Influence means the power to affect people or events, especially when that power is based on prestige. By that definition, it might be surprising to see director Steven Spielberg topping our list of Hollywood’s Most Influential Celebrities. Spielberg doesn’t shoot books up the bestseller list like second-place Oprah Winfrey does, and he hasn’t helped invigorate a political movement like ninth-ranked Glenn Beck.
But he is almost universally liked and respected. He did influence an entire generation of filmmakers with movies like "Jaws" and "E.T." And when he takes a political stance, the whole world listens. In 2008 he received gobs of publicity when he quit his position as artistic adviser to the 2008 Summer Olympics, held in China, because he couldn’t convince Chinese authorities to help the people of Darfur Sudan.
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Spielberg narrowly edges out Winfrey on our list, which was compiled by E-Poll Research, an Encino, Calif., based service; its E-Score Celebrity service ranks more than 6,000 celebrities based on 46 attributes.
Spielberg and Winfrey each earn 53 percent ratings for influence, meaning that 53 percent of the population deems them influential. By contrast, the average for all celebrities is 12 percent. Ties are broken by E-Scores, which measure a celebrity’s “marketing effectiveness” by combing awareness, appeal and other factors.
Spielberg gets a 99 E-Score ranking, compared with Winfrey’s 93.
But that’s pretty close, and Winfrey more classically fits the definition of an influencer. Not only does she influence sales of books and beauty products, she also determines a lot of what goes on TV through her protégées like Dr. Phil, Rachel Ray and Dr. Mehmet Oz (who ranks third on our list). Winfrey, who just launched her own cable network, OWN, is a nonstop force to be reckoned with. She ranks first on our Celebrity 100 list, 130th on the Forbes 400 and third on our list of the World’s Most Powerful Women.
Gerry Philpott, chief executive of E-Poll, says the biggest change he’s seen on the list over the years is the demise of news anchors as influencers and the rise of opinion-makers like Beck. “You see that people who are unique in their opinions are cropping up more than in the past, when it would have been news anchors,” says Philpott.
Rush Limbaugh, one of the most opinionated men in media, reflects that change. He ranks fourth on our list with an Influential Score of 41 percent. Limbaugh, the country’s most listened-to radio host, moves up from eighth last year. His increased influence reflects the recent rise of the right wing.
In fifth place is the only person on the list who could be considered a traditional journalist. Barbara Walters earns a 40 percent influential rating. She became famous for her ability to wring tears and truth out of celebrities and statesmen in her specials. But these days even Walters is more of an opinion-maker than a journalist; she’s the elder statesman on the volatile talk show "The View."
© 2012 Forbes.com