The Academy Awards, otherwise known as the Oscars, have traditionally been viewed as one of the most prestigious awards an actor can receive. Countless actors have received recognition from the Academy, and yet some, despite all expectations and their talent, are still waiting for their awards. This became a long-running joke among actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, who was notoriously snubbed of the award for years until his performance in The Revenant finally earned him his first Oscar in 2016.
Though many well-known actors receive recognition at other ceremonies, it is still perplexing to see those who haven’t received an Academy Award. There are many actors that one would just naturally assume would have an Academy Award but, in fact, do not. This is a list of brilliant, well-deserved actors who have come close or deserved to win in years past.
Update December 30, 2023: This article has been updated with even more actors who have yet to win an Academy Award but deserve to.
20 Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise is an action hero and box-office machine, but he also used to be interested in playing unique characters, always flawed, while working with incredible directors like Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, and Steven Spielberg. Although he’s been nominated three times as an actor, Cruise never won an Oscar, and that’s a shame, as his work in Magnolia, Jerry Maguire (was nominated for both), but also A Few Good Men or Eyes Wide Shut should’ve earned him one.
Many were expecting him to earn a nomination for his role in Top Gun: Maverick, but while that movie received a lot of nominations at the Academy Awards, Cruise was snubbed. It feels odd that the biggest movie star on the planet, one who has delivered some incredible work, has not yet won an Oscar.
19 Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. might be one of the most famous and richest actors in Hollywood, as the MCU wouldn’t have worked without his Tony Stark. The actor has proven with that role and with those before and after that he can be mesmerizing in front of a camera, creating memorable characters like no other, making the most difficult thing look easy. His Oscar-nominated performance in Chaplin is still lauded as one of his best, and rightly so, and he also earned a nomination for his performance as method actor Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder.
In the last few months, Downey Jr. has emerged as the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor, thanks to his performance as Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer. He might not be on this list for much longer, although he faces stiff competition from other potential nominees like Ryan Gosling for Barbie and Robert De Niro for Killers of the Flower Moon.
18 Bradley Cooper
Making his feature film debut in the 2001 comedy Wet Hot American Summer, Bradley Cooper has been on the scene for two decades. He was nominated for Best Actor for his roles in Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper and A Star is Born. He also received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in American Hustle in 2014. This also does not count the times he has been nominated as a Producer for Best Picture with nominations for American Sniper, A Star Is Born, Joker, and Nightmare Alley.
Cooper has definitely acquired Oscar buzz throughout his career, being nominated nine times a wide variety of categories. Unfortunately, has yet to take one home. His new film, Maestro, which he has both directed and plays the lead character Leonard Bernstein, might be what changes his luck as he has already generated a great deal of buzz in the awards circuit.
17 Toni Collette
Toni Collette is truly an acting chameleon who brilliantly transforms herself in every character she takes on, having starred in a slew of acclaimed and diverse hits including Little Miss Sunshine, Muriel’s Wedding, Hereditary, and Knives Out (among countless others). In 2000, Collette was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Sixth Sense, and she also won a Golden Globe Award for her work in the dramedy series United States of Tara.
The actress is constantly earning rave reviews for her dynamic performances and is a master at keeping her fans on their toes when it comes to her film projects. Many feel like she was snubbed for Best Actress for her turn in Hereditary, a role that many consider to be the best in her career. While the Academy might have a bias towards horror films, they also seem to have it against Toni Collette.
16 Edward Norton
Well-known for his role as the unnamed narrator and the protagonist in the cult classic Fight Club, Edward Norton has already proved that he is able to take over some brutally harsh characters. Norton’s illustrious roles have not been easy ones, having to reflect on the mental status of the said characters, in turn, urging the actor to dwell deep into the character’s personality and mindset. The fact that Norton has not backed off from such performances and has, in fact, perfectly captured the requirements is evidence that he is one of the best in Hollywood.
Norton has been nominated in the past three times, including in his first film role ever as Aaron in Primal Fear. Recently, his performances in The French Dispatch and Glass Onion have illustrated his ability to take over diverse roles. Norton was at one point considered the most exciting new actor of the 1990s, the heir to the likes of Robert DeNiro and Al Pachino, so it is odd to think he has never won an Academy Award.
15 Salma Hayek
Salma Hayek’s breakout role was Carolina in 1995’s Desperado. Since then, the actress has had a career like no other, mixing indie and big studio films, including Fools Rush In, Wild Wild West, and Bandidas, while also becoming a great voice actress in movies like The Hunchback or Puss in Boots. Right now, she’s always a welcome supporting player who makes every film in which she appears better. In all her career, the role that’s still most remembered, and for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, was for her portrayal of Frida Kahlo in Frida.
The film about the Mexican painter saw success in other ceremonies and received Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Makeup. Being considered one of Hayek’s most notable roles and for her beautiful portrayal of Kahlo, this Academy Award feels snubbed. Hayek will hopefully earn her first win someday soon.
