Motion pictures have delighted, shocked, terrified and made audiences laugh and cry for over a century. During that time, thousands of actors and actresses have graced the screen. Fewer, but still a significant number, have become superstars dating back to silent films when Greta Garbo, Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin were all big stars. Incidentally, while Garbo (born 1905) belongs to the so-called Greatest Generation, Valentino (1895) and Chaplin (1889) belong to the Lost Generation (1883-1900), referred to as the generation of Prohibition and World War I.
Generations is a fairly new concept, created by intellectuals in Europe in the 19th century and further defined in the early 20th century. The concept of generations is based on the belief that all people living at the same time have more in common than not. Scaling this down to roughly 20-year periods shows that cohorts born during these periods have very similar experiences in life, technology, society, and advances.
We thought it would be fun to take a look at the actors who are perhaps the most representative of the six main generations alive today. We left out Generation Alpha because the eldest of this generation is only 12 years old and it is too early to say who is the most representative of this generation.
The greatest generation (1901-1927)
The Greatest Generation, also known as the GI generation (which stands for General Issue or Government Issue), grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. Members of this generation either fought in World War II or provided the manpower to support it. This generation grew up in a difficult time.
Marilyn Monroe (1926) and Rock Hudson (1925), although just at the cutoff and thus very young for their generation cohorts, are the actors who best represent the Greatest Generation because, on the one hand, they are among the greatest, if not the greatest belonged to the biggest stars of their time. Monroe’s pure sexuality and beauty and Hudson’s manliness and beauty were salve for the generation growing up in need. They were fantasies for this generation.
The Silent Generation (1928-1945)
The Silent Generation earned their nickname for putting their heads down and working hard and not protesting the status quo, whether that’s an exaggeration or not. They were influenced by growing up in a time when their parents told them children were to be seen and not heard. Members of the silent generation focused on a solid but humble career and a healthy life at home with their families. Ironically, this is the generation that grew up watching films that were talkies (the first talkie debuted in 1927) and saw films go from black and white to color. This is also the generation when home televisions gained popularity. The first came out in 1927, and the 1939 World’s Fair featured televisions for sale.
Elizabeth Taylor (1932) and Elvis Presley (1935) are the most representative actors of their generation. Both Taylor and Presley were larger than life in film, whether in color or black and white (although Taylor benefited from color film when the world first saw her famous violet eyes). Both were groundbreaking and ambitious for their generations.
The Baby Boomer Generation (1946-1964)
The Baby Boomer generation, known as Boomers, refers to the large population growth (or population boom) that occurred in the years following World War II. 76 million Americans were born into this generation, and they are known for rejecting the traditional values of their parents and grandparents and redefining those values for themselves and their children. Members of this generation experienced the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the moon landing, the assassination of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Cold War and the civil rights movement. This was a generation that saw major changes in both society and technology. In many ways, the Boomers represent the first truly modern generation. They are also the most financially secure generation and the last generation to improve their standard of living compared to their parents and grandparents.
Meryl Streep (1949) and Robin Williams (1951) are the most representative actors of their generation. Williams, in particular, presented his comedy in a way that, while brilliant and hilarious, would be considered obsolete today. (In other words OK Boomers). Streep definitely represents the Boomer as secure in her lot in life. Boomers don’t typically experience the fear that the generation after them does.
Generation X is also known as “Baby Busters” because the birth rate has dropped significantly (to just over 65 million) compared to the Boomers. GenX is the first generation to grow up with technology. They had home computers, gaming systems, and by the time they got into their teens and twenties, cell phones. They are the original free-range latchkey kids who had working parents and were forced to fend for themselves at a young age. GenX turned “whatever” into an emotion and was ruled by apathy, with the anxious Gen X cohort known for being resilient, cynical, nihilistic, reactionary, rebellious, and self-reliant.
GenX does not trust institutional authority. GenX is also the first generation to place a strong emphasis on education and this generation’s cohorts are enrolling in an unprecedented number of colleges. Major events in the life of GenX include the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, the 1990s recession, the Three Mile Island meltdown, the threat of nuclear war, the Lockerbie bombing and the energy crisis, and the mass suicide in Jonestown.
Drew Barrymore (1975) and Robert Downey Jr. (1965) are the most representative actors of GenX. Both stars had well-publicized struggles with addiction when they were young. Both display the “whatever” attitude their generation is known for. They’re both cynical, nihilistic, and hopeful at the same time, and each actor has made great comebacks without letting their mistakes get them down.
The millennial generation were those who reached adulthood around the turn of the millennium. They are also known as the Oregon Trail Generation, based on the video game of the same name. Those born early in this generation often refer to themselves as Xennials because they don’t feel fully millennial and have things in common with GenX. Cohorts of this generation are the first generation to grow up fully in the internet age and have greater familiarity with the internet, social media, and mobile devices. They are often referred to as digital natives. Millennials saw the rise of the internet, remember 9/11 vividly from their own experience, and came of age when the 2008 global financial crisis hit.
Kristen Stewart (1990) and Robert Pattinson (1986) are the most representative actors of their generation as they starred in the lead roles dusk Movies that have been a smash hit with the millennial generation (the books and the movie franchise). Both Stewart and Pattinson are loved by many of their generations.
Generation Z or GenZ is also called iGen because this generation has technology from birth as an integral part of their lives. They’ve had PCs, smartphones, and social media their entire lives. GenZers are more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations. They are also known to be more comfortable and familiar with non-heteronormative self-identification than any previous generation.
Major events in the lives of GenZ members include the rise of social media, the climate crisis and the increase in mass shootings. GenZ is perceived as the most depressed generation and also as the one engaging in social activism. Having grown up with the internet, they are considered tech and social media addicts. They are avid gamers.
Zendaya (1996) and Tom Holland (1996) are the actors who currently most represent GenZ, although this is likely to change over time. Zendaya’s roles in the Spiderman movies and euphoria Place her as the actress to star on shows GenZ is obsessed with. Tom Holland started with an incredible job The impossible and has moved on to play in Wolf Hall and In the heart of the sea before he was the most recent actor to play Spider-Man in the films starring Zendaya and is therefore the most representative of his generation.