An Academy Award is the holy grail for any film actor. While many will claim that it’s “just an honor being nominated,” the truth is that a win puts a huge gold star on your resume and represents a major upgrade to an acting career. Actors get more bucks for their work once they’ve received a golden statue, not to mention the admiration of their peers and audiences.
While it’s easy to assume most big-name actors with talent have won before, that’s definitely not the case. Here’s a list of industry heavyweights who have yet to take home the big prize.
Holding the dubious record for the living actor with the most nominations but no wins, Close has seven nods to her name dating back to 1983’s The World According to Garp. She was nominated most recently in 2019 for her role in The Wife. Prior to that, she got a nod for Albert Nobbs in 2012, among others, including her iconic role as a spurned lover in Fatal Attraction in 1988, when she was beaten out by Cher for Moonstruck. She has plenty of other awards to her name, including three Golden Globes, the most notable of which was for 2017’s The Wife, which resulted in a passionate acceptance speech.
Perhaps one of the most underrated supporting actors during a career spanning 50 (!) years, Elliott finally got his first Academy Award nomination in 2019 for his supporting role in Bradley Cooper’s musical drama A Star Is Born. After racking up a long list of appearances in iconic films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Big Lebowski, Elliott deserved the honor, but he ultimately lost the Oscar to Green Book actor Mahershala Ali.
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With an illustrious, decades-long career that began in theater in the 1980s and went on to include mesmerizing performances in hit films, Bening hasn’t yet had the chance to dust off her mantle and make room for a golden statue. She has, however, been nominated four times, including for The Grifters (1990), American Beauty (1999), Being Julia (2004), and The Kids Are All Right (2010).
Smith got his start as a rapper, of course, which eventually led to his role as the titular Fresh Prince of Bel Air on TV. Smith eventually worked his way up the Hollywood A-list, delivering buzzworthy performances in blockbuster hit franchises like Men in Black and Bad Boys, becoming one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. Smith has also shown serious acting chops in films like Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness, both of which earned him Academy Award nominations. Yet, despite those honors and plenty of attempts at critic-pleasing roles, Smith has never won the coveted gold statue.
A leading man known as a tremendous character actor, Depp couldn’t snag a statue for some of his most iconic roles. Nominated three times, once for playing Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2004), then for Finding Neverland (2005), and finally for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2008), he hasn’t gotten any Oscar recognition for more than a decade. With his last film, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, having been released in 2018 and Depp having stepped down from the franchise due to controversies surrounding his personal life, some question if he’ll ever make it to the podium.
Wait, Gyllenhaal doesn’t have an Oscar? Nope. And he’s actually only been nominated once, back in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain. The actor hasn’t won a Golden Globe either, despite having been nominated twice, which means he’s ripe for some Hollywood respect. While he’s had plenty of impressive and challenging roles in his career, how Gyllenhaal didn’t win it all for Nightcrawler is beyond us. Gyllenhaal will play film director Robert Evans in Francis and the Godfather, a film that peels back the curtain behind the making of The Godfather. And with TV miniseries The Son, based on the Jo Nesbo novel of the same name, coming soon on HBO, perhaps Gyllenhaal will snag an Emmy before he works his way up to Oscar.
With six Oscar nods, Adams is near the top of the list of actors who have the most nominations without a win. She has won tons of other awards, including Critics Choice Movie Awards, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild Awards, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences keeps passing Adams by. First, it was for Best Supporting Actress in Junebug (2006), then Doubt (2009), The Fighter (2011), and The Master (2013). She was nominated for Best Actress for 2013’s American Hustle, but she lost to Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine. Can this gal catch a break? Adams received her sixth nomination for Vice in 2019, only to lose to If Beale Street Could Talk actress Regina King.
Robert Downey Jr.
Clearly, it pays (literally) to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Downey Jr. has consistently made it onto Forbes’ annual highest-paid actors list, even ranking first from 2012 to 2015. Yet Oscar accolades have escaped him. He’s been twice nominated — once for Chaplin in 1993 and the second time for a very different role in the comedy Tropic Thunder in 2009. In 1993, he lost to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, and in 2009 he lost to the late Heath Ledger for his role in The Dark Knight. At least Downey Jr. can say that he lost out to a pair of fine actors in incredible roles.
Williams has made a name for herself among the Hollywood elite and has racked up a total of four Academy Award nominations. But despite getting nods for her lead and supporting roles in Brokeback Mountain (2006), Blue Valentine (2011), My Week With Marilyn (2012), and Manchester by the Sea (2017), she hasn’t yet earned a win. Hot off her 2019 Emmy and Golden Globe wins for playing Gwen Verson in the FX miniseries Fosse/Verdon, and with plans to portray singer-songwriter Janis Joplin in the Sean Durkin biopic and astronaut Christa McAuliffe in The Challenger, chances are Williams might once again be in the running for a statue.
Despite being involved in many iconic action films and franchises that have grossed billions of dollars worldwide, Cruise has never won an Academy Award. He has, however, been nominated three times, including for Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Jerry Maguire (1996), and Magnolia (1999). It has been almost two decades since Cruise has been seen anywhere close to the Oscar race, though. Given his focus on action-packed flicks that don’t tend to earn nods, he may just have to say goodbye to any hope for an Oscar outside a possible Lifetime Achievement award.
With a long and successful career that includes key roles in box-office hits like Aliens, Ghostbusters, and Avatar, Weaver has always taken a back seat come Oscar season. She has received three nominations, for Aliens (1987), Working Girl (1989), and Gorillas in the Mist (1989). In fact, the latter two nominations, as you’ll note, were in the same year, and she took home the Golden Globe for both roles that same year, making her the first person to accomplish that feat. An Academy Award doesn’t look to be on the horizon for Weaver anytime soon, but one can never tell when the planets will align.
When you think of some of the most thought-provoking films of the past 20 years, chances are that Norton has been in a lot of them. Indeed, he has received a trio of Academy Award nominations, for Primal Fear (1997), American History X (1999), and Birdman (2015), but he hasn’t yet won. At the ceremony in 2015, the last time Norton’s face was shown in the nominee readings, he lost to J.K. Simmons for Whiplash.
From cracking jokes on Cheers to working on shocking films like Natural Born Killers as well as TV anthology series True Detective, Harrelson has had a long and varied career. His third nomination came in 2018 for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, where he competed in the Best Supporting Actor race. Unfortunately for Harrelson, he lost out to his own co-star, Sam Rockwell. Harrelson has also been nominated for Best Actor for The People vs. Larry Flynt (1997) and for Best Supporting Actor for The Messenger (2010) but has yet to be called on stage as winner.
Known to a new generation as the Man in Black in HBO series Westworld, Harris has been among the Hollywood elite for decades, having appeared in some of the most memorable films of the last 40 years, from Glengarry Glen Ross to Nixon to A Beautiful Mind. He has earned many Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Critics Choice Awards, and others. He has never been bestowed an Academy Award, though he was nominated three times: In 1999 for The Truman Show, in 2001 for Pollock, and in 2003 for The Hours.
It’s a travesty to learn that the late Alan Rickman never won an Academy Award during his 30-plus year career in film. Rickman, who died in 2016, not only never won an Academy Award but was never nominated. He did win an Emmy, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild Award for his small screen work in Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny back in 1996. But for the most part, Rickman was largely overlooked for Oscar consideration despite starring in movies like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Sense and Sensibility, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and, of course, as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. While there’s no chance of a posthumous Oscar at this point, perhaps Rickman might be up for a Lifetime Achievement Award of some kind in the future.