Top 5 Most Popular Turkish Actors


Turkish cinema history has its roots back at the end of 19th century and beginning of 20th century. Turkish people met with cinema in 1897 with the screening of “Arrival of a train at La Ciotat” (L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat) in Istanbul which is accepted as the first film in cinema history.

According to official records, the first Turkish film was shot by an Ottoman soldier named Fuat Uzkınay in 1914. Uzkınay shot the demolition of a Russian monument in Ayestefanos (Yeşilköy).

First Turkish movies with a story and plot were shot in 1917 by Sedat Simavi, who was actually a journalist. After the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, Turkish cinema began to grow and produce many talented directors, scriptwriters and producers.

On the other hand, Turkish cinema’s biggest strength has always been actors and actresses rather than directors and writers. Most of these gifted actors remained unknown in foreign countries due to the low profile of Turkish movies on an international level. But thanks to the invention of the internet and the rapid globalization of the movie market, many Turkish actors began to reach audiences in other countries.

In our list of “Top 5 Most Popular Turkish Actors”, we will talk about the most famous and appreciated Turkish actors, who made an impact either on the national or international level.


1) Kemal Sunal: An Actor and a National Hero

Kemal Sunal (1944-2000), also known as “The Laughing Man”, is regarded as one of the most popular and respected actors of Turkish movie history.

Like many other Turkish actors, Kemal Sunal began his career in theatre. After graduating from high school, which took 11 years for him to complete, he began to appear in the stage plays of “Kenterler Theatre” in Istanbul. Later, he was transferred to “Ulvi Uraz Theater” and then to “Ayfer Feray Theatre”. Sunal’s last experience on stage was at “Devekuşu Kabare Theatre” which was the most popular stage in Turkey. Thanks to his successful performances on stage, he moved his career to the silver screen and soon became a superstar in the Turkish cinema industry.

Sunal began his filming career in 1972 under the directorship of Ertem Eğilmez, one of the legendary names in Turkish cinema. He appeared in several movies directed by Ertem Eğilmez during the 1970s, like “Tatlı Dillim” (My Sweet Talk), “Canım Kardeşim” (My Beloved Brother), “Yalancı Yarim” (My Liar Lover), “Oh Olsun” (Gloat), “Mavi Boncuk” (Blue Bead) and “Salak Milyoner” (Stupid Millionaire).

As his reputation grew bigger, the new movie offers kept coming to Kemal Sunal by giving him the leading roles. Soon, Sunal turned to be a massive film star who gained the hearts of millions of fans all around Turkey. His role at “Hababam Sınıfı” (The Dunce Class) series, which is a cult classic in Turkey, sealed his place in the Turkish art community. His portrayal of a lazy and slow-minded student called “İnek Şaban” was so appreciated that “Şaban” has been a nickname for Kemal Sunal. In many of his following films, Sunal kept using this name. Even today, Turkish people refer to Kemal Sunal with the name “Şaban”.

In his career, Sunal played funny characters that made him an icon in Turkish comedy. His acting style was similar to the style of French actor Fernandel (original name is Joseph Désiré Contandin). Even Sunal’s appearance was resembling Fernandel’s look. That’s why Sunal played mostly silly but funny characters in his early movies. Later, his characters began to have a smarter attitude and craftiness that helped him to defeat the villains.

In his movies, Sunal mostly focused on the daily issues of common people, like bad economy, increasing prices, corruption, and problems of urbanization in big cities. He always took the side of oppressed and poor people and led them to victory against corrupt politicians, immoral media organs, and brutal mafia leaders. He defeated the evil figures by using his wits and a unique sense of humor. Thanks to his roles taking the side of common people, many people recognized Sunal as some kind of a national hero, as well as a beloved movie star.

Even though Sunal made most of his movies in the 1970s and 1980s, his reputation grew bigger in the 1990s thanks to the establishment of first private TV stations in Turkey. These channels screened Sunal’s old movies again and again for years and introduced him to the younger cinema lovers. That’s why Kemal Sunal has always been a popular figure in Turkey since the beginning of the 1970s. Even today, Sunal’s films are screened on various channels at least 5-6 times a week.

Kemal Sunal lost his life due to a heart attack in the year 2000 as he was heading to the set of his new movie. After a brilliant career in cinema, theatre, and television, Sunal left 84 movies, 12 stage plays, 4 TV shows and millions of fans behind.


2) Şener Şen: The Living Legend of Turkish Cinema

Şener Şen

Renowned Turkish actor Şener Şen by Serkan Yakın – Wikimedia Commons

Şener Şen is one of the veteran actors in our list of “Top 5 Most Popular Turkish Actors” who has the admiration of millions of movie lovers from all ages. Even though Şen became a big name thanks to his performances at comedy movies in the early years of his career, he soon proved that he is much more than a funny guy and achieved to put his mark in Turkish movie history with more diverse roles.

Şener Şen began his acting career on the theatre stage, just like most other Turkish actors. Even though he didn’t want to play in movies at first, later he left the stage and took part in the cinema sector due to the better financial conditions offered by movie producers.

