In Hollywood, few honors are more coveted than those of Best Actor and Best Actress at the Academy Awards. To be nominated for a performance—let alone win the golden statue—is a stunning testament to an actor's amazing work ethic and significant impact on audiences and critics.
Over the years, the winners of the Best Actor award have been symbols of the times—with each recipient marking that particular era of moviemaking. Maximilian Schell’s win in 1961 for “Judgement at Nuremberg” served as a reminder of the profound wound left on the world in the aftermath of World War II, and Sean Penn’s win for “Milk” in 2008 highlighted the continuing struggle for civil rights in the LGBTQ+ community.
Other victories have signified history for the winner himself: For his lead role in 1963’s “Lilies of the Field,” Sidney Poitier broke racial barriers, becoming the first black actor to take home Oscars top honors.
More common are the plethora of Best Actor Oscars representing personal milestones. In 1981, for example, legend Robert De Niro took home his first—and yet his only—win for playing boxer Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull.” And two times in three years we saw a pair of acting greats go from among the “best to never win” group to capping off heralded resumes with Best Actor Oscars: Matthew McConaughey in 2014 for AIDS patient Ron Woodroof in “Dallas Buyers Club” and Leonardo DiCaprio for frontiersman Hugh Glass in “The Revenant.”
Gary Oldman followed suit in 2017 for his turn as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” the culmination of the 61-year-old Englishman’s four decades on the silver screen. Though 38-year-old Rami Malek broke that trend for “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the most recent show, winning Best Actor for Freddie Mercury over the likes of veterans Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Willem Dafoe, and Viggo Mortensen.
To commemorate actors who have gained this accolade while readying for 2020's winner, Stacker found the Best Actor winner from every year since 1928. See which actor won the Oscar in your birth year.
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- Movie: "The Last Command"
The first to receive an Academy Award at the first ceremony in 1929, German actor Emil Jannings was lauded for his performance in Josef von Sternberg’s "The Last Command." According to Susan Orlean, however, a dog was originally voted best actor in Rin Tin Tin, but the Academy gave the trophy to the runner-up to avoid embarrassment. Jannings’ career ended soon after the advent of talkies, as many Americans couldn’t parse his speech through his thick accent. The actor later participated in Nazi propaganda films during the rise of the Third Reich.
- Movie: "In Old Arizona"
Warner Baxter, a film actor whose career spanned from the 1910s through the ‘40s, won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of The Cisco Kid in the film "In Old Arizona." This film was one of his first talkies, after doing many silent films (including "The Great Gatsby"). He was known to play many womanizer-like characters until his 10-film stint as Dr. Robert Ordway in the "Crime Doctor" series.
- Movie: "Desraeli"
George Arliss was the first British actor to win an Oscar, as well as the oldest (61). A play actor originally, Arliss first starred in the 1911 Louis Napoleon Parker play "Desraeli," which was later turned first into a silent film, then a talkie (for which he won the award).
- Movie: "A Free Soul"
Though Lionel Barrymore (of the famous Barrymore family) won his Best Actor award for "A Free Soul" (1931), Barrymore is perhaps better known for his role as villain Mr. Potter in Frank Capra's classic, "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946).
- Movie: "The Champ"
Over Wallace Beery’s 36-year career, the actor appeared in about 250 films, one of which, "The Champ" (1932), earned him an Oscar for his portrayal of the title role. During this era of the awards ceremony, nominated actors within one vote of each other were deemed “tied,” so Beery shared his Best Actor award with Fredric March (1932’s "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde").
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- Movie: "The Private Life of Henry VIII"
Charles Laughton’s impact is still felt to this day, as Daniel Day-Lewis (a fellow Best Actor winner) cited him as a source of inspiration. “He was probably the greatest film actor who came from that period of time,” Day-Lewis said. “He had something quite remarkable. His generosity as an actor, he fed himself into that work. As an actor, you cannot take your eyes off him.” The British actor won the award for his portrayal of King Henry VIII himself in "The Private Life of Henry VIII."
- Movie: "It Happened One Night"
The notable “King of Hollywood” Clark Gable starred as the leading man in over 60 films in his career. He won the Oscar for Best Actor for the 1934 film "It Happened One Night," and was later nominated for the same award for his work in "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935) and for what is likely his most notable role as Rhett Butler in the classic blockbuster "Gone with the Wind" (1939).
- Movie: "The Informer"
Victor McLaglen, the British American mainly known for his work as a character actor in Westerns, won Best Actor at the 1935 Oscars for his role in "The Informer," based on Liam O'Flaherty’s novel of the same name.
