-1-1-3-0-1-0-0-0-0) 1985-1996
36th – Robin Williams 93 9(0-0-3-1-1-1-0-1-1-1) 1988-1998
37th – Leonardo DiCaprio 92 8(0-1-3-1-1-0-0-1-1-0) 1997-2012
37th – Jim Carrey 92 7(1-3-0-0-1-0-1-0-1-0) 1994-2004
37th – Steve McQueen 92 9(0-0-3-1-1-0-1-1-1-1) 1967-1975
37th – William S. Hart 92 7(2-1-0-1-1-0-0-1-0-1) 1915-1921
41st – Mickey Rooney 91 6(3-0-0-2-0-0-0-0-1-0) 1938-1943
42nd – Tom Mix 84 7(1-1-1-1-1-0-0-0-1-1) 1915-1930
43rd – Joan Crawford 82 7(1-0-2-0-1-1-1-0-0-1) 1930-1936
43rd – Wallace Reid 82 6(2-0-2-0-0-0-1-0-1-0) 1916-1921
45th – Jack Lemmon 81 8(0-1-0-2-1-0-0-3-1-0) 1070-1980
46th – Dustin Hoffman 81 8(0-0-1-1-1-3-0-0-1-1) 1969-1988
47th – Jack Nicholson 79 6(1-1-1-1-0-1-0-1-0-0) 1974-2003
48th – Clara Bow 77 5(2-1-1-0-0-0-1-0-0-0) 1927-1931
49th – Norma Talmadge 75 6(1-2-0-0-0-1-0-1-1-0) 1920-1926
50th – Humphrey Bogart 74 8(0-0-0-0-1-3-2-1-1-0) 1943-1955
51st – John Travolta 73 7(0-1-1-0-1-1-1-1-1-0) 1978-1997
51st – Janet Gaynor 73 5(1-1-2-1-0-0-0-0-0-0) 1930-1934
53rd – Sandra Bullock 72 6(1-1-0-0-1-2-0-0-0-1) 1995-2013
54th – Brad Pitt 71 7(1-0-1-0-0-0-0-3-2-0) 1995-2013
54th – Colleen Moore 71 7(0-1-1-0-2-0-0-1-1-1) 1923-1931
56th– Kevin Costner 68 6(1-0-1-1-0-1-0-0-1-1) 1990-1996
56th – Sean Connery 68 6(1-1-0-0-1-0-0-1-2-0) 1965-1996
56th – William Holden 68 6(1-0-0-1-0-1-2-1-0-0) 1954-1961
59th – Lon Chaney 66 6(0-2-0-0-1-1-0-1-1-0) 1922-1929
60th – Julie Andrews 65 4(2-0-1-1-0-0-0-0-0-0) 1965-1968
61st – Elvis Presley 64 7(0-0-0-1-1-2-1-0-0-2) 1957-1966
62nd – Harold Lloyd 63 7(0-0-0-1-0-1-1-4-0-0) 1922-1928
63rd – Robert Downey Jr 62 6(0-1-1-0-1-0-1-1-0-1) 2008-2013
64th – James Cagney 61 7(0-0-1-0-0-2-0-1-2-1) 1935-1943
65th – Wallace Beery 58 6(0-0-0-1-1-1-1-2-0-0) 1931-1940
65th – Marie Dressler 58 4(2-0-0-0-1-0-0-0-1-0) 1931-1934
65th – J Warren Kerrigan 58 5(0-0-2-1-0-2-0-0-0-0) 1913-1917
68th – Will Rogers 57 4(1-2-0-0-0-0-0-0-1-0) 1932-1935
69th – Michael Douglas 56 6(0-1-0-1-0-0-1-0-2-1) 1985-1995
69th – Thomas Meighan 56 5(1-0-0-1-1-0-0-0-1-1) 1922-1926
71st – Jane Fonda 53 5(0-0-1-1-1-0-1-1-0-0) 1978-1982
71st – Rudolph Valentino 53 4(1-0-1-0-1-0-1-0-0-0) 1922-1925
71st – Charles Ray 53 5(0-0-1-2-0-0-0-2-0-0) 1917-1921
74th – Anita Stewart 52 5(0-0-2-1-0-0-0-1-0-1) 1915-1922
75th – Greer Garson 49 5(0-0-1-0-0-2-1-0-1-0) 1942-1946
That’s it. That’s the top 75 based on the annual Top Ten Money Making Stars poll of movie theater owners and my scoring system. I plan to list the next 25 to bring the list up to an even 100 in the comments.
I have a number of comments regarding these polls, which follow forthwith.
As I was doing this exercise, I noted how many actors and actresses each year (you know – the sex of each performer man or woman, male or female) and tabulated the percentage of actors and actresses for each decade.
Overall, for the years 1912-2013, actors dominate the list – 755 actors versus 278 actresses. Overall, actresses accounted for 26.9% of the top ten money-making stars. Among the Top 75 from 1912-2013, 57 are actors and 18 are actresses (or 24% of the top 75). It’s interesting to note that this imbalance between the sexes did not exist in the first few decades of the poll. From the first poll in 1912 through the 1939 poll, there were 151 actors and 131 actresses (46.4% women). However, this changed rapidly in the 1940s (24.5% women – you know, actresses) and was never more than 28% (in the 1960s) in any other decade and hit their lowest percentage (11%) in the short 2010-13 final decade of the poll. I’ll leave it others to opine on why this occurred.
