What is an a-List Celebrity?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

An A-list celebrity is a movie star who is very well known and who is usually considered extremely bankable by the movie industry. Some actors and actress who have this status include people like Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and Nicole Kidman. Movie fans will note the number of appearances that these stars make in films, and they are often paid top dollar for film appearances. Such actors are usually the highest paid and most likely to be offered plum roles. The list can change, however, as the popularity of a star rises and falls.

Brad Pitt is an A-list celebrity.
Brad Pitt is an A-list celebrity.

One way to assess whether a person is an A-list celebrity is through a method called the Ulmer Scale, developed by James Ulmer. This scale takes many factors into account and is a complex matrix for determining hottest stars. Some of the considerations weighed include the ratio of film success to failures, the way the celebrity may be perceived by others (as easy or difficult to work with), and the flexibility of acting talent.

Julia Roberts is an A-list celebrity.
Julia Roberts is an A-list celebrity.

Most people don’t need the Ulmer Scale to spot an A-list celebrity. These are usually actors and actresses who are best known and beloved by the public, and who create a certain aura and excitement. Entertainment media tends to stick with these stars and attempt to report even the smallest details about them. Many of these actors and actresses work hard to guard their privacy, and perhaps the biggest disadvantage of this type of stardom is inability to go anywhere without being recognized or harassed by the paparazzi.

Some actors are considered B-list celebrities instead. These people usually work frequently and are often well known by the public, but they don’t command the highest salaries or attract the biggest audiences. Popular television actors can fall into this category, and there are many well-known character actors and actresses that seem to be always working. James Earl Jones might be a good example of a B-list celebrity: a man with a distinguished acting career and many professional accolades, but who is generally not treated with the same type of reverence as A-listers.

Sometimes, the term "A-list celebrity" can apply to people who are not actors. It might also include the most famous musicians, and occasionally, the term is applied to anyone who is very well known in the media. In such a case, those with high profiles and a lot of wealth might be considered part of this group. Celebutantes, like Paris Hilton, may be A-listers because of the media coverage they generate.

A-list celebrities may be overly concerned with their appearance and how they are perceived by others.
A-list celebrities may be overly concerned with their appearance and how they are perceived by others.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I hate reality television and what it has done to our culture. There are several A-list celebrities who have come out of this fad, and they are terrible role models for children.

Many of them are notorious for drug use, driving while under the influence of drugs, and having affairs. Some are shoplifters, while others are alcoholics.

I would love to see some positive behavior from A-list celebrities. If reality television could produce some people with good behavior, I might actually watch it sometime.


Maintaining your status as an A-list celebrity is very hard to do. There are so many singers and actors who make the top of it for a year or two but then fade into obscurity.

Then, you have people like Madonna and Paul McCartney who will keep this status as long as they are alive. It's hard to know exactly what the defining factor that keeps someone at the top is, but very few have it.

I can think of so many celebrities who were on the A-list in the eighties and nineties who have now disappeared from the public. My kids don't even know who most of them are, which I find sad.


Sometimes, all it takes to make the A-list is extremely good looks. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie made it to the top by getting cast in so many movies because of their looks.

They were considered by many people to be the best looking actor and actress in existence. They may be talented, but honestly, if they didn't look the way they did, do you think they would be on the A-list?


@jcraig – I think any movie producer would be thrilled to have Tom Hanks in his film. He has the good kind of fame that comes from a long career of great movies. He definitely makes my celebrity A-list.


@stl156 - I would have to disagree. Actors like Tom Hanks are rarely in the news outside of their movies, and do not make near as many movies as they used to, but they are still considered A list celebrities.

I really think that what determines an A list celebrity all depends on public appeal, whether good or bad, and although the media plays a major role in creating the person, the public is what determines the person's fame and whether or not they want to continue reading about them.

Reputation, past success, media, and outside ventures can determine whether or not a person becomes an A list celebrity and all the right circumstances cause it to happen and can change over time.

I really have to wonder how different an A list celebrity back in the 1940's was than they are now?


@matthewc23 - I really feel that people heighten their celebrity status by what they do outside of their profession and this only adds to their A list status.

Even though Tom Cruise is a great actor, there are many better actors than him, yet there may very well not be someone considered to be more of an A list celebrity and this has to do, almost entirely, do to what he does outside of his movies and based on his reputation in the past.

Anymore he makes a movie about every two years and a lot of A list celebrities are like him and only do a movie every so often anymore because they have been up on their pedestal for so long and their A list status continues to be determined because of their ability to stay in they news during the breaks between their movies.

@TreeMan - I absolutely agree with you, as I do not see someone like Phillip Seymour Hoffman to be considered an A list celebrity by media standards, yet he is considered one of the best actors in the business, due to his ability to act.

Because he is one of the best actors in the industry, he is considered to be an A list level actor, but he does not generate the amount of media exposure that someone like Julia Roberts receives because she does things outside of her profession that add to her media exposure.


I really do not feel like it is fair to classify someone as an A list celebrity simply due to the amount of media exposure they receive.

Just because someone is a great actor does not at all mean that they will generate a lot of publicity that will make them an A list celebrity.

There are many great actors, most of which have won Academy Awards, that are not consider A list celebrities by some, due to their little media exposure, but in their own business they are considered A listers, because of their work among their peers.

I really feel that there are a lot of factors that should go into determining whether or not someone is an A list celebrity and not necessarily is determined by what the media says.

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