Top 40 Most Valuable Actors Rankings [#10 to #1]

Here we are, America, the cream of the crop. The ten people in this article are, without dispute according to some metrics I made up, the ten most valuable actors on television today. Your mileage on their skill set may vary, you may not enjoy their shows, or you may find them completely ugly (see #7), but no one can debate their value to their shows. Some quick notes on this group before we get to them:

-These are some really terrific actors and actresses. The first 30 in the countdown definitely had some questionable chops sprinkled in, but no one is scoffing at these ten. All of these people can go.
-Every person in this ten has scored some Awards Points. Not only are their performances terrific, but they have been recognized for their performances.
-The top ten is an even 5-5 split of men and women. If I did this in 1990 or even 2003, I doubt we’d see this many women in the mix.
-As expected, only two comedic actors crack the top ten. Dramas even rule the VORA roost.

I enjoyed writing this series, and I hoped you enjoyed following along. Any tweaks to the formula or ideas for VORA 2.0 are always welcome. Feel free to submit them in the comments below.

(Note: In case you want to work it out for yourself, the formula for an actor’s VORA score is Range(Star Power + Awards Points) + Ratings Against Average (RAA))

To look back at the first 30: #40-31, #30-21, #20-11

10. Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep (VORA Score: 13.10)
 

Range: 2.5
Ratings Against Average: -0.65
Star Power: 3
Awards Points: 2.5

Somewhat quietly, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has become the queen of television comedy. There are plenty of splashy performances by women to praise in comedies these days, but Louis-Dreyfus remains the gold standard. She has succeeded as part of an ensemble and on her own. She has succeeded on network and cable. Without a doubt, she’s going down as the most successful Seinfeld alum whose name isn’t the title of the show. People are quick to praise the crackling writing and dialogue of Armando Ianucci, but great work in the writers’ room only goes so far without the talent to make it pop on screen. Long a success in Britain, Ianucci may have found his American muse in Louis-Dreyfus. Her performance as Vice President Selina Meyer on Veep is a lot of the best parts of Leslie Knope with a nasty edge that cranks it up about 3 more notches. The second season of the show was one of the most complete seasons of comedy in some time, and Louis-Dreyfus was the unquestioned center of storm.

9. Vera Farmiga – Bates Motel (VORA Score: 13.95)
 

Range: 3.5
Ratings Against Average: -0.05
Star Power: 3
Awards Points: 1

Vera Farmiga is more evidence of television’s takeover of the cultural zeitgeist. A veteran of many interesting movies, Farmiga acquitted herself well in various roles, including getting nominated for an Oscar for Up in the Air. For the first time in ten years, TV fans got a good dose of her in the delightfully creepy Bates Motel. Playing the mother of Norman Bates can go so wrong for so many actresses, but it becomes a superlative performance in the hands of someone as skilled as Farmiga. She’s not a full-time TV person by any stretch, but it’s always great to have more capable people making the leap from movies to television. It used to be the other way around. Now, a B/C-list movie stars are having a ton of success as A-list television stars. It’s a great time to be a fan of television, and people like Vera Farmiga are one of the reasons why.

8. Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones (VORA Score: 14.17)
 

Range: 3.5
Ratings Against Average: 1.32
Star Power: 2
Awards Points: 1.67

The VORA top 40’s first and only dwarf! Dinklage does benefit a great deal from being on the cultural phenomenon that is Game of Thrones. However, to put all his success on Thrones would be underselling Dinklage. Given his obvious limitations, Dinklage has carved out a nice career filled with lots of variance in his performances. That being said, it’s his performance as Tyrion Lannister that will be his legacy. He’s dynamic, hilarious, compelling, and sympathetic. In a show where everyone is some shade of gray, Dinklage’s wit and depth allow him to play as the show’s de facto hero. In a show with so many standout performances, Dinklage frequently stands taller than the rest of his castmates.

7. Steve Buscemi – Boardwalk Empire (VORA Score: 14.55)
 

Range: 3
Ratings Against Average: -0.45
Star Power: 3
Awards Points: 2

Some would argue Buscemi shouldn’t have a Star Power rating of 3. Boardwalk Empire is very much an ensemble piece, but the whole cast isn’t standing on the beach in the opening credits. The show may very much seem like the sum is greater than its parts, but Buscemi is the guy who adds the prestige. We know his name. We’ve laughed at him, been shocked by him, and watched him die over and over again. Long known as a character actor with a diverse skill set, Buscemi is another movie guy who has found a home on television. He may not be your favorite part of Boardwalk Empire, but his value to the show cannot be understated.

6. Don Cheadle – House of Lies (VORA Score: 14.95)
 

Range: 3.5
Ratings Against Average: -0.8
Star Power: 3
Awards Points: 1.5

It’s like the Golden Globes with all the movie star love in here.