As a young actor, Şener Şen began to take roles in movies like “Katerina”, “Altın Prens Devler Ülkesinde” (Golden Prince is in the Land of Giants), “Bir Demet Menekşe” (A Bundle of Violet) and “Ayrı Dünyalar” (Separate Worlds).

Şener’s career took a critical turn with Ertem Eğilmez’s famous movie series “Hababam Sınıfı” (The Dunce Class) in 1975.  Şen played in the first four movies of this series and became a true film star in Turkey. During the 70s and first half of 1980s, he played in successful movies like “Bizim Aile” (Our Family), “Tosun Paşa” (Chunky Pasha), “Süt Kardeşler” (Milk Siblings), “Şabanoğlu Şaban” (Şaban, the Son of Şaban), “Çöpçüler Kralı” (King of Garbage Men), “Kibar Feyzo” (Feyzo the Polite), “Neşeli Günler” (Joyful Days), “Banker Bilo” (Bilo the Banker), “Çiçek Abbas” (Abbas the Flower) and “Şekerpare”.

In 1984, Şen played in another Ertem Eğilmez movie titled “Namuslu” (The Honorable). This movie changed the course of Şener Şen’s career. Starting from that time, he began to portray more serious characters and played in movies that have a bigger social significance. Şen’s choice made him a bigger and more respected artist. During the 1990s and 2000s, he played complicated and multidimensional characters in drama movies. His performances in movies like “Züğürt Ağa” (The Broke Master), “Muhsin Bey” (Mr. Muhsin), “Selamsız Bandosu” (The Band of Selamsız), “Zengin Mutfağı” (Kitchen of the Rich), “Gölge Oyunu” (Shadow Play), “Eşkıya” (Bandit), “Gönül Yarası” (Heartbreak), “Av Mevsimi” (Hunting Season) and “Kabadayı” (Rowdy) brought him several acting awards from respected national movie festivals like “Antalya Golden Orange Festival”, “Sadri Alışık Acting Awards”, “Adana Golden Boll Film Festival” and “SIYAD (Movie Critics) Awards”.

Şener Şen also took part in a TV show called “İkinci Bahar” (The Second Spring), which became a massive success in Turkey between 1998 and 2001.

Even though Şener Şen mostly played “funny” characters in his early movies who try to deceive and con good people, later he played more “decent” and “good” characters. As he became a more experienced actor, Şen’s interest in more “socially responsible” scripts has increased.

In his acting career, Şener Şen played in 67 movies, 11 stage plays and 1 TV show. Today, Şener Şen is one of the most respected and appreciated actors in Turkish cinema history who has the sympathy and admiration of millions of movie lovers.


3) Haluk Bilginer: An Amazing Actor with an International Reputation

Haluk Bilginer

Turkish Actor Haluk Bilginer by Serkan Yakın – Wikimedia Commons

In our list of “Top 5 Most Popular Turkish Actors”, Haluk Bilginer is the most popular actor with a significant international reputation. Aside from the films, stage plays and TV series he took part in Turkey, Bilginer also starred in many Hollywood movies during his career of 40 years.

Haluk Bilginer took his first acting lessons at Ankara State Conservatory in the 1970s. After graduation, Bilginer went to England and attended at London Music and Drama Arts Academy to take advanced acting courses. Between 1980 and 1991, he took part in many stages plays in London like “My Fair Lady”, “Macbeth”, “Pal Joey”, “The Wicked World of Bel Ami”, “Phantom of the Opera” and “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”.

Bilginer later moved back to Turkey and began playing in stage plays in Istanbul. He took the leading roles in “İhanet” (Betrayal), “Kan Kardeşler”(Blood Brothers), “Derin Bir Nefes Al” (Take a Deep Breath), “Histeri” (Hysteria), “Balkon” (Balcony) and “Çöplük” (Garbage).

In 1990s, Bilginer also began taking part in movies. He played in movies like “İki Kadın” (Two Women), “80. Adım” (The 80th Step), “İstanbul Kanatlarımın Altında” (Istanbul beneath My Wings), “Usta Beni Öldürsene” (Sawdust Tales) and “Masumiyet” (Innocence).

In 2000s, Bilginer spent most of his time for movies, rather than stage plays. He took part in many successful Turkish movies like “Filler ve Çimen” (Elephants and Grass), “Neredesin Firuze” (Where are you Firuze?), “Hacivat ve Karagöz Neden Öldürüldü?” (Why were Hacivat and Karagöz Killed?), “Polis” (Police), “Devrim Arabaları” (Revolution Cars), “New York’ta Beş Minare” (Five Minarets in New York) and “Kış Uykusu” (Winter Sleep).

On the other hand, what distinguishes Haluk Bilginer from other Turkish actors and actresses is not his career in Turkey but his career in foreign countries. Haluk Bilginer took roles in Hollywood movies like “Buffalo Soldiers”, “The International”, “W.E.”, “The Ottoman Lieutenant” and “Halloween” during 2000s. In these movies he worked with respected names like Joaquin Phoenix, Madonna, Abbie Cornish, Sir Ben Kingsley, Josh Hartnett, Oscar Isaac and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Bilginer also took part in many TV shows like “Ezel”, “The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones”, “Gecenin Öteki Yüzü” (Other Face of the Night), “Ateşten Günler” (Days of Fire), “Tatlı Hayat” (Sweet Life), “Karanlıkta Koşanlar” (Runners in the Dark), “Sıkı Dostlar” (Good Friends), “Masum” (Innocent) and “Şahsiyet” (Personality).

