celebrities The Most Influential Contemporary Americans  

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List Rules Americans who are alive today (or who died less than 20 years ago) and have impacted the way Americans live their lives

A list of the Americans who have had the most central influence on, or importance to, the modern era. This would include Americans who have most significantly altered the course of events from roughly the 1980s onward. So while someone like Ronald Reagan or Steve Jobs might very well apply, figures like Franklin D. Roosevelt or even Martin Luther King Jr. would probably not be considered contemporary enough to qualify.

Americans from every walk of life and every industry have managed to profoundly influence the country. This can include efforts to alter the culture or perspective of Americans, technological or scientific innovations that forever changed the way we live, business achievements which altered the course of one or multiple industries, or political decisions that permanently shifted later events in America and the world.

Vote for the important Americans below you think had the greatest impact on the way we live today. Or if you don't see your selection, add it by making your own list.
Woody Allen is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Influential Contemporary Americans
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Woody Allen


Heywood "Woody" Allen is an American actor, writer, director, comedian and playwright, whose career spans more than 50 years. He worked as a comedy writer in the 1950s, writing jokes and scripts for television and publishing several books of short humor pieces. In the early 1960s, Allen began ...more

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Profession: Film Score Composer, Comedian, Musician, Film Producer Screenwriter, + more

Age: 81

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#24 on The Greatest Directors in Movie History

#89 on The Funniest Stand Up Comedians of All Time

#3 on Celebrities You Would Not Want as a Stepdad

#70 on The Best Short Actors

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Harper Lee is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Influential Contemporary Americans
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Harper Lee


Nelle Harper Lee is an American novelist widely known for her 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird which deals with the racism she observed as a child in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Though Lee only published this single book for half a century, she was awarded the Presidential ...more

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Profession: Novelist, Author, Writer

Age: 90

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#9 on The Best Female Authors of All Time

#26 on The Greatest American Writers of All Time

#94 on The Best Writers of All Time

#5 on The Greatest Female Novelists Ever

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Stephen King is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Influential Contemporary Americans
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Stephen King


Stephen Edwin King is an American author of contemporary horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. His books have sold more than 350 million copies, many of which have been adapted into feature films, miniseries, television shows, and comic books. King has published 54 ...more

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Profession: Columnist, Television producer, Novelist, Screenwriter Actor, + more

Age: 69

Also Ranked

#22 on The Greatest American Writers of All Time

#44 on The Best Science-Fiction Authors

#3 on The All-Time Greatest Horror Writers

#5 on The Greatest Living Writers & Most Famous Authors Today

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Bill Gates is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Influential Contemporary Americans
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Bill Gates


William Henry "Bill" Gates III is an American business magnate, philanthropist, investor, computer programmer, and inventor. Gates originally established his reputation as the co-founder of Microsoft, the world’s largest PC software company, with Paul Allen. During his career at Microsoft, Gates ...more

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Profession: Programmer, Software Architect, Businessperson, Investor Entrepreneur

Age: 61

Also Ranked

#76 on Famous Men You'd Want to Have a Beer With

#25 on Celebrities Who Should Run for President

#34 on The Most Influential People of All Time

#91 on Famous Role Models We'd Like to Meet In Person

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Michael Moore is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Influential Contemporary Americans
Photo: david_shankbone/flickr/CC-BY 2.0
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39 people just voted on Michael Moore


Michael Francis Moore is an American documentary filmmaker, screenwriter, author, journalist, actor, and liberal political activist. He is the director and producer of Fahrenheit 9/11, a critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush and the War on Terror, which is the highest-grossing ...more

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Profession: Film Producer, Screenwriter, Actor, Writer Critic, + more

Age: 62

Also Ranked

#18 on Celebrities Who Should Run for President

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Steve Jobs is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Influential Contemporary Americans
Photo: Matthew Yohe/via Wikimedia Commons
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Steve Jobs


Steven Paul Jobs was an American entrepreneur, marketer, and inventor, who was the cofounder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc. Through Apple, he was widely recognized as a charismatic and design-driven pioneer of the personal computer revolution and for his influential career in the computer and ...more

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Profession: Businessperson, Entrepreneur, Inventor, Designer

Age: Died at 56 (1955-2011)

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#1 on The Most Irreplaceable CEOs in the World

#48 on People We Wish Were Still Alive

#72 on The Most Influential People of All Time

#51 on The Most Psychedelic People Ever

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Elena Kagan is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Influential Contemporary Americans
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Elena Kagan


Elena Kagan is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Kagan is the Court's 112th justice and fourth female justice. Kagan was born and raised in New York City. After attending Princeton, Oxford, and Harvard Law School, she completed federal Court of Appeals and Supreme Court ...more

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Profession: Professor, Law professor, Lawyer

Age: 56

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Steven Spielberg is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Influential Contemporary Americans
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Steven Spielberg


Steven Allan Spielberg is an American filmmaker. Spielberg is consistently considered as one of the leading pioneers of the New Hollywood era, as well as being viewed as one of the most popular and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema. In a career spanning more than four decades, ...more

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Profession: Television director, Businessperson, Television producer, Entrepreneur Film Producer, + more

Age: 70

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#61 on The Most Trustworthy Celebrities in the World

#49 on Famous Men You'd Want to Have a Beer With

#4 on The Greatest Directors in Movie History

#93 on Celebrities Who Should Run for President

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