14 Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal has been dazzling moviegoers with his character-driven performances and riveting on-screen presence since he made his cinematic debut in 1991’s City Slickers. Brought up in a show business family including actress sister Maggie, screenwriter mother Naomi Foner, and director father Stephen Gyllenhaal, the decorated actor was destined to do great things on the big screen.
He received an Oscar nomination for his breakthrough role in Brokeback Mountain and has dominated Hollywood since then with memorable parts in films like Donnie Darko, Zodiac, Nightcrawler, and Nocturnal Animals. It is shocking that the gifted actor hasn’t taken home the coveted statue yet, but judging by his impressive career so far, it’s only a matter of time.
13 Naomie Harris
Having acted in over twenty feature films in under fifteen years, Naomie Harris made a name for herself after winning a Black Reel Award for Outstanding Breakthrough Performance for her role as Selena in 28 Days Later. You might also remember her work in Miami Vice, the Bond franchise as Money Penny, and, especially, her role in Moonlight, always leaving a mark, even if it’s as a supporting character.
That was the film for which Harris was eventually nominated for her first Academy Award. Her nomination was for Best Supporting Actress and was certainly worthy of the award. Her crushing performance as Paula, a drug-addicted mother whose abusive tendencies damage her relationship with her son, still stings in the hearts of audiences. We hope Harris will pull in more nominations again and finally get her award.
12 Johnny Depp
Having starred in numerous iconic films and for his diverse portrayals of zany characters, it is genuinely surprising that Johnny Depp has no Oscar wins on his shelf. Depp made his debut in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street and has played memorable roles such as Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, Sweeney Todd, and more. Although being Academy nominated for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Finding Neverland, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Depp has stated he doesn’t ever want to win an Oscar. He is, however, honored by the nominations he has received, saying they are enough.
11 Samuel L. Jackson
One of the highest-grossing actors of all time, Samuel L. Jackson has starred in countless critically acclaimed films. He’s been Jules Winnfield, Nick Fury, Shaft, Mace Windu, and Sargent “Hondo” Harrelson, and that’s scratching the surface, as he’s been part of more than 200 films. An actor who got his success late in his career, Jackson hasn’t stopped working since. In 2021, it was announced that he would receive an honorary Academy Award. So close to the real thing. Before this, his only Academy recognition was for his role as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction. Despite receiving his honorary Academy Award, we are interested in seeing if Jackson can still obtain the classic, golden man in the future.
10 Stanley Tucci
Celebrated character actor Stanley Tucci is a two-time Golden Globe winner and five-time Emmy recipient who has been a constant presence on the big screen for nearly forty years. From unforgettable roles in flicks like The Devil Wear Prada, Julie & Julia, Spotlight, and The Hunger Games franchise, Tucci is exceptional with every character he portrays and triumphantly makes them his own. His commanding performance as serial killer George Harvey in The Lovely Bones was met with widespread critical acclaim, and he earned an Academy Award nod for Best Supporting Actor. Tucci is always serving up nothing but his very best with both his TV and film projects and absolutely deserves to win the prestigious accolade.
9 Saoirse Ronan
Saoirse Ronan has already been nominated for four Oscars, and she’s not even thirty years old. Since she started as a child actor, Ronan has played all kinds of characters, from a teenage assassin to the Queen of Scotland or Louisa May Alcott’s creation of a literary hero, transforming them into icons. Her first nomination was at 13 for Atonement, becoming one of the youngest actors to ever get nominated, and she has never stopped.
She was then nominated for Best Actress for her work in Brooklyn, Lady Bird, and Little Women. She’s not afraid of playing uncomfortable characters, and she always transforms them into relatable, real, surprising, and someone whom audiences can root for. As one of the most exciting and dynamic stars of the 21st century, it is only a matter of time before she earns an Academy Award.
8 Willem Dafoe
Willem Dafoe received his first Oscar nomination for his role as Sergeant Elias Grodin in Platoon back in 1986. Thirty-six years later, we are still waiting for Dafoe’s first award. Dafoe received a second nomination for Best Supporting Actor as Max Schreck in the 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire.
Since then, Dafoe has portrayed various notable characters in films such as At Eternity’s Gate, which he received a Best Actor nomination for, The Florida Project, for which he again received a Best Supporting Actor nomination, as well as for The Lighthouse. There seems to be no stopping Dafoe as he continues to be cast in various films across all genres, so there is hope for him in the near future and likely could get a nomination for his role in Poor Things for Best Supporting Actor.
7 James McAvoy
Undeniably, one of Hollywood’s most exciting and refreshing talents, James McAvoy gives it his all in every part he takes on and never fails to deliver lauded performances. From starring as a young Charles Xavier in the X-Men series, to portraying a man with 23 personalities in Split, and even an aspiring assassin in Wanted, the Scottish actor has repeatedly showcased his impeccable range and has swiftly become a highly-buzzed about cinematic presence.
