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The 10 Best Actresses Who’ve Never Won an Oscar

17 November 2017 | Features, People Lists | by Allan Khumalo

5. Naomi Watts

21 Grams

Naomi Watts is another actress who’s shockingly never won an Oscar. After moving to the United States, she spent years struggling to get her big break. It’s fitting that her breakthrough role was in David Lynch’s masterpiece “Mulholland Drive,” playing a disillusioned actress trying to do exactly the same.

How she wasn’t even nominated for what’s arguably her best and most iconic performance is baffling. It’s the type of role that actors would kill for. An honest showcase for talent and dynamic range that personifies every actor’s hopes and dreams, fears and worst nightmares. And Watts naturally pulled it off and then some.

Her first nomination would come in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “21 Grams,” where she plays a character facing a heartbreaking tragedy and descends into a rabbit hole of addiction and revenge. The second nomination came for her work in “The Impossible,” where she plays a mother and wife separated from her family during the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.

These two roles feature her natural talent of playing grief-stricken characters whose weeping and crying have you feeling for the characters instead of feeling annoyed or emotionally manipulated.

Of the ones that didn’t get nominated, there’s David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises” where she played a midwife who goes into the world of trafficking and Russian gangsters. In the same year, she appeared in Michael Haneke’s English version/remake of “Funny Games,” playing a wife whose family is held hostage by sociopathic teenagers. These two performances stand as some of her most intense works and prove the talent she is.


4. Annette Bening

Being Julia

It’s surprising and sad that Annette Bening has yet to win an Oscar for her consistently on-point performances. With almost 30 years in the business, Bening is one of the most gifted actresses of her generation. She has the natural ability to elevate even the worst films with her presence. She’s been nominated far less than she deserves (four times) and won far less than she should have.

Many will point to her “American Beauty” loss being the most shocking. As fun as it was to watch Kevin Spacey go through a midlife crisis, Bening’s performance was the funniest and most terrifying. The 1990 film “The Grifters” earned her the first nomination of her career and her scene-chewing performance in “Being Julia” as a theatre actress got her the third. “The Kids Are All Right” yielded nomination number four as the more serious parent in a story of a lesbian couple raising two children who go looking for their surrogate father.

The ones for which she didn’t receive a nomination were the 1991 crime-drama “Bugsy” based on mobster Bugsy Siegel and his relationship with Virginia Hill; the uneven “Running with Scissors” which was watchable because of Bening’s performance; and last year’s “20th Century Women,” where she stole the show yet again.

This year she’s set to appear in true life-based “Film Stars Die in Liverpool,” which could get her nomination number five for playing Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame. As mentioned before, the Best Actress race has already heated up and it’ll be interesting to see if she’s nominated or left out like she was with last year’s “20th Century Women.”


3. Jessica Chastain

In just nine short years, Jessica Chastain has risen to become one of the best actresses in the game today. Booming with a natural and effortless talent that comes with a certain aura, where her presence is felt without her character having to say a single word, Chastain is always engaging to watch, with complex subtleties that reveal more about her characters than any flashback or exposition could ever do.

To date, she’s received two Oscar nominations. In “The Help,” she plays a naive aspiring socialite, which became her breakthrough role and earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. For “Zero Dark Thirty” she got her second nomination for Best Actress, where she plays a “fictionalized character” who helped capture Osama bin Laden.

As great as Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in “Silver Linings Playbook” was, Chastain’s performance should’ve won the Oscar in what’s one of the greatest performances of the 21st century. She carries the two-and-a-half hour film by herself, which becomes as thrilling as the search for Bin Laden.

Chastain has also given other Oscar-worthy performances that failed to get recognition in “Take Shelter,” “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” “Miss Sloane” and “The Tree of Life,” where her performance was just as powerful as Brad Pitt’s, even though she plays a silent wife.

She looks set to earn her third nomination for Aaron Sorkin’s upcoming directing debut “Molly’s Game,” in an Oscar race for Best Actress that’s already reached a boiling point. The best part of her already impressive career is that she’s just getting started and will likely see more nominations and a hopeful win in the years to come.


2. Glenn Close

Fatal Attraction

Aside from teaching married men the consequences of infidelity in “Fatal Attraction,” Glenn Close has given countless memorable performances. With an acting career spanning more than 40 years both in film and theatre, Close is one of the finest actresses of her generation, with a wide array of versatile performances that will stand the test of time.

Close has more Oscar nominations without a single win than any other living actor or actress. With six nominations to date, she scored her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in her film debut “The World According to Garp” in 1982. Kicking off her film career with a bang, her second and third films “The Big Chill” and “The Natural” would earn her nominations number two and three.

