The Biggest Actors Knighted By Queen Elizabeth

One of the greatest honors an actor can receive is to be knighted and inducted into the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. The order of chivalry recognizes the contributions to the arts and sciences made outside of civil service, and anyone inducted is given the title of Knight or Dame. King George V was the first British monarch to establish the order in 1917, and any citizen of the British Empire and its Commonwealth countries is eligible to receive an OBE, CBE, DBE, MBE, or BEM.

With more than 100 years of honors given, more than 100,000 people, many of whom are actors, have received a knighthood or damehood. While any member of the royal family can bestow the honors in a ceremony, for 70 years, the greatest honor an actor could receive would be to have Queen Elizabeth II knight them into the Order of the British Empire. The queen honored many during her reign, and everyone honored was exceptional.

Because the queen couldn't honor everyone, some impressive actors were knighted by princes and others in the family. The actors on this list were all honored by Queen Elizabeth II, and they each received their knighthood or damehood with pride and gallantry. Many have spoken about the honor they received, and after the queen's passing in September 2022, we're looking back at the impact the queen had on their lives when she inducted them into the OBE.

Sir John Vincent Hurt CBE

Sir John Hurt was a prolific actor who appeared in a lot of franchises throughout his 56-year career. He was the first victim to have a Xenomorph burst from his chest in "Alien," he gave Harry Potter his wand in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," and he played the War Doctor on "Doctor Who." Hurt wore many hats over the years and appeared in dozens of popular movies, television series, and theater productions, touching many lives.

Hurt was honored for his contributions to the arts by Queen Elizabeth II in July 2015. He was 75 at the time and was welcomed to Windsor Castle for the ceremony held there. According to USA Today, Hurt had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he only regretted that his parents weren't alive to see him knighted. When he arrived, he'd completed half a course of chemotherapy and told the press he felt well, though his hair was thinning (per the Daily Mail).

Hurt spoke of the honor of being knighted a Commander of the British Empire (CBE), saying, "It does make one inordinately proud." Despite his comments at the ceremony, Hurt's cancer, which had gone into remission in 2015, had returned. He died on January 25, 2017, at the age of 77. News of his death spread quickly, and those who worked with him, including Mel Brooks, J.K. Rowling, and others, took to Twitter to express their love for the actor and condolences for his family.

Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins CBE

Sir Anthony Hopkins has been entertaining and terrifying audiences since he started acting professionally in 1960. His career is filled with unforgettable characters that amaze and scare people all around the world. He's probably best known for playing Dr. Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs," a role for which he took home an Academy Award. He scored another best actor statue for his portrayal of Anthony in "Father" in 2020, making him the oldest actor to receive the honor.

Hopkins' career spans decades and includes appearances in more than a hundred films and television series. He's also a stage actor, director, composer, and producer. In 1993, Hopkins was welcomed to Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II knighted him for "services to the arts" (via Belfast Telegraph), granting him the rank of CBE. The ceremony took place on Hopkins' 55th birthday, making it a particularly special one for the actor.

Hopkins described the honor, saying, "It's the most wonderful surprise that I have ever had. To be honored this way in mid-career is just terrific" (via Variety). According to the Chicago Tribune, Hopkins also said, "I am a little bit numb at the moment. I didn't expect this, and I hope I don't sound falsely modest, but I am very honored. I can't quite take it in..." Hopkins' mid-career knighthood came before his appearances in "Beowulf," "Thor," "Westworld," and many other outstanding projects, so it was just a step along the way in the actor's impressive career.

Sir Ian Holm Cuthbert CBE

Sir Ian Holm began his acting career on the stage as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He appeared in numerous theatrical productions before gaining notice on the BBC's "The Wars of the Roses" in 1965, where he played Richard. From there, he began working in films, honing his skills learned in the theatre with appearances in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Mary, Queen of Scots." He also worked in television and appeared in numerous series throughout his career.

