Top 10 Best Actor Trademarks
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Nick Roffey
It's their idiosyncrasies that make them memorable! For this list, we're looking at expressions, mannerisms, and actions that actors are well-known for using on screen - from Owen Wilson's “wows” and Jeff Goldblum's “ums” to Nicolas Cage just straight up freaking out! Which actor do YOU think has the most iconic acting trademark? Let us know in the comments!
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Script written by Nick Roffey
Top10 Actor Acting Trademarks
It’s their idiosyncrasies that make them memorable. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Actor Acting Trademarks.
For this list, we're looking at expressions, mannerisms, and actions that actors are well-known for using on screen.
#10: Saying “Wow!”
As an actor, Owen Wilson seems like he’s perpetually amazed. We mean, he says “wow” in almost all of his movies. But not all of these “wows” are alike; while some express befuddlement, others convey awe, frustration, or sarcasm. Owen Wilson appears to have a “wow” for pretty much every occasion - including making out in the produce section, espionage, and even time travel. Mind you, he’s also known for his love affair with a few other favorite, oft-repeated phrases. But nothing really sums up Owen Wilson’s enduring wide-eyed wonder like “wow”.
Robert De Niro
It could just be his face . . . but De Niro seems to squint quite a lot. In fact, it’s become pretty much a requirement for any good De Niro impersonation. But pulling it off is a lot harder than it looks; it’s an impressive combination of squint, frown, and a sort of upside down smile, with a dropped jaw and often a brisk nod. So good luck with nailing that. Working well with his thick New York accent, the De Niro squint expresses the skepticism and tough-guy attitude that are part and parcel of many of his best roles.
#8: Freaking Out
Nicolas Cage has never been afraid to go out on a limb. His acting style has been described as “operatic” and “baroque”, although Cage himself prefers the term “Nouveau Shamanic” . . . While many people consider Cage’s acting over the top, Ethan Hawke has praised the thespian for bringing something new and unique to the craft. And, well... it is certainly that. Cage’s freak out scenes in particular have become legendary. The bulging eyes, larger than life gestures, and maniacal intensity have made even the most mediocre movies in his filmography surprisingly memorable . . . and meme-able.
#7: Head Wobble
Once you’ve seen it, it’s impossible to stop noticing. George Clooney is a human bobblehead. When he’s delivering dialogue, Clooney is wont to wobble his head in a sort of rapid, side to side shimmy. He becomes especially bobbley when he's making a point, but his tic also seems to have a hypnotic effect on women in romantic comedies. He even manages to pull off the suave little head bob in a rigid rubber Batsuit. Strangely, it’s arguably part of his charm, although no one can honestly can’t explain why.
Ever been lost for words? We all throw in an “um” and “ah” here and there when we need a second to gather our thoughts. These natural fillers are usually left out of movie dialogue, but Jeff Goldblum brings them to his roles with a vengeance, along with false starts and repeated sentence parts. It’s a quirk that works well with the characters he’s known best for - brilliant but eccentric intellectuals, from mad scientist Seth Brundle in “The Fly”, to chaos theorist Ian Malcolm in “Jurassic Park” and satellite technician / harbinger of doom David Levinson in “Independence Day”.
Beware, the Finger of Doom. It means Harrison Ford is angry, and it costars in many of his movies, from “Clear and Present Danger” to “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. Ford has played a wide variety of characters, from the rugged and charming smuggler Han Solo, to tough big city detective John Book, and even the President. But the Finger of Doom comes up again and again, shaken at police, the Amish, Jabba the Hutt, people that won't get off his plane and, well, pretty much anyone who crosses him.
#4: Maniacal Laugh
Jack Nicholson shines in the shoes of antiheroes, madmen, and psychopaths. His arched eyebrows and toothy grin are ideal for maniacal laughter, and used to good effect in roles where he plays eccentrics teetering on the edge of madness - or just going completely bonkers. While he’s also given haunting, nuanced performances of men gradually losing their grip on sanity, such as in “The Pledge”, his ballistic, maniacal laugh makes him a great Joker in “Batman”, and a disturbingly believable ax-wielding maniac in “The Shining”.
Eastwood scowls against the hot sun in Westerns, he scowls at criminals as Dirty Harry, and he scowls at his neighbors in “Gran Torino”. Heck, he even scowls at thunder, and sometimes even ice cream. It shows he’s a rugged, weather-worn, no-nonsense badass - in case the gravelly voice didn’t tip you off. Maybe there’s just something getting in his eyes - the blistering desert sun, or the wind off the prairies. But his brooding scowl has become iconic, a part of the tough-as-nails, macho magnetism that made him a household name.
Samuel L Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson has two speeds: cool, calm and collected . . . and righteous outrage. This second speed has proven perfect for long monologues, like the Ezekiel 25:17 speech from “Pulp Fiction”. It also works for indignant one liners like that iconic moment in “Snakes on a Plane”. On the other hand, “Deep Blue Sea” used Jackson’s tendency to shout out wrathful rants to play against expectations, like when the inspirational climax of his monologue is cut short by a genetically engineered mako shark who so rudely interrupts him.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
The Clenched Jaw
Volcanic Angry Tirades
Tom Cruise never seems to age. It might be all that running . . . A Tom Cruise movie seemingly isn’t complete without him sprinting into action - whether it’s away from aliens, missiles, or just through a completely empty Times Square, for no reason. Everybody runs, but Tom Cruise seems to feel the need for speed like few others. With the fate of the world often on their shoulders, it’s no wonder his characters are in a hurry. He has an instantly recognizable running style, with arms pumping like pistols, knees high, and back straight as an arrow and directors appear to really like showcasing it on screen!