- Movie: "The Story of Louis Pasteur"
This character actor was a five-time Oscar nominee, but eventually won in 1936 for his role in "The Story of Louis Pasteur." He also won Tony awards for his theater work on Broadway. Muni was well known for his ability to truly get into character and practice method acting, as well as his prowess with makeup. When he was 12, he played the role of an 80-year-old man on stage, and he played seven different characters in the movie "Seven Faces" (1929).
- Movie: "Captains Courageous"
Spencer Tracy was nominated nine times for the Best Actor Oscar over his illustrious film career and won two consecutive times—the first for his role in "Captains Courageous." The adventure film, based on a novel by Rudyard Kipling, featured Tracy as a Portuguese fisherman (Tracy had to feign an accent).
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- Movie: "Boys Town"
Tracy was no doubt a member of Hollywood royalty during the '30s, adding a second Best Actor win to his list of accolades for his portrayal of Catholic Priest Father Flanagan in "Boys Town." Tracey once said of his role, “I'm so anxious to do a good job as Father Flanagan that it worries me, keeps me awake at night.” Tracy sent his statuette to Flanagan after his win.
- Movie: "Goodbye Mr: Chips"
The British theater-turned-film actor won Best Actor for his role as a school master in" Goodbye Mr. Chips." The pool of nominees in 1939 was strong—a testament to Donat’s work. Donat beat Clark Gable for "Gone with the Wind," Laurence Olivier for "Wuthering Heights," James Stewart for "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and Mickey Rooney for "Babes in Arms."
- Movie: "The Philadelphia Story"
Jimmy Stewart was a five-time Academy Award nominee and winner for "The Philadelphia Story," and has been ranked by the American Film Institute as the “third-greatest male screen legend of the golden age of Hollywood.” Stewart was known for his blue-blooded American personality and tended to play middle-class men facing a challenge. He was honored with an Academy Lifetime Achievement award in 1985 and achieved the highest rank in the military of any actor.
- Movie: "Sergeant York"
Gary Cooper maintained a heroic American image throughout is 35-year career—one that spanned from the silent film area well into the golden age of Hollywood. He won two Academy Awards, the first of which was for "Sergeant York." Cooper starred as Alvin C. York, one of the most decorated American soldiers in World War I.
- Movie: "Yankee Doodle Dandy"
James Cagney was an actor and dancer who brought energetic performances to the screen—one of which, as George M. Cohan in "Yankee Doodle Dandy," won him Best Actor at the Oscars in 1942. He was nominated two other times but did not win. Orson Welles once said “[Cagney] was maybe the greatest actor who ever appeared in front of a camera,” and he also had a fan in director Stanley Kubrick.
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- Movie: "Watch on the Rhine"
Paul Lukas, a Hungarian actor, won the Academy Award for "Watch on the Rhine," a role he had originally played on Broadway. He portrayed Kurt Mueller, a German who fought against the Nazis, and his American wife was played by fellow acting great and Academy Award winner Bette Davis.
- Movie: "Going My Way"
Bing Crosby was a multi-talented man, acting and singing his way into American hearts. He won an Oscar for his portrayal of Father Chuck O'Malley in "Going My Way" (1944). The following year, he was nominated for the same role in "The Bells of St. Mary's"(opposite Ingrid Bergman), becoming one of the few actors to be nominated twice for the same character.
- Movie: "The Lost Weekend"
Ray Milland, a Welsh actor and director, is likely best known for his Oscar-winning portrayal of an alcoholic writer in "The Lost Weekend" (1945). The role was so emotionally taxing that his home life began to crumble and he had to take a vacation after shooting.
- Movie: "The Best Years of Our Lives"
Fredric March’s second Oscar win was for "The Best Years of Our Lives." Later, the actor won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for "Years Ago" (1947) and "Long Day's Journey into Night" (1956)—becoming the only actor to win two Academy Awards and two Tonys.
- Movie: "A Double Life"
English actor Ronald Colman was nominated for a total of four Academy Awards for Best Actor, but won in 1948 for "A Double Life." The year before, he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor for the same film, in which he played an actor who comes to identify with Othello, the character that he plays on stage. Colman’s Oscar sold for over $174,000 at an auction in 2002.
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- Movie: "Hamlet"
Laurence Olivier was and still remains one of the most prominent English actors of the mid-1900s, with countless films, plays and television shows under his belt. He received four Academy Awards, two BAFTAs, five Emmy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards—his first Oscar win being for playing the titular role in Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" (1948). The year before, he received the honor of a knighthood from the British crown.