Holm played the devious android Ash in "Alien," but he was probably best known for playing Sam Mussabini in 1981's "Chariots of Fire," a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor and a win for the same at the Cannes Film Festival. Holm turned heads via his portrayal of Bilbo Baggins in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and two of "The Hobbit" films. The actor was honored in 1998 for his "services to drama" and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, making him a CBE (via The Guardian). 

The prolific performer passed away at the age of 88 in 2020, as a result of complications related to Parkinson's disease. His family released a statement of his passing, writing, "He died peacefully in hospital with his family and carer." His wife, artist Sophie de Stempel, documented his final days via a series of pastel illustrations she shared on her Instagram page.

Sir Reginald Carey 'Rex' Harrison

Sir Rex Harrison was a star of stage and screen, having begun his illustrious career in the 1920s. He continued to perform in theatre productions but was sidelined by World War II. Harrison served in the Royal Air Force as a flight lieutenant throughout the conflict and returned to acting once it ended (per Britannica). After several years in the theatre, he made the leap to films, where he worked opposite some of the era's greatest actors, including Vivien Leigh, Audrey Hepburn, and Maggie Smith, to name a few.

Harrison's work typically landed him in comedies, and he's probably best known for playing Professor Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady," Dr. Dolittle in "Doctor Dolittle," and Julius Caesar in "Cleopatra." In 1989 Harrison was made a Knight Bachelor, the most common form of knighthood. His name was included alongside a slew of actors, including Ronald Reagan, who received honorary knighthood at the queen's birthday ceremony at Buckingham Palace (per The New York Times).

Harrison told the press, "It is a very great honor and one which I am proud to accept" (via UPI). A year after receiving his knighthood, Harrison died of cancer at the age of 82. As The Washington Post aptly summarized, "In a career that spanned 65 years, Mr. Harrison became one of the great masters of English drawing-room comedy." In addition to receiving a knighthood from the Queen, the actor won prestigious awards for starring in "My Fair Lady" — an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the movie musical, and a Tony for the show on Broadway.

Sir Alec Guinness CH CBE

Sir Alec Guinness is probably best known throughout the world for playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original "Star Wars" trilogy, but that was one credit toward the end of a long and fruitful career. He began working professionally in the 1930s, and his work throughout the next few decades earned him a great deal of critical acclaim. Guinness played the lead in "The Bridge on the River Kwai," which earned him the Oscar and BAFTA award for best actor. In 1980, the renowned performer received an honorary Academy Award celebrating his lifetime of cinematic achievements.

His list of awards is quite long, and his work gained the attention of the royal family. In particular, Guinness' role in "The Bridge on the River Kwai" helped him achieve the honor of being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. His name was among 2,000 given the honor at the queen's 1959 New Year's Honors, and Guinness had already been appointed a CBE. He was again honored at the queen's 1994 Birthday Honors for services to drama with an exclusive Companion of Honor (CH).

Guinness' career spanned much of the 20th century, and it came to an end in 1996, with his final credit in a TV movie. Per ABC News, he died of liver cancer four years later. The Washington Post reported Guinness' comments on being knighted, of which he said, "I suppose they think you'll carry out some public function and not misbehave yourself too terribly. I'm not a person who misbehaves."

Sidney Poitier KBE

Sidney Poitier was an influential Bahamian-American actor who spent the better part of the 20th century playing award-winning characters. He broke into the mainstream with the 1955 film "Blackboard Jungle," and from there, he starred in "Lilies of the Field," "In the Heat of the Night," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," and many more celebrated pictures throughout his career. Poitier continued acting into the 1990s with fewer roles over time. A later film many know him from is "Sneakers," where he played Crease, an enigmatic former CIA agent.

Poitier was honored by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974 when he was named an honorary Knight Commander (KBE). Per BBC News, Poitier's title was honorary because that was what Bahamian authorities preferred. However, as the Academy of Achievement notes, the actor was recognized as "Sir Sidney Poitier" in the British Commonwealth. 

