10 Most popular and successful heroes who are the biggest stars of Bollywood ever

The story of Bollywood cinema started during British era in India. From silent movies to talkies and to modern digital, Bollywood has witnessed a slow development. Now Indian film industry, especially Bollywood is one of the biggest money spinning business in the country and also rated as the top one among different entertainment sectors – Bollywood cinema. Needless to stay, though a film needs different parts to be integrated in a proper way, with thousands of artists involved with it, hero of the movie stands tall among all. Yes, when we discuss about a particular movie, we always credit it as hero’s movie. Yes, a movie spins around the hero and he is the most important factor. It also directly affects box office collections, no one can deny.

Over the decades many heroes have entertained us, and a very of them are very close to our hearts. Some heroes created new benchmarks for younger artists to follow. In this topic, I shall list 10 of the most popular and successful superstars of Bollywood cinema. While most of them have ‘superstar’ tag added to their names, there are quite a few more who created a niche of their own long back in the 1960s, before superstars came into exist.

1. Amitabh Bachchan – The angry young man

The second superstar of Bollywood cinema, he gave new definition to Bollywood screen gods. He is a bit weak in romantic roles, comparing with other genres he tried on Bollywood. Since mid-1970s, he fully dominated Bollywood screen for the next one decade, mostly with his masala pot-boilers, entertaining masses. He has been a master of action and comedy, and through the movies like Zanjeer and Deewar he not only proved to be the perfect action hero of Bollywood, but also as the second Superstar of Indian cinema. Sholay, Amar Akbar Antony, Kalia, Abhimaan, Coolie, Kabhi Kabhi, Silsile, Don, Muqadar Ka Sikander, Yarana, Satte Pe Satta, Laawaris, Desh Premi, Agneepath, Sharabi, Khuda Gawah, Namak Halal, Trishul, Shaan etc are among his major films during his younger days.

Amitabh Bachchan as a young poet in Kabhi Kabhi

During his second innings too he gave stunning and award winning performances through his roles in Black, Pa, Piku, Badla, Pink etc. Though he did many movies since mid-1990s, it was only with mid-2000s he started giving hits as a solo hero, and many of them gave him National Film award. Black marked his new beginning of illustrious ‘award winning’ professional journey. Yet his performances in K3G, Waqt, Aankhein, Sooryavamshan and Mohabbatein remain memorable.  He is still enjoying the success streak at the age of 75+.

He is immensely popular through the television show, ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’, for the past two decades. He is a recipient of Dada Saheb Phalke Award, 4 National awards & 5 Filmfare awards for best actor, many other acting honours and three Padma awards including Padma Vibhushan. His screen pairing with Rekha is immensely popular, and he has frequently worked with his wife Jaya Bhadhuri, Rakhee Gulzar, Parveen Babi etc.

2. Shah Rukh Khan – King Khan of Bollywood


SRK in his iconic pose from his most popular film – DDLJ

King of Romance, Badshah of Bollywood, King Khan – he has been dubbed with different names by fans and media. No doubt, he is the biggest star and the most popular actor of Bollywood in the past three decades, and it’s not easy for any actor to keep this success of streak. Winner of 8 Filmfare awards for best actor, he shares this record with Bollywood legend Dilip Kumar. When it comes to romance, no other Indian actor can beat him. Started his career in year 1992, the anti-hero role in ‘Baazigar’ gave him the first major break. Yet he never tied himself to similar kind of roles, and moved towards romantic ones, where he created a niche of his own. In fact in the past three decades, he never struggled to get good roles, and always retained super stardom.

Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenga is one such milestone movie of his career which gave new definitions to romance. His screen pairing with Kajol is widely celebrated. He gave Bollywood blockbusters like Baazigar, DDLJ, Darr, Dil To Pagal Hai, Yes Boss, Pardes, Karan Arjun, Mohabbetein, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Don, K3G, Chak De India, Chennai Express, Devdas, My Name is Khan etc. Badshah, Paheli, Swades, Raes etc are other memorable roles.

3. Rajesh Khanna – The first superstar of Indian cinema

rajesh khanna

Rajesh Khanna in one of his most famous shots – A scene from ‘Kora Kagaz’ song of Aradhana

When the 1969 low-budget movie ‘Aradhana’ was premiered at theatres, Rajesh Khanna was not a familiar face to Indian audience. Though he has done a few movies earlier, he was still waiting for the major break. Once ‘Aradhana’ was released in late 1969, a new star was already born. He went on to give 17 consecutive hits at Bollywood (a record still to be broken), and also earned the fame of the first superstar of Indian cinema.

