american people The Most Influential Contemporary Americans  

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129.6k votes 7.3k voters 288.9k 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
1 991 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

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

Age: 80

Also Ranked

#98 on The Funniest Stand Up Comedians of All Time

#25 on The Greatest Directors in Movie History

#17 on The Greatest Living Directors, Ranked

#59 on The Best Short Actors

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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 1,349 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

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

Age: 70

Also Ranked

#43 on The Best Writers of All Time

#11 on The Best Fantasy Authors

#8 on Who Is The Most Famous Celebrity From Your State?

#27 on The Greatest American Writers of All Time

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Bill Gates is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Influential Contemporary Americans
Photo: Freebase/CC-BY-SA-2.0
3 3,517 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

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

Age: 62

Also Ranked

#37 on The Most Influential People of All Time

#15 on Celebrities Who Should Run for President

#73 on The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History

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

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Steven Spielberg is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Influential Contemporary Americans
Photo: Featureflash/Shutterstock.com
4 2,505 VOTES

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, Spielberg's films have covered many themes and genres. Spielberg's early science-fiction and adventure films were seen as archetypes of modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking. In later years, his films began addressing humanistic issues such as the Holocaust, the transatlantic slave trade, war, and terrorism. He is one of the co-founders of DreamWorks Studios. Spielberg won the Academy Award for Best ...more

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

Age: 71

Also Ranked

#4 on The Greatest Directors in Movie History

#2 on The Greatest Living Directors, Ranked

#97 on Celebrities Who Should Run for President

#56 on The Most Trustworthy Celebrities in the World

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