The Academy Award for Best Actor is one of the most prestigious accolades in the world of film, honoring the outstanding performances of male actors in leading roles. Since its inception in 1929, this highly-coveted prize has been awarded to a diverse range of talented performers. In this article, we will present the complete list of Best Actor winners, celebrating the remarkable achievements and unforgettable portrayals that have earned them this esteemed recognition. We’ll also present our list of what we think to be the best performances by Best Actor winners in history. Fair warning, with snippets of these best performances *spoilers ahead.*

Academy Award for Best Actor List

Best Actor Winners — Full List

The Academy Award for Best Actor is one of the oldest and most prestigious film awards in history, first presented in 1929. The inaugural recipient was Emil Jannings for his performances in "The Last Command" and "The Way of All Flesh." Since then, many iconic actors like Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, and Daniel Day-Lewis have taken home the coveted statuette. The category recognizes outstanding achievement in leading male acting performances and is awarded annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

From the trailblazers of the Golden Age of Hollywood to the modern-day virtuosos, these actors have inspired generations of movie-goers and fellow artists alike. 

Academy Award for Best Actor History


  • 2022 - Brendan Fraser (The Whale)
  • 2021 - Will Smith (King Richard)
  • 2020 - Anthony Hopkins (The Father)
  • 2019 - Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
  • 2018 - Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
  • 2017 - Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
  • 2016 - Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
  • 2015 - Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
  • 2014 - Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
  • 2013 - Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
  • 2012 - Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
  • 2011 - Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
  • 2010 - Colin Firth (The King's Speech)
  • 2009 - Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
  • 2008 - Sean Penn (Milk)
  • 2007 - Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)
  • 2006 - Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)
  • 2005 - Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote)
  • 2004 - Jamie Foxx (Ray)
  • 2003 - Sean Penn (Mystic River)
  • 2002 - Adrien Brody (The Pianist)
  • 2001 - Denzel Washington (Training Day)
  • 2000 - Russell Crowe (Gladiator)
  • 1999 - Kevin Spacey (American Beauty)
  • 1998 - Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful)
  • 1997 - Jack Nicholson (As Good as It Gets)
  • 1996 - Geoffrey Rush (Shine)
  • 1995 - Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas)
  • 1994 - Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump)
  • 1993 - Tom Hanks (Philadelphia)
  • 1992 - Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman)
  • 1991 - Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs)
  • 1990 - Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune)
  • 1989 - Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot)
  • 1988 - Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man)
  • 1987 - Michael Douglas (Wall Street)
  • 1986 - Paul Newman (The Color of Money)
  • 1985 - William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman)
  • 1984 - F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus)
  • 1983 - Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies)
  • 1982 - Ben Kingsley (Gandhi)
  • 1981 - Henry Fonda (On Golden Pond)
  • 1980 - Robert De Niro (Raging Bull)
  • 1979 - Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer)
  • 1978 - Jon Voight (Coming Home)
  • 1977 - Richard Dreyfuss (The Goodbye Girl)
  • 1976 - Peter Finch (Network)
  • 1975 - Jack Nicholson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)
  • 1974 - Art Carney (Harry and Tonto)
  • 1973 - Jack Lemmon (Save the Tiger)
  • 1972 - Marlon Brando (The Godfather) *Note: Brando declined the award
  • 1971 - Gene Hackman (The French Connection)
  • 1970 - George C. Scott (Patton) *Note: Scott declined the award
  • 1969 - John Wayne (True Grit)
  • 1968 - Cliff Robertson (Charly)
  • 1967 - Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night)
  • 1966 - Paul Scofield (A Man for All Seasons)
  • 1965 - Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou)
  • 1964 - Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady)
  • 1963 - Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field)
  • 1962 - Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • 1961 - Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg)
  • 1960 - Burt Lancaster (Elmer Gantry)
  • 1959 - Charlton Heston (Ben-Hur)
  • 1958 - David Niven (Separate Tables)
  • 1957 - Alec Guinness (The Bridge on the River Kwai)
  • 1956 - Yul Brynner (The King and I)
  • 1955 - Ernest Borgnine (Marty)
  • 1954 - Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront)
  • 1953 - William Holden (Stalag 17)
  • 1952 - Gary Cooper (High Noon)
  • 1951 - Humphrey Bogart (The African Queen)
  • 1950 - José Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac)
  • 1949 - Broderick Crawford (All the King's Men)
  • 1948 - Laurence Olivier (Hamlet)
  • 1947 - Ronald Colman (A Double Life)
  • 1946 - Fredric March (The Best Years of Our Lives)
  • 1945 - Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend)
  • 1944 - Bing Crosby (Going My Way)
  • 1943 - Paul Lukas (Watch on the Rhine)
  • 1942 - James Cagney (Yankee Doodle Dandy)
  • 1941 - Gary Cooper (Sergeant York)
  • 1940 - Gary Cooper (The Pride of the Yankees)
  • 1939 - James Stewart (The Philadelphia Story)
  • 1938 - Robert Donat (Goodbye, Mr. Chips)
  • 1937 - Spencer Tracy (Boys Town)
  • 1936 - Paul Muni (The Life of Emile Zola)
  • 1935 - Paul Muni (The Story of Louis Pasteur)
  • 1934 - Clark Gable (It Happened One Night)
  • 1932/33 - Charles Laughton (The Private Life of Henry VIII)
  • 1931/32 - Wallace Beery (The Champ) and Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
  • 1930/31 - Lionel Barrymore (A Free Soul)
  • 1929/30 - George Arliss (Disraeli)
  • 1928/29 - Warner Baxter (In Old Arizona)
  • 1927/28 - Emil Jannings (The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh)
  • *Please note that the Academy Awards began in 1929, so the first few ceremonies recognized films released in multiple years.

