There’s being a good actor, knowing how to pose, or being a star athlete — and then there’s having the academic chops to do so much more. These celebrities are renowned as having the highest IQs in their field, based on a variety of studies, and we’ve ranked them according to their score. So who of your favorite screen presences comes up on par with Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein?
25. James Franco – 130
Actor James Franco has described his childhood learning environment as being very academically focused, liberal, and largely secular. A lifelong math whiz, Franco interned at the defense giant Lockheed Martin while he was still in high school, proving early on that he was well on his way to having one of the highest IQs in the celebrity world.
Though he had some minor run-ins with the law as a teen, Franco changed his ways just in time to graduate at the top of his class. He passed up a career as a marine biologist to study acting, which in hindsight probably was an excellent decision. As an adult, he’s also famous for having attained degrees or attended classes at a slew of universities.
24. Arnold Schwarzenegger – 132-135
Arnold Schwarzenegger had a difficult childhood in Austria, defined by a rocky relationship with his father. He reportedly earned average grades in school and was better known for his jovial personality and interest in sports. At age fourteen, he developed a passion for weightlifting, and by age fifteen he had given up soccer to focus exclusively on bodybuilding.
Already having earned the title of Mr. Olympia, Schwarzenegger finally realized a lifelong dream of moving to the United States at 21, speaking very little English. He practiced English for five hours a day in order to make the transition from bodybuilding superstar to Hollywood actor. His listing among the highest IQs of Hollywood celebrities proves you can indeed combine brains and brawn.
23. Jodie Foster – 132
You might have never guessed that this two-time Oscar winner, born in small-town Virginia, is fluent in French. Reportedly, Jodie Foster taught herself to read when she was just two years old. By the time she graduated valedictorian from the prestigious Lycée Français in Los Angeles, she was already a recognizable actress, having appeared in several commercials, TV shows, and films.
After high school, Foster went to Yale University, where she majored in literature and graduated magna cum laude in 1985. She wrote her senior thesis on writer Toni Morrison. Foster would eventually return to Yale two years later to receive an honorary doctorate.
22. Edward Norton – 134
When Edward Norton was five years old, his parents took him to see Cinderella the musical, and he became inspired to become an actor. At age nine, he acted in the play Annie Get Your Gun at his local theater in Maryland, and later won an award for acting at his summer camp in New Hampshire.
After graduating from high school, Norton attended Yale University, where he majored in history and also studied Japanese. He lived in Japan shortly after university, and returned to New York to pursue a career in acting. Citing Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro as his early influences, Norton would go on to become one of the greatest actors of his era, earning three Academy Award nominations during his career.
21. Tommy Lee Jones – 135
Born in San Saba, Texas, Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones grew up mostly in Dallas, where he attended the prestigious St. Mark’s School on a full academic scholarship. His mother was a policewoman, owned her own beauty store, and worked as a teacher; while his father was an oil worker.
After high school, Jones earned high enough marks to win a needs-based scholarship to Harvard University. He was a member of the school’s undefeated varsity football team, and also roomed with future U.S. Vice President Al Gore. After graduating with a degree in English, he moved to New York to pursue his dream of becoming an actor, starting off by starring in Broadway shows.
20. Emma Watson – 138
In real life, Emma Watson did just as well on her matriculation exams as she did while studying at Hogwarts. While filming the Harry Potter movies throughout her childhood, she received tutoring for five hours a day along with the rest of the young cast members. In 2006, she took the GCSE and earned herself eight A* and two A grades. While starring as Hermione Granger, she managed to fulfill her degree, taking courses at both Dartmouth College and Oxford.
The daughter of two English lawyers, Granger grew up in Paris until the age of five and still manages to speak decent French. Since taking a break from filming, she has become a certified yoga and meditation instructor, in addition to her work at the UN towards gender equality. Is it any surprise this multitalented actress has one of the highest IQs in her league?
19. Kesha – 140
Rapper, singer, and songwriter Kesha was raised by a single mother who was also in show business. Along with her brothers, Kesha’s mother moved the family from Los Angeles to Nashville upon securing herself a new record contract. She noticed her daughter’s knack for music when she would bring her along to studio sessions, often allowing her to perform her own songs.
