The Oscars are a tight race every year, though not always a fair one. There are often so many good options for nominees out there that some understandably fall by the wayside. The award show is also notoriously old-fashioned, which can lead to performances that deserve attention being overlooked in favor of the tried and true. Despite critical acclaim or the prestige of certain films, some actresses have never taken home that little gold statuette – and some are never even nominated despite decades of incredible work in their field.
For every Meryl Streep (racking them up at nineteen nominations and three wins) or Cate Blanchett (six nominations, two wins), there is an actress who has gone home empty-handed or not even been given the chance to compete. Winners could have just hit the right project at the right time, offering a tour-de-force performance that knocked equally deserving contenders out of the water; occasionally winners just seem to have lucked out on a really good year.
These talented women have never had the chance to brush off their acceptance speech in front of the Academy – though they totally should have. Here are 10 Great Actresses Who Have Never Won An Oscar.
10 Helena Bonham Carter
Helena Bonham Carter has had a long, varied career spanning thirty years and in that time she has earned two Oscar nominations: Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for 1997's The Wings of the Dove and 2010's The King's Speech, respectively. Both films could easily be considered Oscar bait, both Weinstein-produced period pieces full of lush cinematography and a lot of serious acting. While both showcased excellent performances by Bonham Carter, they were more traditional roles for an actress who has made a career out of taking on much more bizarre choices.
She has taken on her share of period pieces and literary greats, performing on-screen in adaptations of Shakespeare, James, Forster, and Shelley. But she's also shown incredible range by taking parts in big blockbusters, smaller indies, and even musicals. She left a huge stamp on pop culture thanks to her role as the nihilistic, vintage-dress-wearing Marla Singer in Fight Club, inspiring girls everywhere to embrace spiky haircuts. Bonham Carter definitely doesn't need an award to confirm her greatness, but it sure would be nice.
9 Rosario Dawson
Rosario Dawson has never been nominated for a major award, which seems a shame considering she has practically been a fixture of independent films since her debut in 1995's Kids at the age of sixteen. She's also appeared in a number of big budget films, showing off her pipes in Rent (2005) and her action skills in both Sin City (also 2005) and Death Proof (2007). Dawson has managed to garner good reviews in even her lesser films, turning in solid performances no matter the quality of the project she chooses.
Dawson is currently pulling focus as nurse Claire Temple in Marvel's Netflix series Daredevil and Jessica Jones, with planned appearances in Luke Cage as well. She proved to be a breath of fresh air in the dark superhero shows, with many fans clamoring for more of her despite her character being so tertiary. Her most recent impressive turn on the big screen was in Chris Rock's 2014 film Top Five, playing a journalist who spends the movie interviewing Rock's superstar comedian character. She more than holds her own against Rock's larger than life energy, grounding the movie and giving it heart. Her films are never quite the kind the Academy loves, but that doesn't make her work in them any less deserving.
8 Michelle Williams
Michelle Williams has come a long way from her days co-starring on Dawson's Creek. She may even have the most polished and impressive career of any of her castmates, which comes as no surprise considering her talent was visible even among those overly loquacious Massachusetts teens. Outside of the show, she began to attract notice in indie movies, which eventually led to greater success in prestige pictures.
She garnered the most acclaim for her supporting role in Brokeback Mountain (2005), which also earned Williams her first Oscar nomination. She followed it up with more critically acclaimed turns in smaller budget films, finally earning a second nod for 2010's Blue Valentine. Her next nom was for 2011's My Week With Marilyn, where Williams played iconic actress Marilyn Monroe in a performance that deviated wildly from the ultra-natural work she had been praised for up until that point. Williams is often noted for the believability of her performances and her ability to disappear into her roles, but that kind of effortlessly convincing acting isn't always showy enough to get awards attention.
7 Alfre Woodard
Alfre Woodard has built a jealousy-inducing career spanning film, television, and theater and she's won just about every acting award except an Oscar (including four Emmys out of a staggering eighteen nominations). She came close to an Academy Award in 1984 for the film Cross Creek, a period piece that probably hasn't lingered in anyone's memory, but hasn't managed to land another nomination since.
Woodard has been working on stage and screen since the '70s, though television seems to have more of an abundance of roles to offer her than film (a fact that has remained true for many actresses even today). She nevertheless has managed to work almost constantly, churning out one solid performance after another in a wide variety of genres. Woodard is simply one of those highly professional, accomplished actors who always gets the job done. At this point it might be easier to give her a Lifetime Achievement Award, considering how impressive her body of work is.
6 Maggie Gyllenhaal
Maggie Gyllenhaal grew up in a Hollywood family, with both of her parents working as directors, writers, and producers. And her brother is a similarly well known actor (Jake Gyllenhaal – maybe you've heard of him). However, any accusation of nepotism would be immediately dismissed by Gyllenhaal's talent, as well as her fresh and dedicated performances.
