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32 Great Acting Performances That Didn't Win An Oscar

 Jack Nicholson in The Shining. .
Jack Nicholson in The Shining. .

How many times have you watched an incredible acting performance and looked up to see how many awards it won only to find out that the Oscar went to someone else that year? It’s shocking how many times this has happened over the years for some of the greatest actors and actresses of all time. Here are 32 times an incredible performance didn’t win an Academy Award for one reason or another.

Samuel L Jackson looms over someone sitting in a chair beneath him in Pulp Fiction.
Samuel L Jackson looms over someone sitting in a chair beneath him in Pulp Fiction.

Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction)

Though he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction, Samuel L. Jackson’s name wasn’t called at the 67th Academy Awards. This is nothing against Martin Landau’s performance from Ed Wood, but Jackson’s foul-mouthed and righteous hitman is an all-time great character that should have been recognized.

Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver
Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver

Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver)

Robert De Niro received an Oscar nomination for his career-defining portrayal of Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s 1977 psychological thriller, Taxi Driver, but the unhinged and memorable performance wasn’t enough to win Best Actor. It’s hard to be mad, as Peter Finch’s Academy Award-winning turn in Network is the stuff of legend.

Harrison Ford in Witness
Harrison Ford in Witness

Harrison Ford (Witness)

One of the best actors without an Oscar, Harrison Ford has only one Academy Award nomination to his name, the 1985 crime thriller, Witness. Though not Ford’s most iconic character, his take on Philadelphia detective John Book as he goes to great lengths to protect a young boy is nothing short of amazing.

Morgan Freeman reading a letter in The Shawshank Redemption
Morgan Freeman reading a letter in The Shawshank Redemption

Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption)

Morgan Freeman gave the performance of a lifetime as Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding in The Shawshank Redemption. If the movie would have come out any other time besides 1994, a year dominated by Forrest Gump, there’s a good chance the aging prisoner and accomplished smuggler would have earned Freeman an Oscar.

Bill Murray in Lost in Translation
Bill Murray in Lost in Translation

Bill Murray (Lost In Translation)

Bill Murray’s portrayal of cynical, washed-up actor Bob Harris in Lost in Translation will forever be one of the comedian’s most beloved roles. While Sean Penn’s performance in Mystic River is more than deserving of an Oscar, it’s a shame the iconic comedian didn’t get properly recognized for a once-in-a-decade showing.

Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple
Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple

Whoopi Goldberg (The Color Purple)

Whoopi Goldberg showed off a more dramatic side with her lauded portrayal of Celie Harris-Johnson in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation of The Color Purple. It’s absurd that the emotional, dynamic, and powerful performance didn’t win Goldberg a much-deserved Oscar, which went to Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful, instead.

Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List
Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List

Ralph Fiennes (Schindler's List)

Schindler’s List features one of the best Ralph Fiennes performances with his portrayal of Nazi work camp commandant Amon Goeth in Steven Spielberg’s 1993-defining film. And while the movie won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Fiennes’ unforgettable turn was not among them. Instead, he lost out to Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive.

Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie
Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie

Dustin Hoffman (Tootsie)

If you’re looking for one of the best New York City movies, Tootsie has you covered. If you’re looking for a movie featuring an acting performance that should have won an Oscar but didn’t, Sydney Pollack’s 1982 comedy has you covered there as well. Seriously, how Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Michael Dorsey wasn't awarded is something we just don’t get.

Denzel Washington in Malcolm X
Denzel Washington in Malcolm X

Denzel Washington (Malcolm X)

Denzel Washington eventually won a Best Actor Oscar for his unforgettable turn in Training Day, but the actor was robbed nearly a decade earlier after not winning the big prize for his take on the titular Civil Rights leader in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.

Timothee Chalamet and Florence Pugh in Little Women
Timothee Chalamet and Florence Pugh in Little Women

Florence Pugh (Little Women)

Florence Pugh was already a rising star at the time of Little Women’s release, but her portrayal of Amy March in Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age drama took her to new heights. Though she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars, Pugh lost out to Laura Dern from Marriage Story.

