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The Power List: The 50 Most Powerful Entertainers (Nos. 1-25)

Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, and Will Smith score top spots on EW’s countdown of influential stars

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When Entertainment Weekly its first Power List in November 1990, Lady Gaga (No. 2) was 4 years old and Ben Stiller (No. 11) was doing Eddie Munster impersonations on MTV. Times change, and so does the talent. For our list of the 50 Most Powerful Entertainers, we based our rankings on a mix of criteria. First we looked at the hard numbers (global box office, album sales, TV ratings). We then added in less tangible factors, such as the stars’ influence within their industries, how well their brand translates across platforms, their overall footprint on pop culture, and their general command of the world stage. In other words, we set out to define what true power means in 2010, and to delineate who’s got it, who’s gaining it, and who’s losing it. Here are the results.

1. Johnny Depp
AGE 47
CAREER BOX OFFICE* $5.9 billion
LAST THREE FILMS* $1.3 billion

Depp’s career has been a long, strange trip — and ending up the most powerful actor in Hollywood is the weirdest twist of all. He’s rarely followed the standard playbook, choosing roles as misfits (Edward Scissorhands, Gilbert Grape) and oddballs (Ed Wood, Ichabod Crane) over the usual romantic leads and action heroes. With his uncompromising gonzo turn as Capt. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in 2003, his stardom went supernova. In the wake of smashes like the Pirates films, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland, Depp can do anything he wants. And the one — maybe the only — thing you can be sure of is that he’ll do exactly that. NEXT The Tourist with Angelina Jolie (Dec. 10).

* Global, excluding animated and cameo roles and films recently released
** Domestic, excluding animated and cameo roles and films that opened on fewer than 2,000 screens

2. Lady Gaga
AGE 24
U.S. ALBUMS SOLD 5.1 million
YOUTUBE PLAYS 1.1 billion

What did we all talk about before Lady Gaga came along? If the shenanigans of the former Stefani Germanotta seem to own an unhealthy amount of the pop culture conversation these days, it’s because her output has earned it: Since ”Just Dance” hit No. 1 nearly two years ago, she’s had six additional top 10 hits and has almost single-handedly revived the waning art of mainstream music videos. What’s more, she has thrived on the road at a time when many established artists’ tours have been downgraded or canceled altogether. Next Her new album, Born This Way (2011).

3. Oprah Winfrey
AGE 56
AVG. VIEWERSHIP 6.6 million
WORTH $3 billion, reported

Her ratings aren’t what they once were, but Winfrey will leave behind a huge void in daytime when she exits her talk show for good this May. No other chatfest is expected to generate the viewership she did during her peak in syndication: an astonishing 14 million per day. And though starting another (women’s!) cable channel is akin to charging into a minefield, Winfrey makes it look effortless, recruiting the likes of Rosie O’Donnell, Sarah Ferguson, Shania Twain, and Suze Orman to star on shows for OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, which launches in January 2011.

4. Simon Cowell
AGE 51
AVG. VIEWERSHIP 24.3 million
SALARY $80 million, reported

Let’s be honest: He remains the biggest star ever to emerge from the American Idol machine, as proven by all the hullabaloo this summer over who would be ”the next Simon” on Fox’s waning musical juggernaut. Apart from exec-producing NBC’s summer sensation America’s Got Talent (and counting his record-label cash thanks to Susan Boyle), Cowell will be AWOL from TV for a full year while he preps a new version of his U.K. megahit The X Factor — which he also owns — to debut on Fox in 2011. No one doubts it’ll be a hit; the only question is, how big?

5. Will Smith
AGE 42
CAREER B.O. $5.3 billion
LAST THREE FILMS $1.4 billion
AVG. OPENING WEEKEND $36.7 million

Sure, Seven Pounds was a rare box office disappointment, but Smith’s status as one of Hollywood’s shiniest global superstars remains untarnished. He’s master of his own destiny and produced four of his last five films. His tenacious work ethic — be it transforming his body for a role (I Am Legend) or promoting his projects across the planet — has studio chiefs swooning. And as for dusting off the ’80s franchise The Karate Kid and turning it into a $354 million star vehicle for his son Jaden? Well, that’s just showing off. NEXT Men in Black III (May 25, 2012).

6. Robert Downey Jr.
AGE 45
CAREER B.O. $2.9 billion
LAST THREE FILMS $1.2 billion
AVG. OPENING WEEKEND $40.5 million

Ten years ago he was getting busted in a hotel room with cocaine and a Wonder Woman costume. Today he’s sober and wearing a new superhero outfit. Iron Man has made Downey one of the great Hollywood comeback stories, and Sherlock Holmes has given him something few A-list actors ever get: two concurrent action franchises. His powers aren’t absolute (his drama The Soloist earned only $38 million worldwide), but even when he’s a white dude playing a white dude playing a black dude (Tropic Thunder), the brother can fly. NEXT Due Date from The Hangover director Todd Phillips (Nov. 5).