The actor is not afraid to look bad for a role, and every movie he appears in, improves by 10% thanks to his charisma and actorly bonafides. Despite his diverse acting resume, McAvoy has yet to receive an Oscar nomination, but he has earned a BAFTA and Golden Globe nod, and an Academy Award nomination is not far behind.
6 Kristen Stewart
Kristen Stewart’s style of acting was harshly criticized after her breakout role as Bella Swan in the Twilight franchise. Her brooding demeanor only needed to be placed in new settings where it could flourish. Since then, her style has shaped and come into itself. Stewart is one of the most resilient actresses in Hollywood and has had recent Oscar buzz for her portrayal of Princess Diana in Spencer.
Having won multiple awards and receiving well over thirty nominations so far, many think that Stewart should’ve won her first Oscar but she was actually snubbed for Spencer. The actress’s career has become a great mix of indie and box office films, and she has great taste in choosing directors to work with, so this won’t be her last nomination for the Golden Statue.
5 Michelle Williams
When Dawson’s Creek started, few would’ve thought that Michelle Williams would become one of the best actresses of her generation, as there’s not usually a path from a teenage TV series to the Academy Awards. Since then, she’s worked with some of the best directors in the industry, from Ang Lee to Derek Cianfrance and Kelly Reichardt, showing in the process how an incredible actress she is.
Williams’ talent and how she’s able to transmit the deepest and darkest parts her characters are feeling, breaking audiences’ hearts in the process. The actress has been nominated for five Oscars already (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilyn, Manchester by the Sea, The Fabelmans), always playing characters with many layers who keep quiet about most of what they feel, but she’s able to show you it’s there, and it’s about to explode.
4 Ralph Fiennes
For some, he is known as Lord Voldemort, but Ralph Fiennes is one actor who has taken over the big screen as well as the theater stage. When looking at the roles that Fiennes has done, it’s obvious that he has been successful in portraying some cold-hearted villains. Even though he hasn’t been nominated for an Academy Award since 1997, Fiennes has kept creating an excellent career, mixing lead and supporting roles.
In the last decade, he has played complicated roles, such as M. Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Chef Slowik. That character in The Menu is a perfect example of how Fiennes is able to reflect on a character’s journey, mindset, and evil nature. It is no easy task to portray complex characters such as Chef Slowik, but Fiennes has done it so perfectly that it is impossible to consider any other actor for such roles.
3 Sir Ian McKellen
Yet another actor who is known for his performances on stage and on the big screen, Sir Ian McKellen is one of the most lovable actors in Hollywood. From his performances in the X-Men series, The Lord of the Rings series, and The Hobbit series, McKellen is able to portray both heroes and villains, which goes on to prove his talent. McKellen has been nominated for two Oscars. The first was Best Actor in 1999 for his role in Gods and Monsters, while the second was Best Supporting Actor in 2002 for his role in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
The fact that this actor is yet to win an Oscar is shocking. Nonetheless, it is always a delight to see McKellen take over any role simply because he is able to tap into any notes required by the characters. He’s done all kinds of roles, and his charisma and commitment to each character, good or bad, are why the camera loves him. If he gets another Oscar nomination, he might win the whole thing, not only for the performance, but because, after such an incredible career, he deserves to.
2 Amy Adams
Amy Adams might have had a rough journey in becoming a successful actor, but her breakthrough roles in Junebug and Enchanted allowed her to showcase her talent. Since then, she hasn’t stopped working, creating unique, surprising, thoughtful characters that have made her one of the most well-known actresses in Hollywood. Adams has already received six Oscar nominations: five for Best Supporting Actress in films like Junebug, Doubt, The Fighter, The Master, and Vice with one in Best Actress for American Hustle.
Even with six nominations it should’ve been more, as her performance in Arrival is heartbreaking. The actress made every one of those characters her own, showing their personalities, and way of thinking in every gesture, look, and way of expressing themselves, as not many actors can. She already has four projects lined up for next year, so maybe, 2024 is the year she finally gets to take home the award. Only time will tell.
1 Glenn Close
An actress who continues to shock viewers through her brilliant performances, Glenn Close had her breakthrough in the 1980s thanks to her first film role in The World According to Garp. The fact that this first big-screen performance got her the first Academy Awards nomination is a clear statement of how talented Close is. Following this role, Close went on to deliver some phenomenal performances in Fatal Attraction and Albert Nobbs. Her role in The Wife was an emotional roller coaster that garnered a lot of praise.
She has received eight Oscar nominations, but zero wins, making her the actress with the most nominations and no wins in the last three decades. If anyone is the embodiment of someone who deserves an Oscar, it is Glenn Close. With so many great roles under her belt, one has to wonder why the Academy Awards keep snubbing her.
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