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained
Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained

Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained)

Here’s something wild to think about – Jamie Foxx not only didn’t win an Oscar for his performance in Django Unchained, he wasn’t even nominated for Best Actor. Admittedly, it was a stacked list of actors – Daniel Day-Lewis, Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Denzel Washington – but not even being named is just something.

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)

The Wrestler felt like Mickey Rourke’s big redemption arc, more so than the character he portrayed in Darren Aronofsky’s great wrestling movie. Despite pushing himself to the breaking point from both a physical and emotional standpoint, Rourke lost out to Sean Penn’s take on Harvey Milk in Milk.

Michael Keaton in Birdman
Michael Keaton in Birdman

Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Michael Keaton gave the performance of a lifetime in the 2014 mind-bending drama film, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), one that seemed to channel the actor’s past in such a way it felt like an autobiography. However, stealing the show as Riggan Thomson, a.k.a., Birdman, wasn’t enough, as the prize went to The Theory of Everything’s Eddie Redmayne instead.

Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird.
Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird.

Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)

Saoirse Ronan has been nominated for an Oscar on four separate occasions, but not a single win, which is something. One of the performances that deserved an Academy Award the most was that of Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. The portrayal of a confused high school senior on the verge of entering the next stage in her life lost out to Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, and Colleen Camp in Clue
Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, and Colleen Camp in Clue

Tim Curry (Clue)

Tim Curry’s portrayal of Wadsworth in Clue, a butler or undercover FBI agent depending on which ending you watch, is a role that is beloved by fans of the classic murder mystery comedy. However, it wasn’t recognized at the Academy Awards or other ceremonies, which is the real crime.

Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck in Gone Girl
Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck in Gone Girl

Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

Rosamund Pike’s take on Amy Elliott-Dunne earned the sole Academy Award nomination for David Fincher’s Gone Girl, a nod that was more than deserved. However, the incredibly nuanced and dynamic performance failed to win the Best Actress Oscar, which went to Still Alice’s Julianne Moore instead.

The main star of Read Window.
The main star of Read Window.

Jimmy Stewart (Rear Window)

Jimmy Stewart is one of Hollywood’s most iconic actors of all time and his portrayal of L. B. "Jeff" Jefferies in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is one of the his top-tier performances. However, his take on an injured photographer who uncovers a murder mystery didn’t even get a nod at the Academy Awards.

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind)

Kate Winslet gave one of her most powerful and unique performances in the 2004 sci-fi dramedy, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Her take on Clementine Kruczynski, a woman who had all memories of her ex-boyfriend wiped from her brain, was rich, beautiful, and iconic, but just wasn’t enough to win Best Actress.

Al Pacino in The Godfather
Al Pacino in The Godfather

Al Pacino (The Godfather)

Al Pacino put himself on the map with his portrayal of reluctant crime boss Michael Corleone in The Godfather. The gradual evolution of the character over the course of the film’s three-hour runtime should have been enough for an Oscar, but like co-stars James Caan and Robert Duvall, who were also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, he didn’t get the win.

Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard
Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard

Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard)

Gloria Swanson’s "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up." line from Sunset Boulevard is one of the most iconic quotes in all of Hollywood and part of an Oscar-worthy performance. While Swanson was nominated for her take on aging film star Norma Desmond, she didn’t take home the top prize.

Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Jack Nicholson (The Shining)

Though considered one of Jack Nicholson’s best roles, his portrayal of Jack Torrance in The Shining didn’t result in an Oscar win. In fact, Nicholson wasn’t even nominated for the unforgettable performance.

John Cazale in The Godfather II
John Cazale in The Godfather II

John Cazale (The Godfather Part II)

John Cazale’s Fredo Corleone in The Godfather Part II is one of cinema’s great tragic figures as well as one of the late actor’s best characters. What’s even more of a travesty is the fact that the late actor didn’t even receive an Oscar nomination for his efforts. Tragically, Cazale would never receive an Academy Award nomination prior to his shocking death in 1978.

