With the Academy Awards just around the corner, we often do a bit of reflecting. Though we don’t have much insider knowledge into how the winners are ultimately chosen, we have our suspicions, especially when it comes to the Best Actress category.
For one thing, those chosen tend to be white. That has a lot to do with the state of casting in Hollywood in general, and is a point of contention for many. But aside from race, the actresses who win are usually playing one of two roles: the unhinged woman who drives the crazy plot, or the strong, passionate, determined woman who faces adversity and comes out the other side.
There are so many examples of incredible leading ladies, however, we chose to focus on the snubs where both the role and the performer were truly worth singling out. While some of these women were not nominated for this part, others were, and lost to another worthy actress. Additionally, some of these women won for other roles, but not for the won we feel was their strongest (a common Oscars problem).
Read on for our picks for 15 Movie Roles That Deserved A Best Actress Oscar.
15. Bette Davis – Mildred Rogers – Of Human Bondage (1934)
In the 1934 classic drama Of Human Bondage, Philip, studying to become a doctor falls in love (or perhaps obsession) with a disdainful woman, Mildred. She rebukes his advances time and time again, but he continues to pine for her, even after she marries another man, has his child, and comes back to Philip only when she needs something. The film is a slightly depressing look at the strong feelings that connect us, and our inability to see clearly when we’re in love.
Bette Davis, an iconic actress whose work on stage and in film throughout the 20th century is internationally acclaimed, starred as Mildred, in what soon became known as her breakthrough role. Mildred is a harsh, vulgar, and apathetic woman, whose nastiness shown through, even as she became ill and eventually died. Bette Davis took on this role (and many subsequent ones) despite– and perhaps even because of– the challenge to portray such a villain.
Considered the original Oscar snub, Davis was not nominated for this role. There was so much controversy surrounding this decision that write-in votes were allowed this one and only time in Academy Awards history, after which committee regulations were adjusted.
14. Faye Dunaway – Bonnie Parker – Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Another landmark film of 20th century cinema, Bonnie and Clyde tells the semi-autobiographical story of a group of criminals. Renowned for its French New Wave cinematography and almost comedic portrayal of violence and gang-related crime, the flick represented the counterculture of the 1960s and the younger generation who fought for a more realistic portrayal of sex on screen.
The titular Bonnie was played by Faye Dunaway. Opposite producer Warren Beatty’s Clyde, Dunaway was very new on the Hollywood scene, with this role making only her third on film and her first as a lead character. As Bonnie, she’s thrown into a life of crime after meeting Clyde, who falls in love and attempts to woo her — and she eventually reciprocates.
Dunaway was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, as were each of the other actors in the film. She lost to Katharine Hepburn, who won that year for the second time, for her performance in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Though obviously a commendable performance, it could hardly be argued that the film or the part itself was more demanding or culturally significant than Dunaway as Bonnie.
13. Mia Farrow – Rosemary Woodhouse – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Widely considered one of the greatest horror films of all time, Rosemary’s Baby tells the story of a young couple, dreaming of wealth and fame, who move into a New York City apartment building where something very strange is going on. When Rosemary becomes pregnant, she quickly realizes this is no ordinary fetus growing inside of her, and that she has no one to turn to — not even her husband, Guy. As the film’s protagonist, Rosemary goes through a painful and confusing pregnancy, while those around her try to convince her she’s fine.
Mia Farrow herself had an interesting experience on set: she was a fairly unknown actress, and was recognized primarily due to her marriage to Frank Sinatra. In fact, Sinatra was unhappy with Farrow accepting the part, and served her divorce papers while she was shooting. Director Roman Polanski only convinced her to stay on set by assuring her that she would win the Best Actress Oscar, which she didn’t even end up getting nominated for.
Despite her obvious talent, Farrow has always been known far more for her tumultuous personal life than her career. There is a silver lining though: she’s received numerous accolades for her abundant humanitarian work throughout her lifetime, which really seems to be her true passion.
