Canadians have a long and storied history in Hollywood. Starting with some of the earliest silent film actors like Mary Pickford and Jack Carson all the way to 21st century stars like Ryan Gosling, Seth Rogen and Rachel McAdams, Canadian actors have played an outsized role in the film industry over the last 100 years.
So it was a natural question to ask which Canucks have generated the most in ticket sales by having their faces splashed across movie posters. Is it the veteran, celebrated actors like Donald Sutherland, whose classical training and polished baritone have offered gravitas (and commercial success) to over 65 films over the years, or comedic stars like Mike Myers, who has appeared in a relatively modest number of films, but manages to make almost every one of them a hit?
Every Dollar Counts
The first way we sliced the data was to consider the total box office draw (domestic plus international) for every film that an actor has appeared in, whether in a leading, ensemble or supporting role.
|Total Box Office Earnings ($)
Surprisingly, the Canadian who comes out on top is Toronto-born comedian Will Arnett, perhaps most famous for his supporting role in the television series Arrested Development. But it turns out, the man has appeared in a large number of high-grossing films too, particularly as a voice actor in animated movies like Despicable Me, The Lego Movie and Ratatouille. With Canada’s reputation as a hotbed of comedy, funny guys like Jim Carrey, Seth Rogen and Mike Myers fill out many of the top spots, on the backs of blockbusters like Ace Ventura, Knocked Up and Austin Powers, respectively.
But look closer at the list, and a few actors who are not quite household names stand out. Daniel Cudmore, a stuntman and actor from Squamish, British Columbia, has appeared in films grossing over $4.5 billion (US), but most Canadians wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a lineup. How can this be? Cudmore’s filmography reads like an encyclopedia of big budget, ensemble dress-up films, including franchises like X-Men (where he plays the metal-armoured Colossus) and the Twilight series (where he plays vampire Felix).
Unknown actor Jason Whyte may be the most unexpected Canadian thespian to grace the silver screen. With an otherwise bare film resume, Whyte managed bit roles in two of the highest grossing films of all time, Avatar and King Kong, putting him in the company of much more accomplished actors — at least in this ranking.
In the Lead
Clearly, just appearing in a movie may not be the most appropriate definition of a bankable actor. After all, the economics of Hollywood are very much star-driven. To address this, we next look at actors’ box office gross when they appear in a leading role; The Numbers defines an actor as having a leading role if they appear on the film’s theatrical poster and there are four or fewer total actors on the poster.
|Number of Films as Lead
|Box Office Earnings as Lead ($)
|Michael J. Fox
In this version, we start to see a listing of those actors we may intuitively consider to be the biggest Canadian stars of today and of the past few decades. Gone are supporting actors like Will Arnett, Cobie Smulders (The Avengers) and Jay Baruchel (She’s Out of My League), and in are leading names like Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future) and Brendan Fraser (The Mummy). Jim Carrey, who rarely appears in a film if he’s not the lead, tops this ranking, while Keanu Reeves, whose star turn in over 30 films, ranging from The Matrix series to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, has brought in over $3.7B in ticket sales.
By the Movie
Jim Carrey and Keanu Reeves have the benefit of longevity, so perhaps it is unfair to compare them to stars who have only headlined a handful of films, but every one of those was a huge hit. Finally, we consider the box office draw of actors in leading roles on a per film basis.
|Number of Films as Lead
|Box Office Earnings as Lead Per Film ($)
|Carrie Anne Moss
Some unexpected faces now appear. Kim Cattrall, who has been a reliably sharp and quick-witted supporting cast member in dozens of film and TV roles, hit it out of the park in her three star turns, two of which reprised her Sex and the City character Samantha Jones. Up-and-comer Taylor Kitsch has flown somewhat under the radar while starring in blockbusters Battleship and John Savage, while Nia Vardalos can owe her appearance on this list exclusively to her role in the play-turned-megahit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which became the highest grossing romantic comedy in history.
Data was provided by The Numbers, a comprehensive database of box office business, and is accurate as of April 2017. We consider both domestic and international box office figures in our analysis.
To determine whether an actor has a leading role, The Numbers uses a simple rule: does the actor appear in the movie’s theatrical poster? If there are more than four cast members on the poster, then all actors are classified as being lead ensemble members, which we do not count as leading in this analysis. Otherwise, the actor’s role is classified as being supporting, cameo or other.
Finally, a comprehensive list of Canadian actors was drawn from IMDB, with some manual curation to fix a small number of errors among the the highest grossing actors.