Angela Bassett in What's Love Got To Do With It?
Angela Bassett in What's Love Got To Do With It?

Angela Bassett (What's Love Got To Do With It?)

Angela Bassett received her first Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Tina Turner in What’s Love Go to Do with It?, but the miraculous turn as one of American music’s most famous and influential figures didn’t earn her a Best Actress win.

One of the stars of American History X.
One of the stars of American History X.

Edward Norton (American History X)

Reformed neo-Nazi Derek Vinyard is one of Edward Norton’s most controversial and complex characters of his career, and the American History X performance earned him a Best Actor nod at the 71st Academy Awards. However, Roberto Benigni from Life Is Beautiful ran away with the top acting prize.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Divine Rivals
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Divine Rivals

Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca)

Somehow, Ingrid Bergman, who was astonishing as Ilsa Lund in Casablanca, not only didn’t win Best Actress at the 16th Academy Awards, she wasn’t even nominated for her iconic portrayal of a woman caught between two men and two different lives in the 1943 black-and-white classic.

Paul Giamatti in Sideways
Paul Giamatti in Sideways

Paul Giamatti (Sideways)

In a perfect world, Paul Giamatti would have won the Oscar for Best Actor in Alexander Payne’s Sideways, but alas, that is not the reality in which we live. Miles Raymond is one of Giamiatti’s best characters and carried the movie about two friends on a wine trip they’ll never forget.

Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men
Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men

Henry Fonda (12 Angry Men)

An amazing courtroom drama, 12 Angry Men is still arguably one of the best movies of all time. While its star, Henry Fonda, received a Best Picture nomination as a producer, his dynamic and rich portrayal of a juror who insisted on getting things right didn’t earn him an acting nod, which is a real miscarriage of justice.

John Goodman in The Big Lebowski
John Goodman in The Big Lebowski

John Goodman (The Big Lebowski)

You can add John Goodman to the list of great actors who have never received an Oscar nomination, which just doesn’t make sense. It’s especially maddening when you consider his legendary portrayal of Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, a character loosely based on John Milius, per Far Out Magazine.

Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line
Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line

Joaquin Phoenix (Walk The Line)

Joaquin Phoenix has since won an Oscar, but his portrayal of Johnny Cash in James Mangold’s 2005 biographical drama, Walk the Line, was more than deserving of the top acting prize at the Academy Awards. What’s interesting is the fact that Phoenix was beat by his future The Master co-star, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won for his take on Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s Capote.

Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream.
Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream.

Ellen Burstyn (Requiem For A Dream)

A little more 25 years after winning an Academy Award for Best Actress thanks to her outstanding performance in Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Ellen Burstyn had another shot at capturing an Oscar with her turn as Sara Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream. Her take on a woman battling unchecked depression, anxiety, and a diet of weight loss pills gave audiences one of the most incredible and sympathetic characters of the early 21st century. Unfortunately, this also happened to be the same year Erin Brockovich was released.

Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood
Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood

Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood)

There Will Be Blood is remembered more than a half-decade after its release because of the Academy Award-winning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, but one of the three-time Oscar winner’s castmates was also deserving of recognition. Paul Dano’s Eli Sunday (he also played the smaller part of Eli’s twin brother, Paul) is one of the more fascinating characters of modern cinema, and he should have received an Oscar for his troubles. Dynamic is an understatement for this overzealous, petty, and temperamental preacher.

Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) and Quint (Robert Shaw) on boat in Jaws
Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) and Quint (Robert Shaw) on boat in Jaws

Robert Shaw (Jaws)

Steven Spielberg’s 1975 summer blockbuster, Jaws, won three Academy Awards – Best Filming Editing, Best Original Dramatic Score, and Best Sound – but Robert Shaw, who acted his tail off as the boat captain, Quint, wasn’t recognized. This shameful act by the Academy, especially after watching the USS Indianapolis monologue, still stings nearly 50 years after the fact. That scene alone deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination and win.

Many of these actors won an Academy Award either before or after these movies and performances we just covered, but it’s just wild to think about how some of these roles didn’t take home the big prize at the Oscars.