He tried with different genres of movies, and excelled in romantic movies, melodramas and family dramas. During the premiere of the movie, no one noticed the presence of Rajesh Khanna or cared about him. But at the interval, there were about 500 people surrounding him. He was already a star at film interval. Everyone was searching for him. After the movie release he became overnight sensation. After the blockbuster hit of Aradhana, he gave memorable performances in Do Raaste, Kati Patang, Anand, The Train, Bawarchi, Namak Haram, Aan Milo Sajna, Sacha Jhoota, Haati Mere Saati, Mere Jeevan Saathi, Amar Prem, Humsakal, Soutein, Daag, Apna Desh, Shehzaada, Joru Ka Ghulam, Mehboob Ki Mehendi, Safar, Red Roses etc. Among the lead actresses, his pairing with Mumtaz was most appreciated, followed by Sharmila Tagore.

His charisma started fading once his romantic image got overshadowed with the action roles of Amitabh Bachchan. Yet he delivered many hits in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a recipient of three Filmfare awards for best actor, 4 BFJA Awards for Best Actor and many other awards. During the early 1970s, the hysteria created by him was so huge that no other Indian actor has managed to reach that peak level till now.

4. Dilip Kumar – The tragic hero of Bollywood

Dilip Kumar in his iconic pose as young prince Salim in Mughal-E-Azam

The legendary actor is one of the finest artists Bollywood screen has ever produced. He, along with Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand fully dominated Bollywood screen in the 1950s and 1960s. Mostly associated with melodramas, he has given award winning performances in Devdas, Daag, Azaad, Naya Daur, Ganga Jamuna, Madhumati, Paigham, Kohinoor, Leader, Aadmi, Mughal-E-Azam, Sangarsh, Saudagar – the list is indeed big.

Among all leading male and female actors, Dilip Kumar is the only actor to win hat-trick at Filmfare awards in best actor/actresses category, and is also the actor with highest number of wins. With a total of 8 wins, he shares the record with Shah Rukh Khan, highest across both male and female categories. He created the hat-trick with the films – Azaad, Devdas and Naya Daur in the late 1950s.

Among all heroines, his pairing with Madhubala and Vyjayantimala was appreciated most. He has also frequently worked with Meena Kumari, Saira Banu, Waheeda Rehman etc.

5. Hrithik Roshan – Best find of the new millennium

Hrithik Roshan in his iconic pose from his most popular film, Kaho Na Pyar Hai

Hrithik Roshan started his career as a child actor in the 1980s. Later he made a smash entry to Bollywood with the rise of new millennium. His debut flick, ‘Kaho Na Pyar Hai’ gave him super stardom. After a few setbacks in the early phase of his career he bounced back with ‘Koi Mil Gaya’. Since then he has delivered super hits in frequent intervals. Like many superstars, he appears in lesser number of movies. Some of his other blockbuster hits are Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gum, Krishh, Krishh 3, Kaabil, War, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Agneepath, Super 30, Bang Bang, Jodha Akbar, Dhoom 2 etc. He also played male lead in critically acclaimed movies like Fiza, Lakshya, Mission Kashmir, Guzarish etc.

He is a recipient of 4 Filmfare awards for best actor in a lead role and many other awards, and has established as the most popular contemporary actor of new millennium. Unlike most Bollywood heroes, he has not established a star Jodi with any heroines of Bollywood. However his pairing with Aishwarya Rai is most appreciated (with two blockbusters to his credit), followed by Priyanka Chopra, Preity Zinta, Ameesha Patel etc.

6. Raj Kapoor – The showman of Bollywood

Mera Joota Hai Japani from Shree 420 – One of the most popular songs of Raj Kapoor

He was all-in-one – a very successful actor, producer and director, who enjoyed superstardom since early 1950s. As a filmmaker he also changed the face of Bollywood cinema, particularly in the 1950s, and played a magnificent role in popularizing movies among masses, when theatre was in prominence. He has been honoured with Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Padma Bhushan and many other honours. He is a recipient of 11 Filmfare Awards with 2 in best actor category. His films were popular not only in India, but also in many foreign countries predominantly in Russia. He produced, directed and acted in many social dramas like Sree 420, and also exhibited his talent as a romantic actor in quite a few roles like Sangam.

As an actor he mostly portrayed simpleton and innocent young man on celluloid, and stole everyone’s hearts with his natural acting skills and innocent eyes. In most of his films, he represented the lower/middle working class, and mostly chose social themes for his movies. As an actor his major hits are Sree 420, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Sangam, Awaara, Chalia, Anari, Dil Hi To Hai etc.

With the early 1970s he almost switched over to filmmaking, and successfully launched his sons in Bollywood. He also made many movies with them (and also with his brothers) till his death. As a director, he gave blockbuster hits like Bobby, Prem Rog, Ram Teri Ganga Maili etc. Among all co-stars, his pairing with Nargis Dutt was celebrated those days. He also shared screen space with top actress Nutan in many movies in the 1950s, apart from Vyjayantimala, Waheeda Rehman, Padmini etc.

