americans The Most Influential Contemporary Americans  

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129.8k votes 7.3k voters 289.3k views 122 items

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
Photo:  Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images
1 999 VOTES

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 performing as a stand-up comedian, emphasizing monologues rather than traditional jokes. As a comedian, he developed the persona of an insecure, intellectual, fretful nebbish, which he maintains is quite different from his real-life personality. In 2004, Comedy Central ranked Allen in fourth place on a list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians, while a UK survey ranked Allen as the third greatest ...more on Wikipedia

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

Age: 82

Also Ranked

#99 on The Funniest Stand Up Comedians of All Time

#26 on The Greatest Directors in Movie History

#37 on The Best Living Actors in Their 80s

#51 on The Most Original Comedians

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Stephen King is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Influential Contemporary Americans
Photo:  Kevin Winter/Getty Images
2 1,355 VOTES

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 novels, including seven under the pen name Richard Bachman and six non-fiction books. He has written nearly 200 short stories, most of which have been collected in book collections. Many of his stories are set in his home state of Maine. King has received Bram Stoker Awards, World Fantasy Awards, and British Fantasy Society Awards. His novella The Way Station was a Nebula Award novelette nominee. In ...more on Wikipedia

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

Age: 70

Also Ranked

#42 on The Best Writers of All Time

#26 on The Greatest American Writers of All Time

#72 on Celebrities Who Should Run for President

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

615 740
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Bill Gates is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Influential Contemporary Americans
Photo: via Reddit
3 3,525 VOTES

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 held the positions of chairman, CEO and chief software architect, and was also the largest individual shareholder until May 2014. He has also authored and co-authored several books. Today he is consistently ranked in the Forbes list of the world's wealthiest people and was the wealthiest overall from 1995 to 2014—excluding a few brief periods post-2008. Between 2009 and 2014 his wealth more than ...more on Wikipedia

Profession: Programmer, Software Architect, Businessperson, Investor, Entrepreneur

Age: 62

Also Ranked

#15 on Celebrities Who Should Run for President

#37 on The Most Influential People of All Time

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

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

1,691 1,834
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Harper Lee is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Influential Contemporary Americans
Photo:  Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images
4 620 VOTES

but chickens double d added 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 Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature. Lee has received numerous honorary degrees, and declined to speak on each occasion. Lee assisted close friend Truman Capote in his research for the book In Cold Blood. In February 2015 at age 88, nearly blind and deaf after a 2007 stroke, and after a lifetime of maintaining that she would never publish another novel, a statement was issued ...more on Wikipedia

Profession: Novelist, Author, Writer

Age: 91

Also Ranked

#58 on The Best Writers of All Time

#34 on The Greatest American Writers of All Time

#8 on The Best Female Authors of All Time

#4 on The Greatest Female Novelists Ever

374 246
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