Top 10 Magicians the World Has Ever Seen

Updated on March 25, 2018
Jeremy Gill profile image

Jeremy casts spells in between studying Forensics and working part-time at his college in the swamps of Louisiana.

Famous Magicians Throughout History

The art of magic has long dazzled fans. At first thought to be actual paranormal powers, in recent decades magic has been revealed as mere deception, yet we still love the performances and clever ways with with magicians fool us.

But with hundreds of mystifying performers alive today, how are we to christen the ten best currently living sorcerers, yet alone of those of all time? I've researched and reviewed many entertainers and hope to present some of the top artists in all magic fields (illusions, sleight of hand, escape, and so on). Thus, factoring in skills, legacy, and perhaps a pinch of personal bias, here are the top ten magicians of all time!

Masked Magician
Masked Magician

10. Val Valentino (Masked Magician)

Back in the late 1990's, FOX television aired their show Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed to resounding applause. The program employed a mysterious masked figure to reveal dozens of tricks; why the anonymity? Back then, the attitude towards magic was a bit different, and performers were hesitant to reveal the secrets behind their tricks, fearing other magicians would cry foul at "ruining" their livelihoods.

However, Valentino eventually unmasked himself on camera and proudly stated that understanding a trick doesn't diminish our interest in it, but allows us to better appreciate the efforts that magicians dedicate towards it. Valentino explained that exposing older tricks also paves the way for magicians to innovate and evolve. Although he often dons his intimidating black costume even after his big reveal, don't be fooled—the Masked Magician carries a big heart.

James Randi
James Randi

9. James Randi

He's not Dumbledore, but James Randi's many years in the field have offered him exceptional knowledge of the wizarding world. Beginning as a stage performer, Randi specialized in escapes, even besting some of Houdini's records for escape times or duration periods, but always humbly admitting that he had the advantage of youth (I know, hard to believe looking at him) compared to his predecessor.

Beyond his acts, the magic community owes a great debt to Randi for his contribution to our understanding of magic. Skeptical of paranormal claims, Randi's James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) organization offered one million dollars to anyone who could be proven to possess otherworldly powers under controlled scientific conditions. Although many frauds attempted to cash in, Randi's group exposed their tricks, and he helped us muggles realize the beauty of magic lies in its execution, not phony spiritual abilities.

David Blaine
David Blaine

8. David Blaine

A famed name despite his relative youth, David Blaine mystified audiences with a variety of world records and dangerous stunts. Beyond a plethora of impressive card tricks, he's been buried alive in a water-filled tank, trapped in an icy prison for almost three days, and caught bullets fired from a .22 rifle in his teeth.

Blaine has undoubtedly mastered several potent tricks, but his notable arrogance and haughty attitude keep him lower on today's list.

Lance Burton
Lance Burton

7. Lance Burton

Having performed over 15,000 shows for 5 million people in the magical capital of the world, Las Vegas, Burton is currently enjoying a well-deserved retirement. A dedicated stage performer, Burton preferred amazing live audiences over recording televised programs, but nonetheless has appeared in a variety of tv specials. Even more impressively, he was twice voted the "Magician of the Year" by the The Academy of Magical Arts and was the youngest person ever to win the grand prize in Switzerland's international Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques (FISM) competition.

For his impressive resume of escapes and deceptions, Las Vegas contracted him for a then record-breaking 13 years, and his routine was largely considered the best family act in town.

Shin Lim
Shin Lim

Shin Lim on Fool Us

6. Shin Lim

Perhaps most famous for his stupendous appearance on Penn & Teller: Fool Us, Shin Lim proves magic doesn't have to be a silly comedic art to be entertaining. Lim's brand of illusions involves atmospheric sets, elegant music, and perfected sleight of hand that crafted arguably the most stunning magic on Fool Us yet.

Although he takes his show seriously, Shin himself comes across as a laid-back and amiable person, and his inspiring story about overcoming severed tendons in his hand (which can ruin a magician's career) showcases his incredible willpower.

