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The 30 Greatest Living Actors Who Have Never Been Nominated For An Oscar

23 February 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Andreas Papadakis

best actors not nominated for oscars

Awards and nominations are certainly not the safest way to measure an artist’s caliber, and the Oscars are the epitome of this assumption, since there have been numerous occasions over the years where great actors were completely snubbed by the Academy.

Although it is a fact that sometimes there are too many noteworthy performances in the same season, and there can be only a few nominees for each acting category due to broadcasting reasons, it is also true that entertainment business politics play a pivotal part behind every year’s selections. For instance, some late/badly-timed “paying dues” type of acknowledgement of another actor’s career, or the Academy’s necessity to make a statement for American society and the world at the time.

In any case, what matters most is not trying to state all those reasons behind some of the Oscars’ great injustices, but instead paying tribute to some of those talented artists who should have received a bit of love from the Academy for their contributions over the years.

So, this list focuses on 30 active film actors – no actresses – who are well-respected by their peers and beloved by audiences, and have never been nominated for an Academy Award so far, despite having left their mark on cinema history through some of their roles.

P.S. Thanks for the memories, Alan Rickman.


30. Paul Dano

There Will Be Blood

One of the younger members of the list (31 years old), Paul Dano started performing as a child actor on Broadway, before launching an impressive career in film, especially after portraying a voluntarily mute teenager in “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006).

He could have been nominated for “There Will Be Blood” (2007) or “Love & Mercy” (2014).

Selected filmography: L.I.E. (2001), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), There Will Be Blood (2007), Ruby Sparks (2012), Looper (2012), 12 Years A Slave (2013), Prisoners (2013), Love & Mercy (2014), Youth (2015)


29. Malcolm McDowell

clockwork orange

A familiar physiognomy from the 60s and 70s, Malcolm McDowell received formal training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and started making a name for himself after starring in Lindsay Anderson’s “if….” (1968).

He could have been nominated for “A Clockwork Orange” (1971).

Selected filmography: if… (1968), The Raging Moon (1971), A Clockwork Orange (1971), O Lucky Man! (1973), Time After Time (1979), Cat People (1982), Blue Thunder (1983), My Life So Far (1999), Gangster No. 1 (2000), The Company (2003), The Artist (2011)


28. Guy Pearce


A quiet force of US and Australian cinema, Guy Pearce first became known to audiences as a drag queen in “The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert” (1994), and followed a pretty diverse career ever since.

He could have been nominated for “L.A. Confidential” (1997) or “Memento” (2000).

Selected filmography: The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1994), L.A. Confidential (1997), Memento (2000),The Proposition (2005), The Hurt Locker (2008), The Road (2009), The King’s Speech (2010), Animal Kingdom (2010), Prometheus (2012)


27. Shahab Hosseini

Shahab Hosseini

One of the most well-known modern Iranian actors, Shahab Hosseini stood out as an intense dramatic performer in the movies of the acclaimed auteur Asghar Farhadi.

He could have been nominated for “A Separation” (2011).

Selected filmography: The Fifth Reaction (2003), Niloofar (2008), About Elly (2009), A Separation (2011), Bé Omid É Didar (2011), Hush! Girls Don’t Scream (2013), The Painting Pool (2013)


26. Ewan McGregor


A graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Scotsman Ewan McGregor is one of the most flexible actors of his generation, starring in many notable indie, arthouse or blockbuster movies of the last 20 years.

He could have been nominated for “Trainspotting” (1996), “Moulin Rouge!” (2001), or “The Ghost Writer” (2010).

Selected filmography: Trainspotting (1996), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Big Fish (2003), Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), I Love You Phillip Morris (2009), The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009), The Ghost Writer (2010), Salmon Fishing In The Yemen (2011), The Impossible (2012), Last Days In The Desert (2015)


25. Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi

An actor known for his portrayal of eccentric guys, Steve Buscemi has constantly moved with ease between major film studios and indie productions throughout his career, becoming a regular of such directors as the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino.

He could have been nominated for “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), “Fargo” (1996), or “Ghost World” (2001).

Selected filmography: Mystery Train (1989), Reservoir Dogs (1992), In The Soup (1992), Trees Lounge (1996), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), Animal Factory (2000), Ghost World (2001), Coffee And Cigarettes (2003), Big Fish (2003)


24. Kevin Bacon


Philadelphia native Kevin Bacon consolidated his passion for acting after attending a state-funded 5-week arts program at Bucknell University at the age of 16, and first came to prominence in the 80s with “Diner” (1982) and “Footloose” (1984). A decade later, his variety of roles was the reason why the whole acting universe was circling around him.

