1 of 25
2 of 25
3 of 25
JOANNA & CHIP GAINES
The couple, 39 and 43, announced they were leaving their HGTV show Fixer Upper, but their profile has soared with a home-furnishings line for Target and more. After taking some family time, they hinted they’d be back, writing, “Who knows what the future holds, but we’re excited for whatever is around the bend and in the meantime, we will definitely be staying in touch.”
4 of 25
The writer-director's hit thriller Get Out combined horror, humor and an eviscerating exploration of racism. “Our fear can drive us to destroy somebody,” the 38-year-old said of humanity’s scary side.
5 of 25
More than 30 years into her acclaimed career, the 50-year-old still amazes with her transformations, winning an Emmy for her frighteningly relatable turn as an abused wife in HBO’s Big Little Lies after an Oscar nomination for Lion. “Acting, for me, is not a choice,” she said. “I think it was just in my blood.”
6 of 25
It took the raunchy smash Girls Trip to rocket the 38-year-old into the mainstream, but now the brash and hilarious Haddish is here to stay. She hosted SNL last month, has an upcoming stand-up tour and a new memoir. “I’m enjoying every moment,” she said, “even when I’m super sleepy!”
7 of 25
Since he first kneeled during the national anthem before a 2016 game to peacefully protest racial injustice, the former San Francisco 49er, 30, has been out of work. But this year his cause gained momentum, with other players and teams following suit, and more than 1,000 protestors demonstrating in his name in front of NFL headquarters. The President tweeted that players who “disrespect our Great American Flag” should be fired. Kaepernick has become a symbol of the resistance.
8 of 25
The self-deprecating Voice coach, 41, was surprised to be named PEOPLE's Sexiest Man Alive, joking, “Y’all must be running out of people.” But his partner Gwen Stefani knows better. Calling him “talented and genuine and cool and generous,” she told PEOPLE, “He’s perfect for it. Somebody that is funny and has a sense of humor is sexy — that’s the No. 1 thing.”
9 of 25
The Silicon Valley star, 39, brought real-life emotional power to romantic comedy with The Big Sick, a movie he co-wrote with wife Emily V. Gordon about their courtship and her life-threatening illness. “Love can be very inconvenient—but still wonderful,” he said.
10 of 25
PRINCE HARRY & MEGHAN MARKLE
He’s an heir to the throne who grew up in a palace, and she’s an American actress who grew up in L.A. Now Harry, 33, and Meghan, 36, are on their way to the altar — and the world awaits the biggest royal wedding since William and Kate in 2011. Since Harry’s proposal in November, the couple have set a date (May 2018), place (St. George’s Chapel) and a plan for kids. But it is the ring, featuring diamonds that once belonged to Harry’s mom, Princess Diana, that has romantics everywhere feeling the love. “She’s with us,” said Meghan.
11 of 25
The Israeli star, 32, made history in Wonder Woman, the highest-grossing superhero-origin movie of all time, inspiring women (and men) with the Amazon warrior’s message of power, kindness and equality. “Women can be amazing, badass, strong and inspiring,” she said.
12 of 25
She won her first Emmy for her powerful portrayal of Offred in Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s feminist story that struck a nerve in 2017. Moss, 35, told Variety that she was taken with “the idea of a person who loses everything … and will not give up. That’s what I connected to as a woman, as a human and as an actor.”
13 of 25
The star of Wonder was crowned PEOPLE's World’s Most Beautiful Woman for a record fifth time. A fan of “pants that make your butt look small” and mah-jongg (“It’s like filling your car up with gas”), Roberts, 50, recently credited her husband, Danny Moder, for her eternal smile. “When I think about what makes my life my life and makes sense and just shines inside of me, it’s him,” she said. “Everything has come from that for me.”
14 of 25
The Tony Award winner, 24, was born to play the sensitive teen title role in Dear Evan Hansen. As he told Vogue, “There’s something to be said for any boy growing up among lots of other boys who like to play basketball and football, while all I wanted to do was put on musicals.”
15 of 25
In his new memoir, the former Vice President, 75, writes about his son Beau’s battle with brain cancer and his decision not to run for President in 2016. He has not ruled out challenging Trump in 2020: “I’m not closing the door.”
16 of 25
17 of 25
The comedian became an unlikely voice of reason in a fraught time, championing affordable health care after his son Billy was born with a heart defect and advocating for gun control after 59 people were killed in Las Vegas, his hometown. “As a talk show host you get a lot of reaction if you talk about something seriously,” the 50-year-old told Vulture.
18 of 25
THE PROPERTY BROTHERS
Drew (left) and Jonathan Scott, both 39, branched out this year with a memoir, Drew’s gig on Dancing with the Stars and a new show: Property Brothers at Home: Drew’s Honeymoon House. Yep, Drew is getting married in May, to Linda Phan, the creative director for the brothers’ company. “I pinch myself every morning thinking, ‘Is this really happening?’ ” Drew told PEOPLE. “My childhood dreams are playing out.”
19 of 25
TV’s Pioneer Woman, 48, has been inspiring fans with more than down-home recipes and old-fashioned values. Her year-old Mercantile restaurant in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, “has been nothing short of a miracle,” said Chamber of Commerce board member Lauren Garnett. “We went from a dead, sleepy little town to a booming tourist town overnight.”
20 of 25
21 of 25
CARMEN YULIN CRUZ
Her criticism of federal relief efforts after Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico made her a hero to the city of San Juan and beyond. “I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles,” Cruz, 54, said. “People are drinking off a creek … I am mad as hell … We are dying here.” She is said to be mulling a run for governor in 2020.
22 of 25
The 25-year-old Bronx native — a former stripper who rose to fame on VH1’s Love & Hip Hop: New York — topped the Billboard Hot 100, dethroning Taylor Swift with her impressive flow and no-filter persona on the aggressive single “Bodak Yellow.”
23 of 25
STERLING K. BROWN
The first African-American actor in 19 years to win a Best Actor Emmy — for portraying Randall Pearson in This Is Us — is on a roll. (Last year he took home a Supporting Actor Emmy for his portrayal of Christopher Darden in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.) "Color blindness is one thing, and it has its own merit and virtue,” the 41-year-old told Variety, “but to be seen and appreciated for what you are, that’s the sweet spot.”
24 of 25
KATIE JACOBS STANTON
The CMO of Color (and member of Time Inc.’s board) works to increase accessibility for genetic testing so that people of all cultures and income levels can be screened for mutations. She also advocates for women in the tech world. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” the 47-year-old told CNBC. “We still have a lot of work to do for women in leadership positions.”
25 of 25
Diagnosed in July with glioblastoma, a brain cancer that is almost always fatal, the 81-year-old war hero and six-term Republican senator showed his usual courage and conviction by voting along bipartisan lines. He also experienced the joy of attending his daughter Meghan’s wedding.
Read more of PEOPLE's Best of 2017 coverage in the latest issue, on newsstands Friday.