In high school, Kesha played saxophone and trumpet in the school band, but her style was unique, and didn’t quite fit with the other musicians. She was a diligent student, earning a near perfect score on her SAT, but she never graduated from high school. Instead she pursued a music career, eventually selling over 130 million records worldwide.
18. Madonna – 140
The daughter of a car engineer/designer, Madonna Louise Ciccone grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. Her mother died from breast cancer at age thirty and she was predominantly raised by her father. Although an amazing student, Madonna admittedly exhibited unique behavior in high school, doing cartwheels and handstands in the hallways, sitting atop the monkey bars, and pulling her skirt up in class in an effort to get the attention of the boys.
A trained dancer, Madonna attended the University of Michigan on a dance scholarship, but dropped out after two years to move to New York. After her first trip on an airplane and in a taxi cab, she started out in the city with just $35 in her pocket. She was a backup dancer and performed along with several bands before launching her successful solo career in 1982.
17. Natalie Portman – 140
Jerusalem-born Natalie Portman got her start in acting at age twelve, stealing the spotlight in Léon: The Professional. She starred on Broadway while in high school and managed to earn her degree from Harvard in four years while simultaneously filming Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. From an early age, she has said that she felt different from her peers, being more motivated, serious, and having a better idea of what she wanted in life.
Portman, who is fluent in Hebrew and English, has also studied French, German, Japanese, and Arabic. She has been published in two scientific journals, including a study which she authored herself about memory and frontal lobe activation in infants. With her vast array of skills, this Oscar winner is showing what having one of the highest IQs in Tinseltown looks like.
16. Shakira – 140
Growing up on the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia, Shakira wrote her first poem when she was just four years old. At the same age, her father took her to eat at a Middle Eastern restaurant, which piqued her interest in Arabic music, especially the doumbek drum. As a young girl in school, she was often kicked out of class for misbehaving, at times performing belly dance routines for her classmates.
As a child, Shakira’s father took her to the local park to see how many of the less fortunate residents of their neighborhood were living. It was a lifelong passion for Shakira to become famous and help the children that she saw living there. Shakira struck luck on her third album release, and earned international success upon releasing her 2001 album, Laundry Service. She has now started a foundation that helps underprivileged youth.
15. Steve Martin – 142
Texas-born Steve Martin spent most of his childhood growing up in Inglewood and Garden Grove, California after his parents moved the family there when he was ten. As a teen, he sold books and performed magic at the amusement park Knott’s Berry Farm. He enrolled at Long Beach State University before transferring to the prestigious UCLA.
Martin dropped out of UCLA in 1967 to write for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, winning an Emmy for his work the same year. He has said that although he never graduated with a degree, majoring in philosophy greatly influenced his stand-up act. As with many other figures with the highest IQs in the public eye, he is an avid art collector, boasting works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, and Roy Lichtenstein, among others.
14. David Duchovny – 147
David Duchovny graduated head boy from The Collegiate School in Manhattan, the self-proclaimed oldest school in the United States. In 1982, he graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s in English literature, where he also won several awards for his poetry. After Princeton, he went to Ivy League rival Yale University, where he received his MA in English literature and began work on a PhD.
Duchovny left his studies to pursue an acting career in New York. He had already begun acting and appearing in plays while earning his master’s degree at Yale, and soon began filling small parts in commercials. It wasn’t until his role in David Lynch’s hit series Twin Peaks in 1990 that Duchovny saw breakout success, becoming a household name thanks to The X-Files. He also recently released his own novel.
13. Meryl Streep – 148
Is it any wonder that Meryl Streep has one of the highest IQs among her celebrity peers? Undeniably one of the best actresses in cinematic history, she has been nominated for a record 21 Oscars, winning three of them. She credits her mother for instilling in her a strong work ethic from a very young age. Throughout junior high and high school, she appeared in various school plays, admitting she wasn’t particularly interested in acting at the time.