House of Lies is a really sloppy show with a lot of flaws, but not a single one of them is the fault of Don Cheadle. Cheadle does anything and everything the show asks him to do, and he does it with aplomb. As you would expect, Cheadle’s performance is flawless, and it keeps afloat a show that spends most of its time flailing around trying to seem important. It’s hard to imagine this show being greenlit without Cheadle, and it’s even harder to imagine it going past one season without him.

5. Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife (VORA Score: 15.25)
 

Range: 3
Ratings Against Average: -0.5
Star Power: 3
Awards Points: 2.25

It’s pretty interesting to note that the renaissance of The Good Wife has coincided with the renaissance of Julianna Margulies’ character, Alicia Florrick. Long known as one of television’s superlative actresses, Margulies was frequently overshadowed by eccentric guest stars and capable costars in recent seasons. As other storylines flourished, people started to question Alicia’s usefulness, and Margulies’ ability to lead a show. From the end of last season and the beginning of this season, it’s clear that Margulies has put that question to rest. The show cut the shackles off of Margulies/Florrick, and the results have been staggering. The thick polish on The Good Wife will keep Margulies in award nominations for the duration of the show’s run, but her performance recently certainly merit the nominations. After the start of season five, maybe another win is on the horizon.

4. Jessica Lange – American Horror Story (VORA Score: 16.75)
 

Range: 3
Ratings Against Average: 1.75
Star Power: 2.5
Awards Points: 4

Thanks to the miniseries designation it so benevolently granted itself, American Horror Story will continue to rack up during award season. The biggest recipient of the miniseries category is the show’s go-to actress, Jessica Lange. However, it doesn’t mean Lange isn’t deserving of some kind of recognition. Her three separate performances in the anthology series are enough to prove her range on their own. When you watch the series, it’s not a big mystery as to why Lange gets some of the meatier parts in the next installment. The show itself can be loud and sloppy, but Lange’s performance always adds a sort of gravitas to the proceedings that not a lot of actresses could provide to a horror anthology series.

3. Claire Danes – Homeland (VORA Score: 19.02)
 

Range: 3
Ratings Against Average: -0.48
Star Power: 2.5
Awards Points: 4

You can think what you like about Homeland, but the fact remains the third season finale drew its highest ratings ever, and Claire Danes is at the center of it. (Insert deity here) knows I’ve spilled enough digital ink on the downfall of Homeland, but the show continues to trudge on and gain viewers. When the show is at its best, Claire Danes’ performance as Carrie Mathison provides immense value to the series. The show may have ruined Carrie’s chances of joining the TV characters’ pantheon, but she’s still a fascinating character, and Claire Danes can bring the best out of the role when the writing is good. Whatever happens in season four, here’s hoping they restore Carrie Mathison to her rightful place as one of our more beloved television characters.

2. Jon Hamm – Mad Men (VORA Score: 19.61)
 

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 10 A Tale of Two Cities (9)

Range: 4
Ratings Against Average: -0.39
Star Power: 3
Awards Points: 2

It’s hard to earn a Range Rating of 4. I have to believe you could be anything you wanted to be at any given moment. Jon Hamm is such an actor. It’s not hard to find Hamm somewhere making a fool of himself and doing it with some impressive comedic chops. His guest turns on 30 Rock and his SNL hosting gigs provide him with plenty of a portfolio of comedic work. He’s done far more than that comedicly, and he’s even breaking into the movie scene in smaller roles where he’s still able to pack a punch.

As great as Hamm can be in those other roles, he continues to drop jaws with his performance as Don Draper on Mad Men. What’s absolutely insane is as cultural interest in the show has waned, Hamm’s performance has become underrated. It’s insane because the performance is one of the best you’ll ever see on a television screen. Don’t believe me? Watch this:

Did you watch it? If you aren’t impressed, I don’t know what else to tell you. Now that Walter White has died in the New Mexico desert somewhere, Jon Hamm has the best TV actor championship belt, and scenes like that one make it seem like its not even close.

All that being said, he’s not the most valuable actor on television. That distinction goes to a surprising, but probably justifiable place.

1. Jeff Daniels – The Newsroom (VORA Score: 20.52)
 

Jeff-Daniels

Range: 3.5
Ratings Against Average: -0.48
Star Power: 3
Awards Points: 3

Jeff Daniels?

Jeff DANIELS??

JEFF DANIELS!!???

There’s a lot of issues with The Newsroom. It has many tremendous scenes throughout, but there are so many problems with the tone and the writing that it becomes hard to overlook at times. One thing the problems never detract from is the performance of Daniels. When you watch this measured performance, it’s difficult to imagine this guy starred in Dumb and Dumber. Will McAvoy can be problematic when Aaron Sorkin wishes to paint him as the hero out to right all the world’s wrongs, but when Daniels is allowed to play him as a regular dude, then the show really has something. I’m surprised Daniels bested some of the other actors on this list, but when you see what he means to his show, it’s hard to disagree with the numbers.

It’s the beauty of VORA. The stat speaks without prejudice or bias. We can feel about it however we like, but we have to accept its judgment. This year, the gods of VORA have chosen Jeff Daniels.