The 23-year-old scored in this year’s Champions League final, playing a key role in Lyon winning the tournament for a third successive year.
Kylian Mbappe, who dazzled for France as Les Bleus triumphed in Russia in the summer, won the newly-formed Kopa award for the best young player.
The 19-year-old finished fourth overall, above Messi in fifth. Ronaldo was second, with France and Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann third and Liverpool and Egypt star Mo Salah sixth.
‘An unbelievable feeling’
For all of Mbappe’s scintillating play for his country and Paris Saint-Germain, it is Real Madrid star Modric who has broken more than a decade of Messi-Ronaldo dominance.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Modric, who helped Real win a third-straight Champions League in May before guiding Croatia to the World Cup final in July, its best ever performance at the tournament.
“It’s a big pleasure to be here among all these players.”
Since Brazilian Kaka was crowned the world’s best player in 2007, Messi and Ronaldo have won the Ballon d’Or a record five times each — no one else has won the award more than three times.
Central to Croatia’s rise
Modric’s journey to picking up football’s highest individual honor is an improbable one.
Growing up during the Balkans war, his father joined the Croatian army, while his grandfather was shot by Croatian Serb rebels and his house was burned down, forcing the family to flee to the Adriatic coast.
The midfielder has been central to his country’s recent rise, which now sees Croatia ranked the fourth in FIFA’s rankings.
The Ballon d’Or dates back to 1956. At first only incorporating European players, in 2007 was opened up to include ever player in the world.
Under the current format, the list of nominees is drawn up by weekly magazine France Football, with journalists from around the world voting on the final winner.
Men’s Top 10
1. Luka Modric (Real Madrid and Croatia)
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus and Portugal)
3. Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid and France)
4. Kylian Mbappe (PSG and France)
5. Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina)
6. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool and Egypt)
7. Raphael Varane (Real Madrid and France)
8. Eden Hazard (Chelsea and Belgium)
9. Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City and Belgium)
10. Harry Kane (Tottenham and England)
Women’s Top 10
1. Ada Hegerberg (Lyon and Norway)
2. Pernille Harder (Wolfsburg and Denmark)
3. Dzsenifer Maroszan (Lyon and Germany)
4. Marta (Orlando and Brazil)
5. Sam Kerr (Perth and Australia)
6. Lucy Bronze (Lyon and England)
7. Amandine Henry and Wendie Renard (both Lyon and France)
9. Megan Rapinoe (Seattle and USA)
10. Lindsay Horan (Portland and USA)