The 25 Best Actresses Who Never Won An Oscar

The Complex
The 25 Best Actresses Who Never Won An Oscar


This is how we imagine the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science voters: a circle jerk of crusty board members, suited studio heads, and random Hollywood cogs who haven’t watched a single nominated movie all in a room arbitrarily putting ballots into a hat. Considering some of the questionable winners in Oscar history, we’re fairly certain this is accurate.

One major point of contention: Best (Leading or Supporting) Actress in a Motion Picture. You’d be surprised to see how many phenomenal actresses have yet to take home a trophy, if not already lost the chance of ever putting one on the mantle.

Here’s to hoping the Academy will wake up and think for a second: The 25 Best Actresses Who Never Won an Oscar.

Amy Adams
Oscar-worthy Movie: The Fighter (2010)

Adams has come a long way from playing the maniacal socialite that makes a girl climax on a horse in Cruel Intentions 2. (Yes, you can watch this on YouTube.) For six long years, she took the roles no one else wanted before getting the opportunity to demonstrate her gifts in Junebug, the role that earned her her first Academy Award nod. Since then, she’s been the subject of major casting news and Oscar-buzz updates.

Although the four-time nominee could break her losing streak if she upsets Anne Hathaway for this year’s Best Supporting Actress award, it’s hard not to dwell on the fact that she lost to her castmate Melissa Leo for her amusing turn as the sultry no-non-sense bartender, Charlyne, in The Fighter.

Judy Garland
Oscar-worthy Movie: A Star Is Born (1954)

It’s unbelievable that Judy Garland, the Queen of Musicals, never won an Oscar. In her tragically short life, she made 27 feature films. Still not impressed? She also made records, toured army camps during WWII, appeared on countless radio and TV shows, and performed over 1000 concerts.

Her films were beyond physically demanding: she acted, sang, and danced through them all. She pushed her body the whole of her life. During 1938’s Love Finds Andy Hardy, she was given pep pills to meet the demands of her job at a young age, and sleeping pills to bring her back down to rest. As a result, she suffered from addiction and alcoholism, had a nervous breakdown, and spent time in a sanitarium.

Then she made A Star Is Born, and though her own stardom had been established long before, the Academy finally took note. The Technicolor romantic drama starred Garland as a simple farm girl, Esther, who dreamed of Hollywood, fell in love with an alcoholic star, and gave up her own career to rehabilitate him.

Garland’s performance was so highly praised that she looked like a shoo-in for the Oscar in 1954. Shortly after giving birth to her son, she invited cameras into her hospital room in anticipation to give her acceptance speech. And lost.

Julianne Moore
Oscar-worthy Movie: Far From Heaven (2002)

Is there better proof of the Academy’s incompetence than the fact that Julianne Moore, one of the greatest living American actresses, doesn’t have a trophy? After all, she’s been nominated four times for as many unforgettable roles, most notably as a porn industry vet in Boogie Nights, and a suburban wife coping with the discovery that her husband is gay in Far From Heaven. However, it wasn’t even until the most recent Emmys, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and Golden Globes that she took home her first major awards for her role in the TV movie Game Change.

We’re confident an Oscar will soon follow. Let’s hope it’s not a Scorsese-esque bestowal that recognizes her achievements for the wrong film.

Dorothy Dandridge
Oscar-worthy Movie: Carmen Jones (1954)

Maybe the world wasn’t ready for Dorothy Dandridge. In 1954, she was the first African-American nominated for Best Actress but Grace Kelly took home the Oscar for The Country Girl. It was robbery.

Dandridge’s performance in the musical Carmen Jones remains highly regarded. And her contributions to African-Americans in cinema are routinely acknowledged by critics, studio heads, and actors alike.

Natalie Wood
Oscar-worthy Movie: Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Wood began working as an actress at the age of 4, and starred in Miracle on 34th Street when she was 8, so it’s not surprising that she had 3 Oscar nominations by the time she was 25. What is surprising: Wood never got to give her acceptance speech and take home the gold. This denied the woman who helped define “teenager” with her work in Rebel Without a Cause!

Her coming-of-age moment came with Splendor in the Grass. It was her first mature role. Her character, Deanie, is unable to give her boyfriend (Warren Beatty) a sexual connection, so he turns to a another girl. Unable to handle it, Deanie spirals out of control. Her constant breakdowns, her uncontrollable hysteria–her amazing, powerful performance–should have earned her the golden statue.

Unfortunately, the talented Natalie Wood died tragically when she was only 46. For years, it was one of Hollywood’s ugliest secrets. She drowned on a weekend trip with husband Robert Wagner, Christopher Walken, and the ship’s captain. Her death was originally ruled as accidental, but the captain revealed in 2011 that he lied, and that Wagner and Wood had a fight before her body was found overboard.