- Movie: "All The King's Men"
Broderick Crawford’s portrayal of Willie Stark—an insecure villain loosely modeled after Louisiana politician Huey Long—in "All The King’s Men" was not only Academy Award-worthy, but was essentially the actor’s breakout role, having played mostly supporting roles in relatively unknown films.
- Movie: "Cyrano de Bergerac"
José Ferrer was the first Hispanic—let alone Puerto Rican—actor to win an Academy Award. In 1947, Ferrer won a Tony Award for the same role, Cyrano in "Cyrano de Bergerac." In 1953, he reprised the role at the New York City Center and then one more time the 1964 French film "Cyrano et d'Artagnan." He was the first actor to receive the National Medal of Arts from Ronald Reagan in 1985.
- Movie: The African Queen
Humphrey Bogart, a household name in the world of acting, was best known for his roles in many noir films during the 1940s, including "The Maltese Falcon," "Casablanca," and "The Big Sleep." He was nominated three times for Academy Awards, winning in 1951 for "The African Queen," his first Technicolor film. Despite carrying a well-known dislike for Hollywood, Bogart thanked his director, John Huston and his co-star Katherine Hepburn in his acceptance speech, as they went through a good amount of hardship together while filming the movie in the Belgian Congo.
- Movie: High Noon
Gary Cooper has held starring roles in 84 films, and after winning the Best Actor Oscar for "Sergeant York" in 1941, went on to win a second for "High Noon." The common theme running through Cooper’s roles after World War II, including "High Noon," were men who had to face adversity by themselves.The New York Times lauded Cooper for his portrayal, saying he was “at the top of his form."
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- Movie: Stalag 17
Known primarily for his work in films of the 1950s and 1960s, William Holden was featured in iconic films such as "Sunset Boulevard," "Sabrina " and "The Bridge on the River Kwai." He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of a prisoner of war in "Stalag 17," a role that The New York Times felt was the perfect match for his mix of good looks and aloofness.
- Movie: "On the Waterfront"
Actor, director and activist Marlon Brando made a name for himself playing brooding, handsome, bad-boy types, but over his nearly six-decade career, he received the most acclaim for his roles as Terry Malloy in "On the Waterfront" and Mafia Don Vito Corleone in "The Godfather" (1972). According to the author Martin H. Levinson, Brando’s scene in "On the Waterfront" in which he says one of the most iconic lines in American films (“I could’a been a contender”) was "one of the most famous scenes in motion picture history, and the line itself has become part of America's cultural lexicon."
- Movie: "Marty"
Often portraying a more unconventional lead, Ernest Borgnine’s had a knack for performing on-screen which earned him the Best Actor Oscar for playing Marty Piletti in "Marty." Borgnine later made his mark on the television screen, starring in "McHale's Navy" (1962–1966) and "Airwolf" (1984–1986). He received a third Emmy nomination at the age of 92 for his work on "E.R." in 2009.
- Movie: "The King and I"
An actor, photographer, director and model, Russian-born Yul Brynner was a multi-talented artist who exhibited a unique style and aesthetic. Likely his most famous role, King Mongkut of Siam in "The King and I," earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor, but it was also his longest. He performed in the stage production, written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, 4,625 times, and earned two Tony Awards for his work.
- Movie: "The Bridge on the River Kwai"
Along with fellow Best Actor winners Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, Alec Guinness was a British actor who transitioned from Shakespeare on stage to film roles after World War II. His most famous roles include Obi-Wan Kenobi the first "Star Wars" trilogy, as well as many of his roles with director David Lean: Herbert Pocket in "Great Expectations" (1946), Fagin in "Oliver Twist" (1948), Col. General Yevgraf Zhivago in "Doctor Zhivago" (1965), and more. This also includes his role as Col. Nicholson in "The Bridge on the River Kwai," for which he won the Oscar for Best Actor. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959.
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- Movie: "Separate Tables"
David Niven portrays Major Pollock in "Separate Tables," a film that won Best Actor and Best Actress. While he is known for his acting now, his career halted while he was fighting in World War II. He’s known for his role in "Wuthering Heights," playing James Bond in "Casino Royale," and starring in the original "Pink Panther" movies. However, "Separate Tables" is often regarded as the most important performance of his career.
- Movie: "Ben-Hur"
"Ben-Hur," the film which garnered Charlton Heston the Academy Award for best actor, was nominated for an unprecedented 11 Oscars overall. Along with Heston’s role as Moses in the epic film "The Ten Commandments" (1956), these two films led Heston to become associated with Christian, Biblical work. The actor went on, however, to appear in over 100 films over his long career, and also became politically active in his later years. He served as the five-term president of the National Rifle Association from 1998 to 2003.
