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The Most Surprising Oscar Nominees Who Have Never Won

Samuel L. Jackson in 'Pulp Fiction' Credit -

While it’s an honor just to be nominated for an Academy Award, it’s a rare privilege to actually win one. Unfortunately, some of the most talented people in Hollywood will never get to experience the taste of Oscar victory. This list looks at the actors, directors, and one songwriter who have never won an Academy Award, though some have been in contention numerous times—and others surely will be again.

Some on this list are legends who should have won an Oscar in their lifetime, but didn’t. (Don’t get us started on Cary Grant!) Others are performers who are still with us whose talents make them worthy of an Oscar, but who just haven’t had the cards fall their way. In the case of Bradley Cooper, there is even a chance (slim though it may be) that he could break his winless streaks at this year’s ceremony.

Below, the most surprising Oscar nominees who have never won.

Glenn Close

Glenn Close in 'The Wife'
Glenn Close in 'The Wife'

Glenn Close holds the unfortunate record of being the actress with the most nominations and no wins. She has been nominated eight times since 1983; four were for supporting roles in The World According to Garp, The Big Chill, The Natural, and Hillbilly Elegy. The others were for starring turns in Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, Albert Knobbs, and The Wife. In 2019, she was regarded as the frontrunner for Best Actress thanks to her performance in the latter film, but the statue ended up going to The Favourite’s Olivia Colman, who spent part of her acceptance speech apologizing to Close. “You've been my idol for so long and this is not how I wanted it to be,” Colman said. “And I think you're amazing and I love you very much.”

But Close—who, by the looks of her IMDb, shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon—doesn’t need your pity. “First of all, I don’t think I’m a loser,” she told the Associated Press in 2021. “Who in that category is a loser? You’re there, you’re five people honored for the work that you’ve done by your peers. What’s better than that?”

Peter O’Toole

The late Peter O’Toole holds the record for the most nominated actor without a single win. Across his 44-year career, he, like Close, was nominated for eight Academy Awards, all of which were in the Best Actor category. In 2003, a decade before his death, O’Toole was given an Honorary Oscar and while some may argue it’s not a proper Academy Award, he appreciated it just the same, telling the crowd when he got the prize, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, my foot! I have my very own Oscar now to be with me till death us do part.”

Amy Adams

Amy Adams and Christian Bale in 'American Hustle'
Amy Adams and Christian Bale in 'American Hustle'

Amy Adams is considered by many to be the most gifted living actress who has yet to win an Oscar. It’s not for lack of worthy performances. She has been nominated six times in her nearly three-decade career, and five of those noms were for Best Supporting Actress: 2005’s Junebug, 2008’s Doubt, 2010’s The Fighter, 2012’s The Master, and 2018’s Vice. Her sole Best Actress nomination was for 2013’s American Hustle. (Sadly, she was snubbed altogether for her role in 2016’s Arrival, which many believe is her best performance to date.)

It’s been five years since Adams earned her last nomination, but it’s hard to believe that drought will continue. Her upcoming film, Nightbitch, based on Rachel Yoder’s 2021 novel about a mom who believes she is turning into a dog, sounds like a role Adams can really sink her teeth into. Maybe, this time, the Academy will finally throw her a golden bone—assuming it gets a theatrical release before it heads to Hulu.

Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock frames a shot with his hands, 1964<span class="copyright">Tony Evans—Timelapse Library Ltd./Getty Images</span>
Alfred Hitchcock frames a shot with his hands, 1964Tony Evans—Timelapse Library Ltd./Getty Images

Alfred Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director five times, but somehow never won the prize. (Hitch’s film Rebecca did win Best Picture in 1940, but wins in that category go to the producer, not the director. Not that he cared—he apparently despised the film following clashes over creative control.) The Academy didn’t snub him completely though. In 1968, Hitchcock received the coveted Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, an honor that the Academy has only bestowed upon 32 people in its nearly hundred years. Yet Hitchcock wasn’t interested in laying his heart bare in some emotional speech. He walked up to the podium, said five words—“Thank you very much indeed”—and slinked off-stage to his legendary theme music. Perhaps, that kind of unenthused response is only fitting from the guy who is credited with saying, “There is nothing to winning, really. That is, if you happen to be blessed with a keen eye, an agile mind, and no scruples whatsoever.”

Diane Warren

Diane Warren performs at the 95th Academy Awards in 2023<span class="copyright">Myung J. Chun—Los Angeles Times/Getty Images</span>
Diane Warren performs at the 95th Academy Awards in 2023Myung J. Chun—Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Songwriter Diane Warren is the Susan Lucci of the Academy Awards. Since 1988, Warren has been nominated for Best Original Song 15 times, including this year for her song “The Fire Inside” from Flamin’ Hot, but has never won. In her hilarious Honorary Oscar speech from last year, she joked, “I’ve waited 34 years to say this: I’d like to thank the Academy.” And while that might be enough of a victory for Warren, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before she finally hears her name called on Hollywood’s biggest night. After all, even Lucci finally got an Emmy after 19 tries.

Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson in 'Pulp Fiction'
Samuel L. Jackson in 'Pulp Fiction'

Samuel L. Jackson is one of those actors who seems incapable of giving a bad performance. Even when he’s in a less than stellar film, you can’t take your eyes off of him. (We’re looking at you, Snakes on a Plane.) Yet despite his unparalleled onscreen presence, Jackson has only one Academy Award nomination to his name. In 1995, he got a Best Supporting Actor nom for Pulp Fiction, but lost to Ed Wood’s Martin Landau.

Jackson’s talents haven’t gone totally unnoticed by the Academy; he received an Honorary Oscar in 2021. But wouldn’t it be an absolute shame if one of Hollywood's highest-earning and prolific actors didn’t get a chance to give a proper Academy Award speech in his lifetime? And when, not if, he does, the censors better be on their toes.

Cary Grant

Cary Grant may be the greatest actor to have never won an Oscar. And, unfortunately, he didn’t get many chances to win one before his death in 1986 at the age of 82. He was only nominated for Best Actor twice (twice?!) in his career; first for 1941’s Penny Serenade and later for 1944’s None but the Lonely Heart. Yet, despite the Academy’s many snubs—seriously, no nomination for His Girl Friday? An Affair to Remember? North by Northwest?!—Grant was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1969 for “being Cary Grant.” At least, that’s why Frank Sinatra, who presented Grant with the statue, believed he deserved the honor—and one could argue being Cary Grant is worth way more than Oscar gold.

Annette Bening

Annette Bening in 'American Beauty'
Annette Bening in 'American Beauty'

It seems as if five-time nominee Annette Bening is always so close yet so far from winning her first Oscar. In 1991, she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for The Grifters, but lost to Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost. Nine years later, she earned her first Best Actress nom for American Beauty, that year’s Best Picture winner, only to see the prize go to Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry. In 2005, she would lose again to Swank, who picked up her second Best Actress statue for that night’s Best Picture winner Million Dollar Baby. Bening got another Best Actress nomination in 2011 for The Kids Are All Right, but lost to Natalie Portman for Black Swan. Her performance in Nyad, in which she plays the titular long-distance swimmer, earned her yet another Best Actress nomination this year.

Bening is running as the underdog, according to GoldDerby, but she doesn’t seem to mind. “Well, I would think it would feel really great [to win] but I certainly know what it’s like not to win,” she told Rolling Stone shortly before the 2024 Oscars ceremony. “I’ve been there and I’ve done that, and that’s also not so bad.”

Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper in 'Silver Linings Playbook'
Bradley Cooper in 'Silver Linings Playbook'

Bradley Cooper can do it all: act, direct, write, conduct Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony. But he just can’t seem to win an Oscar—yet. He has received 12 nominations since 2013, four of those nominations for Best Actor. This year alone, he earned three nominations for his film Maestro—Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay—which, if you believe GoldDerby (and all of the precursory awards), he has little chance of winning.

There are those who argue that Cooper is trying a little too hard to win an Oscar and it might be turning some in the Academy off. Others, including New York Times writer Kyle Buchanan, very much disagree with the “try-hard” narrative, arguing he cares far more about being taken seriously as a director. Yet I would still bet on Cooper taking home a little gold man at some point in his career. And when he finally does, I’m sure he’ll want to take another look at him.

Richard Burton

Richard Burton as King Henry VIII in 'Anne of the Thousand Days', 1969<span class="copyright">Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images</span>
Richard Burton as King Henry VIII in 'Anne of the Thousand Days', 1969Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Richard Burton had the honor of being nominated seven times by the Academy before his death in 1984. And while the talented Old Hollywood icon, who may be better known to the casual movie fan as the man who married Elizabeth Taylor not once, but twice, never won an Oscar, it feels rather harsh to call him a loser. All seven of his defeats, six of which were for Best Actor, came against stiff competition including screen legends Anthony Quinn, William Holden, Rex Harrison, and John Wayne. I think it’s fair to say when it came to the Oscars, Burton was a terrific actor who had a bit of bad luck.

Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan in 'Atonement'
Saoirse Ronan in 'Atonement'

At only 29 years old, Saoirse Ronan has already been nominated for an Oscar four times. Her first nomination, which was for Best Supporting Actress for Atonement, came in 2008 when she was just 13 years old. She’s since earned Best Actress noms for her performances in 2015’s Brooklyn, 2017’s Lady Bird, and 2019’s Little Women. At this pace, it’s hard to imagine that Ronan won’t win herself an Oscar before the age of 40. In fact, she might find herself in the running next year for her performance in the indie drama The Outrun, which is already getting a bit of Oscar buzz. Maybe the luck of the Irish will finally be on her side.

Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo poses for a publicity photo for 'Anna Christie'<span class="copyright">Donaldson Collection/Getty Images</span>
Greta Garbo poses for a publicity photo for 'Anna Christie'Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

Greta Garbo is considered to be one of Hollywood’s greatest actresses, yet she never won an Oscar. The three-time Best Actress nominee for Anna Christie, Camille, and Ninotchka was given an Honorary Academy Award in 1955. But when given the chance to give an acceptance speech on Hollywood’s biggest night, the reclusive star decided to stay home. Her statue was later mailed to her, but luckily, her friend, actress Nancy Kelly, was there to accept the award on her behalf and pay proper tribute to a one of a kind star. “There may be more than one Kelly,” she said. “But there is only one Garbo.”

Willem Dafoe

Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince in 'The Florida Project'
Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince in 'The Florida Project'

Willem Dafoe never seems to play the same character twice, a sign of his incredible range as an actor. His ability to inhabit a role, no matter how deranged or unhinged (see: 1990’s Wild at Heart), makes him a no-brainer bet to one day win an Oscar. He’s already been nominated four times, including a 2018 nom for Best Supporting Actor for The Florida Project. (He lost that one to another superb actor, Sam Rockwell, for the somewhat divisive Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.) Maybe the fifth time, whenever that may be (the always working actor currently has seven projects already in the works), will be the charm.

Angela Bassett

Angela Bassett in 'What's Love Got to Do With It'
Angela Bassett in 'What's Love Got to Do With It'

Angela Bassett is a beloved Hollywood icon whose talent is undeniable. Yet despite decades of noteworthy performances, she has only received two nominations: Best Actress for 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do with It and Best Supporting Actress for 2022’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. (Unfortunately, this is a much larger problem with the Academy, which has only given an acting statue to 10 Black women in its nearly hundred-year history. Halle Berry is the only Black woman who has ever won Best Actress.) Many were disappointed to see Bassett lose for playing MCU royal Queen Ramonda, including the actress herself, who told Oprah recently, “It was, of course, a supreme disappointment. And disappointment is human.” (Jamie Lee Curtis won, for Everything Everywhere All at Once.)

Earlier this year, Bassett received an Honorary Oscar that celebrated the totality of her career, but it would be nice to see her get a proper Academy Award for an upcoming role that, just like her past ones, she has put her unique stamp on.

Thelma Ritter

John Lund and Thelma Ritter in a scene from the film 'The Mating Season', 1951<span class="copyright">Paramount Pictures/Getty Images</span>
John Lund and Thelma Ritter in a scene from the film 'The Mating Season', 1951Paramount Pictures/Getty Images

You may not immediately recognize her, but you would certainly remember Thelma Ritter’s face, and most definitely her New Yawk accent. The tiny actress with a big personality was an absolute scene-stealer in legendary films like All About Eve, Pillow Talk, Pickup on South Street, and Rear Window. Before her death in 1969 at the age of 64, Ritter received six Best Supporting Actress nominations, more than any other actress in the category. This means she holds the record for the most Best Supporting Actress losses in history, too. Yet not taking home Oscar gold hasn’t hurt her legacy one bit. Instead, it allows her work to speak for itself and boy, does it have a lot to say.

Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams in 'The Fabelmans'
Michelle Williams in 'The Fabelmans'

It feels like every performance Michelle Williams gives is Oscar-worthy. She already has five Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actress nod for 2022’s The Fabelmans. And that might be the problem. From Brokeback Mountain to Manchester by the Sea, she is so good in everything, the Academy might be taking her talents for granted. Yet it feels inevitable that in the near future the voters will come to their senses and finally give Williams an Oscar that will be much deserved and long overdue.

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise in 'Jerry MaGuire'
Tom Cruise in 'Jerry MaGuire'

No matter what you may think of Tom Cruise’s off-screen choices, it’s hard to argue against the fact that the guy is a legitimate movie star who is willing to put his life on the line for his art. Seriously, did you see Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning? But his decision to dive headfirst (sometimes literally) into the action world, a genre that gets very little respect from the Academy, has hurt his chances of taking home a statue.

In his four-decade career, Cruise has only received four nominations, three of which were for his performances, in 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July, 1996’s Jerry Maguire, and 1999’s Magnolia. (He also received a Best Picture nomination last year as a producer on Top Gun: Maverick.) Clearly, it’s been a while since Cruise acted in a film prestigious enough to set out on the Oscar campaign trail. But with the announcement that he’s working with two-time Best Director winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu on a new film, it seems as if he could be signaling to the Academy that he’s interested in running—and Cruise fans already know how good he is at that.

Contact us at letters@time.com.