David Devant
David Devant

5. David Devant

Born back in 1868, David Devant demonstrated just how cool, calm, and collected magicians should be. Having heavily influenced the history of stage performers, Denant was noted for the wit, charm, and humility contained within his impressive platform magic. He also revealed the secrets to many of his techniques in an autobiography, a rarity at the time that helped teach budding magicians the craft.

Speaking of which, when confronted by a boastful young magician claiming to know hundreds of tricks, Devant refused to take the bait, artfully replying he only knew a few dozen, but knew them very well. Ever emphasizing quality over quantity and compassion over greed, Devant was noted for saying his magic was done "all by kindness".

Apollo Robbins
Apollo Robbins

Apollo Robbins Demonstrates Pickpocketing

4. Apollo Robbins

A specialist of pick-pocketing, misdirection, and psychology, Apollo Robbins often calls himself the "Gentlemen Thief"; he'll steal from audiences only to watch their amazement as he returns their items. In fact, he initially gained notoriety by pilfering various items from former President Jimmy Carter's Secret Service agents (and of course returning them), inspiring law enforcement agencies to contact him and ask to help them train against actual thievery.

Robbins' skills earned him many appearances on National Geographic's Brain Games series, where he helps demonstrate how easily our brains can be tricked, and he's also appeared on The View and Real Hustle. For his specialized brand of magic, and his ability to radiate confidence but not arrogance, Apollo is one of my personal favorite entertainers.

David Copperfield
David Copperfield

3. David Copperfield

Magic sure seems to attract many Davids, although this one adopted his stage name from the Charles Dickens novel of the same title. With his elegant and varied illusions, ranging from cards tricks to classic interpretations of a women being sawed in half, Copperfield quickly became the world's most financially successful magician.

A master performer and storyteller, Copperfield has earned nearly a dozen Guinness World Records, collected 21 Emmy Awards through his television specials, grossed over four billion dollars (more than any other solo performer), and started a charity program called Project Magic that uses sleight-of-hand magic to help rehabilitate disabled patients. Although Copperfield has performed remarkble card tricks, he's perhaps best known for his large-scale illusions such as escaping from Alcatraz, vanishing a giant airplane, and even topping that by making the Statue of Liberty disappear.

Penn and Teller
Penn and Teller

Penn and Teller's Nailgun Trick

2. Penn Jilette and Raymond Teller

Occupying the same slot because they almost exclusively work as a pair, Penn and Teller carved a very unique place in magic's history. With their comedic acts, where Penn's loudmath attitude contrasts Teller's silence, the pair often reveal segments of their tricks, allowing the audience to believe the secrets have been uncovered, only to astound them with a new surprise. Their humor belies the genius sleight-of-hand and ingenuity the pair possess, compounding our appreciate by perfecting both comedy and magic.

The two encourage the deceptiveness of the field, stating any claims of supernatural powers are merely a hoax and believing audiences don't mind knowing it's a trick as long as they're entertained. With that in mind, Penn and Teller can be seen on their famous Fool Us show where they attempt to decipher how magicians from around the world perform their tricks.

Harry Houdini
Harry Houdini

1. Harry Houdini

Best known for his thrilling escape acts, Harry Houdini seemed able to escape any rig under and conditions. Often challenging local police to lock him up in some death-promising device, Houdini would leave the audience in suspense as he quietly snuck into the audience only to reveal himself after several tense minutes.

Beyond Houdini's magic career, he was trained as both an actor and a pilot and served as president for the Society of American Magicians. Houdini initially began as a card performer, but after realizing he was only decent at the moves, Houdini didn't let the setback overcome him and found success as an escape artist. That's a great lesson to take from magic: you don't have to be the best at everything, but simply enjoy and perfect the skills you do have.

Which magician do you prefer?

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Thanks in part to these mystifying pioneers, magic has largely progressed from con schemes to good-natured illusions, and I hope to witness more amazing magicians make a name for themselves. Especially lady magicians; the industry's in desperate need for the talents and style women can bring to the field.

Regardless of gender, with hundreds of awesome performers across the globe, narrowing the list to just ten wasn't easy, and I likely ruffled a few feathers along the way. But don't fret, you can correct the problem by letting us know which magicians you feel should be included (and why) as well as vote for your favorite of today's entries!

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    © 2018 Jeremy Gill

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