- Movie: "Elmer Gantry"
Actor and producer Burt Lancaster was nominated four times for Academy Awards, and won Best Actor for his performance in Elmer Gantry. He also won a Golden Globe and the New York Film Critics Award for the role. Lancaster went into producing films (many of which he starred in) and found success for a time with a co-owned production company, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster. Life wrote of the team in in 1957, "[a]fter the independent production of a baker's dozen of pictures, it has yet to have its first flop ... (They were also good pictures.)”
- Movie: "Judgement at Nuremberg"
The Austrian-born Swiss actor was largely known for his work in Nazi-era themed, anti-war films—a subject that was close to Maximilian Schell’s heart. When he was young, Schell’s family fled to Zurich, Switzerland when their home of Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany. Schell won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as a defense attorney in Judgement at Nuremberg, a fictional recounting of the Nuremberg War Trials. It was the first Academy Award win for a German-speaking actor since World War II.
- Movie: "To Kill a Mockingbird"
Gregory Peck’s most prominent role earned him the Academy Award in 1962—Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird," based on the classic novel by Harper Lee. Peck also received Oscar nominations for his work in "The Keys of the Kingdom" (1944), "The Yearling" (1946), "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947), and "Twelve O'Clock High" (1949). U.S. President Lyndon Johnson awarded Peck the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 for his humanitarian work.
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- Movie: "Lilies of the Field"
Sidney Poitier, an actor, director, diplomat and author, is the first black actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor and a Golden Globe for his work in the film "Lilies of the Field." Not too long after, Poitier hit the commercial peak of his career, with the popular films "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "To Sir, with Love," and "In the Heat of the Night." Poitier’s performance as detective Virgil Tibbs in "In the Heat of the Night" was so successful, his character became the subject of two subsequent spinoffs: "They Call Me Mister Tibbs!" (1970) and "The Organization" (1971). He served as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2007.
- Movie: "My Fair Lady"
After a successful career on the stage—winning a Tony Award for his portrayal of King Henry VIII in "Anne of the Thousand Days" and another for his work in "My Fair Lady" in 1957—Sir Rex Harrison enjoyed a similarly fruitful career in film. Most notably, Harrison reprised his role as Professor Henry Higgins in the film version of "My Fair Lady" opposite Audrey Hepburn, for which he was awarded a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Actor. He also played the iconic title role in "Doctor Dolittle," and the song “Talk to the Animals", which Harrison performed in his famous “talking on pitch” style in the film, won the Academy Award for best original song in 1967.
- Movie: "Cat Ballou"
On the screen, Lee Marvin excelled in both television and film roles. Marvin played Detective Lieutenant Frank Ballinger in the NBC series "M Squad," from 1957–1960. Later, he received numerous decorations for his dual roles in "Cat Ballou," including the Academy Award for Best Actor. In the film, he played both gunfighter Kid Shelleen and criminal Tim Strawn.
- Movie: "A Man For All Seasons"
British actor Paul Scofield may have overall held more acclaim in his home of the United Kingdom than overseas—he was widely regarded as one of the best Shakespearean actors of his time—Scofield found success in America for his Oscar-winning performance as Sir Thomas More in the film "A Man for All Seasons." This was a reprise of the same Tony-winning role he played on stage in the West End.
- Movie: "In the Heat of the Night"
Known for his style of method acting when it came to playing volatile, aggressive characters, Rod Steiger starred alongside Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront" (1954) and as police chief Bill Gillespie (opposite Sidney Poitier) in "In the Heat of the Night," for which he won the Oscar for Best Actor.
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- Movie: "Charly"
Along with his Academy Award-winning performance in the movie "Charly," Cliff Robertson played a few iconic (nonfictional) people during his film career. He portrayed young John F. Kennedy in "PT 109" (1963), Buzz Aldrin in "Return to Earth" (1976), and Henry Ford in "Ford: The Man and the Machine" (1987).
- Movie: "True Grit"
King of Westerns John Wayne won his only Academy Award (he was nominated three times over his career) for Best Actor for "True Grit," in which he played a one-eyed marshall. Of all the movies he was featured in, 83 were Westerns. True Grit remained a hit at the box office for nearly 30 years.
- Movie: "Patton"
George C. Scott was perhaps best known for his acting on stage, but when it came to his career overall, what truly stands out are his principles. In 1970, Scott was given the Academy Award for his portrayal of Gen. George S. Patton in "Patton," but refused to accept. Scott had warned the academy that he would do so if he won, as he believed “that every dramatic performance was unique and could not be compared to others.”