12. Sigourney Weaver – Ellen Ripley – Aliens (1986)
Sci-fi has rarely done well with Academy, and sequels arguably do even worse. So the fact that Aliens, the 1986 follow-up to James Cameron’s action/horror flick Alien, managed to score a handful of Oscar nominations is pretty amazing in and of itself. Aliens follows its predecessor’s heroine, Ellen Ripley, as she faces her fears and tries to capture the creatures that made her life hell once before.
Ripley is without a doubt one of the best — if not the greatest — heroines in film history. Despite her relentlessly tough exterior, Ripley is a real person who, after a traumatic experience, goes back to the scene of the crime to defeat the Alien queen. Though the others on her crew important, Ripley is the true hero of the series.
Sigourney Weaver received her very first Oscar nomination for this role, and along with the film’s several other nods. Despite losing, Weaver continued to put on memorable performances, and in 1988, was nominated for two separate roles, appearing in both the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories, a rare feat.
Though she hasn’t won yet, Weaver continues to act steadily, with four film credits last year alone. Her upcoming role in Marvel’s The Defenders series looks promising, but we’re still clinging to hopes that she’ll get to play Ripley once more in the as-yet-unmade Alien 5, and will finally score the Oscar she’s long deserved.
11. Glenn Close – Alex Forrest – Fatal Attraction (1987)
A well-received and oft-referenced sultry thriller, Fatal Attraction follows Dan Gallagher, a man who has what he believes to be a casual one-time affair with Alex. However, it soon becomes clear that Alex is enamored with Dan, and will do anything to be with him– threatening the lives of him, his wife, and his child in the process.
Glenn Close plays the part of Alex in a role that, despite her storied career since, has continued to define her. Alex starts out slightly unhinged and a bit stalker-like, and quickly escalates to a full-blown psychopath hell-bent on destroying the lives of the Gallaghers. Close fully embodies the character, and allegedly even consulted psychiatric professionals in order to make the portrayal more realistic.
Close was nominated for Best Actress Oscar for the role; her first in the category but fourth nomination overeall. She was also nominated the next year for her equally harrowing role in Dangerous Liaisons, and then more recently for her turn as a transgender man in Albert Nobbs. It’s practically a crime that, in the more than 40 years she’s been acting, Close has never won an Academy Award.
10. Jamie Lee Curtis – Wanda Gershwitz – A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
The quintessentially ‘80s heist comedy A Fish Called Wanda has been universally acclaimed. It’s the story of Wanda, who manages to trick several men, all of whom are in search of valuable stolen jewels. Everyone takes turns double-crossing each other, and the story is simple and fantastical, but always hilarious.
Co-written and directed by John Cleese and Charles Crichton, a young Jamie Lee Curtis starred as Wanda. Until this point, Curtis had been almost exclusively known as a scream queen, having gotten her start in acting just 10 years earlier as OG final girl Laurie Strode in Halloween. Curtis took on the very different role of conniving seductress as Wanda, allowing her to branch out in her career.
But despite the unique characterization, Curtis wasn’t even nominated for an Academy Award for this role. She did receive both Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, but lost to Melanie Griffith for Working Girl and Dame Maggie Smith for The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne respectively.
9. Pam Grier – Jackie Brown – Jackie Brown (1997)
For his third feature film, Quentin Tarantino chose to adapt Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch. He renamed both the lead character and the film Jackie Brown– a crime thriller starring famous blaxploitation actress Pam Grier, with supporting roles filled by Robert Forster and frequent Tarantino-collaborator Samuel L. Jackson. The movie follows Jackie, a flight attendant, in her dealings with criminal Ordell Robbie, and her relationship with bondsman Max Cherry.