Annette Bening
Oscar-worthy Movie: American Beauty (1999)

It’s no wonder Bening keeps her acting chops fine-tuned; we imagine she and her actor husband Warren Beatty can practice lines to perfection. She’s a Golden Globe winner, but only a four-time Academy Award nominee. We can only speculate, but it seems that Bening didn’t take home the golden statue because screeners of American Beauty somehow didn’t make it into the mailboxes of AMPAS voters. Her appropriately woman-on-the-verge performance of Carolyn, a materialistic and power hungry real estate broker/pill-popping suburban mom, remains one of her greatest roles.

Ava Gardner
Oscar-worthy Movie: Mogambo (1953)

Honey Bear. We’re not stupid enough to give Gardner an adorable nickname. No, “Honey Bear” Kelly is the role that earned Gardner her Academy Award nomination.

In Mogambo, Kelly navigates African terrain, beats Grace Kelly to get the man (Clark Gable), and swims upriver just to accept his proposal. She embodied charisma and beauty, all while playing with a baby elephant. And yet, the woman named by the American Film Institute as one of the “greatest female stars” never got an Oscar trophy to prove it–not even the honorary kind.

Lauren Bacall
Oscar-worthy Movie: To Have and Have Not (1944)

We have a secretary’s mess up to thank for Lauren Bacall’s presence on the silver screen. After Howard Hawks saw a small picture of Bacall in a magazine. Hawks asked his secretary to find out more information about her but the secretary misunderstood and instead sent Bacall a ticket to Hollywood for an audition. This led to the newcomer landing the role in To Have and Have Not.

She developed her iconic husky voice and, to keep from shaking from nerves, she pressed her chin against her chest and tilted her eyes upward, creating “The Look,” Bacall’s trademark.

After her first film, she went on to star in many noirs with Humphrey Bogart (whom she later married), and appear in successful comedies with Marilyn Monroe. Yet, the Academy only thought to award her an honorary statue in 2009.

Maggie Cheung
Oscar-worthy Movie: In the Mood for Love (2000)

She’s recognized everywhere overseas, yet her name rings few bells in the U.S. of A. In 2004, the New York Times published an essay asking, “Why Isn’t Maggie Cheung a Hollywood Star?” Good fucking question.

Because of the oversight of American filmmakers and moviegoers, t looks like she won’t have a shot at Oscar gold anytime soon. With over 70 films to her name, Cheung, who became the first Asian actress to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival, has reportedly turned her back on film and is now focusing on philanthropy.

If you’d like an introduction to her work, look no further than the sexy drama In the Mood For Love, in which she plays a woman who forms an undefinable bond with the man whose wife is having an affair with her husband. Think about it.

Jean Harlow
Oscar-worthy Movie: Libeled Lady (1936)

Harlow’s film career was cut short when she died at the age of 26, the result of renal failure. The original platinum blond bombshell was an MGM superstar, but she never appeared brighter than when she played Gladys Benton in the 1936 screwball comedy, Libeled Lady.

At the Academy Awards, Harlow was so ill that Clark Gable’s wife, Carole Lombard, had to assist her to the bathroom during breaks. She passed away in 1937 and was buried in the gown she wore for her most popular film. “Baby” was never honored by the Academy, but fans and film lovers will never forget her.

Laura Linney
Oscar-worthy Movie: Kinsey (2004)

Linney is a chameleon, capable of a range that feels magical. Because of this, she’s easily one of the most respected contemporary actresses. We’d be hard pressed to find another actress who can so convincingly play roles like Abigail Adams (John Adams), Annabeth Markum (Mystic River), and her Academy Award nominated turn as Clara McMillen in Kinsey. As the wife of the famous sex doctor, Linney easily portrayed the dramatic aspects of their relationship and family life with conviction and, of course, nailed the comedic aspects of the character as well.

The only reason were not more upset about Linney’s lack of an Oscar? We’re positive she’s going to have many more chances.

Greta Garbo
Oscar-worthy Movie: Romance (1930)

Before Garbo retired at the age of 35 (with 28 films to her name) and shunned publicity–probably because the Academy failed to award her a statue after four nominations–she starred in Camille. That her portrayal of the courtesan, Marguerite Gautier, wasn’t awarded an Oscar remains one of the greatest crimes against film. Many critics call Marguerite, a Dame in Paris who’s willing to give up financial security for love, her greatest role.

Yeah, Garbo never went out publicly much, and yeah, she avoided Oscar ceremonies like the plague, but that doesn’t mean the crusty members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences couldn’t have shipped her that well-deserved golden boy. And that’s exactly what they did in 1954, when they mailed her an honorary Oscar. Too little too late, Academy. Too little too late.

Catherine Deneuve
Oscar-worthy Movie: Repulsion (1965)

This French beauty has made 113 films. That’s not a typo. Her career has spanned four decades, and yet she has zero Oscars. C’mon, she was in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg! Don’t know it? It’s a French film where all the dialogue is sung and the action is divided into three parts, with time for a cry break. No respect from the Oscars for that? Fine.

