On Friday, two Pauls—McCartney and Simon—will release new albums. These are legendary Pauls, men who have done as much for the name as anyone else, which means that this Friday is one of the biggest days in Paul history. It also means that there’s no better time to rank famous Pauls.
As a first name, Paul peaked in popularity in 1964, coming in at no. 16 on the Top 100 Baby Names list. That means there are a lot of grown-up Pauls in the United States right now, which in turn means there should be a high variance in quality when it comes to Pauls. Not every Paul is a McCartney; many Pauls aren’t even a Bettany. On this Paul holiday (“Pauliday”), my colleague Miles Surrey and I have attempted to determine which Pauls are great, which ones are not so great, and which ones bring dishonor to the name. Frankly, we’ve done so in a completely subjective manner, allowing our judgments of each Paul’s body of work to dictate our decisions. But efforts were made to judge each Paul fairly and by the same set of standards, despite the fact that the ranked Pauls work across many different disciplines, from music to acting to politics to religion.
In the end, we decided to consider 42 famous Pauls and organize them from worst to best, before dividing them into tiers. Without further ado, here is our ranking of Pauls. —Andrew Gruttadaro
Tier One: The Worst Pauls
666. Paul, Logan
665. Paul, Jake
Miles Surrey: Pretty sure this is self-explanatory.
Tier Two: The Very Bad Pauls
40. Paul Ryan
39. Paul Manafort
38. Paul, Rand
37. Paul, Ron
Gruttadaro: Wow, these are some bad Pauls! Let’s cover them in descending order: Ron Paul is a relatively inconsequential libertarian who never had any shot at becoming president. His son Rand Paul, meanwhile, got beat up by a neighbor over lawn care, which is the best thing I can say about him. Then there’s Paul Manafort, a man who not only commits crimes, but is so bad at committing them! After years of shady behavior, he decided to join a presidential campaign and basically wave a big flag and yell, “Hey FBI, come check me out!” He got indicted on 18 counts of tax and bank fraud; then, while on house arrest, he started texting witnesses in his case. Everyone found out, and he was ordered to jail. Then, obviously he was found guilty on eight of the 18 charges. Paul Manafort is a slimy criminal who thinks he’s in the first two hours of Goodfellas when, really, he’s only in the helicopter scene of Goodfellas.
As for Paul Ryan, my thoughts and prayers go out to him.
Tier Three: The Medium Pauls
36. Paul Oakenfold
35. Paul Scholes
Surrey: These are Pauls of contrast: Oakenfold is a Grammy-winning pioneer of trance music; Scholes is liable to do anything except put you in a trance.
Scholes is one of the greatest midfielders to ever grace the pitch—the beating heart of Manchester United’s glory years under Sir Alex Ferguson. He was also a brash, malicious tackler who could seriously endanger opponents if he was in the mood.
There’s a reason he amassed nearly 100 yellow cards in the Premier League, and that is why Scholes is not higher on this list—United’s historic treble be damned.
34. Pauly Shore
Gruttadaro: Have you seen Bio-Dome? It is the apex of the Shore movement of the 1990s, which is both a compliment and an insult.
33. Paul Stanley
32. Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary
31. Paul Allen
30. Paul W.S. Anderson
Surrey: Kiss’s Paul Stanley and Paul Stookey—the Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary—lose some points for being only part of a band and not the sole focus of one. If you wanna crack the Pauls Top 20, front the damn thing! (That said, we placed Stookey slightly higher than Stanley specifically because of this amazing band photo that’s somehow more awkward than my photo in my freshman yearbook.)
Paul W.S. Anderson—not to be mistaken with the auteur who directed Phantom Thread, Boogie Nights, and There Will Be Blood (more on him later)—is the directorial equivalent of junk food. His movies (the Resident Evil franchise, Alien vs. Predator, Death Race, Pompeii) are trashy, but on purpose. There’s a 50 percent chance one of his movies is on a cable channel right now and a 100 percent chance I’ll immediately stop what I’m doing to rewatch it.
29. Paul Reiser
28. Paul Reubens
Surrey: Reiser peaked in the early ’90s peaking with Mad About You, while Reubens’s Pee-wee Herman character had its heyday in the late ’80s. That said, they’ve both undergone a recent resurgence: Reubens dropped a new Herman film on Netflix in 2016, and Reiser joined the streaming service for the second season of Stranger Things in 2017.
While Pee-wee Herman’s giggling still haunts my every thought, Reiser has somehow remained in stasis for decades as an Extreme Dad Character. He may not be a literal dad in Stranger Things, but he exudes dad-like qualities; he is also Kate McKinnon’s dad in The Spy Who Dumped Me. We love a good dad named Paul.
