Sir Ian McKellen was crowned the Empire Icon for his long and varied film career at the Jameson Empire Awards 2010.
The 70-year-old actor, who won an Oscar for his role as real-life filmmaker James Whale in Gods And Monsters and is loved by many for starring in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and The X-Men films, was honoured at the ceremony at London's Grosvenor House Hotel tonight.
Sir Ian said: "I couldn't be more surprised or delighted. Middle-earth rejoices!"
Fellow British actor Ray Winstone received the Outstanding Contribution To British Film award, while Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes picked up the Best Thriller award.
Jude Law, who plays Dr Watson in the film, was awarded the title of Empire Hero presented by Jameson Irish Whiskey, while 19-year-old British actor Aaron Johnson - who won praise for his portrayal of a young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy and more recently in action comedy Kick Ass - was named Best Newcomer presented by Kiss 100.
James Cameron's 3D epic Avatar dominated the awards, hosted for the second consecutive year by Irish comedian and television presenter Dara O'Briain.
Avatar picked up Best Film presented by Sony Make Believe, Best Director, and leading lady Zoe Saldana was named Best Actress presented by Magic FM.
Inglourious Basterds star Christoph Waltz, who has made a clean sweep at this year's awards season, won the Best Actor presented by Citroen award.
Sir Michael Caine's Harry Brown took home the Best British Film presented by IndieMoviesOnline.com and British independent film In The Loop was named Best Comedy.
Now in their 15th year, the Jameson Empire Awards are the only film awards to be voted for entirely by British film fans.
The nominations are chosen by readers of Empire magazine who cast their votes via the website.
McKellen was presented with his award by friend and X-Men co-star Sir Patrick Stewart and Waiting For Godot co-star Roger Rees.
He said: "It was very good of them to come along."
Speaking of the Empire Icon award, McKellen said: "It means people have enjoyed the films I've made, or some of them. I suspect particularly Lord of the Rings and the X-Men movies, in which I play iconic characters."
The veteran actor is to reprise his role as wizard Gandalf filming The Hobbit this summer.
He said of the character: "He's with me everyday, people keep coming up to me and saying how much they like him."
Fellow Lord of The Rings star Andy Serkis was surprised at the ceremony with the My Inspiration Award Presented by HMV.
Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll co-star Naomie Harris, who presented the award, revealed she had been so sworn to secrecy she had snubbed Serkis earlier at the ceremony for fear of giving herself away.
Serkis said: "I had no idea. I was prepared to just sit and have a few beers and enjoy the show tonight, so it took me completely by surprise. I was so shocked."
Aaron Johnson, whose fiancee Sam Taylor Wood, 43, is expecting his first child revealed becoming a father was his priority.
He said: "The biggest award for me is this lovely baby, but it means a lot if people appreciate your work.
"This is my first award. But I'm going to take a bit of time off to be a dad."
Ray Winstone's wife and actress daughters, Jaime and Lois Winstone, were at the ceremony to support him.
Ray said of winning the Outstanding Contribution award: "It means everything."
Jaime said: "It's really exciting. It's quite emotional really. I'm feeling very proud and very inspired. He's completely inspired my career, acting is in my blood."
Comedian Johnny Vegas accepted the Best Actress award on behalf of Star Trek and Avatar star Zoe Saldana.
He joked: "I could have painted myself blue, but it's been done.
"We're friends - get over it. We were in a relationship but it's something we don't like to talk about."
Girls Aloud's Sarah Harding was among the stars who attended the ceremony, and revealed she has not plans to pursue a solo music career while the band are "on a break", but is focusing on her acting.
Jude Law was present at the event to pick up his award but refused to answer any questions.
EMPIRE AWARDS 2010 WINNERS
:: Best Newcomer presented by Kiss 100 - Aaron Johnson
:: Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy - Star Trek
:: Best Comedy - In The Loop
:: Empire Hero presented by Jameson Irish Whiskey - Jude Law
:: Done in 60 Seconds - 'Top Gun' by Mark Wong
:: Best Horror - Let The Right One In
:: Best Thriller - Sherlock Holmes
:: Best Actor presented by Citroen - Christoph Waltz
:: Best Actress presented by Magic FM - Zoe Saldana
:: Best British Film presented by IndieMoviesOnline.com - Harry Brown
:: Best Film presented by Sony Make Believe - Avatar
:: Best Director - James Cameron
:: Outstanding Contribution To British Film - Ray Winstone
:: Empire Icon - Ian McKellen
:: Empire Inspiration - Andy Serkis