The number of American-born all-time greats in the field of writing, painting, and composing is legion, but given the nation's relative inception (conceived on July 4th, 1776, for those wondering), the late start afforded citizens of the United States in those fields has largely rendered their significance and impact to secondary status, at least in historical studies and critics lists.
On the other hand, the rise of Hollywood and its moving pictures can trace long parallels with the emergence of the United States' international dominance. In many ways, the two can trade examples of cause and effect -- are American films so dominant because of the nation's stature in the world, or does the country enjoy its status in part because of its contribution to world cinema? -- but regardless of chicken/egg pondering, what is abundantly clear is that the country's greatest actors have dominated the cinema and culture map for over a century.
With that legacy in mind, and the impending celebration of America's birth, it's interesting to debate just which actor has been this nation's greatest. Of course, there have been a huge number of great foreign-born actors, especially from Britain, but just as the world takes the lead in so many other fields, acting is America's own enterprise.
The list of brilliant talents is unending, but only so many have had the lasting impact required for consideration. Here's a subjective list of twelve of the greatest of all time, cut from different eras and styles of cinema. Vote for the actor you think is the greatest American thesp of all time, and debate your choices in the comments.
UPDATE: Due to significant feedback and the sense that so many qualified candidates were excluded, we've updated the field, adding in 17 new all-time great actors. The voting starts anew, with the previous, more limited round yielding a top five of Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando and Tom Hanks.
Note: Tomorrow, July 4th, will see a list of the top American-born women film actors placed for a vote.