After graduating from Vassar College cum laude, she went to Yale where she received her master’s in film and participated in many plays, including ones with fellow actress and classmate Sigourney Weaver. Shortly after graduating, she gave a memorable performance in the film, Julia; followed by iconic performances in The Deer Hunter, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Sophie’s Choice.
12. Aisha Tyler – 154
Born in San Francisco, Aisha Tyler’s childhood included a one-year stint in Ethiopia as well as living on an ashram in Oakland, California. From the age of ten, she was raised predominantly by her father, a photographer. She attended McAteer High School in San Francisco along with fellow actor Sam Rockwell. A childhood crush on Rockwell led her to follow him to his acting class one day, sparking an interest that would later blossom into a successful career.
After graduating from Dartmouth College, she briefly worked in advertising before quitting to pursue a career in comedy. She first appeared on television as the host of Talk Soup and the reality dating show The Fifth Wheel, before earning more well-known roles on Criminal Minds and CSI. She currently acts, directs, and makes a variety of guest host appearances.
11. Alicia Keys – 154
Alicia Augello-Cook Dean, better known by her stage name Alicia Keys, grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, New York. She credits the rough environment that she grew up in for preparing her for the perils of the entertainment industry. From a young age, she displayed a fondness for the arts, singing in her preschool’s rendition of Cats, and later being cast as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
By age 6, Alicia was playing the piano (a gift from a friend) and was drawn to Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and Satie. At age 13, she was already being groomed for a career in show business. While under the tutelage of several record label executives, Keys still managed to graduate valedictorian of her high school class — two years early, at the age of 16! She would then attend Columbia University, but would soon drop out to focus on music full-time.
10. Cindy Crawford – 154
Behind the woman who redefined the word ‘supermodel’ is one of the highest IQs in show business. In high school in Illinois, Cindy Crawford graduated from her class as valedictorian. She earned herself a scholarship to Northwestern University to study chemical engineering before dropping out after just one quarter.
Crawford moved to New York to embark on what would become one of the most successful modelling careers of all time. In 1998, an unofficial tally estimated that she had appeared on the cover of various magazines over five hundred times. She has since retired from both modelling and acting, and most recently purchased the famous Hollywood deli, Nate ‘N Al’s to keep it from closing during the COVID-19 crisis.
9. Lisa Kudrow – 154
Growing up in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, Lisa Kudrow attended Taft High School with NWA members Ice Cube and Eazy-E, as well as fellow actress Robin Wright. After graduating, she attended Vassar College, where she planned on becoming an expert in headaches, like her father.
Once she graduated from university, Kudrow moved back to Los Angeles, working on her father’s medical staff, helping him to author a study on the likelihood of left-handed individuals to develop cluster headaches. After being urged by her brother’s childhood friend, actor John Lithgow, to pursue a career in comedy, she began acting at The Groundlings acting school. She spent five years filling small roles, before being cast as Phoebe on a little show called Friends.
8. Sharon Stone – 154
Born in Meadville, Pennsylvania, about ninety miles outside of Pittsburgh, Sharon Stone entered the second grade when she was only five years old. She graduated high school one year early, and elected to go to Edinboro University, a small school in Pennsylvania. Though she was once told to pursue a career in law, she was more interested in movies.
While in college, she entered a local beauty pageant, which she won, and moved to New York shortly afterwards based on advice that she had received from one of the pageant’s judges. She was signed by Ford Models in New York and began modelling and acting shortly after, paving her way to becoming a household name.
7. Ashton Kutcher – 160
Iowa-born Ashton Kutcher grew up with an older brother who suffered from failing health. To cope, Kutcher has said that he kept himself very busy, for fear of returning home to hear bad news. In high school, he made a fateful decision to try and rob his own school. Upon getting caught, he earned himself three years of probation and community service, and was ostracized by his community.
Kutcher went on to enroll at Iowa University, but partied so hard that he was once kicked out of his apartment. While in university, he was approached by a talent scout who encouraged him to participate in a local modelling contest. Upon winning, he moved to New York and then Los Angeles to pursue acting. Since then, he demonstrates having one of the highest IQs in his league through massive success in investment.
