An Academy Award is the holy grail for any film actor. While many will claim that it’s “just an honor being nominated,” the truth is that a win can put a huge gold star on your résumé and be a major upgrade to your career. Actors get more bucks for their work once they’ve received a golden statue, not to mention the admiration of their peers and audiences.
While it’s easy to assume most big-name actors with talent have won before, that’s definitely not the case. Here’s a list of industry heavyweights who have yet to take home the big prize.
Perhaps one of the most underrated supporting actors during a career spanning 50 (!) years, Elliott finally got his first Academy Award nomination in 2019 for his supporting role in Bradley Cooper’s musical drama A Star is Born. After racking up a long list of appearances in iconic films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Big Lebowski, it was a well-deserved honor, but he ultimately lost the Oscar to Green Book actor Mahershala Ali.
With an illustrious, decades-long career that began in theater in the 1980s and went on to include mesmerizing performances in hit films, Bening hasn’t yet had the chance to dust off her mantle and make room for a golden statue. She has, however, been nominated four times, including for The Grifters (1990), American Beauty (1999), Being Julia (2004), and The Kids Are All Right (2010).
Smith got his start as a rapper, of course, which eventually led to his role as the titular Fresh Prince of Bel Air on TV. Smith eventually worked his way up the Hollywood A-list, delivering buzzworthy performances in blockbuster hit franchises like Men in Black and Bad Boys, becoming one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. Smith has also shown serious acting chops in films like Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness, both of which earned him Academy Award nominations. Yet, despite those honors and plenty of attempts at critic-pleasing roles, Smith has never won the coveted gold statue.
Holding the dubious record for the living actor with the most nominations but no wins, Close has seven nods to her name dating back to 1983’s The World According to Garp. She was nominated most recently in 2019 for her role in The Wife. Prior to that, she got a nod for Albert Nobbs in 2012, among others, including her iconic role as a spurned lover in Fatal Attraction in 1988, when she was beaten out by Cher for Moonstruck. She has plenty of other awards to her name, including a Golden Globe for The Wife, which resulted in a passionate acceptance speech.
A leading man known as a tremendous character actor, Depp couldn’t snag a statue for some of his most iconic roles. Nominated three times, once for playing Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2004), then again for Finding Neverland (2005), and finally for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2008), he hasn’t gotten any Oscar recognition for a decade. With his stock trending heavily downward for both personal and professional reasons, one wonders if he’ll ever make it to the podium.
Wait, Gyllenhaal doesn’t have an Oscar? Nope. And he’s actually only been nominated once, back in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain. The actor hasn’t won a Golden Globe either, which means he’s ripe for some Hollywood respect. While he’s had plenty of impressive and challenging roles in his career, how he didn’t win it all for Nightcrawler is beyond us.
With six Oscar nods, Adams is near the top of the list of actors who have the most nominations without a win. She has won tons of other awards, including Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild Awards, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences keeps passing Adams by. First, it was for Best Supporting Actress in Junebug (2006), then Doubt (2009), The Fighter (2011), and The Master (2013). She was nominated for Best Actress for 2013’s American Hustle, but she lost to Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine. Can this gal catch a break? Adams received her sixth nomination for Vice last year, only to lose to If Beale Street Could Talk actress Regina King.
Robert Downey Jr.
Clearly, it pays (literally) to be part of the Marvel universe, as Downey Jr. has consistently made it onto Forbes’ annual highest-paid actors list, even ranking first from 2012-2015. Yet, Oscar accolades have escaped him. He’s been twice nominated — once for Chaplin in 1993 and the second time for a very different role in the comedy Tropic Thunder in 2009. In 1993, he lost to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, and in 2009 to the late Heath Ledger for his role in The Dark Knight. At least Downey Jr. can say that he lost out to a pair of fine actors in incredible roles.
Williams has made a name for herself among the Hollywood elite, and has racked up a total of four Academy Award nominations. But despite getting nods for her lead and supporting roles in Brokeback Mountain (2006), Blue Valentine (2011), My Week with Marilyn (2012), and Manchester by the Sea (2017), she hasn’t yet earned a win.
Despite being involved in many iconic action films and franchises, Cruise has never won an Academy Award. He has, however, been nominated three times, including for Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Jerry Maguire (1996), and Magnolia (1999). It’s been almost two decades since Cruise has been seen anywhere close to the Oscar race, though. Given his focus on action-packed flicks that don’t tend to earn nods, he may just have to say goodbye to any hope for an Oscar outside a possible Lifetime Achievement award.
With a long and successful career that includes key roles in box-office hits like Aliens, Ghostbusters, and Avatar, Weaver has always taken a back seat come Oscar season. She has received three nominations, for Aliens (1987), Working Girl (1989), and Gorillas in the Mist (1989). In fact, the latter two nominations, as you’ll note, were in the same year, and she took home the Golden Globe for both roles that same year, making her the first person to accomplish that feat. An Academy Award doesn’t look to be on the horizon for Weaver anytime soon, but one can never tell when the planets will align.
When you think of some of the most thought-provoking films of the past 20 years, chances are that Norton has been in a lot of them. Indeed, he has received a trio of Academy Award nominations, for Primal Fear (1997), American History X (1999), and Birdman (2015), but he hasn’t yet won. At the ceremony in 2015, the last time Norton’s face was shown in the nominee readings, he lost to J.K. Simmons for Whiplash.
From cracking jokes on Cheers to working on shocking films like Natural Born Killers, as well as TV anthology series True Detective, Harrelson has had a long and varied career. His third nomination came in 2018 for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, where he competed in the Best Supporting Actor race. Unfortunately for Harrelson, he lost out to his own co-star, Sam Rockwell. Harrelson has also been nominated for Best Actor for The People vs. Larry Flynt (1997) and for Best Supporting Actor for The Messenger (2010), but has yet to make the final cut.