His knighting was only one of many honors Poitier achieved throughout his long and storied life. He was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2009, and Poitier biographer Aram Goudsouzian wrote, "By the late 1950s, he was the Martin Luther King of the movies" (via Vanity Fair). Poitier was also the first African American to win the best actor Oscar, which he took home for playing Homer Smith in "Lilies of the Field." Poitier died at age 94 in early January 2022 in his Beverly Hills, California home. Per Deadline, cardiopulmonary failure, Alzheimer's dementia, and prostate cancer were the causes.

Sir Sean Connery

Sir Sean Connery began acting professionally in the 1950s, appearing in various TV series and movies. In 1962, he landed a role that made him an international star. He was cast to play James Bond in "Dr. No." Connery went on to play the character in seven films, establishing the franchise that has remained a staple of MGM's library well into the 21st century. Of course, the actor was in far more than "James Bond" films, including stellar appearances in "Highlander," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," and many others.

Connery was honored by the queen with a knighthood as part of her 2000 New Year's Honors for his services to film drama, per CBS News. Being a proud Scotsman, Connery arrived in Highland dress when he knelt before the queen. She tapped his shoulders with a sword, he rose, bowed, and Queen Elizabeth II placed a sash and medal around his neck. The two shook hands, shared a few words, and Connery returned to his seat.

According to BBC News, Connery said, "I think it's a great honor for Scotland. ... It's one of the proudest days of my life." Connery continued acting until his retirement in 2006, choosing to lend his voice only once since that time in "Sir Billi" in 2012. Connery died in his sleep at his home in Nassau, the Bahamas, at the age of 90. According to TMZ, he died of respiratory failure from pneumonia and other age-related issues.

Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr. KBE

Sir Charlie Chaplin was one of the most celebrated stars of the silent era. He began acting in theatre before transitioning to film in 1914, a year in which he appeared in over 30 shorts. Known for his popular Tramp character, Chaplin co-founded United Artists in 1919 and spent the next decade producing one hit after the other. He made "The Kid," "The Gold Rush," and several notable classics during this time. 

In 1940, he made the transition to talkies with "The Great Dictator," lampooning Adolf Hitler and earning two Academy Award nominations for the film. Chaplin spent a great deal of his career in the United States but was run out of the country due to claims of communist sympathies and rampant McCarthyism. He settled in Switzerland and wasn't comfortable returning to the U.S. until 1972, when he was given an honorary award at the 44th Academy Awards

Queen Elizabeth II awarded him a knighthood at her 1975 New Year's Honors. Chaplin couldn't kneel, so he received the honors in his wheelchair during the ceremony at Buckingham Palace. The queen tapped him on the shoulders, saying, "Arise, Sir Charles Chaplin, Knight Commander of the British Empire," but he wasn't able to stand (per the Daily News). When asked how he would celebrate after the ceremony, he replied, "I'm going to get drunk!" The performer's website notes that his health declined in his later years, especially after he had a stroke. Chaplin died in his sleep on Christmas morning, 1977.

Sir Michael Caine CBE

Sir Michael Caine has been an established actor since the 1950s, and while some might be held back for a distinctive Cockney accent, Caine thrived with his. Throughout his seven decades of work, he's appeared in more than 170 works and has won numerous awards. His mantle is home to BAFTA awards, a Screen Actors Guild award, two Academy Awards, three Golden Globes, and many more. Caine appeared in several high-profile films throughout his career, though most remember him from "Kingsman: The Secret Service," the "Dark Knight" trilogy, and "Interstellar."

Queen Elizabeth II knighted Caine in November 2000, but according to The Irish Times, there were questions over how to address him properly because the actor was knighted under his birth name, Maurice Joseph Micklewhite. This isn't how he's known to anyone. After the ceremony at Buckingham Palace, the actor was asked how he'd prefer to be addressed, and he said, "I'm both, but I will use Sir Michael Caine." The Guardian reported that Caine's name was previously added to the Queen's birthday honors by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Since being knighted a CBE, Caine has continued to work in high-profile films after decades of success, playing Arthur Tressler in each of the "Now You See Me" films. Caine turned 89 in 2022, and all indications are that he has no plans to retire.

