SAG Best Actress award winners from the last 25 years
In March 1995, famed actress Angela Lansbury took to the stage to speak about the art of acting and her wide-ranging career. In her words, “I've been Elizabeth Taylor's sister, Spencer Tracy's mistress, Elvis' mother, and a singing teapot.” So began the first-ever Screen Actors Guild Awards, a ceremony which honors acting in both television and film. The ceremony is hosted by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which is a labor union formed when SAG (founded in 1933) merged with AFTRA (founded in 1937) in 2012. The union boasts that they represent “more than 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcaster journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists, and other professionals.”
Their ceremony varies from other major awards, such as the Oscars, for several reasons. Firstly, SAG only doles out 16 awards each year. Secondly, it only honors performers, rather than more all-encompassing awards which also target production teams, make-up, costuming, directing, and more. The SAG awards also give out some unique awards like Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble, which honors an entire cast. They award excellent stunt work, too.
Finally, because it focuses so intently on acting, the major awards of the evening are not necessarily for “best picture,” but for best performances. Some awards include Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture, Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture, and for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Motion Picture. Cinephiles and entertainment insiders keep their eye on these winners because they’re often seen as a precursor to an Oscar win.
Throughout its 25-year history, the SAG Awards have targeted the very best actresses of the day. Among them? Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, and Kate Winslet (each with four nominations); Judi Dench (with six nominations total); and Meryl Streep (who has been nominated a whopping 10 times). Using data from SAG-AFTRA, Stacker compiled a list of all 25 SAG best actress award winners. Read on to find out what role helped them get the win, who they beat, and other interesting facts. Plus, learn who’s up for the award in this year’s ceremony on Jan. 19.
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1994: Jodie Foster
In 1994, Jodie Foster won the honor for best actress at the first-ever SAG Awards ceremony for playing the lead character in “Nell,” which follows the story of a feral young woman who has devised her own language. This year, Foster will return to the ceremony to present the award for Outstanding Ensemble.
1995: Susan Sarandon
Susan Sarandon’s acting skills shone in “Dead Man Walking,” in which she starred as a nun offering spiritual counsel to a murderer, played by Sean Penn. Sarandon eventually won an Academy Award for Best Actress for that role, and won the corresponding SAG Award, too, despite being up against major contenders like Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson.
1996: Frances McDormand
Film critic Roger Ebert called the Coen brothers’ blustery black comedy “Fargo” “one of the best films I've ever seen.” Frances McDormand starred as a pregnant police chief investigating a disturbing murder and spouting loads of hilarious Minnesotan phrases.
1997: Helen Hunt
The romantic comedy “As Good As It Gets” features two powerhouse actors: Jack Nicholson as a cynical, rude, OCD novelist and Helen Hunt as a waitress and single mother. The pair pulled off an impressive feat, winning both the SAG awards for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively.
1998: Gwyneth Paltrow
“Shakespeare in Love” captures a fictional relationship between the famed poet (played by Joseph Fiennes) and a woman and aspiring actress named Viola de Lesseps (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). As The New York Times’ Janet Maslin wrote of the actress, “Gwyneth Paltrow, in her first great, fully realized starring performance, makes a heroine so breathtaking that she seems utterly plausible as the playwright's guiding light. In a film steamy enough to start a sonnet craze, her Viola de Lesseps really does seem to warrant the most timeless love poems.” Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Paltrow snagged a SAG Award for the role.
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1999: Annette Bening
Famous for featuring a rose-adorned, otherwise nude teenage girl, “American Beauty” tells the story of a disillusioned suburban family. Annette Bening embodies a real estate broker embroiled in an affair and trapped in a stale relationship. Bening beat out Hilary Swank, who was nominated for her role in "Boys Don’t Cry," though, later, Swank ended up clinching the Oscar over Bening.
2000: Julia Roberts
“Erin Brockovich,” in which Julia Roberts played the titular role, tells a version of the real-life story of a lawyer fighting against wrongdoings by Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Hollywood Reporter wrote of Roberts’ performance, “[T]he actress seizes the film's eponymous role with fire-in-her-eyes possessiveness and injects the character with all the energy and drive she can muster. Her performance is a true star turn.” Roberts won both the SAG and Oscar awards for her deft acting.
2001: Halle Berry
“Monster’s Ball” follows a corrections officer who becomes entangled with a woman who is secretly the widow of a man he had executed. Though “Monster’s Ball” featured some heavy-hitters—Billy Bob Thornton, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger, and Mos Def among them—Berry’s performance as the widow is considered among her very best. Not only did she win the SAG award, but she became the first woman of color to get an Academy Award for Best Actress.
2002: Renée Zellweger
When Renée Zellweger embodied Roxie Hart, the murderous heroine at the heart of “Chicago,” she sang and danced her way into critics’ and audiences’ hearts. Most cinephiles knew her as a sweet-faced ingenue, which made her turn into a cruel, exacting wannabe even more fascinating. As Roger Ebert wrote, “Zellweger is not a born hoofer, but then again Roxie Hart isn't supposed to be a star; the whole point is that she isn't, and what Zellweger invaluably contributes to the role is Roxie's dreamy infatuation with herself, and her quickly growing mastery of publicity.”
2003: Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron hardly looked anything like herself playing Aileen "Lee" Wuornos, a serial killer and sex worker, in “Monster.” Her transformation went beyond gaining weight and shaving off her eyebrows. By and large, critics called her performance transfixing. She beat out Evan Rachel Wood, who, at 16, was the youngest nominee ever for her role in “Thirteen.”
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