Best Academy Award for Best Actor Winners

20. Gary Oldman - Darkest Hour (2017)

Darkest Hour (2017)  •  Saving Dunkirk Scene 

Gary Oldman's Oscar-winning performance in Darkest Hour (2017) is a masterclass in acting. As Winston Churchill, Oldman underwent an incredible physical transformation and fully immersed himself in the character, capturing the iconic British leader's mannerisms, speech, and gravitas. 

Set during the early days of World War II, Oldman's portrayal showcases Churchill's determination, wit, and oratory skills while also revealing the vulnerability and humanity behind the historical figure.

Historical Fiction Best Actor Oscar


Oldman's immersive portrayal of the iconic British leader showcased his incredible range and chameleon-like acting abilities.

Academy Award for Best Actor List

19. Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything (2014)

The Theory of Everything  •  While There is Life, There is Hope

Eddie Redmayne's transcendent portrayal of Stephen Hawking is both heart-wrenching and inspiring, as he skillfully captures the physicist's brilliance, wit, and perseverance despite the debilitating effects of ALS. Redmayne's use of body language and facial expressions to convey the complex emotions of his character is nothing short of astounding. 

As the disease progresses, he continues to communicate the essence of Hawking's indomitable spirit, even when speech becomes nearly impossible. 

Biopic Best Actor Winners


Redmayne's transformative performance as the brilliant physicist demonstrated his dedication to the craft and his ability to bring complex characters to life on screen.

Academy Award for Best Actor Winner

18. Casey Affleck - Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck's raw and vulnerable portrayal of grief in Manchester by the Sea is a cinematic experience that lingers long after the credits roll. His heart-wrenching performance as Lee Chandler, a man haunted by tragedy, showcases his ability to convey complex emotions with subtlety and depth. 

Affleck's nuanced acting allows viewers to empathize with his character's pain and struggle for redemption. This emotionally charged performance not only solidified Affleck's status as a leading actor but also captivated audiences and critics alike.

Dramatic Academy Award for Best Actor


Affleck's heart-wrenching portrayal of a man grappling with grief showcased his ability to convey deep emotions while maintaining a sense of restrained authenticity.

Best Actor Academy Awards List

17. Colin Firth - The King's Speech (2010) 

The King's Speech  •  I Have a Voice! 