- Movie: "The French Connection"
Gene Hackman is a well-decorated actor, having received five Academy Award nominations and two wins (Best Actor in "The French Connection" and Best Supporting Actor in "Unforgiven"), three Golden Globes, and two BAFTAs. His win for "The French Connection" marked his first ascension to a leading role, as he played New York City Detective Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle.
- Movie: "The Godfather"
Nearly two decades after his first Best Actor win in "On the Waterfront," Marlon Brando won the coveted award again for his portrayal of Don Vito Corleone in "The Godfather"—one of the most iconic characters in film history. But during the Oscars ceremony, Brando refused to accept his award. An activist for Native American rights, Brando had Sacheen Littlefeather represent him on his behalf and refuse on the grounds of the "poor treatment of Native Americans in the film industry.” The ceremony was taking place during the 71-day siege at Wounded Knee.
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- Movie: "Save the Tiger"
Jack Lemmon had a career that spanned over 60 films, and was eight-time Academy Award nominee, with two wins. One was for "Mister Roberts" in 1955, for which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and the other for "Save the Tiger," for which he won Best Actor. He was the first actor to have won both highly prized awards—later, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Spacey, and Denzel Washington would join the exclusive club.
- Movie: "Harry and Tonto"
Art Carney won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Harry Coombes in the film "Harry and Tonto." However, he is likely best known for playing Ed Norton (opposite Jackie Gleason) in the popular sitcom "The Honeymooners" (1955–1956), for which he was nominated for seven Emmys and won six.
- Movie: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
With 12 Academy Award nominations, Jack Nicholson is the most nominated actor in the ceremony’s history. His first win for Best Actor was for his role as Randle P. McMurphy in the adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." McMurphy was an anti-authoritarian patient at a mental hospital who rallies the other patients into following his lead.
- Movie: "Network"
Peter Finch was an English Australian actor whose work playing anchorman Howard Beale in the film "Network" earned him a posthumous Academy Award for Best Actor. He was the first actor to be awarded an Oscar after his death—the other was given to Heath Ledger in 2009. James Dean, Spencer Tracy, and Massimo Troisi were other actors who were posthumously nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, though they never won.
- Movie: "The Goodbye Girl"
At 30 years, 125 days old, 1977 Richard Dreyfuss was the youngest actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1977 (Adrien Brody would go on to break that record in 2003). Dreyfuss played a struggling actor in the romantic comedy "The Goodbye Girl," who rents an apartment with a woman and her feisty daughter.
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- Movie: "Coming Home"
Besides being the father of famous actress Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight is a prominent actor who won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role as paraplegic Vietnam veteran Luke Martin (based on the real-life activist and former Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic) in "Coming Home." He starred opposite Jane Fonda, who in turn won the Oscar for Best Actress.
- Movie: "Kramer vs: Kramer"
The first of his two Academy Award wins for Best Actor, Dustin Hoffman won in 1979 for "Kramer vs. Kramer," a story about a difficult divorce. The film also won the Best Picture honor, Best Director and Hoffman’s co-star Meryl Streep won the award for Best Supporting Actress.
- Movie: "Raging Bull"
Italian American Robert De Niro followed fellow Best Actor winner Marlon Brando’s footsteps as he played young Vito Corleone in 1974’s "The Godfather Part II." He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work, and later won Best Actor for his role as Jake LaMotta in "Raging Bull" (another film by director Martin Scorsese). A Stanislavski method devotee, De Niro fully committed to his roles—for "Raging Bull," the actor gained over 60 pounds and learned how to box.
- Movie: "On Golden Pond"
Henry Fonda started his career on stage, before gaining recognition for his Oscar-nominated performance in "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), an adaptation of John Steinbeck's famous novel. After nearly a 50-year career in successful films, Fonda delivered his last, impassioned performance as a distant father in "On Golden Pond" in 1981, opposite Katharine Hepburn. He and Hepburn both won the Best Actor and Best Actress awards at the Oscars, Fonda being the oldest recipient of the award.
- Movie: "Gandhi"
English actor Ben Kingsley certainly shined in many roles (including in 1993’s "Schindler’s List"), but perhaps none were so iconic as that of Mahatma Gandhi in "Gandhi," for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. The film also won Best Picture and made a killing at the box office.
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- Movie: "Tender Mercies"
Robert Duvall was nominated for seven Oscars and won in 1983 for his role as country singer Mac Sledge in "Tender Mercies." He sang in the film, and did everything else he could to truly get into character as much as he could. In a documentary, director Bruce Beresford said that “Duvall has the ability to completely inhabit the person he's acting. He totally and utterly becomes that person to a degree which is uncanny.” Duvall also starred in noteworthy films such as "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962), the first two films in "The Godfather" series (1972–1942) and "Apocalypse Now" (1979).