27. DJ Pauly D
26. Paul Gauguin
Gruttadaro: Ah, two true artists of their times. Whereas Gauguin—a leader of the primitivism movement of the late 1800s—utilized bold colors and harsh contrasts to home in on the inherent nature of his subjects, DJ Pauly D—a leader of the Jersey Shore movement in the late 2000s—used brash phrasing and avantgarde terminology to signal that the cabs were very much heeah. And whereas Gaugin’s post-impressionist style later influenced the likes of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, DJ Pauly D’s modern wordsmithery later influenced the creation of many airbrushed T-shirts in Seaside Heights, New Jersey.
(Also, Pauly D seems like a good friend and a better hang, and he’s turned reality TV fame into a reported net worth of $24 million, so please do not for one second think about disrespecting him.)
Tier Four: The BasketPauls
25. Paul Pierce
24. Paul Millsap
23. Paul George
22. Paul, Chris
Surrey: The BasketPauls aren’t assorted according to their skills on the court; otherwise, surefire Hall of Famer Paul Pierce would top the list. This ranking is about much more than that, and despite earning a lot of goodwill from this Washington Wizards fan for his lone season with the team (shout-out to the “I called game” game-winner!), Pierce is universally disliked by non-Celtics fans, low-key seems like a bad hang, and therefore doesn’t belong higher than the other BasketPauls.
The biggest issue with Paul Millsap is that there is no discernible evidence that he has a personality. Meanwhile, I’ll let Paul George read his own mean tweet:
Which brings us to the best BasketPaul: Chris Paul, whose injury in Game 5 of this past season’s Western Conference finals might be the only reason the Houston Rockets didn’t win the NBA title. With Chris Paul, we also technically get two Pauls in one: the supremely talented, shit-talking Point God, and the legendary State Farm insurance salesman Cliff Paul.
Are the years of Cliff Paul commercials an extremely dumb bit that definitely wore out its welcome years ago? Absolutely, but the mustache and thick-framed glasses are adorable!
Mini-Ranking of Fictional Pauls
By Andrew Gruttadaro
6. Paul, the alien from the movie Paul: He has a movie named after him, which is good, but does anyone actually like Paul? Like, if someone tells you their favorite movie is “the one about the alien named Paul,” guess what: That person is probably an alien, possibly one named Paul.
5. Paulie Gaultieri, from The Sopranos: Great hair, horribly petty and small person.
4. Paulie Pennino, from Rocky: A pretty decent uncle, or, at least his intentions were good; had a bit of a drinking problem.
3. Paul Blart, Mall Cop: Remarkably good at taking out gangs of criminals; can ride a Segway.
2. Paul Phoenix, from Tekken: Paul Phoenix is one of the only characters to appear in every installation of Tekken and is perhaps the only white person to ever be able to pull off a high-top fade. Also his name is PAUL PHOENIX.
1. Paul Bunyan: Paul Bunyan is responsible for the best parts of the United States’ topography (see: here). His pet is a blue ox named Babe. No further arguments.
Tier Five: Pretty Solid Pauls
21. Paul, Les
20. Paul Schrader
19. Paul Dano
Surrey: Somehow, noted Taylor Swift fan and chronicler of the human condition Paul Schrader has never made a movie with fellow Indie Paul of Hollywood, Paul Dano. Dano seems like the perfect Schrader actor—his best roles portray weird, morally conflicted characters. Sometimes, Dano plays someone who’s super punchable (see: There Will Be Blood), and there’s a skill inherent to portraying someone a sociopath wants to beat to death with a bowling pin. For the sake of cinema and Pauls everywhere, the Schrader-Dano collaboration must happen posthaste.
18. Paul, Sean
Gruttadaro: Sean Paul—or rather, Sean de Paul—got everyone to listen to dancehall years before Drake did. “Gimme the Light,” “We Be Burnin’,” “Like Glue,” and “Temperature” are all veritable slappers. Sean Paul was also the backbone to Beyoncé’s “Baby Boy,” coming in HOT on the intro with “Buck dem da right way—dat my policy.” So wise.
17. Paul Verhoeven
16. Paul Feig
Surrey: So many Pauls became good directors! Feig probably needs to share this esteemed ranking with frequent costar Melissa McCarthy—Bridesmaids and Spy are canon. Verhoeven, meanwhile, has such a twisted, idiosyncratic mind for sociopolitical satire that his oeuvre is an industry subgenre in and of itself. Don’t worry, I’m doing my part!