Colin Firth's captivating performance in The King's Speech is the epitome of grace under pressure, as he brings to life the struggles of King George VI. Firth masterfully portrays the monarch's journey to overcome his stammer and deliver a pivotal wartime speech, capturing both vulnerability and determination. 

His ability to convey the inner turmoil of a man thrust into a role he never expected is truly remarkable. Firth's unforgettable performance garnered widespread acclaim and solidified his place among the greats of contemporary cinema.

Best Actor Awards


This moving performance as the stuttering king by Firth earned him widespread acclaim and solidified his status as one of the finest actors of his generation.

Academy Award for Best Actor

16. Sean Penn - Milk (2008)

Sean Penn winning Best Actor for "Milk"

Can one man truly ignite a revolution? Sean Penn's compelling portrayal of Harvey Milk in Milk answers this question with a resounding yes. 

Penn embodies the passion and charisma of the first openly gay elected official in California, capturing Milk's tireless fight for LGBTQ+ rights. His transformative performance not only honors the legacy of a trailblazing activist but also reminds us of the power of individual courage in the face of adversity.

Academy Award Winners Best Actor


Penn's heartfelt portrayal of the pioneering LGBTQ+ activist demonstrated his ability to bring depth and humanity to any character.

Best Actor Award List

15. Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club (2013) 

Dallas Buyers Club  •  I Don't Want No Trouble

In a whirlwind of defiance and determination, Matthew McConaughey's transformative performance in Dallas Buyers Club is truly unforgettable. As Ron Woodroof, a man diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s, McConaughey brilliantly captures his character's grit and resourcefulness in seeking alternative treatments. 

His physical transformation and nuanced portrayal of a complex individual bring depth and humanity to this real-life story. McConaughey's dedication to the role earned him an Oscar and the admiration of audiences worldwide.

Transformation Best Actor Winners


This transformative portrayal of the AIDS-stricken activist by McConaughey showcased his commitment to authenticity and his impressive acting range.

Biopic Best Actor Oscar

14. Jamie Foxx - Ray (2004)

Ray  •  Every Great Musical Performance

With the soulful rhythm of a legend, Jamie Foxx's electrifying performance in Ray brings the iconic Ray Charles to life on the big screen. Foxx expertly channels the spirit and talent of the legendary musician, showcasing both his musical genius and personal struggles. 

His heartfelt portrayal captures the essence of Charles' journey through fame, addiction, and redemption. Foxx's mesmerizing performance not only earned him an Oscar but also left an indelible mark on the history of biographical films.

Academy Award for Best Actor


Foxx's electrifying performance as the legendary musician solidified his status as a versatile and talented actor.

Academy Award for Best Actor

13. Forest Whitaker - The Last King of Scotland (2006)

The Last King of Scotland  •  Idi Speaks (2006)

What does it take to embody the terrifying charisma of a brutal dictator? Forest Whitaker's chilling performance in The Last King of Scotland offers some insight. As the infamous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Whitaker strikes a delicate balance between charm and menace, pulling audiences into the unsettling world of political power and paranoia.

Historical Best Actor Academy Awards


Whitaker’s ability to convey both the magnetic allure and repulsive brutality of Amin allows viewers to understand the complex nature of this historical figure. 

Academy Award for best actor

12. Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart (2009)

Jeff Bridges Wins Best Actor: 2010 Oscars 

Amidst a dusty haze of heartache and redemption, Jeff Bridges delivers a soul-stirring performance in Crazy Heart. As the down-and-out country singer Bad Blake, Bridges embodies the raw emotion and vulnerability of a man grappling with his own demons. His portrayal of a fading star seeking solace in music and love captivates audiences, as he masterfully conveys both the despair and hope that define his character. 

Music Best Actor Award


With each strum of his guitar, Bridges invites viewers on a journey of self-discovery and second chances. 