He could have been nominated for “Sleepers” (1996).

Selected filmography: Diner (1982), The Big Picture (1989), Tremors (1990), JFK (1991), A Few Good Men (1992), Apollo 13 (1995), Sleepers (1996), Mystic River (2003), The Woodsman (2004), Frost/Nixon (2008), X-Men: First Class (2011)


23. Zbigniew Zamachowski

three colors white

A Łódź National Film School graduate, Polish actor Zbigniew Zamachowski is difficult to not notice each time he appears on screen, due to his ability to take full advantage of his average but comical physique to generate honest and affective performances.

He could have been nominated for “Three Colors: White” (1994).

Selected filmography: The Decalogue, X (1989), Korczak (1990), Three Colors: White (1994). Squint Your Eyes (2002), Distant Lights (2003), Jack Strong (2014)


22. John Cusack

John Cusack - “Being John Malkovich”

John Cusack built his reputation as an 80s teen icon after starring in movies such as “The Sure Thing” and “Better Off Dead” (both in 1985), and gradually became a cult favorite quirky guy of the big screen.

He could have been nominated for “Being John Malkovich” (1999) or “High Fidelity” (2000).

Selected filmography: The Sure Thing (1985), Better Off Dead (1985), Say Anything… (1989), The Grifters (1990), Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), The Thin Red Line (1998), Being John Malkovich (1999), High Fidelity (2000), Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), Love & Mercy (2014)


21. Mads Mikkelsen

the hunt

A former professional dancer, Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen started his film career as a drug dealer in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Pusher” trilogy, before becoming a highly requested “bad guy” in Hollywood, and one of the center figures of his country’s cinema.

He could have been nominated for “The Hunt” (2012).

Selected filmography: Open Hearts (2002), Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2002), With Blood on My Hands: Pusher II (2004), Casino Royale (2006), After The Wedding (2006), Flame & Citron (2008), Valhalla Rising (2009), The Hunt (2012), A Royal Affair (2012)



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  • Danny Ogle

    honourable mention Craig Robinson?? am i missing some amazing performance he’s given or are you saying he should be nominated for hot tub time machine 2? otherwise great list, rockwell, gleeson.. so underrated

    • Andreas P.

      You have a point there… he comes short of great performances. To me he is the most authentic comedy talent of all the James Franco, Seth Rogen etc. gang, and as a big fan of comedy myself, that’s how he made the final cut.

      • Benedict

        James Spader, forchrissake man, where is James Spader?! One of the most underrated acting geniuses on the planet and he blows half the people on this list away easily, even with his performances in bad films!

        • Ricardo Correia

          He should have won for Crash, what a tremendous performance

  • Pablo Iranzo Duque

    Will Ferrell? One of the greatest living actors?

    • Andreas P.

      I see that a lot of people disagree with that, but to me he is probably the definite comedy actor of our times, despite having starred in some bad movies. Certainly, he is not of the same caliber as some of the heavy names of the list, but I’m always into acknowledging comedy, so yes, in my book, he belongs here.

      • I agree. To me, of those Frat Pack guys. Will Ferrell and Jack Black are the guys that really showed what they can do when they’re not in comedy. Ferrell should’ve gotten some recognition for Stranger Than Fiction as I think it’s time for him to step away from comedy for a while as it’s getting tiresome for him.

        As for Jack Black, his work with Richard Linklater in School of Rock and Bernie show that there is a lot to him as he’s probably the one guy in the group that is willing to do different things and not just be funny.

        As for the rest, Owen Wilson just needs to step back and continue working with Wes Anderson. Luke Wilson and Ben Stiller need to stop making comedies and do something substantial. As for Vince Vaughn, fuck him. He sucks and he needs to just fuck off.

        • noobatmovies

          Hmmm ok… First Ben Stiller made some good movies like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Greenberg, Reality Bites or the best one in my opinion The Royal Tenenbaums. Those movies are not frivolous, i think. Even Adam Sandler – yes, i know – made Punch-Drunk Love or Spanglish, very good movies with great directors…

          I don’t know about Will Ferrel but I can only think of, like you said, Stranger than fiction… One movie doesn’t deserve a nomeation for this list. If there are more reasons, please tell me…

          Ps: Luke Wilson i guess he also made two movies of Wes Anderson… And yes, Vince Vaughn sucks… Into the wild and that’s it.

