The 20 Movie Stars With the Biggest Box Office Appeal

Tom Cruise, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and Julia Roberts.
Tom Cruise, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and Julia Roberts. / (Cruise) Karwai Tang/WireImage/Getty Images; (Johnson) Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images; (Roberts) Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

The fact that Top Gun: Maverick (2022) grossed more than $1 billion at the box office all but proves that Tom Cruise has the power to fill movie theater seats even in the streaming era. And according to a new survey, he’s better at it than any other actor in Hollywood.

As Matthew Belloni reported in the April 24th edition of his Puck newsletter, National Research Group (NRG) recently conducted a nationwide survey asking people “to name up to five actors that would make them most interested in seeing a movie in a theater.” Cruise came in first place, followed by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Tom Hanks.

The top three is a telling snapshot of the kind of actor that can draw people to movie theaters these days—namely, older (and predominantly white) men with storied Hollywood careers. The average age of the entire top 20 is 57.5, per Belloni; and just four actors are in their forties, including Leonardo DiCaprio (8th place), Kevin Hart (10th), Ryan Reynolds (13th), and Chris Hemsworth (20th). The only three women to make the top 20 have also been in the business for decades: Julia Roberts (6th), Sandra Bullock (12th), and Angelina Jolie (18th). Highly publicized recent scandals don’t seem to have had an effect on people’s fandom, either, considering that Will Smith and Johnny Depp both landed in the top 10.

The survey itself might be partially responsible for the age skewing. In an interview on Belloni’s podcast The Town, Ray Subers, NRG’s senior vice president of theatrical strategy, revealed that while they polled a “nationally representative sample” of people between 12 and 74 years old, they were “pretty heavy-weighted older in this study.” Younger stars performed much better among younger respondents. Tom Holland and Zendaya, for example, were 39th and 47th in the overall study, respectively, but 10th and 14th among Gen Zers alone.

That said, the data seems to support the theory that today’s box office appeal is less about actors than established IP, from superheroes to Super Mario. Names like Cruise, Hanks, and Roberts can still get people in theaters because their personal brands as movie megastars were cemented back when that wasn’t the case.

See the top 20 below, and find out more takeaways from the study by listening to The Town or subscribing to Puck.

  1. Tom Cruise
  2. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
  3. Tom Hanks
  4. Brad Pitt
  5. Denzel Washington
  6. Julia Roberts
  7. Will Smith
  8. Leonardo DiCaprio
  9. Johnny Depp
  10. Kevin Hart
  11. Keanu Reeves
  12. Sandra Bullock
  13. Ryan Reynolds
  14. Adam Sandler
  15. Harrison Ford
  16. George Clooney
  17. Robert Downey, Jr.
  18. Angelina Jolie
  19. Morgan Freeman
  20. Chris Hemsworth

[h/t Puck]