7. Dev Anand – The evergreen hero of Bollywood

Dev Anand from his most popular film, ‘Guide’

As stated earlier Dev Anand – Dilip Kumar – Raj Kapoor trio fully dominated Bollywood scene in the 1950s and 1960s. Like Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand too succeeded as a filmmaker. While almost all of his contemporaries of 1950s and 1960s had moved to character roles in the early 1970s with the rise of superstar Rajesh Khanna, Dev Anand was the only actor who was not affected by the hysteria of Khanna. That’s why he earned the title – Evergreen hero, and his pairing with much younger heroines like Hema Malini, Sharmila Tagore and Tina Munim also worked in the 1970s and 1980s. This versatile actor also experimented with different genres of filmmaking as an actor and director, and tasted success too.

Dev Anand is a recipient of two Filmfare awards in best actor category, apart from many other honours. His pairing with Waheeda Rahman, Vyjayantimala, Mala Sinha, Hema Malini, Sadhana, Nanda, Mumtaz, Zeenat Aman etc were well received. Some of his major hits are Guide, Jewel Thief, Johny Mera Naam, Hum Dono, Maya, Hare Rama Hara Krishna, CID, Baazi, Jab Pyar Kise Se Hota Hai, Tere Mere Sapne, Munimji, Kaala Baazar, Kalapani, Love Marriage, Duniya and many more.

8. Aamir Khan – The perfectionist of Bollywood

Aamir Khan appeared as a college student in his iconic film, Three Idiots

Aamir Khan worked as a child artist in Yaadon Ki Baraat in the 1970s, and then turned a full-time actor in the mid-1980s. After the huge success of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, there was no turning back, and in the 1990s, he established as a super star of Bollywood. He along with Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan form the successful Khan trio of Bollywood, just like Dev Anand – Dilip Kumar – Raj Kapoor trio of 1950s-1960s, and they fully dominated the Bollywood scene for the next three decades. The trio still enjoys the super stardom, and are currently the most paid actors of Bollywood too.

He started his journey with sweet romantic image, and with the late 1990s he started experimenting with other genres of film making. Since then he is not frequently working, and spends too much time for a single project, which earned him the title of ‘The perfectionist of Bollywood’. Needless to say it was any Aamir Khan movie which broke the 100-crore, 200-crore, 300-crore, 500-crore and even 1000-crore collection record in Indian cinema. Definitely Aamir is one of the finest actors Indian cinema has ever produced. He is a recipient of three Filmfare awards in best actor category.

Initially he was most successful with Juhi Chawla. After he turned selective in the late 1990s, he preferred to work with a new heroine in every movie, and tasted success in most of these cases. Apart from Juhi Chawla, he has delivered hits with Kajol, Madhuri Dixit, Rani Mukerji, Sonali Bandre, Karishma Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Preity Zinta, Urmila Matondkar, Anushka Sharma, Gracy Singh, Katrina Kaif, Asin etc. Some of his blockbusters are Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Lagaan, Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin, Dil, Dil Chahta Hai, Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Mann, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Dangal, 3 Idiots, PK, Raja Hindustani, Sarfarosh, Rangeela, Dhoom 3, Gajani etc.

9. Salman Khan – The true hitmaker of Bollywood

Salman Khan as an Indian spy from ‘Ek Tha Tiger’

He is mostly associated with masala potboilers and action flicks and is best known for his entertaining skills, rather than acting skills. The total ‘Paisa Vasool’ actor of Bollywood for the past one decade, he remained one of the most sought Bollywood actors of the past three decades. He along with Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan forms the successful Khan trio of Bollywood. Among the three leading Khans, he appeared in maximum number of movies, and owns countless hits and blockbusters to his credit.

Though he is yet to receive a Filmfare award in best actor category, he has managed to deliver hits in regular intervals. In the past one decade, among the three Khans, he is most successful. Also, he is the most successful Bollywood actor of the decade of 2010s, with majority of his films shattering BO records. Though most of his movies in the past few years received mixed reviews, they have turned to be money spinners, thus making him the most valuable star of Bollywood cinema at present.

He has delivered hit movies aside Madhuri Dixit, Kajol, Preity Zinta, Sonakshi Sinha, Sushmita Sen, Karishma Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukerji, Priyanka Chopra, Urmila, Anushka Sharma and many others. Meine Pyar Kiya was his first film in the solo lead, and after its success there was no turning back. Like his contemporaries – Shah Rukh and Aamir, he also had a chocolate romantic hero image in the 1990s. Towards the end of 1990s, he started experimenting with comedies, and with the release of Wanted and Debangg, he moved to action-packed films. As an actor, many of his films of early phase of his career were critically acclaimed while his biggest blockbusters were released in the 2010s.