While these films are nothing to particularly rave about, the performances (especially those of Close) are what elevated them to greater heights. Her most iconic and famous performance came from the aforementioned “Fatal Attraction,” which earned her nomination number four.

Playing a woman with whom Michael Douglas’ character has an affair, who then goes full psycho when he calls off their relationship, endangering his family, Close went for broke in a performance that spawned countless imitations but has stood the test of time as one of the craziest and scariest female characters.

She would continue playing another villainous character in “Dangerous Liaisons,” a year later earning nomination number five. Going toe to toe with John Malkovich with their rich performances and back-and-forth dialogue will leave you in awe.

Proving that she’s lost none of her talents, the 2011 film “Albert Nobbs” would again show her versatility, earning her nomination number six. Playing a male butler who’s actually a female, Close completely immerses herself in the role and is totally convincing in a film that has an interesting premise but fails to engage beyond the characters and performances.

Still going strong at age 70, Close shows no signs of slowing down. Whether she gets nominated for Oscar number seven (and actually wins) is anybody’s guess, what’s certain is that she’s past due for a Lifetime Achievement Oscar for her countless contributions to cinema.


1. Amy Adams

Over the years, Amy Adams has become one of the hardest working and critically acclaimed actresses today. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bad performance from the red-haired master class. It never ceases to amaze the versatility of characters and performances in her filmography that make all of her new films bubble with anticipation with the mere association of her name. What’s more impressive is how down to earth, likable and relatable she is, making rooting for her all the easier.

Known recently as the female Leonardo DiCaprio of the Oscars before DiCaprio finally won the Oscar, Adams has been nominated for a whopping five Oscars to date. Ironically, her breakout role came in the DiCaprio led Spielberg film “Catch Me if You Can,” where she captured not only the heart of DiCaprio’s character but the audience’s as well.

She received her first nomination a few years later in “Junebug” as an overly positive and hopeless romantic character that almost became her typecast. But Adams does her homework on each role she plays, making sure they never become that, even if she’s played similar characters.

Her second nomination came with “Doubt,” where she stood toe to toe against the heavyweight talents of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Viola Davis. She played a similar naive character (this time around a nun) whose good intentions open a whirlwind of trouble.

“The Fighter” saw her break type, playing a strong-willed character who’s sexy but rough around the edges. She lost the Oscar to co-star Melissa Leo. Nomination number four came from Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” where she gave a strong but subtle and suggestive performance that hints that her character is the real master, no matter how other characters refer to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character.

Then there was “American Hustle” where she teamed up again with David O. Russell and his frequent collaborators of actors to give a complex and intriguing performance.

There are, of course, other exquisite performances the actress has given that failed to garner nominations, with “Arrival” and “Enchanted” coming to mind.

There’s no doubt that Adams will eventually win that Oscar (just like DiCaprio eventually did), but one thing’s for sure – if anyone will ever rival (or come close) to Meryl Streep’s insane record of 20 Oscar nominations, it’ll probably be Adams at the rate she’s going.



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  • Zwei

    -Isabelle Huppert
    -Catherine Deneuve

    • Franco Gonzalez

      Catherine Deneuve?? Really?

      • Cristian Muñoz Levill

        ¿Por qué no?

        • Franco Gonzalez

          Nunca la vi como una gran actriz, si poseedora de una belleza indescriptible

    • I know!!!! In fact, I think Huppert should’ve gotten the Oscar instead of Emma Stone.

      • AmazingAmy

        Emma Stone won for being Emma Stone -_-

        • I did like her in La La Land and thought she was great but I honestly felt Huppert deserved it more.

          • AmazingAmy

            Huppert should won Oscar many times esp for Piano Teacher

          • Oh fuck yeah.

          • Mortimer

            And Portman also.

    • Vincenzo Politi

      And ISABELLE ADJANI!!!!!!

      • Mortimer

        Why are you always screaming ?

  • No Scar-Jo 3:16?

  • AmazingAmy

    Sorry many actresses in this list should ranked above Adams like Pfeiffer, Watts, Bening, Close and Huppert and Williams should be included. Amy is talented for sure but i felt she is so thirsty. There many actresses more overdue than her.

    Deborah Kerr, Garbo, Judy Garland never won competitive Oscar during her life while legend Huppert only recognized recently.

    And Wtf Gaga win over Kiki

  • Peter Parker

    No Huppert or Maggie Cheung ?

    Nothing against any of the women on the list but it should be retitled “Hollywood actresses” since it’s a list of mostly well known UK/US actresses.

  • Mortimer

    In my opinion Rooney Mara deserves place on this list. She was nominated twice (same as Knightley and more than Mulligan). After she won Best Actress in Cannes she was later robbed for an Oscar in 2015 despite being a favorite the whole season (Alicia Vikander for the Danish Girl ? Really ?)