6. Conan O’Brien – 160
Conan O’Brien graduated magna cum laude in history and literature from Harvard University, where his father once worked as a professor of medicine. From a young age he was a gifted writer, winning a national award for a short story in high school, and writing for several papers at Harvard, including the Harvard Crimson and the comedic Harvard Lampoon.
After college, he moved to Los Angeles, where he continued writing for HBO’s Not Necessarily the News, as well as Late Night With David Letterman. Letterman was so impressed with O’Brien that he helped him sign a more lucrative contract with Comedy Central where, famously, he would launch his namesake show.
5. Matt Damon – 160
For those that didn’t know, Matt Damon actually attended Harvard and wrote the script for Good Will Hunting while in school. A proud Bostonian, Damon was born and raised in Cambridge, where he attended high school, acting in several plays. Throughout his teenage years, he was an excellent student.
Though he dropped out of Harvard just twelve credits shy of his degree, the decision was undoubtedly a good one. The first two films that he appeared in shortly afterwards, Geronimo: An American Legend and Courage Under Fire, earned him critical acclaim. They also garnered him the clout to produce his college script into a full-fledged movie. He later won the Academy Award for best screenplay.
4. Quentin Tarantino – 160
If you have an IQ of 160 or above, you’re generally considered to be extremely gifted, and borderline genius. If you’ve seen any of Quentin Tarantino’s films, you won’t need to be convinced of his intelligence. Provoking, thoughtful, and incredibly well-written, Tarantino films have their signature style and are always a guaranteed hit at the box office.
Tarantino’s success probably came as a shock to his school teachers. He dropped out of high school and worked as an usher in an adult theater. Despite never graduating, Tarantino’s obsession for film paved the way for his success. While working odd jobs, oftentimes in video stores, he continued to write and mingle with other Hollywood types. Tarantino eventually earned breakout success writing From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, and writing, directing, and acting in Reservoir Dogs.
3. Reggie Jackson – 160
Born in Bishop Township, just north of Philadelphia, Reggie Jackson was a five-letter athlete in high school, starring especially on the football field and baseball diamond. He also stars as our list’s sole athlete. A high-school injury led doctors to tell him that he would never play sports again. But defying the odds, he played varsity baseball that same season.
Declining football scholarships from several Southern schools for fear of racial violence, Jackson elected to go to a school where he had the potential to be a double-sport athlete. He chose Arizona State University, eventually choosing the safer route of a professional baseball career. He is known for being one of the best hitters in the history of the sport, but his IQ of 160 easily makes him one of the smartest, as well.
2. Rowan Atkinson – 178
Rowan Atkinson might be known for playing the bumbling, childlike Mr. Bean, for whom even the most ordinary tasks are a challenge. But Atkinson’s IQ puts him in the category of being a genius. After growing up with his two older brothers on the family farm, Atkinson went to Newcastle and Oxford Universities, where he earned two degrees in electrical engineering.
In university he met fellow screenwriter Richard Curtis, and the two started writing together and performing comedy. One of his first creations, British sketch comedy hit, Not The Nine O’Clock News, won him early critical acclaim, eventually running for four seasons, spawning a series of books, and earning him an International Emmy award. He then transitioned into the series Blackadder, becoming a permanent fixture of British pop culture.
1. James Woods – 180-184
James Woods has the highest IQ out of all of the celebrities on our list. Born in Vernal, Utah, he was raised in Warwick, Rhode Island where he attended high school. After graduating in 1965, he attended MIT, where he had initially planned to undertake studies to become an ophthalmologist.
One semester shy of graduating, he dropped out of school to pursue an acting career. Woods has said that while a student at MIT and acting at the Theater Company of Boston, Tim Affleck, the theater’s manager (and father of actors Ben and Casey Affleck), had a huge influence on him focusing on acting. Originally starting in theater, Woods’ career has diversified into a broad range of different roles on film and television, to which he has 130 credits to his name.
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