Here’s where the Oscars get so white, as the hashtag goes. Forster (a white man) was nominated for his role as Ordell, but Jackson and Grier were both ignored (though both were nominated for Golden Globes). Jackson’s exclusion aside, let’s look at this situation for a minute:
Pam Grier is considered the first female action star ever (and most certainly the first black female action star), appearing in infamous roles such as Coffy Coffin in Coffy and Foxy Brown in the movie of the same name. That’s a pretty huge title to carry. Her role in Jackie Brown was a nod to her earlier career, and absolutely should have been her winning ticket. G
8. Fernanda Montenegro – Isadora “Dora” Teixeira – Central Station (1998)
Another category that is often ignored at the Oscars? Foreign films. Though there is a distinct category for foreign language films, movies where the characters don’t English (at least primarily) are often ignored in the acting categories. But Fernanda Montenegro’s performance in Central Station (adapted from the Portuguese title Central do Brasil) was so incredible that it was at least recognized by the Academy.
The film details the friendship between a middle-aged woman, Dora, and a young boy, Josué, on their journey to find his father. Dora is initially an impatient, bitter postal worker who is unhappy with her lot in life, but she begins to warm up as her friendship with Josué grows. In the end, she sells much of what she owns in order to help him and his family.
For her role as Dora, Montenegro, one of the most recognized and celebrated Brazilian actresses of all time, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Though she lost the Oscar, the film won a number of other awards, including the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
7. Ellen Burstyn – Sara Goldfarb – Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Requiem for a Dream is one of those movies that manages to terrify audiences more than an actual horror film ever could. The drama depicts the toll that drug addiction takes on lives, and a lot of the focus is on Harry Goldfarb and his best friend and girlfriend; heroin abusers who decide to get into the drug trade themselves, with shockingly awful results.
While Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans’ performances are very good, it’s the story of Harry’s mother that truly shakes you to your core. Sara Goldfarb is a widow who becomes addicted to amphetamines while trying to lose weight in the hopes of fitting into an old dress and appearing on a TV show.
Ellen Burstyn’s performance as Sara is harrowing — she masterfully portrays the descent from ordinary middle-aged woman to slightly unhinged lady to someone suffering from a complete psychotic break. Burstyn was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, but lost to Julia Roberts for her role in Erin Brockovich. However, it’s likely that she wasn’t too upset, as she’d won the award many years prior for her lead role in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
6. Audrey Tautou – Amélie Poulain – Amélie (2001)
Another foreign language film that garnered international success, Amélie follows a shy Parisian waitress through various personal encounters and schemes. The film is renowned for its beautiful coloring, intiguing camera work, and unique perspective, and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography and Best Original Screenplay.
The lead actress, however, was not recognized with any award nominations. This may be due to the fact that, while a bit mysterious and very fun to watch, Amélie doesn’t go through any significant personal struggle, as is the case with most nominated performances. However, critics agreed that the character was delightful, entertaining, and endearing, with her own, not-quite-so dramatic issues to work through.
Audrey Tautou, the French actress who led the film, has steadily continued to act in the years since. While mostly prominent in French cinema, she starred opposite Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code, and has a main role in the upcoming American comedy Going Places, which is a sort-of sequel to The Big Lebowski and was directed by John Turturro, aka Jesus Quintana himself.
5. Salma Hayek – Frida Kahlo – Frida (2002)
Biopics are often acclaimed by the Academy, and with good reason. The effort that goes into securing the rights to someone’s life story, casting the right actors, and creating a film that both captures that subjects’s life and entertains an audience is immense, and few truly succeed. Frida is one such movie, and it took years of struggle to complete the project.
In the early aughts, Selma Hayek was fairly unknown in the U.S., having been in only a few American films. She fought hard for the role of Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter whose romantic relationships and health issues threatened her burgeoning career. In fact, it was Hayek herself who, after the script spent many years in production hell, recruited Alfred Molina to play Frida’s husband Diego, got access to Frida’s body of work, and persuaded Miramax to take on the project.
Aside from the behind-the-scenes work she did, Hayek portrayed the tortured Kahlo marvelously. She was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, but despite going above and beyond an actor’s role, lost to Nicole Kidman for The Hours. Hayek’s career since Frida has been steady, but very middle of the road in terms of quality, with comedies at the forefront.