          • Andreas P.

            If it was about the movies only, Ferrell should not have been on the top 30 names here, since he has far less impressive or diverse filmography than others. But the focus on this list is primarly “acting talent and presence”. In all movies Ferrell appears together with Stiller, the Wilsons, Vaughn, Black, etc., even if he has a minor role, he is almost always the one who steals the show with his comedy charisma (at least for me). I could say the same about probably each one of his movies, good or bad. At the same time, he has showcased some diversity in a few roles different than the Ron Burgundies and the Ricky Bobbies that made his name. “Stranger Than Fiction” is the most notable one for sure, and hopefully there will be more to come.

            To all of you who don’t appreciate him or get his talent, I urge you to revisit “Old School”. Yes, I know, it is a silly comedy about fraternities, and the whole point is watching it together with some friends and have some laughs (that is not something bad for me, I’m just stating the obvious, that this is not a Tarkovsky or a Lumet movie).
            Try to pay more attention to Ferrell’s performance here. He is not his usual big mouth persona as he later became at the most part of his post-Anchorman comedies, he is just a hopeless guy who solely manages to destroy the rare opportunity he got for a possibly happy family life, but still finds a way to grasp onto something irrelevant to enjoy himself. Not only he succeeds in being ridiculously hilarious with ease (he certainly has the face and body construction for that), but also he has a few scenes of sincere sadness and desperation, in which he performs with a rare kind of subtlety & affection, reminiscent of a Peter Sellers type of quality (this may sound like blasphemy, but I’ve felt this way about this particular performance of his since day 1).

            P.S.: I enjoy Stiller’s work, but as an acting talent, I think he is a bit more
            of a one trick pony than Ferrell, and less gifted comedy-wise. I could
            say the same about Sandler (I like him less to be honest, although I
            have enjoyed some movies he was in). Owen Wilson is more of a character
            actor than all these gentlemen are, so, I cannot even make the
            appropriate comparison.

          • noobatmovies

            Ok, I can see your point of view now, althought I’m not totally satisfied…
            Like my username says, i’m not very good criticizing/judging the art of cinema so i appreciate your aswer and i’ll try to watch Old School and other movies of Will Ferrell, paying more attention to him…
            Keep making great lists 🙂

          • Andreas P.

            Well, there is nothing wrong about disagreeing to some things (I may think that way about Ferrell’s “Old School” performance, but I may be the only one doing so). Thanks for the kind words.

          • I like Stiller’s work with Noah Baumbach but I think he needs to step away from comedies for a while. Adam Sandler, fuck him. He doesn’t care anymore. He just wants your money with his bullshit.

  • Damir Uvalin

    So you put on a list Will Ferrell, but there’s no Joseph Gordon-Levitt??? Really?

    • Andreas P.

      Yeap. This is obviously a matter of taste, too. Not a big fan of Mr. Gordon-Levitt, although I considered mentioning him in the beginning.

  • Chrisychipz

    Uhm Will Ferrell? Jim Carey for Liar Liar? The fuck?

    • Andreas P.

      I admit that “Liar Liar” may have been too much. 🙂 I just wanted to include one of his exclusively comedy performances.

  • Patrick Hill

    Sutherland is still inexplicable, and will end up with a lifetime award, without getting a single nomination, sad!

  • Carl Peter Yeh

    William Devane. Mel Gibson (never as actor). Bruce Willis.

  • Carl Peter Yeh

    Derek Jacobi (believe it or not!)

  • gustavomda

    Most of these are guys who have enough publicity since they work in Hollywood. How about looking for actors from around the world who haven’t made it there? Hollywood is not the world.

    • Andreas P.

      I agree that Hollywood is not the world, if I went down that road this list would be full of Bruce Willises. I think it is quite obvious that I included a lot of actors who either have nothing to do with Hollywood, or who have participated in a lot of non-American and non-Hollywood productions, besides their Hollywood careers.

      In any case, if you feel there are some notable absences, go ahead and suggest some names you think they deserved to be mentioned (film actors – no theatre, TV, and other type of acting careers are included in this particular list).

  • Klaus Dannick

    Great choices on this list!

    • Andreas P.

      Thanks Klaus. Glad you liked it.

  • Special_One

    Martin Sheen as an honorable mention? You haven’t seen any of his films, have you? Should be no. 1 by a mile.

