5 Phenomenal Actors Who Never Won an Oscar

A few weeks ago I looked at 5 phenomenal actresses who were never given an Academy Award despite their incredible talent and strong careers. Today we are focussing on the men. I found this to be a much tougher list to put together. The number of great actors that never won the highest acting award would surprise you. And I found it incredibly difficult to leave certain names off this list. But I think a great case can be made for the five that made the cut. Now, as with the ladies, Lifetime Achievement Oscars don’t count. I’m talking about men who never received the heralded Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor awards. With such a healthy selection, it would be silly to call this the definitive list. But it’s clear that these 5 Oscarless actors are certainly phenomenal.


While I’ve never been a huge fan of musicals, I’ve always appreciated the amazing contributions Fred Astaire made to the once flourishing genre. So it came as a big surprise to see that Astaire never won an Oscar. Now he did receive an honorary Academy Award after one of his retirement stints. But he was never recognized for his acting. Astaire was an amazing talent both with his dance and with his voice. But he was also a talented and always likable actor who made many quality films. There was a lot of doubt about whether he would make it in the movie industry but he would end up putting that to rest. He will always be recognized for his collaborations with Ginger Rogers. The two made a total of ten movies together including “Top Hat”, “Swing Time”, and “The Barkleys of Broadway”. He was superb in “Holiday Inn” alongside Bing Crosby. He would also make many well-received movies with the likes of Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn. Fred Astaire made many films that should have garnered some Oscar attention. And this is coming from a guy not that crazy about musicals.


From an early age, Leonardo DiCaprio defined himself as an exceptional actor through several incredible performances. He first caught the attention of movie fans with his portrayal of a mentally handicapped boy in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”. This would earn him his first Academy Award nomination. He would star in several recognizable films before making his big splash (pun intended) in James Cameron’s mega-hit “Titanic”. Following it, he began a defining collaboration with Martin Scorsese in films like “Gangs of New York”, “The Aviator” (which earned him his second Oscar nomination), and “The Departed”. Hey would then earn a third nomination in “Blood Diamond”. He would continue to do top-notch work particularly in “Shutter Island”, his fourth movie with Scorsese, and the fantastic “Inception” with director Christopher Nolan. DiCaprio has an impressive resume and several intriguing roles lined up. He’s earned his numerous nominations but cases could be made that one or more of them could have translated to wins.


It’s hard to believe that an actor who was so highly revered and with so many good movies on his resume never received an Academy Award for his work. Such is the case with Robert Mitchum. Mitchum really made a name for himself in the film noir genre with movies like “Crossfire”, “Out of the Past”, and “The Big Steal”. He also starred in “The Story of G.I. Joe”, a solid picture that would earn him his one and only Academy Award nomination. After playing in a variety of roles, Mitchum would give a mesmerizing and menacing performance in “The Night of the Hunter”. The rest of Mitchum’s career would feature numerous Oscar worthy performances in some really good films such as “The Sundowners”, the creepy “Cape Fear”, “The Longest Day”, “El Dorado”, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”, and “Ryan’s Daughter”. Mitchum had a recognizable look and unmistakable voice. But he also had a booming screen presence that made his performances all the more memorable. It’s truly amazing that the Academy never recognized him for his work.


Joseph Cotten had a long film career that spanned over five decades. He was an actor that was always working but was never quite as popular as many of Hollywood’s big names. But personally I loved Cotten and he starred in some of my favorite classic movies. You know things are good when one of your very first feature films in the beloved “Citizen Kane”. Cotten’s performance as Leland stands out and it’s one of the film’s many strong points. After another wonderful collaboration with Orson Welles in “The Magnificent Ambersons”, he would star in one of my very favorite Alfred Hitchcock pictures “Shadow of a Doubt”. In it he delivers yet another true Oscar-calibur performance. The 1940’s were a great year for Cotten as evident by his work in “Gaslight”, “Portrait of Jennie”, and a spectacular movie that I think may offer his very best performance “The Third Man”. While not as strong as the 40’s, the rest of his career would offer several memorable roles in films like “Niagara”, “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, “Soylent Green”, and “Airport ’77”. It’s stunning to me that Cotten never garnered any recognition from the Academy especially for his early work.


It almost doesn’t seem possible. Has Cary Grant really never won an Academy Award especially when considering his brilliant resume? Nope, he never won an Oscar and he was only nominated twice! In 1970 the Academy did give him a “We Feel Terrible for Always Passing You Over” honorary Academy Award, but that doesn’t make up for the shunning. Cary Grant’s career stands on its own and it goes without saying that it was a great one. Grant’s good looks and undeniable charm always translated well to the big screen. He gave so many brilliant and charismatic performances from the 1930’s until his retirement in the mid-60’s. Instead of giving a history, let me just name some of the wonderful films he’s been in and you explain to me how he never won and Oscar – “Bringing Up Baby”, “Gunga Din”, “His Girl Friday”, “The Philadelphia Story”, “Penny Serenade”, “The Talk of the Town”, “Arsenic and Old Lace”, “Notorious”, “To Catch a Thief”, “Houseboat”, “North By Northwest”, “Operation Petticoat”, “Charade”. There are several other great Cary Grant pictures but I think you get the point. He was a wonderful actor who always commanded the screen. He also gave us some of cinema’s greatest films.

