One of the earliest Telugu actors in India was Chittoor V Nagaiah. He was famous for enacting the mythological roles to perfection. Before making his foray into films he had acted on stage. It was his camaraderie with Telugu directors like Bommireddy Narasimha Reddy and HM Reddy that he was initiated into films. His first film where he had a pivotal role was Gruhalakshmi (1938). His filmography includes Vande Mataram (1939), Devatha (1941), Ashok Kumar (1941), Bhakta Potana (1942), Swargaseema (1945), Meera (1945), Thyagayya (1946), Yogi Vemana (1947), Mana Desam (1949), Beedala Patlu (1950) and others. The contemporary male and female Telugu actors of Chittoor V Nagaiah were Bhanumathi, YV Rao, Kannamba, Kamala Kotnis and Kanchanamala.
Bhanumathi was a renowned female Telugu actor. Her first film was Varavikrayam in 1939. Her other films were Bhanumati was Malathi Madhavam (1940), Bhaktimala (1941), Swargaseema (1945), Chandirani (1953), Laila Majnu (1949) and several other movies. Bhanumathi was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2003. She has received several other state and National awards too for her stunning performances. With the ushering in of the social films artistes, such as, LV Prasad, Kasturi Siva Rao, Krishnamurthy, Bezavada Rajaratnam, Suryakumari, Malathi were seen on the silver screen.
Akkineni Nageswara Rao or ANR as he was popularly known was the first commercial hero of Telugu film industry. This prolific Telugu actor got his first break in a mythological film, Sri Sitarama Jananam (1944) directed by Balaramaiah. He was felicitated with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Padma Sri and Padma Bhusan.
One of the superstars of Telugu film industry was NT Rama Rao. He was admired for his talent for playing mythological characters. His dialogue delivery and superb expressions earned him the names such as "Nata Ratna" and "Vishwa Vikhyatha Nata Sarvabhouma. " The commercial movies and social dramas added to his popularity and he was established as a versatile actor. Although he appeared in 280 films, some of his commendable performances were in Maya Bazaar, Lava Kusa, Sri Krishnaarjuna Yuddham, Bheeshma, Bhookailasa, Nartanasala, Panadava-vanavsam and others.
Other prominent actors of during this period were Krishna, Dr. Subba Rao, Relangi, Sivarao, Sriranjani, Santhakumari, Malathi, Hemalatha, S.V. Ranga Rao, Harnath, Krishnamraju, Shoban Babu, Gummadi, Jaggaiah, Kantha Rao, Rajababu, Satyanarayana, Chalam, Padmanabham, Raavi Kondala Rao, Rajanala, Nagabhushanam, Ravi Kondala Rao, Chandramohan, Somayajulu, Mohan Babu and others. Amongst these Telugu actors Shoban Babu was one of the earliest romantic heroes of Telegu cinema. Although his first film was Daivabalam directed by Vasanthkumar Reddy but Bhakta Sabari was released first. One of the female Telugu actors with whom he was often paired was Sarada. He was recipient of Filmfare Awards thrice. Sarada is an award winning Telugu actress who is active even today. Trained by the ace director LV Prasad her first break came with Mithramithrulu. Nimajjanam in 1977 fetched her the National Award. Apart from this she was also felicitated with the same award twice in 1968 and 1972.
Another Telugu actor who revolutionised the Telegu silver screen was Chiranjeevi. His social dramas, action movies brought in a completely different era in Telugu cinema. His angry young man roles were runaway hits. He came into focus with the film Pranam Khareedu in 1978. Then he went onto act films such as Manavoori Pandavulu (1978), I Love You (1979), Subhalekha (1982), Intlo Ramayya Veedilo Krishnayya (1982), Khaidi (1982) and several others. He has been awarded Nandi and Filmfare awards several times. He is also the winner of Padma Bhushan in 2006.
Nagarjuna is another Telugu actor who is a known face on the south Indian silvers screen. His first movie was Vikram in 1986. His first big hit was Akhari Poratnaam with Sridevi. His Filmography includes Geethanjali, Shiva, Santosham, Ninne Pelladutha, Annamayya, Nenunnanu, Mass and others. He received the National Award in the Jury section for the film Annamayya. He is also the recipient of Filmfare and Nandi awards.
Soundarya was one of the leading ladies of Telegu film industry whom the masses loved. Other contemporary female Telugu actors are Shobhana, Simran Bagga, Nagma, Keerthi Reddy, Sneha, Ramya Krishna, Rambha, Shriya, Roja and others. Asin Thttumkal is a popular Telegu actor today. She made her acting debut in 2001 with the flick Narendra Makan Jayakanthan Vaka. Within a short time span she has established herself as one of the most promising stars in the industry. In 2003 she bagged the Filmfare Award for the Best Actress for her performance in Amma Nanna O Tamila Ammayi.
Other popular Telugu actors are Nagabhushanam, Ravi Kondala Rao, Chandramohan, Somayajulu, Mohan Babu, Venkatesh, Rajendra Prasad, Tanikella Bharani, Mahesh Babu, Pawan Kalyan, Jr. NTR, Prabhas, Uday Kiran, Ramcharan Tej, Allu Arjun, Tarun, Siddharth, Nithin, Sameera Reddy, Charmi, Radha, Radhika, Aarthi Agarwal, Genelia D'Souza, Ileana and several others.