Some of his major hit movies are Meine Pyar Kiya, Baagi, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Debangg 1 and 2, Biwi No: 1, Mujhse Shaadi Karoge, Tere Naam, Bodyguard, Ready, Partner, No Entry, Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega, Karan Arjun, Hum Saat Saat Hain, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, Judwaa, Dulhan Hum Le Jayenge, Tiger Zinda Hai, Sultan, Kick, Bharat, Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya, Bajrangi Bhaijaan etc.

10. Akshay Kumar – Khiladi of Bollywood

Akshay Kumar in one of his famous roles – Air Lift

He joined films as an extra in the late 1980s and started receiving projects in the early 1990s. During the initial phase of his career he gained recognition through action films, and after the success of ‘Khiladi’ he came to be known as Khiladi of Bollywood. The only superstar who struggled a lot to achieve stardom, he is one of the most cashable actors of Bollywood right now. After receiving both success and failures till mid-2000s, he rose to stardom in 2007 with a series of hits. Since then most of his films were box office hits. In fact in the decade of 2010s, almost every Akshay Kumar has turned to be a box office hit. Now he is mostly associated with social dramas and biopics, and also tries comic roles occasionally.

He is yet to receive his first Filmfare award in best lead actor category. As an actor he has been successfully paired with Madhuri Dixit, Kajol, Ayesha Jhulka, Juhi Chawla, Sonali Bandre, Karishma Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Preity Zinta, Vidya Balan, Priyanka Chopra, Bipasha Basu, Shilpa Shetty etc. In the 1990s he worked in many multi-star cast movies, mostly in association with Saif Ali Khan.

Apart from Khiladi (which includes Mein Khiladi Tu Anari) and Houseful series, some of his major hits are Mohra, Dil To Pagal Hai, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Gold, Singh is Kingg, Dhadkan, Rowdy Rathod, Special 26, Welcome, Bhool Bhulayya, Namaste London,Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Padman, Jolly LLB 2, OMG, Holiday,Garam Masala, Hera Pheri, Phir Hera Pheri, Andaaz, Khakhee, Aankhein, Sangursh, Yeh Dillagi, Aitraaz, Airlift, Rustom, Good Newzz, Rowdy Rathod, Kesari, Mission Mangal, 2.0 etc.

11. Shammi Kapoor – The real rockstar of Indian cinema

Shammi Kapoor in his trademark hysteria style for ‘Yeh Chand Sa Chehra’ song from Kashmir Ki Kali

I take liberty to add one more star to the list as I couldn’t exclude any actors from the above list. The list of best ever and most popular Bollywood actors is incomplete without mentioning Shammi Kapoor’s name. He was a huge star of 1960s, just before the era of superstars began. He was the romantic face of Bollywood in the 1960s, and almost every film was a super hit, though he worked in only a few movies comparing with his contemporaries. Needless to say, most of his films were musical hits, and many evergreen hits of 1960s are credited to him in Mohammed Rafi’s voice. Before him, most of Bollywood actors were associated with serious roles and folk dances, while Shammi Kapoor started the trend of western dance moves in Hindi cinema. It was way ahead of his time, and many actors later followed the same suit.

He received a single Filmfare award for best actor for the movie ‘Brahmachari’. After delivering a series of flops throughout 1950s, he got his first career break through Tumsa Nahin Dekha, followed by Dil Dekhe Dekho and Junglee. What followed later was something which Bollywood fans never imagined. Hit movies with chartbuster songs – Rajkumar, Kashmir Ki Kali, Teesri Manzil, An Evening in Paris, China Town, Dil Tera Deewana, Andaaz, Professor, Bluff Master, Sachai, Prince, Badameez, Janwar, Pagla Kahin Ka etc got registered in his name.

He could handle both romantic and comic roles with ease, and he owned a huge fan following crowd in the 1960s before he started gaining weight. Among all actresses, his pairing with Asha Parekh was most popular. His pairing with Sadhana, Vyjayantimala, Saira Banu, Sharmila Tagore and Rajashree was also well received.

Before I conclude I would like to mention some of the most popular Bollywood heroes all-time. If I add 5 more names to the list, it should be Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Ranbir Kapoor and Govinda. Guru Dutt, Ajay Devgan, Manoj Kumar, Vinod Khanna, Anil Kapoor, Amol Palekar, Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor, Ayushman Khurrana, Sushant Singh Rajput, Sanjay Dutt, Sanjeev Kumar, Ranveer Singh, Rajkummar Rao, Varun Dhawan, Sunil Dutt, Sunny Deol, Raaj Kumar etc are a few more successful lead actors belonging to different generations.

Please note: I have prepared this list purely based on popularity and stardom of Bollywood heroes and box office success of their movies. It is nothing related to the real talent of actors. Otherwise I would have added a long array of award winning actors, mostly known for playing supporting roles.


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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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