Surely, Roman Polanski’s psychological horror flick Repulsion would get Deneuve onstage to say “merci” to the Academy. But no. Snubbed again, despite her amazing performance as Carol, a woman who suffers a breakdown and mercilessly murders men who try to sexually assault her.

Rita Hayworth
Oscar-worthy Movie: Gilda (1946)

Born Margarita Carmen Cansino, and often cast in trivial roles as the “exotic” girl, Hayworth resolved to create a new persona for herself. With her new red hair and new name, Hayworth became a Hollywood star.

After starring in Gilda, often considered her greatest role, she said, “[Men] go to bed with Gilda, they wake up with me.” She became an iconic femme fatale after performing a sexy one-glove strip tease (which drove censors mad in 1936) to the song she so deliciously sang, “Put the Blame on Mame.” Her intense erotic appeal, however, played second to her engrossing ability to portray a woman trapped in two loveless marriages with money wrapped up in both. No love there.

Marlene Dietrich
Oscar-worthy Movie: Morocco (1930)

Dietrich, who, we have to point out repeatedly, is widely regarded as one of the top-10 greatest actresses in the history of cinema, received exactly one Oscar nom. One. ONE. Like, this lady, born and raised in Germany, told the Nazi party to piss off when they wanted her to come back and be the most famous star in their country, then was one of the first stars to help raise war bonds for the U.S., and raised more money than any other star. AND SHE GOT ONE NOD?

But we digress. We want to talk about the role that should have earned her an Oscar: Morocco. Dietrich used to throw in some male clothes to her wardrobe, giving herself a little bit of an androgynous look and, in Morocco, as a cabaret singer, she wore a man’s tux and kissed another woman. That was unheard of in 1946, and on repeat when we bought the DVD for one of our film classes in 2006. What. A. Badass.

Isabelle Huppert
Oscar-worthy Movie: The Piano Teacher (2001)

Huppert’s been in over 90 films (including this year’s Best Picture nominee, Amour), won Cannes Best Actress twice, and is the most nominated actress for the Cesar awards (14 times), yet she she has no Oscars.

Bonjour, Academy? Amazing actress over here. Did you miss The Piano Teacher? It’s an incredible film in which Huppert plays Erika, a sexually repressed woman. It’s chilling and naked and scary and haunting and bold and everything you could want. What does the Academy have against non-American women? We want answers.

Deborah Kerr
Oscar-worthy Movie: The Sundowners (1960)

Shortly after her fifth movie, Hatter’s Castle, Deborah Kerr became England’s most popular box office star. She then moved on to Hollywood, where you’d think the prim and proper British lass would be typecast as, say, a British nanny. Wrong! Kerr was one of the most versatile actresses on the scene. She could be a nun, a devoted mama’s girl, a Bond girl (the oldest, and possibly one of the hottest, we should add), or an Australian sheepherders wife, like in The Sundowners.

As Ida, the dedicated, loving wife of a nomadic sheepherder, Kerr’s Sundowners character deals with brush fires, her gambling husband, and wanting to find a permanent home. Seriously, she puts up with a lot. We, on the other hand, would be all, “Bye, have fun with your sheep.”

The AMPAS eventually realized their mistake in not giving this great actress a tiny golden man and gave her an Academy Honorary Award. Their rationale: Kerr was “an artist of impeccable grace and beauty, a dedicated actress whose motion picture career has always stood for perfection, discipline and elegance.”

Translation: “Ah, shit. You really are amazing. We’re sorry, our bad. You are elegant as fuck.”

Bette Midler
Oscar-worthy Movie: For the Boys (1991)

The Divine Miss M. doesn’t have an Oscar. The wind has been taken out from beneath our wings. It’s hard to believe this one: she’s respected, she’s won many other awards, she’s incredibly talented, and yet no Oscar.

Yeah, she was a part of The Stepford Wives, a film we’d like to forget (let’s face it, she was hilarious in that, too), but she was also in For the Boys. Her character, Dixie, entertains the troops with a man she originally hates (James Caan) during WWII. It’s an emotional, powerful, yet still fun flick. And arguably demonstrates Midler at her best.

Liv Ullmann
Oscar-worthy Movie: Face to Face (1976)

Best known as Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s muse, Ullmann gained critical acclaim for her prominent roles in 10 of his most-admired movies, including Face to Face. So far, that’s the only film that landed her a Best Actress nomination–never mind the fact she carried the film Persona literally without saying more than a couple lines of dialogue.

Ullman brings an intensity to her films that’s hard to overlook, and yet the Academy has, time and time again. Perhaps she’ll gain their attention as a director instead: She’s set to start filming Miss Julie, with Jessica Chastain starring as her own muse. Bergman would be proud.

