The Academy Award for Best Actor

Placed your bets for Sunday? Siding with home talent Gary Oldman as a spy in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy over Mexican actor Demián Bichir in immigration drama A Better Life? Or predicting triumph for Meryl Streep’s latest character metamorphosis as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady? Taking home a gold Oscar statuette is the ultimate dream of many actors, and we won’t miss tuning in to see who Hollywood honours this year.

The nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress (five in each category) are selected by those members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who were once actors and actresses themselves. The overall winner is then voted on by the whole Academy, made up of more than 6,000 movie professionals, who can join only by invitation. As most of them have strong ties to the Hollywood movie industry, Oscar results tend to favour American actors.

Occasionally a performance in a foreign film will make waves – as when French actress Marion Cotillard won an Oscar for playing singer Edith Piaf in 2007’s La Vie En Rose. Can Jean Dujardin win another French acting nod this year for heavily-tipped movie The Artist? As a nostalgic look at Hollywood’s silent era, the film is certainly geared toward winning the Academy’s hearts.

The Academy has awarded some of the most iconic performances in cinema’s history – from Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane in 1952 western classic High Noon to Liza Minnelli as dancer Sally Bowles in 1972 musical Cabaret and Michael Douglas in his often-quoted role as ruthless corporate executive Gordon Gekko in 1987’s Wall Street.

The formidably talented Meryl Streep has been nominated 17 times – more than any other actor – winning Best Actress for her harrowing portrayal of Polish concentration camp survivor in Sophie’s Choice and Best Supporting Actress in 1979 divorce drama Kramer vs. Kramer.

But the most Best Actress wins goes to Katharine Hepburn, an icon who often played strong-willed, independent women, and was awarded four.
One of these was for 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Considered daring at the time, it sees a white middle-class woman bring her black fiancé home in the face of racial prejudice.

Jack Nicholson has also dominated, earning 12 nominations over the years (for roles including an LA private investigator in 1974’s acclaimed crime noir Chinatown) and three wins. Less lucky is Irish actor Peter O’Toole, who’s had eight nominations (including his title-role performance in 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia) without ever winning.


Review Writing Guides

Need some tips on making your reviews stand out from the crowd? Download our Primary and Secondary review writing guides and develop your own writing style.



  • Detail image from Chinatown


  • Detail image from Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

    Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

  • Detail image from High Noon

    High Noon

  • Detail image from Lawrence Of Arabia

    Lawrence Of Arabia

  • Detail image from Sophie's Choice

    Sophie's Choice

To improve your experience of our website, we would like to use cookies to store anonymous information in the form of a very small text file on your computer.

You can find out more about cookies, including how to manage and delete them, in our Privacy Policy. Allow cookies

This website works best using cookies which are currently blocked. Allow cookies? Allow cookies More info Privacy Policy