One thing I was surprised by is how the top comedic actors of the silent era (should silent era be capitalized?) fared in the money makers poll. It has always been my understanding that Charlie Chaplin was the most popular comedic actor of the era, followed by Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. However, only Harold Lloyd did well in the polling making the top 10 list seven straight years from 1922-28, while neither Chaplin nor Keaton made the top 10. Chaplin did make the Top 25 twice, finishing in 25th place in 1926 and 1928) while Keaton never did. Of course, only the top 10 list is available for the years 1915-1925, so it’s possible both Chaplin and Keaton could have made that list, although neither did make the top 10 in those years.
One thing I wasn’t surprised by in the silent era is that Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford really were the King and Queen of Hollywood based on this poll. They are the two highest-ranked performers from the silent era, and each is a member of the vaunted 100-point club (most likely vaunted in my mind only).
Another thing I was surprised by is how much better Joan Crawford did in this polling than did rivals Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn. Crawford made the top ten seven times (consecutive in the 1930s), was the top-ranked money-making star in 1930, and finished with 82 points based on my scoring method, good for 43rd place overall. Davis did make the top 10 four times (in the late 30s into the early 1940s) with a high showing of sixth place, and she scored 31 points just outside of the top 100. Hepburn only made the top 10 once (9th place in 1969).
I thought I’d see how these three did based on the top 25 list and see what difference, if any, that makes on their relative standing. To do this, I changed the scoring to 30-25-23-22…3-2-1 for finishing first to 25th, plus 10 points for each top 25 appearance. Doing this, Crawford made the top 25 ten times and scored 278 points, while Davis made the top 25 eight times and scored 198 points, and Hepburn made the top 25 only five times and scored 99 points. Crawford still does the best of the three, although Davis does make up some ground, while Hepburn really did not do well for whatever reason under this poll.
One performer who was not a human made the top 10 list once. Can you name this performer? As a hint, he (or she) made the list in the years between World War I and World War II.
Another actor I was surprised to see make a top 10 appearance is Clifton Webb, who is listed as the 7th best money-making star of 1950. Webb was mainly a character actor, and a good one, who specialized in playing snobby elitist types. He did star in some movies, most notably Mr. Belvedere and a sequel or two, which were big hits. Still, he barely finished behind Gregory Peck, who only made the top 10 twice (both in 8th place) and ahead of, among others, Henry Fonda, who never made the top 10.
Ranking these three based on top 25 finishes, Webb made the top 25 three times and has 60 points, while Fonda made the top 25 three times and has 43 points, while Peck made the top 25 ten times and has 198 points. This is probably an example showing how rating top 25 finishes would likely result in a more “accurate” or at least realistic list. A couple of other character actors made the top 25 list once — Dane Clark and Barry Fitzgerald.
Two of the biggest stars of the 1930s were unlikely leading movie stars – Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler. Neither could be described as the least bit attractive, but both had the ability of making people laugh. They co-starred in several movies which were big hits. Below is Marie Dressler, the Number One Money Making Star of 1932 and 1933 with Jean Harlow in the last scene from Dinner at Eight.
Something I should’ve mentioned before now is that the Quigley poll listed several performers who were duos. They did this with Abbott & Costello and with Martin & Lewis as well as a couple of others. I treated these duos as individual performers under my scoring system, but in the event of Martin & Lewis, both Martin (Dean) and Lewis (Jerry) made the list as solo performers after they broke up, in which case I added their individual score to their duo score and listed each individually while ignoring the Martin & Lewis duo when ranking performers. I think that was probably the fairest way of handling that issue.
One thing I have no idea about is what relationship there is between these annual top 10 and top 25 money-making star lists and the box office receipts for the years in question. You would expect there to be some correlation, especially since the results of these polls seem to have been taken seriously by the studios and producers. Here’s a Wikipedia article that is somewhat responsive to this question. There are a couple of lists of interest — one being a list through the year 2000 of the top 10 actors in career ticket sales, and another featuring the actors with the highest career box office receipts through 1966. Neither relates to annual or year-by-year statistics, and tabulation of box office receipts over time are hard to make sense of without an adjustment for inflation.
Finally, I should spend a moment or two on Quigley Publishing Company, the originator, caretaker, and distributor of this poll throughout its existence. Martin Quigley Sr. published several periodicals related to the movie industry and he oversaw this annual poll. Probably more important to the history of the movie industry was his role in the development of the Motion Picture Production Code, which was in place between 1934 and 1968. His son, Martin Quigley Jr., eventually took over the family business. He kept the poll going and fought a losing battle to keep the production code in effect. During World War II, Quigley worked undercover for the OSS in Ireland (which, to its eternal shame, stayed neutral during that war) and was also outspoken in his belief that the war with Japan could have been won without the dropping of atom bombs on Japanese cities.Published in