There you go. Those are my five phenomenal actors who have never won an Oscar. What say you? Agree or disagree with my list? Please take some time to share your thoughts on this week’s Phenomenal 5.

50 thoughts on “5 Phenomenal Actors Who Never Won an Oscar

  1. Isn’t that crazy!! I would add Gary Oldman, besides being my favorite :D…he is brilliant!

    Since I am woman I am going to give a shout out to my overlooked–fabulous women.

    Annette Bening–which is a travesty! The woman is a force.

    Barbara Stanwyck–the original badass! (Honorary one doesn’t count–that just means they know they screwed up!)

    Glen Close–c’mon! She’s amazing.

    Great list again!! Later!

  2. They’re some pretty big oversights, although I’m not surprised Grant has never won an Oscar, I’m not sure he’s typical Oscar material. I would agree that Leo is probably the most notable modern day omission, he’s done some really good stuff. I mean, just look at The Man in the Iron Mask 😉

    • I guess it depends on what you mean by Oscar material. I am a huge fan of Grant. I think he had an amazing ability to do both drama and comedy. I also think he stands up there with some of Hollywood’s greatest actors. Obviously the Oscars have proven you right. But for me he is one of the very best therefore deserving of the award. Just my little take. 🙂

  3. Astaire wasn’t particularly a good actor, nor had leading man looks. He was very entertaining, but not one single role of his seemed Oscar worthy with the exception of a possible best supporting nod for On the Beach late in his career.

    Cary Grant was wonderful. I think he wasn’t taken very seriously because of the typecasting of him as a likeable rogue. Still love the guy. So many great movies.

    Joseph Cotton should have won for his body of work. Was he lost in the shadows of the big guy, Orson Welles (pun intended)?

    Robert Mitchum was the tough guy of the 40s and 50s. His acting was so-so, but he did have a screen presence. I enjoy many of his movies, but an Oscar? No.

    Finally – Leonardo. Really?

    • We do differ on these. I thought Astaire was entertaining but I feel he was a good as well. His performances are often combined with music and dance and that plays a big part.

      I think Mitchum was a very solid actor. I think of some of the performances that won Oscars and I can see him right there with them.

      I think Cotten was brilliant. Especially during that great run in the 40s. He did get lost in the big names which in unfortunate. He gave several Oscar worthy performances.

      DiCaprio? Absolutely. I was slow coming around on him and J. Edgar didn’t help, but I think he was excellent in several of his films. Loved him in Shutter Island, The Departed, Inception, Gangs of New York, and several others. I definitely think he’s a talent.

  4. Same here, I loved Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt which doesn’t get much notice as many of the more prominent Hitchcock films. His performance as Uncle Charlie is so fascinating… menacing and charming at the same time. Really underrated as an actor.

    As for Leo, how many varied performances has he put in the last few years and he’s got to work with the best of the best as far as directors are concerned.

    Great topic and great post!

    • Yep yep. Humphrey Bogart is my all-time favorite actor. But right behind him were greats like Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, etc! Grant was snubbed several times.

  5. Pretty crazy list. Leo has to be close, all of his performances are fantastic and after working with Scorsese for so long it’s bound to happen!

  6. Good choices! I think there are better contemporary actors than DiCaprio who still don’t have an Oscar – Ralph Fiennes for example – but I find it shocking that he wasn’t even nominated for what I find to be his best work in Revolutionary Road.

  7. Great list. Can’t believe Robert Mitchum never won an Oscar and was only nominated once! That is crazy. I’m a big Cary Grant fan but I can understand him not winning the big award. He’s a great actor but not the most versatile nor does he have a great range, you know? About Leo DiCaprio, he obviously still has time to pick up a golden statuette but I definitely think he should have been nominated more times by now. I even think he should have won for Revolutionary Road.

    • Thanks a bunch! See I think Grant had quite a bit if range. He played it straight, played the romantic lead, and played comedy. And I thought he did them all well. For some reason he just didn’t seem to fit their mold. Kinda stange.

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  9. I never thaght? I wasn’t born during those day’s if i was i was a baby.
    But i love old movies my favorite thing. Wow crazy they were great actor’s and Cary Grant used his expressions to a T- what a shame.
    I wish men would dress like that again. THANK’S FOR sharing this information

  10. I agree with the list but also think other actors should of won at least all of them a honory academy award, like Alan Ladd, Eroyl Flynn, Rory Calhoun, Rock Hudson, so many other great classic actors i could go down the list of greats. Forgot Victor Mature, Richard widmark, then there are so many women to on the list. Thank you and god bless.

    • Great mentions and you are so right. Far too many never received their due. And as you said, at least honorary Oscars should have been given. Thanks so much for the comments.

  11. I agree with your list. Here are 2 more actors that deserved more credit. Victor Mature & Robert Ryan. What are your thoughts on them?

    • To be honest, I remember Mature and several films but not enough to have a strong opinion. But Ryan was ALWAYS good, wasn’t he. Such a huge talent and great presence in any movie he was a part of.

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