- Movie: "Amadeus"
Many may recognize F. Murray Abraham now for his role in the popular television series "Homeland," but Abraham first gained success upon winning the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Antonio Salieri in "Amadeus."
- Movie: "Kiss of the Spider Woman"
William Hurt has earned four Academy Award nominations, winning one for Best Actor for "Kiss of the Spider Woman." In the film he plays Luis Molina, a trans woman who is imprisoned in Brazil during the rule of the Brazilian Military government. He also received a BAFTA for his performance.
- Movie: "The Color of Money"
Actor, director, race car driver and philanthropist Paul Newman won an Academy Award for his work in the Martin Scorsese film "The Color of Money." Newman reprised his role as Edward 'Fast Eddie' Felson from the 1959 film "The Hustler," 25 years later. Tom Cruise also starred in the film. This award for Best Actor came after eight nominations, seven of which were for Best Actor.
- Movie: "Wall Street"
Actor and producer Michael Douglas has received many accolades over the years–from winning the Academy Award for Best Picture for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" (which he produced in 1975), to the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award for "outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment." Perhaps one of his biggest accomplishments was the Oliver Stone-directed drama "Wall Street," for which he won the Academy Award for best actor. He reprised the role years later "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" (2010).
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- Movie: "Rain Man"
Hoffman’s second Best Actor Oscar came from his iconic performance in "Rain Man," in which Hoffman played autistic savant Raymond Babbitt, alongside Tom Cruise. He noted that his job working at the New York Psychiatric Institute in his twenties was helpful in learning more about human behavior. The film went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture and best director for Barry Levinson. Of Hoffman, Levinson said that the actor developed Raymond Babbitt’s signature shuffling walk and nasal voice.
- Movie: "My Left Foot"
Daniel Day-Lewis is an English actor who is the only man to have won three Academy Awards for Best Actor, and one of three male actors to win three statues during his career. The first of his Oscars for Best Actor was for his performance as Christy Brown in "My Left Foot," for which he also won a BAFTA for the role. Well known for refusing to break character when working on a film, Day-Lewis treated his role as writer and painter Brown with the same seriousness. Brown had cerebral palsy, left with only the use of his left foot. He was moved around set in a wheelchair and spoon-fed by crew members.
- Movie: "Reversal of Fortune"
A classically trained theater actor by trade, Irons appeared in numerous West End Shakespeare productions and won a Tony Award for his 1984 Broadway debut in Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing." In 1990, Irons played accused murderer Claus von Bülow in "Reversal of Fortune," for which he received an Academy Award for Best Actor. He has what is known as the "Triple Crown of Acting" since he has won an Academy Award, Emmy Award, and Tony Award.
- Movie: "Silence of the Lambs"
Sir Anthony Hopkins is a Welsh actor who was given one of his first big breaks in theater thanks to fellow Oscar winner Laurence Olivier, who spotted him in acting school. Hopkins’ only Oscar for Best Actor came from his spine-chilling performance as the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs." The film won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and co-star Jodie Foster won the award for Best Actress. Hopkins reprised the villainous role two more times, in "Hannibal" (2001), and "Red Dragon" (2002).
- Movie: "Scent of a Woman"
Another recipient of the “Triple Crown of Acting,” Al Pacino earned his Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as the blind Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in "Scent of a Woman." He has been nominated so far for eight Oscars and 17 Golden Globes (of which he has won four), among many other accolades. That same year, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Glengarry Glen Ross, marking the first time an actor was up for two Academy Awards for different movies in the same ceremony.
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- Movie: "Philadelphia"
Tom Hanks is a household name in the world of acting, having starred in numerous critically acclaimed films that have grossed more than $4.5 billion at the U.S. box office. Along with Spencer Tracy, Tom Hanks is the only actor to win two back-to-back Oscars for Best Actor. His first was for "Philadelphia," in which he played a gay lawyer suffering from AIDS who sues his law firm for discrimination.
- Movie: "Forrest Gump"
In 1994, Tom Hanks claimed his second consecutive Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of the title role in "Forrest Gump." The Robert Zemeckis-directed film made a killing in the box office and won six Oscars. The film follows the life of Forrest Gump, a dim but loving athletic man from Alabama who lives through many extraordinary events.