Sir Kenneth Charles Branagh

Sir Kenneth Branagh is a classically trained actor who's been entertaining the masses since the early 1980s. His early work includes numerous Shakespearean adaptations he starred in and directed, including "Henry V," "Hamlet," and "As You Like It," among others. He often takes leading and supporting roles, including playing Gilderoy Lockhart in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." He also directed the first "Thor" film, so he's been a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for quite some time.

Branagh is another actor with more awards and nominations than he knows what to do with. Over the course of his career, he's been nominated in seven different Academy Award categories, making him the first person to do so. Thus far, he's only taken one statue home: he received the Oscar for best original screenplay for 2011's "Belfast." The Queen of England honored this writing, acting, and directing marvel at her 2012 Birthday Honors.

When he received his knighthood, Branagh told the BBC, "I feel very humble about it, I feel elated about it. It would be an amazing thing at any time. In the Jubilee Year... it's very, very special." In addition to his knighthood, he was recognized in his native city of Belfast, Ireland, in 2017 when he was made a Freeman of the City. The honor is given to celebrities and dignitaries, and it's one he shared with Queen Elizabeth II, according to the Belfast City Council.

Dame Margaret Natalie Smith CH DBE

Dame Maggie Smith began acting in theatre in the early 1950s and has since appeared in many theatrical productions, many of which were on Broadway. Smith has also been in dozens of feature films and television series. For younger generations, she's probably best remembered for playing Professor Minerva McGonagall in the "Harry Potter" movies or as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, on "Downton Abbey." 

Much earlier in her career, Smith appeared in various award-winning films, including "Travels with My Aunt," "California Suite," and "Othello," among many others. Smith is among the small circle of actors to score the Triple Crown of Acting, having won a Tony Award, four Primetime Emmy Awards, and two Academy Awards. She's earned many other accolades throughout her impressive career, including two bestowed by the royal family. In 1990, she was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, making her a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her contributions to the arts (via Philly). 

In 2014, she was again honored with a Companion of Honor (CH) for her services to drama. According to the Daily Mail, Smith received her CH from the queen at her Berkshire home at Windsor Castle but didn't make any comments to the press at the time. She was given the CH for her 60-year contributions to film, theatre, and television.

Sir Patrick Stewart OBE

While many science fiction fans first met Sir Patrick Stewart when he took command of the Starship Enterprise in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in 1989, the actor was already 30 years into his career. Stewart began working in the theatre, where he gained a great deal of experience working with many of the actors on this list. He began working in television in the mid-1960s and appeared in many series over the next 20+ years before finally landing the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (which he reprised in the 2020 series "Star Trek: Picard"). He also appeared in a number of popular movies, including "Excalibur," "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind," and "Dune" — not to mention playing Professor Charles Xavier in the "X-Men" franchise. 

Stewart has diversified his work over the years. He spends a lot of time behind the microphone, bringing various animated characters to life, including the poop emoji in "The Emoji Movie." Throughout it all, he's been recognized for his accomplishments with well-deserved award nominations and wins. In 2010, Stewart was honored by the Queen herself when she knighted him an OBE at Buckingham Palace. When he learned of his knighthood, he said, "I'm finding this distinction a little bemusing. It was one that was not looked for, and to be invited to join this list of my living fellow actors who have already been knighted... is dazzling for me, and I'm deeply grateful for it" (via NPR). "It's better than jury duty," he joked with Conan O'Brien.

Dame Elizabeth Rosemond 'Liz' Taylor DBE

Dame Elizabeth Taylor's screen career began in 1942 when she appeared in "There's One Born Every Minute," after which she signed a contract with MGM. Taylor's work includes critically acclaimed performances in "Father of the Bride," "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof," and "BUtterfield 8," which earned her an Academy Award for best actress. She's probably best known for her leading roles in "Cleopatra," "National Velvet," and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." Taylor's career began to decline toward the end of the 20th century, leading to several periods of retirement.