Bilginer’s acting performances was celebrated not only by movie-goers but also by film critics. He won acting awards in many respected film festivals like “Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival”, “Ankara International Film Festival”, “SIYAD Awards” and “International Emmy Awards”. As for today, he is recognized as a highly respected and popular name both on the national and international levels.


4) Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ: Best export of Turkish TV Shows

Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ

Famous Turkish Actor Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ by D@lY3D Abdelmaksoud – Wikimedia Commons

At the beginning of the 2000s, Turkish TV shows have begun to be exported to foreign countries. These shows soon became very popular in countries from Balkans to the Arabic peninsula, from Latin America to East Asia. Thanks to these TV shows, many Turkish actors have gained a huge fan base in abroad. Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ is one of them and has a rightful place in our list of “Top 5 Most Popular Turkish Actors”.

Tatlıtuğ became famous thanks to his participation at the “Best Model of the World” competition in 2002. Tatlıtuğ took first place in this show and attracted the attention of TV producers.

Tatlıtuğ had always wanted to be an actor since his childhood years. So, he began to take acting lessons from respected actors to prepare himself for a new career in cinema and television. In 2008, his dream of acting was realized. Tatlıtuğ’s first project was a TV series called “Gümüş” (Silver). After that, he starred in “Menekşe ve Halil” and “Aşk-ı Memnu” (Forbidden Love).

“Aşk-ı Memnu” made Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ a celebrity since this soap opera became a huge success both in Turkey and in abroad. Suddenly, Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ became the most wanted actor in Turkey.

After this huge success, Tatlıtuğ took the leading roles in new soap operas like “Kuzey ve Güney” (Kuzey and Güney), “Kurt Seyit ve Şura” (Kurt Seyit and Şura), “Cesur ve Güzel” (The Bold and the Beautiful) and “Çarpışma” (Crash), which made him a superstar in Turkey.

Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ also played in successful movies like “Kelebeğin Rüyası” (The Butterfly’s Dream), “Hadi Be Oğlum” (Come on My Son) and “Organize İşler 2” (Money Trap Part 2). In these movies, Tatlıtuğ played with respected actors like Yılmaz Erdoğan, Mert Fırat and Taner Birsel.

With his performances in these TV shows and movies, Tatlıtuğ won best actor awards at “Sadri Alışık Acting Awards” and “SIYAD (Movie Critics) Awards” in Turkey.

In his movies and soap operas, Tatlıtuğ portrayed different types of characters. For example, in Aşk-ı Memnu (Forbidden Love), he played a young and attractive man who seduced his uncle’s wife. In “Kuzey ve Güney” (Kuzey and Güney), his character was rude, violent but at the same time a very honest man who was defending high moral values while fighting against evil men. In “Kelebeğin Rüyası” (The Butterfly’s Dream), he portrayed a young poet who tried to impress a girl while fighting against tuberculosis. In all these films and soap operas, Tatlıtuğ managed to impress the audiences with his acting skills and presented us with “believable” and “consistent” characters. Thanks to these successful performances, Tatlıtuğ is now a highly respected actor both according to the audiences and movie critics.


5) Burak Özçivit: A Gifted Actor Turkish Soap Operas Created

In our list of “Top 5 Most Popular Turkish Actors”, Burak Özçivit has a similar place with Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ. Just like Tatlıtuğ, Burak Özçivit got famous thanks to his participation at “Best Model of Turkey” and “Best Model of the World” competitions. As Özçivit took the second place in Best Model of the World, acting offers began to rain on Özçivit, who was young, attractive and had the spark of a star. After working as a model in Turkey and Europe for a couple of years, Özçivit began to take these offers more seriously.

Özçivit’s first project was a TV show called “Eksi 18” (Minus 18). After that, he took bigger roles in soap operas like “Zoraki Koca” (Reluctant Husband), “Baba Ocağı” (Family Home), “İhanet” (Betrayal) and “Küçük Sırlar” (Small Secrets).

Burak Özçivit made his breakthrough in 2011 in a famous TV series called “Muhteşem Yüzyıl” (The Magnificent Century). After that show, he took leading roles at “Çalıkuşu” (Goldcrest) and “Kara Sevda” (Blind Love) which helped him reach to a superstar status. Soon, Özçivit became one of the most popular Turkish actors both domestically and internationally. As for 2020, he is starring at historical TV series called “Kuruluş” (Foundation) which tells the establishment of the Ottoman Empire in 14th century.

Burak Özçivit also took leading roles in movies like “Musallat” (Haunted), “Aşk Sana Benzer” (Love Looks Like You), “Kardeşim Benim 12 (My Brother Part 1 and 2) and “Can Feda” (Sacrifice). However, he is still mostly known for his performances at television screen.