- Movie: "Leaving Las Vegas"
Although Nicolas Cage is mostly known for the action films he starred in later in his career, the actor is an accomplished artist, having been in a variety of critically acclaimed dramas since he was young. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as an alcoholic writer in "Leaving Las Vegas." He was also nominated for his portrayal of both real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and Kaufman's fictional twin brother in "Adaptation" (2002).
- Movie: "Shine"
Australian actor and “Triple Crown of Acting” winner Geoffrey Roy Rush has been nominated for four Academy Awards, winning one for his work in "Shine." In the film, based on the life of real-life pianist David Helfgott, featured Rush as Helfgott, who suffered from mental illness and was kept in institutions. Rush is also the first actor to win the Academy Award, BAFTA, Critics' Choice Movie Award, Golden Globe and SAG Award for a single role.
- Movie: "As Good as It Gets"
Somewhat of a departure from his usual dramas, Jack Nicholson’s performance in the romantic comedy "As Good as it Gets" won him the Academy Award in 1997. In the film, he played Melvin Udall, a funny, sarcastic, manic novelist who falls in love with a woman played by Helen Hunt, who also won the Oscar for Best Actress.
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- Movie: "Life is Beautiful"
The Italian actor, comedian, writer and director made waves outside of his home country with the creation of "Life is Beautiful" (La Vita È Bella), which he co-wrote, directed and starred in. Inspired by stories from his father (a Nazi concentration camp survivor) and from other Holocaust survivors, Benigni centered the story around a Jewish man who protects his son in a Nazi concentration camp by telling him that their settings are all just a game. The film was nominated for seven Oscars in total and won three, including Best Foreign Language Film.
- Movie: "American Beauty"
Just a few years before his Best Actor-winning performance in "American Beauty," Kevin Spacey was an accomplished stage actor and the recipient of an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the thriller "The Usual Suspects" (1995). Spacey played a melancholic father who goes through a midlife crisis. The same year, he earned a star on the world-renown Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- Movie: "Gladiator"
The New Zealand-born actor’s career blossomed when he starred in Ridley Scott’s epic "Gladiator," a historical film about Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius, played by Crowe. The actor won the Oscar for Best Actor for the role, and was nominated both the year before and after his win (for "The Insider" in 1999 and "A Beautiful Mind" in 2001). In "Gladiator," Maximus is betrayed by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ son, and when he is sold into slavery he must fight his way in the gladiators’ arena to seek revenge.
- Movie: "Training Day"
Denzel Washington has been loved by critics and audiences alike for many years, and has won two Oscars: one for Best Supporting Actor in 1989 for the historical war film "Glory," and the other for Best Actor in "Training Day" in 2001. In the latter, a cop thriller, Washington played the corrupt Los Angeles Detective Alonzo Harris. He was the second African American man to win the honor, after Sidney Poitier.
- Movie: "The Pianist"
At 29, Adrien Brody was the youngest actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for Roman Polanski’s "The Pianist." To prepare for the role, Brody became incredibly aloof for a time, learned how to play the piano and lost a significant amount of weight. He was portraying the Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman, whose World War II memoir was adapted into the Oscar-nominated film.
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- Movie: "Mystic River"
Sean Penn has been nominated for five Best Actor Oscars, of which he won two. The first was for the crime drama "Mystic River," directed and composed by Clint Eastwood. Tim Robbins also won that year for his performance in a supporting role in the film—the first film to sweep both categories since 1959 epic "Ben-Hur."
- Movie: "Ray"
The prolific actor, musician and comedian is a triple threat. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as singer and pianist Ray Charles in the biographical drama "Ray." In the same year, he was also up for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in "Collateral." The year before, Foxx had been featured on two popular singles, “Gold Digger” with Kanye West and “Georgia” with Ludacris and Field Mob, both of which sampled two different Ray Charles hits.
- Movie: "Capote"
Until his death in 2014, Philip Seymour Hoffman was an actor and director who was widely acclaimed for his supporting character roles in many films during the turn of the millennium. He was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning Best Actor for his portrayal of author Truman Capote in the biographical film "Capote." The film centered around Capote’s journey writing the novel "In Cold Blood" in 1966.
- Movie: "The Last King of Scotland"
Forest Whitaker is a character actor who won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland." According to CBS, Whitaker underwent immense physical changes and research for the role. He gained 50 pounds, learned to play the accordion, learned Swahili, and spent time with Amin’s family and victims.
- Movie: "There Will Be Blood"
A close collaborator with acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Day-Lewis won another Oscar for Best Actor for his role in Anderson’s "There Will Be Blood," loosely based on the Upton Sinclair novel "Oil!" For his performace, he was nominated for many other awards, including a SAG Award. During his speech, he honored Health Ledger, praising his performance in Brokeback Mountain by calling it “unique, perfect.”
