As has been written countless times, television is beginning to, or already has, surpassed the film world in terms of respect and prestige, and it likely won’t be long before The Emmys are a bigger draw than the Oscars. As Vulture recently wrote, TV Actors don’t need a movie career to be well respected anymore. Indeed, we are finding that many actors have as much respect for their television work than great actors have for their film work.
Still, despite relatively even levels of respect, there’s not a lot of actors who are transitioning between the two incredibly well, and in part — as Vulture wrote — it’s not really that necessary anymore. Nevertheless, Hollywood continues to pluck from the television world its next big stars, and Hollywood stars who aren’t racking up blockbuster hits one after another often seek out television work to regain a footing on their career. But simultaneous two-sport players are something of a rarity, at least in significant roles. Adam Driver, of course, is beginning to show up in good film roles, Olivia Munn is doing well with smaller film parts, Taylor Kitsch and Michael B. Jordon are finding their footing with mixed results, and Aaron Paul is going to try his hand at the transition this weekend with Need for Speed.
But actors that are great in both mediums? Not that common. In fact, here are the ten best:
Bryan Cranston — Cranston may be considered the best actor on television, but he’s been holding his own in a variety of supporting character roles in film, too, from Argo to Drive and even a fun role in Rock of Ages. He’ll get a chance to impress even more this summer with a meatier role in the blockbuster, Godzilla.
Jon Hamm — The only reason Jon Hamm doesn’t have a string of Emmy Awards himself is because Cranston keeps blocking him, but in the movie world, Hamm is outgunning Cranston with strong performances in dramas (The Town) and comedies (Bridesmaids) and killing it on other TV shows like 30 Rock, Saturday Night Live, and his British series, A Young Doctor’s Notebook..
Lena Headey — Headey has been around in the film world for over two decades, but it was her role as the title character in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and now Game of Thrones that essentially relaunched her Hollywood career as really one of the best B-movie actresses around in movies like 300: Rise of an Empire, The Purge and Dredd.
Benedict Cumberbatch — If this were a ranking, I think Cumberbatch would probably hold the top position, having excelled obviously in Sherlock and even Parade’s End while scoring with huge Hollywood roles in blockbusters (Star Trek: Into the Darkness, Oscar-winning films (12 Years a Slave) and even impressive voice work in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Melissa McCarthy I wouldn’t exactly call Melissa McCarthy’s work on MIke & Molly impressive, but she has been good on Saturday Night Live, she was lovely in Gilmore Girls, and she is mad crushing it at the box office with movies like Identity Thief, Heat and probably this summer’s Tammy. She really does make the most of her sitcom breaks.
Vera Farmiga — Farmiga actually began as a television actress (she’s had four series in her career) and earned an Emmy nomination last year for her role in Bate’s Motel. She’s also very good in a variety of films, including one in which she received an Oscar nom (Up in the Air) and a decent number of popular horror and indie films like The Conjuring and Joshua (in the film world, she’s like the female Patrick Wilson).
Jason Bateman — Bateman is an excellent two-tool player, who skillfully alternates between television (Arrested Development, where he has two Emmy nominations, and voice work on Growing Up Fisher) and movies, where he plays the straight man in comedies (Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief) or in dramas (Up in the Air, Juno). He’s also terrific in Bad Words, which opens this weekend.
Matthew McConaughey — Basically, no one has ever made the transition back and forth between movies and television as well as Matthew McConaughey did in 2013-2014, earning an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club, crushing it in this site’s second favorite movie of the year, and making himself a shoo-in for the Emmy win later this year on True Detective. If this were an annual contest, he’d have won this year.
Peter Dinklage — Dinklage has three Emmy nominations (and one win) for his role in Game of Thrones, but he may have never landed that job had he not gained notoriety for his amazing work in Station Agent and even a brilliant comic turn in Elf. He has five more films coming out this year (blockbusters and awards contenders) to continue to make his case for one of the best actors in both mediums.
Martin Freeman — Over the course of his career who has bounced between television and movies better than Freeman? No one. He does amazing comedies with Edgar Wright, he’s the freakin’ Hobbit, and he’s been in two of the best TV series of all time, Sherlock and the UK’s The Office. Fargo, which comes out next month, may make that three.