15. Paul Bettany
14. Paul, Aaron
13. Paul, Ru
Surrey: We can’t talk about Aaron Paul without talking about Jesse Pinkman. Jesse—noted enthusiast of the formal term for a female dog—was the conflicted moral compass of Breaking Bad, one of the best characters of all time on one of the best shows of all time. Jesse’s development over the course of a few episodes—like the Season 5 whirlwind when he turned on Walt to save his own skin before becoming a prisoner of neo-Nazis—carried more weight than most shows could do with an entire cast. He could blast electronic music and make me cry.
Aaron Paul’s Pinkman was so good, it only heightens the fact that everything he’s done since then has been … pretty tepid. (No offense, but admit it: You never watched The Path.) To paraphrase the Drag Race Paul beside him on our rankings: Aaron, sashay away to another role worthy of your Emmy-winning talents, and then you shall crack this Top 10.
Aaron Paul notwithstanding, this is also the most fashionable subcategory of Pauls. Paul Bettany is perhaps the most stylish big-name star in Hollywood (one could say he has good… vision!) and has plotted out a perplexing, unpredictable acting career. And then there’s RuPaul Charles, who is responsible for so many distinctive lewks and likely the best reality show of our generation. Honestly, RuPaul’s about as sanctified as the next Pauls on this list…
12. Paul, the One From the Bible
11. Pope John Paul II
Gruttadaro: Paul the Apostle is a legend—you gotta give it up for him. He was in Damascus, had a vision of Jesus, and then was like, “You know what? I’m not Saul anymore. I’m Paul,” and presumably everyone was like, “OK, sure. We don’t really do birth certificates yet, so go for it.” Furthermore, most of the stuff you hear when you go to Catholic weddings—Letter to the Corinthians, “love is patient, love is kind,” etc.—that’s Paul. When the Catholic Church was deciding what should be read at mass, they were like, “I guess we should read one of Paul’s letters every Sunday” (basically). His influence can’t be overstated.
Pope John Paul II, though? That dude changed the game. Embracing evolution? Upholding Vatican II?! Interrupting a U2 recording session because he wanted to talk to Bono? The Church has its fair share of, um, issues, but it might be worse off if it wasn’t for Pope John Paul II. The man is a saint—literally.
Tier Six: Top 10 Pauls
10. Paul the Octopus
Surrey: A true mollusk legend! Paul the Octopus, if you weren’t aware, was a psychic octopus that accurately predicted the results of the majority of matches during the 2010 World Cup. He got 85 percent of the picks right, while also being an octopus.
Unfortunately, Paul the Octopus died that same year—a fun, but incredibly sad, fact: Apparently some species of octopus, like Paul, only live for a couple of years. It’s a real shame Paul and his divine predictions weren’t still with us for future World Cups and other soccer competitions. His crystal ball (read: aquarium tank) would’ve totally predicted Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2016. Rest in Power, Octo-Paul.
9. Paul Revere
Gruttadaro: Do you like America? Do you like freedom? Do you like taxation with representation? You can thank Paul Revere and his ability to ride a horse really freaking fast and scream “The British are coming!” for all of those things. Also, Paul Revere is probably on the logo of Sam Adams beer instead of Sam Adams himself, because Paul Revere was hotter. A patriot who saved a burgeoning republic and a sexy beer model? That’s Top 10 Paul material right there.
8. Paul Pogba
Surrey: Pogba—like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Eden Hazard, and Kylian Mbappé—is someone who defies hyperbole. He is incredible to behold, whether he’s scoring goals, executing passes across the pitch with pinpoint accuracy, or delivering shady quotes about how much he clearly hates playing for Manchester United and José Mourinho.
Get you a player that can do just about everything—did I mention he carried France to a World Cup win this summer? This is why Pogba’s our highest ranked Athlete Paul, with little in the way of competition.
7. Paul Rudd
Surrey: Paul Rudd’s charisma is infectious; it doesn’t matter whom he’s playing on-screen, that person is somebody you’d want to hang out with. If I’m ever lucky enough to be in the presence of the actual Paul Rudd, I’ll be sure to ask him what alchemical properties are responsible for his apparent immortality. It’s terrifying to know that when I’m in my 80s and explaining Twitter to my grandkids, Paul Rudd will still be churning out Ant-Man movies, looking like he’s in his late 30s.
6. Paul Simon
Gruttadaro: One of the greatest songwriters in history; the man who always had more swag than Garfunkel; the man who allowed filmmakers to capture young adult ennui in multiple decades (“Scarborough Fair,” “Only Living Boy in New York”); the man who made “You Can Call Me Al” and then made one of the best music videos ever:
Why is Fletch-era Chevy Chase in this? I don’t know! But it’s great!
Paul Simon just misses out on the top five though because Graceland is a pretty blatant example of cultural appropriation, even if the album is a masterpiece, and even if Simon’s motivations in sampling African music were benevolent. It’s just a tricky, unavoidable ding to his otherwise impeccable résumé.