4. Zhang Ziyi – Chiyo Sakamoto – Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
It gets hard to deny that snubs are often about race when an American film full of Asian actors giving fantastic performances is only nominated for technical awards — which are attributed to white people. While the art direction, cinematography, and costume design in Memoirs of a Geisha all deserved their respective Oscar wins, it feels very poignant that not a single performance was recognized in this captivating tale of a young woman growing up in World War II-era Japan.
Of course, the casting choices brought controversy, which may have led to the Academy’s choice to stay out of that conversation. Zhang Ziyi, who plays the geisha-in-training Chiyo Sakamoto (later known as Sayuri), is Chinese, and was at the time best-known for her previously acclaimed role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Her rival, Hatsumomo, was played by another Chinese actress, Gong Li, and her sister Satsu was played by Korean-American actress Samantha Futerman.
Despite the lack of Japanese talent, Memoirs of Geisha is a beautiful film with a powerful performance by Ziyi. Though she has yet to be nominated for an Academy Award, Ziyi has made an impact on the film community, and has earned accolades for many of her roles, and will likely continue to do so in the years to come. Maybe she’ll win for playing Mulan in the upcoming Disney adaptation — Mulan hasn’t been cast yet, but Ziyi is first on our short-list to play the famed heroine.
3. Gabourey Sidibe – Claireece “Precious” Jones – Precious (2010)
Gabourey Sidibe began her acting career with the lead role in Precious (Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire). The film showcases a life far too many are familiar with: a family dealing with poverty, abuse, and disease. Precious has two children as a result of repeated rape by her own father, but she is inspired by those around her to make a better life for her and her kids.
Though she lost the Oscar to Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side, when an actress makes her cinematic debut in a performance that is nominated for an Academy Award, it’s a very high honor nonetheless. Sidibe won the role during an open-call audition, and was chosen over 300 other women.
Since Precious, Sibide has continued to act steadily. She appeared in acclaimed indie dramas Yelling to the Sky and White Bird in a Blizzard, as well as action comedies such as Seven Psychopaths and last years’ Grimsby. Sidibe has also carved out quite a place for herself in the TV world — she had a recurring-turned-main role on The Big C, has appeared in three seasons of American Horror Story, and currently stars on the hit series Empire.
2. Michelle Williams – Cynthia “Cindy” Heller – Blue Valentine (2011)
While stories of triumph are often Oscar winners, the Academy seems to also have a soft spot for depressing tales of lost or complicated love. Blue Valentine is an indie darling that stars big name actors Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams — both of whom were Oscar nominees from previous projects — as a couple who is unable to keep their marriage together, all the while reflecting on how they met.
As Cindy, Williams is both unaffected and a bit cruel. While Dean tries desperately to keep the magic alive, Cindy seems frustrated with the whole ordeal, and struggles to find the love she once felt for him. She’s almost the antagonist, and one wonders what has made her this way.
Though she didn’t win for Blue Valentine, at 36, Williams has already had quite an acting career beyond many of those twice her age. She recently received her fourth total Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actress in Manchester By the Sea.
1. Quvenzhané Wallis – Hushpuppy – Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Called by many one of the most divisive films of the year, Beasts of the Southern Wild is the moving tale of a father and his daughter living in poor southern town that’s hit by a traumatic storm. The man, Wink, becomes ill, and his daughter Hushpuppy must work to help them survive.
Like Sidibe, Quvenzhané Wallis was nominated for her very first acting role. What makes her even more unique is that, at the time of filming, Wallis was only six years old. Her nomination made her the youngest actress ever and the first person born in this century to receive a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She’s also the first black child actor to be nominated for an Oscar.
These impressive feats have only spurred Wallis on in her career. She had a small role in 12 Years a Slave, and went on to star as Little Orphan Annie in the most recent film adaptation of the renowned Broadway musical. Now 13, Wallis has many years ahead of her to win an Oscar, and she seems to be in no rush: her social media accounts show that she’s taking some time to enjoy life as a regular kid, playing volleyball and hanging out with friends and family.
Which Best Actress snubs bother you the most? Let us know in the comments!
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