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- Movie: Milk
Sean Penn’s second Academy Award win was for the biopic "Milk," in which he played the title role real-life gay rights leader and politician Harvey Milk. In his acceptance speech, Penn turned the focus on the work still to be done in the gay rights movement. He said: “I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone.”
- Movie: Crazy Heart
Actor and musician Jeff Bridges may be best known as the cult classic icon 'The Dude' from the Coen brothers’ film "The Big Lebowski" (1998), but the actor has also been nominated for six Academy Awards, winning Best Actor for "Crazy Heart." The film, based on a 1987 novel of the same name, focuses on a country singer-songwriter named Otis 'Bad' Blake (Bridges), who tries to mend his life by starting a relationship with a journalist (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal).
- Movie: The King's Speech
One of the biggest British actors of recent history, Colin Firth’s films have made more than $3 billion worldwide. Firth won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Prince Albert, Duke of York/King George VI in "The King’s Speech," directed by Tom Hooper. The film centers around Prince Albert’s work with a zany speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to rid himself of his speech impediment when he learns that he will ascend to the throne in 1936.
- Movie: "The Artist"
Jean Dujardin, a French actor and comedian, got his start in French TV, in the cult classic "Un gars, une fille." He gained momentum in film until "The Artist," the black-and-white silent movie that launched the actor to international acclaim. He is the first French actor to be awarded the Oscar for Best Actor. In the film, Dujardin plays George Valentin, an older silent film star in Hollywood who has a relationship with a young ingenue during the rise of “talkies” in the early 1930s.
- Movie: "Lincoln"
Once again fully throwing himself into a character role, Daniel Day-Lewis won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of former President Abraham Lincoln in "Lincoln." Based on the book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," the Spielberg-directed historical drama focused on the last months of Lincoln’s life, in which he fought for Congress to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Day-Lewis asked and was given nearly a year to prepare for the role.
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- Movie: "Dallas Buyers Club"
Despite being widely known as the star of many romantic comedies during the 2000s, Matthew McConaughey awed critics and audiences with his performance in "Dallas Buyers Club," which earned him a Best Actor Oscar. In the biographical film, McConaughey played Ron Woodroof—a macho rodeo rider diagnosed with AIDS. 2013 turned out to be somewhat of a turning point for the actor, who since has acted in largely dramatic roles.
- Movie: "The Theory of Everything"
English actor and model Eddie Redmayne has so far been nominated twice for Academy Awards and won once, receiving the honor for Best Actor for his work in "The Theory of Everything." The biographical drama about theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, directed by James Marsh, was adapted from the memoir "Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen," written by Hawking’s ex-wife Jane Hawking. The plot centers around the relationship between Hawking and his ex-wife, particularly during the parallel successes of the former’s work in physics and his battle with ALS.
- Movie: "The Revenant"
Leonardo DiCaprio’s illustrious film career started at a young age, and has since spanned into multiple genres and iconic roles over the years. He has been nominated for six Academy Awards, and by the time his nomination in 2015 for The Revenant came around, many hoped that he would finally win. He did, in fact, win, for his portrayal of fur trapper and frontiersman Hugh Glass in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s drama about survival and human persistence.
- Movie: "Manchester By the Sea"
While Casey Affleck didn't present at 2018's Oscars ceremony after allegations of sexual harassment, only two years prior he did accept the Best Actor Award in 2016 for "Manchester by the Sea." Never staying in the shadow of his brother Ben Affleck, Casey has acted in the "Ocean’s" movies as well as "Interstellar." His portrayal of Lee Chandler in "Manchester by the Sea" beat Denzel Washington at the Oscars, but lost to him at the SAG Awards.
- Movie: "The Darkest Hour"
Englishman Gary Oldman played Prime Minister Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” the Anthony McCarten-written, Joe Wright-directed film about the revered leader’s early World War II moments. Oldman’s performance was largely credited with salvaging an otherwise lackluster movie, as the story itself earned a lukewarm reception. The win was the 61-year-old Oldman’s first; he had been nominated only once before for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” in 2012.
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- Movie: "Bohemian Rhapsody"
The Freddie Mercury biopic, directed by Bryan Singer, earned Rami Malek his first Oscar nomination and win, beating out the likes of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Willem Dafoe. In a film panned by critics but loved by audiences (the box office speaks for itself), Malek shone as the Queen frontman, expanding his renowned repertoire beyond Elliot Alderson from “Mr. Robot.”
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