When the Academy Awards take place on March 27, a number of performers will be celebrating their first nominations. That list includes the usual assortment of breakout stars, such as West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose and The Power of the Dog’s Kodi Smit-McPhee, but there are also quite a few who are finally being rewarded after years of snubs, including Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog) and Kristen Stewart (Spencer). They’re leaving behind the ranks of such never-nominated actors as Jim Carrey, Mia Farrow, Jamie Lee Curtis and Jeff Daniels. Here, 20 of the greatest living actors who have never made the cut — and note that we’ve left off performers who have technically never been nominated but still received an Honorary Academy Award, like Donald Sutherland and Steve Martin. Sound off in the comments below if we’ve missed any of your favorites!
The closest she came to a nomination: The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Woody Allen has directed five women to best actress or supporting actress Oscars (including two for Dianne Wiest). Despite seven Golden Globe nominations and one win, his former partner Mia Farrow has never gone for the Oscar gold. She could easily have been nominated for Rosemary’s Baby, Broadway Danny Rose, Hannah and Her Sisters or Alice, but we’re partial to this Depression-set romantic fantasy, in which a character in a film (played by Jeff Daniels) walks out of the screen and falls for Farrow’s lonely waitress, Cecilia.
The closest he came to a nomination: The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Speaking of Jeff Daniels, the two-time Emmy winner and three-time Tony nominee is a fellow Oscar also-ran, despite Golden Globe nominations for The Purple Rose of Cairo, Something Wild and The Squid and the Whale. The last film, directed by Noah Baumbach, was a particular critical favorite, with Daniels playing the arrogant Brooklyn novelist Bernard Berkman; Oscar prognosticator website Gold Derby called it “the performance of a lifetime,” writing that his depiction of artistic vanity may have “hit too close to the bone for some actors.” Burn!
Jamie Lee Curtis
The closest she came to a nomination: True Lies (1994)
With a career that’s spanned nearly five decades, Jamie Lee Curtis has had many brushes with awards season: She won a BAFTA for Trading Places, earned Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for A Fish Called Wanda and won a Golden Globe for True Lies, but she always comes up short come Oscar season. And, if we’re considering rewarding movies that might not normally be Oscar-friendly, she was stellar as a teen trapped in her mom’s body in the Freaky Friday remake.
Watch it: True Lies on Amazon Prime
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The closest he came to a nomination: Man on the Moon (1999)
Every few years, audiences remember what a deeply emotive and powerful actor the Canadian funnyman can be. It happened with The Truman Show, Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the first two of which netted him Golden Globe best actor wins. Oscar voters have a soft spot for biopics, physical transformation and films about the entertainment world, which makes you wonder: If he couldn’t break through with the Andy Kaufman biography, what will it take to catch their attention?
The closest she came to a nomination: When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
Academy voters used to have a much more open mind about romantic comedies (see: It Happened One Night, The Apartment, Annie Hall), but they fell out of favor in the 1980s, just as Meg Ryan was picking up steam as the queen of the genre. She was great in You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, but her performance in the Rob Reiner classic is every bit as winning as some of the screwball greats.
The closest he came to a nomination: Ghost World (2001)
One of Hollywood’s most in-demand character actors for decades, Buscemi is perhaps best known for his collaborations with the Coen brothers on films like Fargo, Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink. In addition, he’s won two Independent Spirit Awards for Reservoir Dogs and Ghost World, a role that also earned him a Golden Globe nomination. And he’s clearly a favorite among his fellow actors: He’s won four Screen Actors Guild Awards for Boardwalk Empire.
The closest she came to a nomination: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
At only 38 years old, Blunt already has six Golden Globe and seven Critics’ Choice nominations under her belt, and she’s been recognized for all sorts of genres, including comedies (The Devil Wears Prada), period pieces (The Young Victoria), action movies (Sicario), sci-fi (Edge of Tomorrow), romantic comedies (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) and musicals (Into the Woods). But she may have come closest to the finish line channeling the 1965 best actress winner, Julie Andrews, in Mary Poppins Returns, which saw her singing, dancing and convincingly interacting with a plethora of animated creatures.
The closest she came to a nomination: Jackie Brown (1997)
OK, OK, we know Grier’s blaxploitation films from the 1970s, like Coffy and Foxy Brown, weren’t going to be recognized by the Academy, no matter how — pardon the phrase — badass she was in them. But she definitely should have been a contender for Quentin Tarantino’s homage to the genre, Jackie Brown, for which she earned nominations from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild, among other critics’ groups.
The closest he came to a nomination: Barton Fink (1991)
Another Coen brothers regular, the sitcom star had memorable appearances in Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, Inside Llewyn Davis and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, in which he played a one-eyed Bible salesman and member of the KKK. He earned a Golden Globe nomination for his work in the brothers’ Barton Fink, which picked up three Oscar nods — just not one for Goodman or the film’s leading man (see below!).
The closest he came to a nomination: Quiz Show (1994)
A New York theater veteran and yet another favorite of the Coen brothers, Turturro has come close to the gold many times before, winning best actor at the Cannes Film Festival for Barton Fink. His role as real-life 1950s game show contestant and whistleblower Herb Stempel in the Robert Redford–directed Quiz Show led to Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations, but Paul Scofield was the only member of the cast to be recognized among the film’s four Oscar nods.