Her final feature film appearance came in 1994's "The Flintstones," though she worked in television after that. She spent most of her later years doing philanthropic work supporting various HIV/AIDS research foundations — including her own, The Foundation for AIDS Research and The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. In addition to the many awards and honors received throughout her career, she was made a DBE by Queen Elizabeth II at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace. She was knighted at the 2000 Millennium New Year Honors

After receiving the honor, she released a statement through her publicist, saying, "Well, I've always been a 'broad.' Now it's a great honor to be a dame!" (via CBS News). Appearing at the ceremony was a rare occasion for Taylor, as her health was in rapid decline. She suffered from numerous serious ailments, and in 2007, she died of complications related to congestive heart failure at age 79 (per BBC News).

Sir Roger George Moore KBE

Sir Roger Moore spent his life entertaining the masses via numerous projects on television and in films. His earliest roles were in the 1940s and '50s when he appeared in multiple TV series and movies. He gained attention in the 1960s, thanks to playing the lead in "Maverick" and "The Saint." Of course, he's best remembered as James Bond, whom he portrayed from 1973 to 1985 in seven movies.

After finishing his time in the franchise, Moore took a five-year break from filming movies before returning to work. When he did, he appeared in numerous films and television series but never achieved as much success as he did in the "James Bond" franchise. When he wasn't working in front of the camera, he was working with UNICEF on various campaigns as a Goodwill Ambassador.

Moore received a knighthood as a KBE from Queen Elizabeth II in 2003, becoming the second "James Bond" actor to receive the honor. Following the ceremony, Moore recounted his brief conversation with the Queen, telling the press, "Her Majesty said I'd been involved with charities for a long time, but she supposed that people will always call me 007. I said that I didn't mind because I was paid money for it" (via Deseret News). Moore died in 2017 at the age of 89 following what his agent and family called "a short but brave battle with cancer" (via NPR).

Angelina Jolie DCMG

Angelina Jolie was born into a family of acting royalty, thanks to her parents, Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand. Her first role was during her childhood when she appeared alongside her father in "Lookin' to Get Out," and it wasn't long before she started landing leading roles as a young adult. Jolie received early critical acclaim in "Gia" and "Girl, Interrupted," which earned her an Academy Award for best supporting actress. From there, she was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood on Forbes' 2013 list.

While she's been lauded consistently for her acting career – appearing in the "Tomb Raider" franchise, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," "Maleficent," and more – some of Jolie's most impressive achievements come from her humanitarian work. She's gone on field missions as a Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and she's worked in support of human, women's, and children's rights charities and organizations. In 2014, Queen Elizabeth II knighted her a Dame Commander Order of St. Michael and St. George (DCMG).

As an American citizen, her knighthood is honorary, so while it's not appropriate to address her as "Dame," it is nonetheless something to be proud of, which she spoke about soon after receiving the distinction. "To receive an honor related to foreign policy means a great deal to me, as it is what I wish to dedicate my working life to. Working on PVSI (Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative) and with survivors of rape is an honor in itself. I know that succeeding in our goals will take a lifetime, and I am dedicated to it for all of mine."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Sir Ian Murray McKellen CH CBE

Sir Ian McKellen has entertained audiences worldwide for more than 70 years. The classically trained thespian has appeared in numerous stage productions throughout his career, though he's probably best known for his work in film. After appearing in various television series and TV movies for decades, he gained worldwide attention in "Richard III," "Gods and Monsters" and the "X-Men" franchise, where he played Magneto. Most of his fans probably remember him from that performance or for playing Gandalf in "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" trilogies. 

McKellen came out in 1988, revealing a decade-long relationship with Sean Mathias (per the Daily Mail). He is a staunch supporter of LGBTQ+ rights and supports various charity organizations related to those issues. He was made a CBE in 1979 but didn't accept a knighthood until later. In an interview with Attitude, he said, "I will always be glad that I didn't accept the knighthood until I'd come out of the closet" (via the Daily Mail).

