Yes, Bette Was Robbed. But These 20 Contenders Just Lost. Mr. D Branded Vicious!

Actors who’ve been nominated for an Oscar — but have somehow never won one
By Drew Weisholtz
March 9, 2022

It may be an honor to be nominated, but there’s nothing quite like winning. Only a select group of actors can say they’ve won an Academy Award. Sometimes they collect them like baseball cards (hello, Meryl Streep and your three trophies), while other times fate smiles on someone who’s not exactly a household name (we’re looking at you, Roberto Benigni).

Winning an Oscar represents the pinnacle of a movie star’s journey to the top of his or her field. But for every Tom Hanks and Russell Crowe, there are plenty of other actors who have fallen just short of achieving immortality among thespians. Sure, never being nominated is a bummer, but it can also hurt to be up for an Oscar only to be passed over for Hollywood’s most coveted prize. Here’s a look at some of the biggest stars who have been nominated for an Academy Award, but have yet to claim the coveted statuette.

Glenn Close

Wow. Just … wow. Close has come oh-so-close so many times, having been nominated for eight Oscars in her career, which ties her with the late Peter O’Toole for the most by any actor without a win. From her chilling performance in “Fatal Attraction” to “The Big Chill” to more recent fare in “Hillbilly Elegy,” Close is one of the big screen’s most capable actors, but has failed to win a trophy.

Glenn Close Actress in a scene from the film Fatal Attraction
Glenn Close’s portrayal of a woman who has a fling with a married man in “Fatal Attraction” had audiences spellbound. Alamy

Amy Adams

Adams, who also starred in “Hillbilly Elegy,” is approaching Close territory herself, with a whopping six nominations, all since 2006. Her resume of nominated performances includes “Junebug,” “Doubt,” “The Fighter,” “The Master,” “American Hustle” and “Vice.” She is a presence on screen and one of her generation’s transcendent talents. How she has failed to win an Oscar yet is the stuff movies are made of.

AMERICAN HUSTLE 2013 Columbia Pictures film with Amy Adams
Adams was excellent in “American Hustle,” but not excellent enough to win an Oscar.Alamy

Will Smith

The former “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” star made a smooth transition to the big screen and has had some meaty roles to show for it. Nominated for best actor this year for “King Richard,” he’s earned a pair of other best actor nominations, including for his work in the biopic “Ali” and the tearjerker “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

Will Smith, King Richard (2021). Photo credit: Warner Bros. / The Hollywood Archive
Will “King Richard” be the movie that finally moves the needle for Smith and make him an Oscar winner? Alamy

Tom Cruise

One of the silver screen’s biggest draws the last four decades, Cruise has a trio of nominations under his belt, for three very different performances in three very different movies, including a disillusioned Vietnam War veteran in “Born on the Fourth of July,” a sports agent who has an epiphany about how to better serve his clients in “Jerry Maguire” and a sexist motivational speaker in “Magnolia.”

Tom Cruise In 'Jerry Maguire'
Show him the Oscar! Tom Cruise has failed to win one in three nominations, including his role in “Jerry Maguire.”Columbia TriStar / Getty Images

Johnny Depp

One of Hollywood’s most hypnotizing leading men, Depp’s career began in the horror classic “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Since then, he has made a career of playing quirky characters and picked up a trio of best actor nominations, for “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” in 2004, “Finding Neverland” a year later and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” in 2007, but he has whiffed each time.

Depp has made a career out of playing colorful characters, including Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”Alamy

Don Cheadle

Cheadle had the severe misfortune of receiving a best actor nomination in 2005 for “Hotel Rwanda” when Jamie Foxx won for his stunning portrayals of Ray Charles in “Ray.” He hasn’t picked up other nominations, but his body of work is stellar, to say the least: He’s been in ‘Crash,” “Traffic,” “Boogie Nights” and “Flight,” all of which either won Oscars or garnered nominations.

Don Cheadle was riveting in “Hotel Rwanda,” playing a hotel manager who tries to offer shelter for refugees during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.Alamy

Robert Downey Jr.

Sure, he’s known for his work in the “Iron Man” films and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Downey has range beyond any superhero. In 1993, he earned his first Oscar nod, for playing Charlie Chaplin in “Chaplin.” In 2009, he notched his second nomination, playing a Black man in “Tropic Thunder.”

Long before he was Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. played a different kind of icon: silent film star Charlie Chaplin.Alamy

Winona Ryder

Ryder was in her 20s when she garnered back-to-back Academy Award nominations. In 1994, she was up for best supporting actress for “The Age of Innocence.” A year later, she was in the best actress field for “Little Women.” She didn’t win and, while you’d think more nominations would come, she hasn’t received one since.