5. Paul Giamatti
Surrey: Paul Giamatti, my dad, contains multitudes. He’s just as comfortable showing up in lowbrow comedic masterpieces like Big Fat Liar and Big Momma’s House as he is going full-blown prestige in an HBO miniseries about John Adams. [Whispers] He was John Adams.
There is something about Giamatti that feels approachable—he is certainly a thespian, but he doesn’t seem like the type of actor who’d scoff at a fan for asking for a selfie, wasting his time, or not knowing about all the intricacies of his storied filmography. A couple years ago when I was walking through Crown Heights, I saw Giamatti surrounded by a few teens waiting to cross the street. They were ecstatic and singing his praises for his performance in Straight Outta Compton. He was gracious and appeared genuinely humbled by their enthusiasm.
He also gladly gets literally dominated by Maggie Siff for a prestige TV show, which must be commended.
4. Paul Newman
Gruttadaro: Today, I don’t want to talk to you about Cool Hand Luke, or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or The Sting, or The Color of Money. I don’t want to talk about the bike-riding scene in Butch Cassidy—which is perfect—or even how incredible it is that Paul Newman deigned to voice a car in Cars.
No. Today, I want to talk to you about salad dressing. And thin and crispy pizzas. And marinara sauce. And organic popcorn.
Paul Newman is one of the most iconic actors in film history—the Platonic ideal of a movie star—and that alone is probably enough to get him into the top 10 on this list. But he remains in the public consciousness, and is vaulted into the top five, because of Newman’s Own. You probably see his face on a weekly basis! Utilizing a line of organic foods to stay relevant is a random move, but I applaud it. (Also, the frozen pizzas are really good.) Now, is it sad that kids nowadays probably know Paul Newman as “the guy on the ranch bottle”? And is it sad that Newman’s Own has spurred an intense legal battle within the Newman family? Yes and yes. But those things are beside the point, which is that Paul Newman is an all-time great Paul because he made a ton of great movies and then launched a successful food company that gives all of its profits to charity.
3. Paul Walker
Gruttadaro: It’s been a long day without you, my friend. I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.
I’m gonna go cry now.
2. Paul Thomas Anderson
Surrey: PTA might be the Orson Welles of our time and is definitely the most elite of the Paul Directors. He’s already made more all-time great movies than most good directors could hope to make in a lifetime—and he’s not even 50 yet. What’s more, PTA works across a number of tones: There’s not much that connects Boogie Nights to There Will Be Blood or The Master to Phantom Thread other than the fact that they were all on critics’ top 10 lists.
And if Anderson’s directorial qualities weren’t enough of a gift, he is also by all accounts the platonic ideal of a Hollywood Dad. He and Maya Rudolph are an elite celebrity couple.
OH MY GOD LOOK AT THE HAPPY COUPLE. what the f is this? we look like we're going to kill someone. i don't know what that is in my pocket. probably the back of a magazine? holy jesus. can we remove this picture from the world? https://t.co/qDgjxGhPYm— Phantom Thread (@Phantom_Thread) January 17, 2018
Disclosure: PTA’s esteemed Paul ranking was not at all influenced by The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey.)
1. Paul McCartney
Gruttadaro: I mean, it’s undeniable, right? Paul McCartney has been the best Paul for half a century now. He wrote “Hey Jude.” He’s one of maybe four people ever to make the bass guitar seem cool. He did a full interview for a Beatles documentary while driving a boat.
McCartney started Wings, a band that was never as good as the Beatles but was still enjoyably of a time and certainly a cool excuse to hang out with one’s wife. They made “Band on the Run” and “Live and Let Die,” the best Bond movie song to date. In 1982, McCartney made “The Girl Is Mine” with Michael Jackson, a staggering song that is somehow on Thriller and features the following dialogue:
Paul: Michael, she told me that I’m her forever lover.
Michael: Well, after loving me, she said she couldn’t love another.
Paul: Is that what she said?
This is a conversation between a 40-year-old and 24-year-old, mind you. It’s ridiculous, but somehow it’s still cool, because McCartney is cool. (“The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica only exists because this song exists, by the way, so please direct your gratitude to Paul McCartney.)
McCartney has never slowed down, still touring in his seventies and shredding through four-hour concerts. In recent years, he made Kanye West seem like a human with real emotions; he played acoustic on a Rihanna song about wildin’. Less than a month ago, he released a song called “Fuh You.” It is regrettably bad—yet it’s weirdly impressive, because what other 76-year-old musician is yelping about sexual intercourse?
Paul McCartney is timeless. He is endlessly talented, prolific, fearless, and astoundingly self-assured. He is easily the best Paul.