  • Mortimer

    Also…where is Michelle Williams ? Four nominations.

  • Ricardo Correia

    If Amy Adams was the best actress never to win an Oscar it would all be fine, but she isn’t, nor is she even close

    • Ricardo Correia

      There were a lot of actresses better than Amy last year

  • Ricardo Correia

    When Jeanne Moreau, probably the best actress in the history of cinema, isn’t here this list is meaningless

    • Mortimer

      Jeanne Moreau doesn’t have an Oscar ? Oh I forgot that. Ccc…
      Liv Ullmann also ?
      But Jennifer Hudson has one, that’s most important (sarcasm).

      • Ricardo Correia

        I was never a fan of Ulmann, I have always find her quite a heavy pusher

  • sadburbia

    Emmanuelle Riva, if deceased actresses count

    • brothernamederised

      Yes. Nothing against Jennifer Lawrence, but Riva gave the performance of a lifetime in “Amour”. That award should have been hers.

  • Ricardo Correia

    Gena Rowlands should be here, of all due respect to what Klaus Kinski made in the 70s but her performance in A Woman Under The Influence is maybe the best of that decade
    Setsuko Hara was tremendous in almost everything she ever did
    Irene Jacob is probably the actress working today with the most tragic charm
    Gong Li was phenomenal in the early stages of her carrer
    Isabelle Huppert despite sometimes being quite a heavy pusher has at least 4 or 5 performances worthy of top 3 at any Oscar race, and is probably the best actress in the world right now
    So many names to list, horrible list

    • Mortimer

      Gena Rowlands for sure. A Woman Under the Influence isn’t only one of the very best female performances of the 1970s but of all time also.
      I hope she has at least some honorary statue but alas, that’s probably not the case.
      Not sure what Keira Knightley is doing on this list. Yeah, she made her breakthrough pretty early but honestly I’m little tired of her posh accent and period dramas. She is capable actress but nothing special in my opinion.

      • Ricardo Correia

        I agree

  • Ted Wolf

    Rita Haworth, Tallulah bankhead, Barbara stanwyck

  • jamako

    – Essie Davis
    – Emily Blunt (her Sicario performance is way underrated)

  • David

    Amy Adams should have won for Arrival. She wasn’t even nominated, and they decided to reward Emma Stone. What the hell is wrong with these people???

    • Ricardo Correia

      There were quite a few actresses better than Amy Adams last year

    • Mortimer

      Huppert and Portman were most deserving last year but they were both overlooked because of La La Land behemoth.

  • Vincenzo Politi

    I earnestly think Keira Knightley is one of the worst actresses ever. Glenn Close was stollen the statuette several times and I do hope that Michelle Pfeiffer will get a nomination for Best Actress in a Supportive Role for her phenomenal interpretation in Aronofski’s “Mother!” — and, of course, I do hope she will win too. As for the rest of the list, it is very English-speakers centred. That’s why because the Oscar is an extremely English-speakers centred award. It is an award for the Hollywood industry, NOT for cinema. It has nothing to do with REAL festivals of cinema such as those of Cannes, Venice or Berlin. One of the proofs is last year award to Emma Stone. Ok, she acted in a nice movie (which I really like), but was her role really that difficult to play? was her character really that complex? She had to smile and she had to cry: that was Acting 101. She was basically rewarded for playing your usual American sweetheart, and she was preferred to Isabelle Huppert, a living legend, someone who has been on the big screen since the 70s and who is unarguably one of the greatest actresses of all times. Other actresses who are or have been systematically ignored by the Academy Awards simply because they are not Hollywood-based are: Isabelle Adjani, Monica Vitti, Gong Li, Emmanuelle Béart, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Carmen Maura, Victoria Abril, Marisa Paredes, Claudia Cardinale, Silvana Mangano, Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin , etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

    • Mortimer

      All leading ladies from Bergman’s films deserved one Oscar at least.

  • Klaus Dannick

    Laura Dern

  • Allister Cooper

    Oscar or not Oscar, my vote goes to Stacey Travis!

  • Special_One

    Keira Knightley?! Yeah, there’s no way anyone’s gonna take this list seriously. Probably the worst actress Hollywood has seen the last 20 years.

  • Mahmood Sheikhi

    Sigourney Weaver at least deserve an oscar

  • Dimitrije Stojanovic

    If we were to make a real list of actresses who never won Oscar, that list would be much stronger than the list of actresses who won Oscar.
    Anyway, this is a list of a person who doesn’t watch old movies, so it is better for me not to say anything else.