Angela Bassett
Oscar-worthy Movie: What’s Love Got to Do With It? (1993)

Transformative roles often guarantee Oscars for actors. That wasn’t the case of Angela Bassett, however, who remarkably embodied the great Tina Turner in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It?, earning herself a Golden Globe.

The versatile actress hasn’t landed a role as meaty since then, but that’s not to say she’s lost her, um, groove. She’s simply kept herself busy with more lighthearted fare. Here’s to hoping she’ll make a comeback worthy enough to be noticed by the Academy.

Rosalind Russell
Oscar-worthy Movie: Auntie Mame (1958)

Ms. Russell won all five of the Golden Globes she was nominated for, so we only have one question: What do you have against greatness, Academy?

Russell became a hero to funny women everywhere for playing the fast-talking, hat-wearing, no-nonsense news reporter Hildy in the classic screwball comedy His Girl Friday. And as the title character in Auntie Mame, she hilariously portrayed the eccentric, rich bohemian aunt. She may not have won an Oscar for her role, but we’ll never get the phrase “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” out of our head when we’re popping bottles ourselves.

Marilyn Monroe
Oscar-worthy Movie: Some Like It Hot (1959)

What? Huh? Marilyn Monroe doesn’t have an Oscar? That doesn’t make sense–she’s the most iconic film actress in the world!

It seems like Academy members were the only ones who could resist the sex symbol’s charms, her flirtations, and that adorable mole. If you look through a hole in a paper plate at any part of Monroe’s body you’d be able to recognize the actress. Maybe her blinding sexuality was simply too much for the AMPAS to even process.

Monroe’s well known for many things: her bust, her butt, etc. But let’s give credit where it’s due: She also had absolutely fantastic comedic timing. As the ukulele-playing singer Sugar “Kane” Kowalczyk in Some Like It Hot, Monroe helped make the film one of the most iconic funny movies ever, even getting to upstage two comedy greats (Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon) dressed in drag.

Glenn Close
Oscar-worthy Movie: Fatal Attraction (1987)

Ah, yes–Glenn Close but no cigar. It’s unfathomable that Close hasn’t won herself an Oscar yet. She’s been active in her career since 1974 and there are no signs of her slowing down yet. She’s well-known for her versatile roles, not to mention her drunk impression at the Golden Globes this year, which is deserving of an Oscar in and of itself.

Close is a six-time nominee, tying Thelma Ritter and Deborah Kerr for record of most nominations without a win. She totally deserved the Oscar for Fatal Attraction. We wish she’d gone crazy like her character, Alex, did in the flick whenever she was denied something she wanted.

If only Close stalked the Academy, got close to them, waited for them outside their office, invited them to the opera, delivered a tape recording of herself throwing verbal abuse at them, and creepily told them that she will not be ignored. In that exact order.

Viola Davis
Oscar-worthy Movie: The Help (2011)

First of all, we’re not worried about Viola Davis in the slightest. She’s on this list simply to point out the fact that she deserves an Oscar soon. Much like fellow lister Julianne Moore, Davis is basically a shoe-in for one eventually; all she’s waiting for is her ticket number to be called.

The actress had been making movies for over a decade (with roles in respectable films like Antwone Fisher and Traffic), but it wasn’t until she was nominated for a supporting role in Doubt that casting agents began taking her seriously.

While The Help, which won the SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, was chock full of notable performances (namely by Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer), it’s hard to ignore the fact that Davis–playing the lonely yet loving maid Aibileen–was the real heart of the movie.

Sure enough, her time playing second fiddle is almost up.

Barbara Stanwyck
Oscar-worthy Movie: Double Indemnity (1944)

If a gun was put to our heads by a saucy minx with legs that just won’t quit, and we were asked “Who’s the best femme fatale?” we’d stutter out a simple, “Barbara Stanwyck.” And then quiver.

Stanwyck’s Hollywood career lasted just shy of four decades, with 85 movies to her name. Then, she moved on to television. In both mediums, she was an unstoppable force. An orphan raised in foster homes during her childhood, Stanwyck became the highest paid woman in the U.S. in 1944.

Stanwyck, a favorite of directors Cecil B. DeMille and Frank Capra, was loved by her castmates and crew (she knew the names of their wives and their children), but she had the capacity to play the coldest of cold lady villains. The film that earned her the title of “most notorious femme fatale” was the iconic noir Double Indemnity. Stanywick embodied one of the greatest bad girls of film, Phyllis Dietrichson, who easily flirts her way to convincing an insurance agent to murder her husband so she can collect the life insurance.

While Stanywick did earn (earn, not win) an honorary Oscar in 1982, we’ll never forgive the Academy for neglecting to bow down at least one of the four times she was nominated for “Best Actress,” including for her Double Indemnity performance.

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