7. Sandra Bullock
AGE 46
CAREER B.O. $2.7 billion
LAST THREE FILMS $666.7 million
AVG. OPENING WEEKEND $15.9 million

How does an actress once considered past her prime become Hollywood’s most bankable woman? By starring in two of last year’s biggest hits (The Proposal and The Blind Side), navigating the Oscar circuit with savvy and grace, and handling the implosion of her personal life with remarkable humor. Every movie fan now sympathizes with her, every media outlet covets her, and every studio exec wants to be in business with her. Right now she’s calling all the shots. NEXT Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close with Tom Hanks or Most Wanted with Ryan Reynolds.

8. Ellen DeGeneres
AGE 52
AVG. VIEWERSHIP 3.2 million
SALARY $8 million per year, reported.

She was one of three people Oprah (No. 3) touched base with before announcing that she would be leaving daytime for good. It was a clear sign that TV’s most powerful woman considered DeGeneres to be her heir. Though her year as an American Idol judge wasn’t a crowning achievement, she showed candor and class when explaining her decision to leave. Dr. Oz and soon-to-be host Anderson Cooper may try to muscle in on her turf, but there’s little doubt that DeGeneres will become daytime’s top banana in Winfrey’s wake.

9. Leonardo DiCaprio
AGE 35
CAREER B.O. $4.9 billion
LAST THREE FILMS $1.2 billion
AVG. OPENING WEEKEND $26.8 million

After Titanic, he eschewed easy blockbusters, opting instead to pair up with A-list auteurs in prestige pictures. Sometimes it worked (The Departed). Sometimes it didn’t (Revolutionary Road). But with this year’s one-two punch of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island ($294.8 million) and Christopher Nolan’s Inception ($791.5 million), DiCaprio proved he can deliver on both art and commerce without sacrificing either. NEXT Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar Hoover biopic, Hoover (2012).

10. Eminem
AGE 37
U.S. ALBUMS SOLD 38.6 million

For much of the past five years, it seemed like he might retire forever, but last year’s triumphant album Relapse laid those rumors to rest. This June’s Recovery scored the biggest opening week any artist has had in two years — even more impressive, it sold well all summer — and his No. 1 smash with Rihanna, ”Love the Way You Lie,” dominated pop radio. His sold-out fall concert dates with Jay-Z (No. 26) only confirm what everyone already knew: Eminem rules whenever, and wherever, he chooses. And retirement is not an option. NEXT The release of additional singles from Recovery.

11. Ben Stiller
AGE 44
CAREER B.O. $3.4 billion
LAST THREE FILMS $729 million

Few stars put themselves in such humiliating situations — and even fewer have been so richly rewarded for it. Stiller has two major franchises (Meet the Parents, Night at the Museum), each with massive global appeal. He’s both a smart producer (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Blades of Glory) and a successful writer-director (Tropic Thunder, Zoolander), making him Hollywood’s funniest triple threat. NEXT Little Fockers (Dec. 22).

12. Angelina Jolie
AGE 35
CAREER B.O. $2.5 billion
LAST THREE FILMS $738 million
AVG. OPENING WEEKEND $24.7 million

This summer’s Salt showed she’s worth hers. She’s the only female star who regularly posts $30 million-plus opening weekends, and she’s the only female action star, period. Even if her more esoteric fare (Changeling, A Mighty Heart) doesn’t always connect, she has undeniably become Hollywood’s hottest global ambassador. NEXT The Tourist with Johnny Depp (Dec. 10).

13. Ryan Seacrest
AGE 35
AVG. VIEWERSHIP 24.5 million
SALARY $45 million over three years, reported

Sorry, Randy, but with Simon and Paula gone, this unflappable emcee is now the headliner of the biggest show on TV — and American Idol‘s last, best hope at keeping that title this season. Seacrest also hosts his own radio show, anchors E! News, produces Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and, we assume, eats and sleeps on occasion.

14. Brad Pitt
AGE 46
CAREER B.O. $5.1 billion
LAST THREE FILMS $811.2 million
AVG. OPENING WEEKEND $27.3 million

Pitt has been making unexpected choices (Inglourious Basterds, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), gaining street cred and a second Oscar nod (Button) in the process. His films don’t always hit the jackpot in the U.S., but overseas he’s a box office god. Plus, he produces (Eat Pray Love), and his global wattage with Jolie (No. 12) is unsurpassed. NEXT The Tree of Life with Sean Penn (2011).

15. Charlie Sheen
AGE 45
SALARY $1 million-plus per episode

Sheen is TV’s highest-paid actor, with a seemingly Teflon image. Not even his guilty plea to assaulting his wife last year has kept fans from Two and a Half Men. (The only backlash came from Hanes, which dropped Sheen from its ads.) In its eighth season, the show’s still the most watched sitcom in the country. It probably doesn’t hurt that Sheen depicts an immature playboy who has trouble relating to women.