Ultimately, he accepted his knighthood, receiving honors from Queen Elizabeth II in 1991. He was again honored by the Queen in 2007 when he was made a CH, and McKellen said, "I am honored to join an Order which includes such distinguished practitioners in the arts. It is particularly pleasing that 'equality' is included in my citation" (via WalesOnline).

Dame Julie Andrews DBE

Dame Julie Andrews has spent the better part of seven decades entertaining the world through her beautiful singing and glorious acting work. In her long and illustrious career, Andrews has performed on the radio, television, Broadway, London's West End, and in numerous feature films. While lighting up New York as Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady," the actor portrayed Cinderella live on CBS in 1957. She's one of the few members of the EGOT club, having won an Emmy Award, a Grammy Award, an Oscar, and a Tony Award. Of course, she's won multiples of many of those and numerous others over the years. 

Her Oscar was for best actress in a leading role in Disney's "Mary Poppins," which she starred in a year before "The Sound of Music." Andrews has worked as a writer and producer and has provided tracks to dozens of film and TV soundtracks. Before playing a queen in the "Princess Diaries" films or voicing one in the "Shrek" franchise, Andrews earned a royal distinction in real life.

In 2000, Queen Elizabeth II gave Andrews the honor of becoming a DBE at her Millennium New Year's Honors. This was at the same ceremony that bestowed honors upon Dame Elizabeth Taylor. During an appearance on "Live with Kelly and Ryan," Andrews described the experience by saying, "It is the most personal lovely honor, and it made me so thrilled that I was honored by my own country." The legendary thespian noted that she first sang for the queen at age 12.

Sir Ben Kingsley

Sir Ben Kingsley has spent more than half a century working as an entertainer. He got his start in the theatre, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in the late-1960s. He spent the majority of his early career working in the theater and on various TV series and movies before turning to feature films. His breakout role, and the one he's arguably best known for, was 1982's "Gandhi." His work in that film elevated him to international superstardom, and he took home a BAFTA and Academy Award for best actor that year. 

Amid high-profile work in "Schindler's List," "Shutter Island," and "Ender's Game," Kingsley joined the MCU, playing Trevor Slattery in "Iron Man 3." He's continued working well into his 70s. Kingsley's list of accolades is long, and it includes being named a Knight Bachelor in 2002 during a ceremony in which he was knighted by the queen. The Honors System of the United Kingdom explains that the Knight Bachelor appointment dates back to Medieval times, but it is not designated as part of a royal order.

Per The Guardian, after receiving the honor, Kingsley told Queen Elizabeth that winning an Academy Award "pales into insignificance — this is insurmountable." Reporters learned that the actor preferred to be called "Sir Ben" following his investiture.

Dame Judith Olivia Dench CH DBE FRSA

Dame Judi Dench is one of Britain's most celebrated actors, having been lauded for her performances since the 1950s. Like many actors on this list, she got her start in the theatre, where she worked for decades in numerous productions, including many works of Shakespeare. Dench eventually joined the National Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company, where she gained worldwide attention. She worked steadily in television and began making appearances in select feature films

The actor rose to international attention for playing M in "GoldenEye," a role she continued playing until 2015's "Spectre." That put her in more "James Bond" films than Sir Sean Connery and Sir Roger Moore — she was in eight. While she never portrayed Queen Elizabeth II, she won an Academy Award for best supporting actress for playing her ancestor, Queen Elizabeth I, in "Shakespeare in Love." Dench also portrayed Queen Victoria in 2017's "Victoria & Abdul." Dench's list of accolades is impressive and includes an astounding eight Academy Award nominations

Dench has won just about every award available for someone in her field, so it shouldn't surprise anyone to learn she was inducted into the OBE in 1970. In 1988, Dench was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II, and in 2005, she was given a CH by the Queen for her contributions to drama (via Digital Spy).