The closest she came to a nomination: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Long celebrated for her work in Hong Kong cinema, Yeoh earned raves for her role in Ang Lee’s four-time Oscar winner Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She entered the awards conversation once again when she played the domineering matriarch Eleanor Young in the 2018 romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians. This year, she’s starring in the wacky indie sci-fi Everything Everywhere All at Once as a woman who exists across many different universes, giving her the chance to flex many different acting muscles — kung fu! fantasy! comedy! drama! — all within the same film. But is the film too weird (probably!) for voters to take notice?
Michael B. Jordan
The closest he came to a nomination: Creed (2015)
Michael B. Jordan is still young, at 35, but he’s already had two real shots at going for the gold. He was heartbreaking in the biographical drama Fruitvale Station as Oscar Grant, a man killed by BART police officers in Oakland, California; the film was nominated for (and won) dozens of critics’ awards, but it was ignored by the Academy. And in the Rocky sequel Creed, his grounded work as Apollo Creed’s son Donnie got overshadowed by Sylvester Stallone, who got the film’s sole Oscar nod. Jordan could change all that this November when he makes his directorial debut with Creed III.
The closest she came to a nomination: Being John Malkovich (1999)
In the trippy fantasy comedy Being John Malkovich, Diaz plays a woman who goes through a portal and enters the mind of the title actor. She earned BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG Award nods for the role, but she was competing against her own costar, Catherine Keener, who took the Oscar slot. Her work in There’s Something About Mary, Vanilla Sky and Gangs of New York racked up three more Golden Globe nominations, but she may not have another shot at the Oscar big times: She announced her retirement from acting in 2018.
The closest he came to a nomination: Moulin Rouge! (2001)
The Scottish actor’s TV work has earned him an Emmy (for Halston) and a Golden Globe (for Fargo), but he’ll always be, first and foremost, a movie star. His breakthrough role as a heroin addict in Trainspotting may have been a little too real for Oscar voters, but his performance in the Baz Luhrmann musical Moulin Rouge! — big emotions, bigger vocals — seemed like awards catnip. Alas, he wasn’t among the eight nominations the film received that year.
The closest she came to a nomination: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
It’s hard to think of anyone in the industry more widely beloved than Drew Barrymore. While she got a Golden Globe nomination for 1984’s Irreconcilable Differences, for her performance as a girl divorcing her famous parents, her finest role might still be one of her first, as E.T. scene-stealer Gertie. Sure, she was only 7, but when you’re a natural (and you have the blood of generations of Hollywood legends coursing through your veins), age ain’t nothing but a number.
Gael García Bernal
The closest he came to a nomination: The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
Mexican directors have been cleaning up at the Academy Awards in recent years with two wins each for Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu and one for Guillermo del Toro — but the same hasn’t been true for actors. Take, for instance, Gael García Bernal, whom New York Times critics recently named among the 25 greatest actors of the 21st century. He’s still unnominated despite acclaimed turns in Y Tu Mamá También, Amores Perros, Babel, Bad Education and especially The Motorcycle Diaries, in which he starred as a young Che Guevara.
The closest she came to a nomination: Forrest Gump (1994)
The Academy fell hard for Forrest Gump, showering it with 13 nominations and six wins. Not among the nominations? Best supporting actress for Jenny herself, Robin Wright, who had picked up precursor nods from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild. Over the years, her work in Nine Lives, Moll Flanders and She’s So Lovely has received attention, but she never made the final five for her film roles; she luckily had more success on TV as first lady turned president Claire Underwood on House of Cards.
Watch it: Forrest Gump on Apple TV
The closest he came to a nomination: Chicago (2002)
The 2002 Kander and Ebb movie musical earned Academy Award nominations for four of its stars, including a win for Catherine Zeta-Jones, but Gere was left out of the Oscar lovefest — despite winning the Golden Globe Award for his role as smooth-talking attorney Billy Flynn. The Golden Globes had also celebrated his work in An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman and the under-the-radar 2012 crime drama Arbitrage.
The closest she came to a nomination: Nightcrawler (2014)
After getting overlooked for her work in films like Get Shorty and The Thomas Crown Affair, Russo seemed poised to earn her first nomination for the 2014 psychological thriller Nightcrawler, which was written and directed by husband Dan Gilroy. In a role written for her, Russo plays a morally bankrupt news producer who hires film crews to capture graphic, violent tragedies on film. She won our AARP Movies for Grownups Award and picked up a BAFTA nomination, but she missed out on making the Oscars short list.
The closest he came to a nomination: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Before he strapped into a flight suit as Star Wars X-wing pilot Poe Dameron, the Juilliard graduate starred in a string of smaller critical darlings, including Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year and the Coen brothers’ 1960s folk-music comedy Inside Llewyn Davis, for which he won best actor from the National Society of Film Critics. This year’s The Card Counter once again generated Oscar buzz, but he failed to crack the top five.
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.