16. will.i.am
AGE 35
U.S. ALBUMS SOLD 10.9 million
YOUTUBE PLAYS 389.9 million

He’s done more to shape the sound of contemporary pop than perhaps anyone. This year, he led the Black Eyed Peas to two more smash hits (”Imma Be,” ”Rock That Body”) from their multiplatinum The E.N.D., then lent his vocals and production to Usher’s No. 1 hit ”OMG” and Nicki Minaj’s ”Check It Out.” NEXT The Peas’ The Beginning (Nov. 30, tentatively).

17. Adam Sandler
AGE 44
CAREER B.O. $2.7 billion
LAST THREE FILMS $539.8 million

He’s modern comedy’s Ted Williams, with a box office slugging percentage other stars would die for. His forays into dramatic roles (Funny People) may not draw crowds, but when he’s doing his trademark man-child shtick — as in this summer’s Grown Ups — his movies top $100 million with take-it-to-the-bank consistency. NEXT Just Go With It opposite Jennifer Aniston (Feb. 11, 2011).

18. Kanye West
AGE 33
U.S. ALBUMS SOLD 10.1 million

Love him or hate him, everyone has an opinion about him. An astute self-promoter, West sends hilarious updates to his Twitter followers and releases new tunes online nearly every week. His finale performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards helped draw an average 11.4 million viewers to the broadcast. A sought-after mentor, he’s championed stars from John Legend to Kid Cudi. NEXT His as-yet-untitled fifth album (Nov. 22).

19. Beyoncé Knowles
AGE 29
U.S. ALBUMS SOLD 11.3 million
YOUTUBE PLAYS 603.2 million

She picked up six Grammys — more than any female artist in history — and dominated the zeitgeist with a yearlong world tour and the ubiquitous megahits ”Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and ”Halo.” For an encore, the singer debuted unforgettable videos of her collaborations with Lady Gaga (”Telephone”) and her own ”Why Don’t You Love Me.” NEXT Reportedly developing a party-music album.

20. Meryl Streep AGE 61
CAREER B.O. $3.1 billion
LAST THREE FILMS $399.5 million
AVG. OPENING WEEKEND $18.7 million

She’s Hollywood’s ”greatest living actress,” yes, but even more impressive, she’s a box office force greater than most women half her age. Streep’s commercial ascension validates that she really can do anything — drama (Doubt), musical (Mamma Mia!), romantic comedy (It’s Complicated). Plus, it ensures that the Sandras and Reeses won’t have to stop working when they hit 50. NEXT Playing Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady.

21. Seth MacFarlane
AGE 36
AVG. VIEWERSHIP 7.8 million, Family Guy; 6.4 million, The Cleveland Show; 5.9 million, American Dad
SALARY $100 million over six years

There’s a reason 20th Century Fox TV signed this writer-producer to a $100 million deal: He’s a master of envelope-pushing jokes that tickle young dudes. And he not only produces most of Fox’s Sunday-night lineup — with Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show — his voice is featured on all three.

22. Jon Stewart
AGE 47
AVG. VIEWERSHIP 2.1 million
SALARY $14 million per year, reported

The Daily Show continues to be a cultural (and Emmy-winning) touchstone, with media and political influence far greater than its modest ratings. Like Fox News’ Glenn Beck, Stewart has parlayed his hosting gig into a lucrative brand; he just coauthored his third book, Earth (The Book), which is under the Daily Show banner.

23. Tom Cruise
AGE 48
CAREER B.O. $6.5 billion
LAST THREE FILMS $493.1 million
AVG. OPENING WEEKEND $30.6 million

His name on a marquee once guaranteed at least a $100 million domestic gross. But lately Cruise has had trouble getting to that magic number. Paramount insisted that he cut his fee for the next Mission: Impossible film, and Knight & Day grossed a mere $76.4 million domestically. Still, he maintains serious value overseas, and it takes only one hit to put him back on top. NEXT A new M:I (Dec. 16, 2011).

24. Taylor Swift AGE 20
U.S. ALBUMS SOLD 11.9 million
YOUTUBE PLAYS 258 million

Her year began with four Grammy awards, and her album Fearless, the top seller of 2009, continued to move. The pop-country starlet also toured the world, appeared in the ensemble comedy Valentine’s Day (which yielded her No. 2 hit ”Today Was a Fairytale”), and climbed the charts again with the single ”Mine.” NEXT Her new album, Speak Now (Oct. 25).

25. David Letterman
AGE 63
AVG. VIEWERSHIP 3.2 million
SALARY $28 million per year, reported

Impressively, not even last year’s sex scandal could diminish him. He can still find a way to lead a pop cultural conversation (see: Joaquin Phoenix) after 28 years on the job. He may trail Jay Leno (No. 32) in the ratings, but Letterman controls the landscape: His production company owns both The Late Show and Craig Ferguson’s The Late Late Show.