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10 great actors who have never won an Oscar

Once upon a time, the Academy Awards were considered to be the definitive authority on all that was exceptional in cinema. Over the years, that particular illusion has been successfully shattered by its multiple failures to reward the best in the “business”. Instead, terms like ‘Oscar bait’ have become increasingly popular among critics of the institution which allude to the fact that recipients of the Awards are manufactured for that very purpose.

Gabriel Rossman, a research analyst, had this to say about the phenomenon: “We’ve found that audiences don’t like the kinds of aesthetics that are characteristic of Oscar-worthy movies. The movies tend to be serious and depressing, and audiences don’t like that, so making Oscar-y movies is a riskier strategy than the average moviegoer might appreciate… Audiences don’t like the kind of movies that get Oscars, but they do like the Oscars.”

However, even the general public’s admiration for the Academic Awards has been dwindling. With steadily declining numbers in the viewership, it’s not just the Oscars that are suffering but the Grammys and Emmy Awards have been losing audiences too. As long as it suggests that people are getting tired of the façade of campaigning for awards, there is still hope for the future of cinema.

In order to shine a spotlight on the Academy’s misses, we take a look at 10 artists who successfully managed to achieve greatness without getting the supposed validation of a “competitive” Oscar.

10 great actors who never won an Oscar:

Peter O’Toole

Irish-British actor Peter O’Toole is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats in the world of cinema. While his most famous work is his brilliant performance in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, O’Toole received eight nominations for Best Actor without ever winning one. Due to his lack of success at the Oscars, he once jokingly referred to himself as the “biggest loser of all time”. However, he did receive an honorary Oscar and O’Toole’s monumental legacy speaks for itself.

The actor said: “I think that the cinema is an extension of the drama, one of its facets, and the drama as far as I’m concerned is authors. Well I’m not a mime, a mimist. All you need is an author, an actor and an audience. That’s the drama. Bare boards and a passion that’s the beginning of it all.”

Samuel L. Jackson

It is incomprehensible that an actor as talented as Samuel L. Jackson has evaded the spotlight of the Academy for so long now. With only one nomination to his name for Pulp Fiction, Jackson should definitely have picked up one of those Awards for his brilliant collaborations with Quentin Tarantino like Django Unchained and Jackie Brown.

“I have this rule,” Jackson revealed in an interview. “Whenever I have a film opening, I know it’s going to make at least a thousand dollars. I buy $1000 of tickets for my movie and I give them to my church—they give them to the kids or whoever. So I always know it’s going to make at least a thousand dollars.” 

Albert Finney

English actor Albert Finney studied the performing arts at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art before venturing into the world of cinema. He received five Oscar nominations for his amazing work in films like Murder on the Orient Express and Erin Brockovich but he was snubbed each time. Fortunately, Finney’s real legacy isn’t his impressive list of accolades but the magic he left behind in each of his films.

All a performance needs, after all, is to make people believe. We are just jugglers on the side of the road. Why worry about being serious?” Finney reflected. “I like researching and reading around a part, getting into an area of life that you wouldn’t normally know about. You half learn to ride a horse or get to know a bit about archery.”

Thelma Ritter

Thelma Ritter’s portrayals of American working-class women are brilliantly nuanced and carefully orchestrated. She received a record number of six Best Supporting Actress nominations for films like All About Eve and Pillow Talk but she never managed to win one. For her performance in the musical production of New Girl in Town, Ritter received a Tony Award for Best Actress.

“The ‘well-dressed love comedy’ is a form of escapism as it was in the depression and in the war,” Ritter explained. “If you’re scared subconsciously of being annihilated and you go into a theatre and see a dame in an orchid velvet hostess gown trimmed with chinchilla, being embraced by a guy in tails as they look out of a beige and gilt apartment onto the Golden Gate Bridge – what’s to worry about?”

Ian McKellen

Sir Ian McKellen has had an incredible career that has lasted over six decades. With experience in classical drama to science fiction, McKellen has shown the world that he is one of the best practitioners of his craft. He has several accolades to his name, including a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and seven Laurence Olivier Awards among many others but he is yet to receive an Oscar.

“I suppose the trick of acting is to meld the character that you’re playing with the character that you’re playing in real life, ‘All the world being a stage’ as Shakespeare said. So it’s a question of using your imagination, which children have in abundance, but most adults seem to lose, although many actors are kids at heart,” the veteran actor said.

Deborah Kerr

British actress Deborah Kerr’s cinematic legacy is almost unparalleled. Over the course of her illustrious career, she received six Best Actress nominations from the Academy for her mesmerising performances in films like The King and I as well as From Here to Eternity among others. The Academy finally recognised her brilliance in 1994 when they awarded her with an honorary Oscar.

“When you’re young, you just go banging about, but you’re more sensitive as you grow older. You have higher standards of what’s really good; you’re fearful that you won’t live up to what’s expected of you,” Kerr said. Her son-in-law John Shrapnel added: “Deborah knows the way Hollywood works. She didn’t ‘go hunting’ for awards.”

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin, one of the pioneers of cinema as we recognise it today, is yet another name to be added to the snubbed list.

Having forged a career in the world of silent film, Chaplin broke many boundaries in the pursuit of great entertainment in a career that spanned some 75 years. Quite rightly, he is regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry – but not in the Academy.

Chaplin reflected, “When I was a little boy, the last thing I dreamed of was being a comedian. My idea was to be a member of Parliament or a great musician. I wasn’t quite clear which. The only thing I really dreamed about was being rich. We were so poor that wealth seemed to me the summit of all ambition and the end of the rainbow.”

Cary Grant

English-American actor Cary Grant was known in the industry as Hollywood’s definitive leading man. He has already been immortalised by the world for his work in masterpieces like The Philadelphia Story and North by Northwest alongside multiple others. For his invaluable contribution to the world of cinema, Grant was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1970.

“Doing stand-up comedy is extremely difficult. Your timing has to change from show to show and from town to town. You’re always adjusting to the size of the audience and the size of the theatre,” Grant once said. While talking about the Academy, he joked: “I’d have to blacken my teeth first before the Academy will take me seriously.”

Kirk Douglas

One of the greatest American actors of all time, Kirk Douglas only received three Oscar nominations for Best Actor during his career for his performances in films including Champion and Lust for Life where he played the role of Vincent van Gogh. However, some of his best work was ignored by the Academy.

His collaborations with Stanley Kubrick like Paths of Glory and Spartacus deserved much more recognition and time has granted that to Douglas. For his pioneering work in the field of cinema, Douglas received a lifetime achievement award from the Academy as well as a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Douglas said, “Take Lonely Are the Brave. There was a movie that communicated on all levels. Maybe it was anti-Establishment, or maybe it was about a kooky cowboy. A movie like that is so much better than some foreign horseshit about an actor chewing for twenty minutes.”

Gene Wilder

American actor and filmmaker Gene Wilder’s approach to comedy truly revitalised audiences. Wilder’s comic masterpieces like Young Frankenstein and The Producers showed just how talented he was. During his life, he only received two Oscar nominations and one of those was for co-writing Young Frankenstein.

Wilder explained how his comedic journey started, “When I was eight years old, my mother had a severe heart attack and when she came home from the hospital, the doctor took me aside and dropped his sweaty face against my cheek and he said, ‘Don’t ever get angry with your mother because you might kill her.’

“That scared the shit out of me. And the second thing he said was, ‘Try to make her laugh.’ It was an unusual thing for him to say, I thought, at the time. But, from that point on, I consciously tried to make another person laugh, and I succeeded. ’Cause, you know, when you succeed with your mother, it gives you confidence. And that’s how… I think that’s how it all began.”