What actor and actress stayed/have been on the A-List for the longest period of time?

I’ll define A-list as:

-Always either received or shared top billing in a movie
-Continued to get plum roles in big budget movies
-Continued to be critically and commercially successful (everyone can have a few flops, but I’m talking actors who at least most of their projects work financially and critically)

The current holder would probably be Jack Nicholson who is going strong after almost 40 years. (More than 40 years if you count Easy Rider, but I’m dating it from his early starring roles.)

For women- who generally don’t have the shelf-life of their male counterparts (not a sexist claim, just a statement of fact- women over 40 rarely play main character or romantic lead) the honor would probably have to go to Katharine Hepburn, who had a run of well over 40 years from her 1930s ingenue days til On Golden Pond.

Anyone you can think of who’s been A-list for a comparable or longer amount of time?

John Wayne
Spencer Tracy
Sean Connery
Debbie Reynolds was out of the A list for a long time, but had starring film credits spanning 44 years.
Bette Davis - may not have had quite the longevity of Hepburn, but had at least 30 A-list years.
Burt Lancaster, by my figuring, lasted 38 years between his first and last starring roles.
Gene Kelly went 39 years between his first and last leading roles. Fred Astaire went 35 years between his screen debut and his last real leading role. Dancing is good for your career.

Harrison Ford is coming up on 35 years as an A-list star, and his screen credits go almost as far back as Nicholson’s.

Ford and Connery were the two that came to mind fastest. of course, i just saw last crusade about… 3 weeks ago.

Robert Deniro is getting close to 40 years, Godfather II was ~1972. Al Pacino started earlier but he doesn’t have any recent hits like deniro’s focker series.

Mickey Rooney – 81 years, though he’s been a character actor in the last 20 years or so. But still an A-List character actor.

Charlie Chaplin was A-list from about 1914 until 1957 (43 years), though it helped that he produced his own films. He probably could have gone on longer if he wanted to.

Christopher Lee probably qualifies – his first lead was around 1957 and he’s still working now, so that’s at least 54 years.

Kirk Douglas – 56 years as a leading actor
Gregory Peck – 54 years
Clark Gable – 30 years
Woody Allen – 37 years as lead actor, and still is A-list as a director
Joan Crawford – 42 years

Chaplin’s career as a headliner lasted 53 years, but A) it had some substantial gaps and B) most of the films before The Gold Rush were either shorts or low budget. Seems a shame to keep him out of the club on that kind of technicality. Movies got a lot bigger while his career grew, in part because of him. He was kind of the first A-lister.

I thought Cary Grant joined the A-list earlier and stayed later than he apparently did.

Alec Guinness had a pretty solid run, from Great Expectations (1948) to The Empire Strikes Back (1980), with some solid (if not technically A-list) work both before and after.

Eventually, the record will go to Drew Barrymore. 30 years in and she still plays convincing ingenues.

The girl to beat, though, is Shirley MacLaine. She’s been a name since 1955 and an A-lister since 1960. FTW!

Definitely Robert Redford, I think.

How could I forget: Sophia Loren! Prominent visibility since 1950, headliner since 1953, still pretty active (She was in Nine two years ago–didn’t get top billing, but hey–did a TV movie last year and had a big hit as recently as Grumpier Old Men, 1995). 45 years as a clear A-lister, 60 as a Really Big Deal actress.

Chaplin’s career had no substantial gaps: he was working the entire time until after The Countess from Hong Kong. It’s just that his films took a long time to produce, and he was able to take that time. Also, his first feature film was in 1914, and he was the biggest film star in the world up until around 1930.

James Cagney was an A-list star for 30 years, then retired while he was still a headliner.

James Stewart was an A-lister from 1938-1978, 40 years.

IIRC, he and Michael Caine are the only guys to rack up an acting Oscar nomination in the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, the '90s, and the '00s.

I’m also thinking Dustin Hoffman deserves quick mention.

so Return of the Jedi doesn’t count anymore?

I think ZARDOZ basically knocked him out of the A list for the better part of a decade.

I don’t think Christopher Lee has ever been A-list, but especially not since the 1970s.

I would say that Guinness was no longer A-list by the time he appeared in Star Wars.

Barrymore was not on the A-list during the time she was appearing in B-movie thrillers and playing Amy Fisher.

Loren was definitely no longer A-list by the 1970s, when she was appearing in made-for-TV movies.

I think we can give a few off years a pass. Even Sean Connery had some duds, like Highlander 2 or that one where he wore a metal banana thong. (Zardoz?)

I disagree that it was a “few years off.” She wasn’t yet A-list when she appeared in “E.T.” She was arguably prominent for her role in Irreconcilable Differences in 1984, but I’m not sure 9-year-old Drew Barrymore was opening any movies based solely on her name appearing in the credits, which is really what “A-list” means.

Thereafter, her career was for shit, until Boys on the Side in 1995. I would argue that she didn’t really become A-list at the earliest with The Wedding Singer (1998). So, really we’re talking at most 13 years on the A-list.

There are some strange cases of superstars who haven’t been A-List for a long time or weren’t even A-List for that long.

Liz Taylor comes to mind: she was A-List in the late 50s and early 60s but after that her box office was iffy and she released a lot of bombs. She’s been retired most of my life (I’m 44) but she’s always been a legend.

Cary Grant was definitely A-List when he retired and could have had his choice of vehicles if he’d been interested in coming back to work.

Clint Eastwood? Looking at his credits, pretty strong right from 1960 or so, with the spaghetti westerns and Rawhide right through Gran Torino and Pretty Baby…

I didn’t have the impression that Sean Connery was an A-lister in the 70s (his Zardoz period) or even much of the 80s (including a bit role in Time Bandits).

I believe he got an Oscar in the late 80s and did his last Bond in the early 80s. A lot of the movies he was in then otherwise would not have gotten made. Sounds pretty A-Listy to me.

Paul Newman? Became a headliner around 1958, was big through the 60’s, continued at a more sedate pace after that but continued to get good roles up until a few years before his death.