Her first notable starring role was in 2002's Secretary, and she has since drawn attention for similarly knotty performances that walk the line between darkness and levity. Sherrybaby (2006), in which Gyllenhaal played a young drug addict and mother, brought her awards attention in the form of a Golden Globe nod; 2008's The Dark Knight was a commercial success for the normally indie actress. However, her only Oscar nom was for Crazy Heart (2009), in which she played a supporting role. Gyllenhaal seems to often draw attention for embellishing roles that could easily be thankless (girlfriends, damsels in distress) with a gravitas that lends them weight. It seems almost ridiculous that she hasn't gotten more Oscar attention, though she is another actress that might suffer from being too interesting.
5 Salma Hayek
Salma Hayek made a name for herself first in telenovelas and Mexican cinema before her success in Hollywood films, making her U.S. debut in 1995's Desperado opposite Antonio Banderas. Her electric screen presence was visible early on, and so her success only grew from there. It was when Hayek also began producing that she starting making some of the best films of her career.
One such film was Frida (2002), a project close to Hayek's heart about Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo and her lifelong love affair with fellow artist Diego Rivera. She was nominated for Best Actress for the film (and robbed, if you ask this writer), turning in a performance that more than honored the complicated woman she portrayed. Hayek is perhaps too often relegated to the sidelines for her beauty and sex appeal, with her talent ignored in favor of more superficial qualities. But she is most certainly talented, with a strength to her onscreen persona that seems to carry over behind the scenes as well.
4 Michelle Pfeiffer
Rising from the likes of Grease 2 to international acclaim, Michelle Pfeiffer has had a career of incredible variety. She often earns rave reviews for her work, though she has only received three Academy Award nominations for her acting, the last one as long ago as 1992. The nominations were for Dangerous Liaisons (1988), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), and Love Field (1992), three roles that could not be more different from one another but which Pfeiffer nevertheless sells completely.
She has excelled at drama, action, musicals, thrillers, and comedy – there doesn't seem to be a genre that Pfeiffer can't make work for her. Among her most famous performances is that of Catwoman in 1992's Batman Returns, becoming so iconic in the role that she is a definite point of comparison for any Selina Kyle who follows in her footsteps. But a lot of Pfeiffer's roles have become similarly iconic thanks to her spin on them: Scarface (1983), The Age of Innocence (1993), One Fine Day (1996), White Oleander (2002) – the list goes on and on. Like many of the actresses on this list, Michelle Pfeiffer is so consistent in her output that it seems surprising that she hasn't earned that Oscar yet.
3 Angela Basset
A graduate of Yale twice over (receiving both her B.A. and M.A. from the university, the latter from the prestigious Yale School of Drama), Angela Bassett has brought that classical education to her work as an actress, imbuing her many biographical films with a rich sense of life and history. She gained positive reviews early in career for her work in movies like Malcolm X (1992) and What's Love Got to Do With It (1993), in which she played real people, managing to do so respectfully and also without turning in flat imitations. She earned an Academy Award nomination for the latter.
Unfortunately, good roles for women are scarce in Hollywood, and scarcer still as actresses age. Bassett continued working through the decades but has currently turned to television for richer roles, appearing on the last three seasons of FX's American Horror Story, always stealing the show but often being left rather underutilized. Bassett is a perfect example of how the best performances are not always recognized by award shows, even when they should be.
2 Annette Bening
It seems kind of shocking that Annette Bening does not have an Oscar. She got her start on stage, appearing on Broadway and earning a Tony nomination, before transitioning to film, where her career essentially exploded. She has earned four nominations in her career, for The Grifters (1990), American Beauty (1999), Being Julia (2004), and The Kids Are All Right (2010) – but she hasn't won yet. Bening is an actress noted for the realism of her performances, which can make the deep emotions she evokes hit all the harder.
It seems especially strange for Bening to be without a little gold man specifically because her films are the kind the Academy tends to go for: emotionally wrought and visually beautiful films that nevertheless edge on the "safe" side of storytelling. This isn't to denigrate Bening's amazing performances; far from it. It only seems that she is often so close that it's a surprise she hasn't crossed the finish line.
1 Viola Davis
Viola Davis is a scene-stealing actress who manages to out-act nearly everyone on screen with her in any given project. She has received two Tony Awards, one in 2001 and one in 2010, and most recently won an Emmy for her work as utterly compelling but morally challenged lawyer Annalise Keating in ABC's How to Get Away With Murder. Davis has been nominated for an Oscar twice before but never managed to take the award home.
Her first nomination came in 2008 for a supporting role in Doubt, a movie in which she only appeared in one scene and nevertheless ran away with the entire film. The second nomination followed in 2011 for a lead (and therefore much larger) role in The Help. In 2008 she lost to Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and in 2011 to Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady. Both actresses are tough competition – if you're going to lose to anyone, it might as well be Meryl Streep. But Davis is no slouch, a Julliard-trained actress who has proven that she can excel at any medium she chooses. Television might be providing the kind of juicy roles she wants right now, but it's really just a matter of time until that Oscar has her name on it.
Did we miss any actresses you felt deserved inclusion? Did you spend the whole list looking for Amy Adams' name and not seeing it? Did you forget that Julianne Moore already won an Oscar? Let us know in the comments!
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