    • Andreas P.

      So you think that I would have included actors that I am not aware of their talents and career, just because of a Google search or something, right?

      Even though you could have been more polite, I have seen quite a few of his work, since you ask. He has starred in some of the most monumental movies of the 70’s, which is probably my favorite cinema era, and he has always given subtle but fitting performances (“Badlans” is my personal favorite, and I thought he should have been nominated for that back then – another surprise that he wasn’t for “Apocalypse Now”… it was all eyes on Brando in that case I guess). That’s why he got an honorable mention, which means he could easily be inside the top 30 replacing one of the other members (it is just a matter of list size limitations of the site and personal preferences at the time… you can never satisfy everyone).

      As a career, he definitely has one of the most impressive ones of the members of the list. As an acting presence and talent, to me he is not of some rare quality like some other names mentioned here, but he is still a great actor. He may be no. 1 for you, nothing wrong with that for me… just stay to that without insulting next time.

      Generally speaking, the order of the selections is of minor importance, since it does not translate to any comparisons between the actors’ qualitites… it is just that they had to be in some kind of order. The whole point is in the names mentioned, and the hopefully helpful selected filmography for each of the first 30 names of the list (I would love to do for the next 20 names, too, but there was no space available for that).

  • noobatmovies

    Leonardo doesn’t get it a nomeadation for this list x)

  • Iván Solorio (SanS)

    Fantastic list.

    • Andreas P.

      Thanks Ivan. Hopefully it will be useful for future reference.

  • Milad Shahriari

    Glad to see Shahab Hosseini on the list, didn’t expected you to know him well enough to admire him. well done.

    • Andreas P.

      The man stands out every time he appears on screen, and has done so in some modern dramatic masterpieces. He is simply great.

  • Frankie

    Malcolm McDowell, Steve Buscemi, Harry Dean Stanton, John Turturro, John Goodman, Gael Garcia Bernal, Daniel Auteuil, Brendan Gleeson and Donald Sutherland ok.

    The others, greatest living actors? I don’t think so.

    • Andreas P.

      The more appropriate title would be “great active film actors who
      have never been nominated for an Oscar”, but sometimes the list titles
      on the site are a bit exaggerative on purpose.
      In any case, by
      what you imply here, are Mr. Trintignant, Mr. Ganz, Mr. Spall etc. not
      great actors? If you are familiar with the most characteristic
      performances of each of these actors’ filmographies, and you still stand
      by your initial opinion, then we simply could not disagree more. If you
      aren’t, then I would suggest that you check some of these movies (and
      focus on their performances, even if the movies do not seem very
      appealing to you), and that way I think you will probably change your
      mind in the process.

      The truth is, there are hundreds or even
      thousands of great actors out there. Only some of those are film actors,
      and only a few of these films actors have been nominated for Academy
      Awards so far… To think that there are only 9 (or a few more, in case
      you think I missed some in my list) deserving to be called great (or
      greatest) among all those film actors who have not received an Oscar
      nomination, seems a bit disrespectful towards actors in general. At
      least that’s the way I see it.

      • Frankie

        This is your list and I respect but a list with Jim Carrey has not my aproval. No I do not familiar with the work of Mr. Tintignant, Mr Ganz or Mr. Spall as you probably do not know the work of Mr. Ney Latorraca, Mr. António Banderas ( in his spanish movies), Mr. Joaquim de Almeida, etc etc.

        • Andreas P.

          I admire Banderas very much, that’s why he is a part of my list (check the honorable mentions section). I’m familiar with some of the roles of Joaquim de Almeida, but I did not have the chance to watch any movies of Mr. Latorraca so far. I will try to do so in the future, thanks.

          P.S.: Not sharing the same appreciation for particular actors is not strange or unnatural. I just thought your first comment was a bit disrespectful towards the majority of good actors out there, that’s why I replied in a painstaking way.

        • Ricardo Correia

          Joaquim De Almeida? Are you portuguese?

    • Ricardo Correia

      Save for Auteuil and Stanton there are at least 4 or 5 actors in this list much better than the ones you said, Trintignant, Spall, Bruno Ganz, Oliver Gourmet, Tony Cheung and Mikkelsen are heads and shoulders above anyone you mentioned

  • Rudi

    Why the focus on male actors?

    • Andreas P.

      Just because you could make a list only about them (it would be great to do the same about actresses in the future).