Prod DB A© Columbia - Cappa / DR
avec Daniel Day Lewis et Winona Ryder
d'aprA¨s le roman de Edith Wharton
Winona Ryder was one of Hollywood’s most in demand stars when she made “The Age of Innocence.”Alamy

Harrison Ford

Indiana Jones had an easier time getting hold of the Sankara stone than Ford has had getting an Oscar. And not only has the actor who immortalized Han Solo and Indiana Jones never won, he’s only been nominated once. Can you guess the role? It was best actor for 1985’s “Witness.”

Original Film Title: WITNESS.  English Title: WITNESS.  Film Director: PETER WEIR.  Year: 1985.  Stars: HARRISON FORD. Credit: PARAMOUNT PICTURES / Album
It’s hard to believe that Ford has only picked up one nomination and that it was for “Witness,” in which he played a police officer who goes undercover in an Amish community. Alamy

Taraji P. Henson

Henson has no shortage of Oscar-worthy credits to her name. She was up for best-supporting actress for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and also starred in “Hidden Figures,” which secured three nominations, including a best actress nod for Octavia Spencer. She was also in “Hustle & Flow,” which earned a nomination for Terrence Howard.

Taraji P. Henson (left) played Queenie in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”Alamy

Terrence Howard

Ahh, speaking of Howard, here he is. He was dynamite in “Hustle & Flow” and also starred in best picture winner “Crash” and the critically acclaimed “The Butler.”

Terrence Howard played a pimp who dreams of becoming a rapper in “Hustle & Flow.”Alamy

Hugh Jackman

He’s got an Emmy. And a Grammy. And a Tony. He’s only missing the Oscar to help him achieve rarified EGOT status. The multitalented star has picked up one best actor nod, for “Les Misérables” in 2013 and we have to think he’ll be in the Academy Award discussion again at some point.

HUGH JACKMAN as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables 2012
Hugh Jackman played Jean Valjean in ““Les Misérables,” the only role that has earned him an Oscar nod. An Academy Award would grant him admission into the rare EGOT club.Alamy

Annette Bening

Bening has four nominations in her career, for “The Grifters,” “American Beauty,” “Being Julia” and “The Kids Are All Right.” That’s pretty impressive. Unfortunately, she lost each time, including twice to Hilary Swank, who pulled off what some considered an upset in 2000 when she was honored for “Boys Don’t Cry” when many felt Bening would win for “American Beauty.” Swank topped her again in 2005 when she won for “Million Dollar Baby” over “Being Julia.”

Dec 05, 1999; Hollywood, CA, USA; Annette Bening in 1999 movie 'American Beauty' directed by Sam Mendes.
Annette Bening has had many Oscar-caliber performances, including her role as a materialistic realtor in “American Beauty.”Alamy

Bradley Cooper

Cooper, who was shut out in the best actor category this year for “Nightmare Alley,” has four acting nominations in his career, but has struck out each time. He’s also picked up nods for producing such films as “Joker” and “A Star Is Born” but he struck out on all of those. He’s up again this year for producing best picture nominee “Nightmare Alley.”

Bradley Cooper’s performance in the latest remake of “A Star Is Born” landed him an Oscar nomination, but he came up short, just like he did in previous nominations for “Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle” and “American Sniper.”Alamy

Michelle Williams

A true talent, Williams has come a long way since she first burst on the scene in “Dawson’s Creek.” She has four nominations to her credit for compelling performances in equally compelling films that include “Blue Valentine,” “My Week with Marilyn,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Manchester by the Sea.”

Le secret de Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain
Real  Ang Lee
Michelle Williams
Heath Ledger.
Collection Christophel © Focus Features / River Road Entertainment
“Brokeback Mountain” was a critical hit, earning nominations for Michelle Williams (left) and Heath Ledger (right). Ledger would later win a posthumous Oscar for “The Dark Knight,” while Williams is still searching for her first Academy Award. Alamy

Stanley Tucci

You’d think a character actor like Tucci would be showered with Oscar love, but he has only one nomination to his name, for “The Lovely Bones.” The Emmy winner and cancer survivor has had great roles in “Big Night,” “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Spotlight,” among others, but he has yet to win Hollywood’s biggest award.

Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones 2009.
Stanley Tucci has had many meaty roles in his career, including in “The Lovely Bones,” where he played a man who murdered a 14-year-old girl. Alamy

Laura Linney

Linney is as reliable as it gets on the big screen. She scored best actress nominations in 2001 for “You Can Count on Me” and in 2007 for “Savages,” with a supporting actress nomination wedged in between in 2005 for “Kinsey.”

Laura Linney, seen here with Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Savages,” can always be counted on for a good performance. Alamy

Bette Midler

Doesn’t it just seem like Midler has won an Oscar? She has two best actress nominations, one for “The Rose” and another for “For the Boys,” but she has yet to win, although she has legions of fans for those movies, as well as “Beaches” and “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.” And she also has been honored by the Kennedy Center, so there’s that.

Better Midler was in her element as actress-singer Dixie Leonard in “For the Boys.”Alamy

Angela Bassett

Bassett, who recently won an NAACP Image Award, scored a best actress Oscar nod in 1994 for her portrayal of Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” She’s also appeared in “Boyz n the Hood” and had memorable parts in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” “Black Panther” and “Akeelah and the Bee.”

Angela Bassett was so on point as Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It” that she earned her lone Academy Award nomination.Alamy

Laurence Fishburne

“What’s Love Got to Do With It” was nominated for two Oscars — one for Bassett and the other for Fishburne, who snagged a best actor nod for playing Ike Turner. A decorated actor who has racked up Emmy nominations and wins, the “black-ish” star has yet to snag another Academy Award nomination. He’s got quite the resume, too, having co-starred with Bassett in “Boyz n the Hood” and “Akeelah and the Bee,” as well as starring in “Higher Learning,” “The Matrix” and “Mystic River.” And, hey, he almost appeared in “Pulp Fiction,” too.

Film Still from What's Love Got to Do with It Laurence Fishburne © 1993 Touchstone Photo Credit: D. Stevens
“What’s Love Got to Do With It” also earned a nomination for Laurence Fishburne.Alamy

Michelle Pfeiffer
Pfeiffer had a run in the late 1980s and early ‘90s when she was one of the darlings of the awards show circuit. In 1989, she was up for best supporting actress for “Dangerous Liaisons.” A year later, she was nominated for best actress for his sizzling performance in “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” She found herself back in the category in 1992 for “Love Field.” She’s also put on critically-acclaimed roles in movies like “Married to the Mob,” “The Age of Innocence” and “Wolf.”

Michelle Pfeiffer was a sultry singer in “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” one of many roles that could’ve easily netted her an Oscar. Alamy

Salma Hayek

She arrived as a bombshell in films like “Desperado” and “From Dusk Till Dawn,” but she long ago proved she has the talent to match, earning a best actress nod in 2003 for “Frida.” 

Frida 2002 real Julie Taymor Salma Hayek Alfred Molina COLLECTION CHRISTOPHEL © Handprint Entertainment/Lions Gate Films
Salma Hayek’s portrayal of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo helped her clench her one and only Academy Award nomination. Alamy

Sigourney Weaver

The “Ghostbusters” star was first recognized by the Academy in 1987 with a best actress nomination for “Aliens” and then hit paydirt in 1989 when she was nominated twice, including a best actress nod for “Gorillas in the Mist” and best supporting actress in “Working Girl.” A win, though, has eluded her.

A stalwart of the big screen, Weaver has revisited her role as Ripley in the “Alien” franchise multiple times. Alamy

Samuel L. Jackson

Jackson, who picked up a best supporting actor nomination for “Pulp Fiction,” is known for his prolific output. From “Snakes on a Plane” and his role as Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to “The Hateful Eight” and the “Star Wars” movies, Jackson is as much a part of the fabric of movies as buttered popcorn, but he’s still searching for an Oscar. He will be honored this year, though, with an honorary Academy Award.

Who could forget Samuel L. Jackson’s role as hitman Jules in “Pulp Fiction,” the landmark film from director Quentin Tarantino?Alamy

Woody Harrelson

RELEASE DATE: 25 December 1996. MOVIE TITLE: The People vs. Larry Flynt STUDIO: Columbia Pictures Corporation. PLOT: A partially idealized film of the controversial pornography publisher and how he became a defender of free speech for all people. PICTURED
Woody Harrelson was brilliant as Larry Flynt “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” the first of his three Oscar-nominated performances. Alamy

Harrelson has been delivering stirring performances for years and earned a best actor nomination in 1997 for “The People vs. Larry Flynt.” He followed that up with a pair of supporting actor nods for “The Messenger” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” He also won raves for “Zombieland” and “Natural Born Killers,” but failed to get nominated.

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