      • Rudi

        It would be so much better if lists, awards etc. would focus on quality and mix things up. Why should best best male actor and best actress be two separate things? And why does the Oscar winning actor always grab the headlines while the best actress is only mentioned in the second or third paragraph?

        I know my rant is a bit off-topic, but it frustrates me that in this time and age there’s still so much sexism going on.

        • Andreas P.

          You have a point there, but unfortunately all this comes down to entertainment business politics… I could say the same can be said about the lead-supportive roles distinction. A lot of times a minor role’s portrayal can prove more praiseworthy than another performance with longer time on screen, so why not award all those actors who deserve it from an artistic point of view (e.g. Mr. Hosseini in “A Separation”)?

          I think it is obvious that awarding art is a tough task, and probably pointless. It is not sports or science.

          • Rudi

            Very good point. Translated to this week’s Oscars it should be Alicia Vikander walking away with the biggest price, while both Redmayne and The Danish Girl are rubbish. The truth is she isn’t even nominated for best actress I believe while the latter two are main contenders.

  • Bat42

    A few weeks ago, Alan Rickman would have been on this list. :'(

  • mzungu

    What?! None of the 30 you pick are black? LOL…. Film critics and entertainment journalism got a race problem. 😀

  • Noran Warot

    How about Jean Reno? The Professional, Wasabi, I was shocked to Find out Sutherland never got a nod!!!

  • Noran Warot

    Harvey Keitel—only one nominations–that sucks too. Are you going to do a women’s list too?

  • Juan Carlos

    As much as I like John Cusack, he always plays it safe, there’s hardly any risk in his acting choices. Agree on most of the others, mainly Sutherland and Mads Mikkelsen who have saved some films from mediocrity, just like Edward Norton, who’s consistently ignored too, even on this list.

    • MP2

      Ed Norton has been nominated for an Oscar twice.

      • Juan Carlos

        You’re totally right. I missed that one.

        • Terek Brajan

          You mean two….

  • Kerri Potvin

    Fantastic! I agree with the majority of your list. xo

  • Josh Wolf

    Hahah Will Ferrel?? Are you serious? I love him and all, but what would he have won an Oscar for?

  • April Cartwright

    Is there gonna be an article on actresses too orrr?????

  • Hugo Jauregui

    mmm… GARY OLDMAN ?

    • Andreas P.

      He has been nominated (for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”).

  • Bruno

    Oscar Isaac.

  • Abhishek

    Are you guys high lately? Stop this Oscar shit and please give us old days back!

  • Vik

    Willem Dafoe

    • BT

      Nominated a couple of times. For “Platoon” and the vampire movie.

  • Kamal Hassan? I don’t think you need to research too deep to find this name.

  • BT

    God, I despise Jim Carrey as an actor. Just tried to watch him in “The Majestic” (a horrible film on its own terms) and, once again, did not believe one moment of his performance. Always on the outside watching himself, if you ask me. Sorry. But I’d put Billy Crudup, Nick Stahl, and Michael Pitt on the list for starters.

  • Ted Wolf

    Great list

  • Aniruddha Pande

    Marcello Mastroianni

    • Terek Brajan

      Sadly, Mastroianni is dead for 21 year, and the list is about living actors…..

  • Kick Me

    No Kim Kadashian? Hahahahaha!!!!!!!

  • Charles P. Stapleton

    I would add Kurt Russell.

  • Iam_Spartacus

    Uhh, Harvey Keitel?

  • Richard Haywood

    Oh this must be the best male WHITE actors list, waiting for the Black, Asian, Indian, Latino list next

  • Gabriel Lopera

    Where is Gary Oldman?

  • Ricardo Correia

    Jean Pierre Leaud, one of the best ever
    Should have won for The Mother And The Whore (1973) and maybe for The Death Of Louis XIV (2016), and being nominated a half dozen times at least
    Yevgeni Mironov, whose performance in The Idiot (2003) is among cinema’s finest
    Per Oscarsson, brilliant in The Doll (1962), Dr Glas (1968), Montenegro (1982) and that gives maybe the best performance of all time in Hunger (1966)
    Klaus Kinski in Aguirre and in Woyzeck (1979)
    Chishu Ryu, gives one of the best performances of the 40s in Late Spring, on the best of the 90s in Dreams and a lot of terrific ones in the 50s
    You miss this and much more, to say that Liar Liar is a performance that should have been nominated for an Oscar and to list Will Ferrel?