Comic Book Character Oscar

11. Joaquin Phoenix - Joker (2019)

Joker (2019)  •  Joker's Story Scene

Did you know that laughter can be contagious, yet haunting? Joaquin Phoenix's mesmerizing performance in Joker proves just that. His chilling portrayal of a character spiraling into madness is both heart-wrenching and terrifying, leaving audiences on the edge of their seats.

First Best Actor Oscar


Phoenix's fearless commitment to the role earned him an Oscar and forever etched his haunting laughter into the annals of cinematic history.

Academy Award for Best Actor

10. Dustin Hoffman - Rain Man (1988)

Rain Man  •  You Memorized the Whole Book?

To prepare for his iconic role in Rain Man Dustin Hoffman spent considerable time with individuals on the autism spectrum. His portrayal of Raymond Babbitt, an autistic savant, is both sensitive and powerful, shedding light on a misunderstood condition. Through his exceptional acting, he brings understanding and awareness to a subject matter that was largely unknown at the time. 

90s Best Actor Winners


Hoffman's performance captures the complexities and nuances of Raymond's character, allowing audiences to empathize and connect with him on a deeper level. 

Academy Award for Best Actor

9. Anthony Hopkins - The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs  •  What Does He Do, This Man You Seek?

Anthony Hopkins' chilling portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs was achieved with only 16 minutes of screen time, yet it left an indelible mark on cinema history. His masterful performance as the cannibalistic serial killer exudes both intelligence and menace, creating a character that is as fascinating as he is terrifying. Hopkins' ability to captivate audiences with his controlled intensity and piercing gaze is a testament to his exceptional acting prowess.

Thriller Best Actor Winners


This brilliant portrayal continues to send shivers down the spines of viewers even decades after its release.

Based on a True Story Oscar Winners

8. Philip Seymour Hoffman - Capote (2005)

Capote  •  I Did Everything I Could

In preparation for his role in Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman meticulously studied Truman Capote's mannerisms and voice, ultimately delivering a transformative performance. 

As the eccentric and brilliant writer, Hoffman immerses himself in the character, capturing the essence of Capote with remarkable authenticity. His portrayal delves into the complexities of Capote's psyche, as he develops an emotional connection with the subjects of his groundbreaking book, In Cold Blood.

Academy Award for Best Actor


Hoffman's nuanced performance brings to life the ambition, vulnerability, and moral ambiguity that defined the legendary author.

Academy Award for Best Actor

7. Denzel Washington - Training Day (2001)

Training Day  •  Alonzo’s King Kong Speech

In this high-octane crime thriller, Denzel Washington's Oscar-winning performance as the morally ambiguous narcotics officer, Alonzo Harris, is nothing short of phenomenal. 

His ability to embody the character's complexity and darkness elevates the film to new heights, making it an unforgettable cinematic experience. Washington's intense portrayal of a man struggling with corruption and power showcases his exceptional range and talent as an actor.

Best Actor Winners Oscars List


Denzel Washington's performance in Training Day masterfully embodied the moral complexity and intensity of his character, Alonzo Harris, creating an unforgettable and captivating cinematic experience.

Greatest Best Actor Winners

6. Marlon Brando - The Godfather (1972)

THE GODFATHER  •  Opening Scene

Marlon Brando's captivating performance as Vito Corleone in The Godfather not only earned him the prestigious Academy Award for Best Actor, but also redefined the portrayal of powerful mob bosses in cinema. Brando's nuanced acting, exemplified by the iconic scene where he tenderly holds a kitten while discussing sinister matters, demonstrated his ability to balance vulnerability with a chilling sense of authority. 

Despite his remarkable achievement, Brando famously declined the Oscar in protest against Hollywood's mistreatment of Native Americans, further cementing his status as a fiercely independent and socially conscious artist. His courageous stand continues to be remembered as a pivotal moment in both his career and the history of the Academy Awards.

Brando Performances


This groundbreaking performance brought depth and humanity to the character, making the film an instant classic and contributing significantly to its enduring success.

Which Actor Has Won an Academy Award For Best Actor

5. Jack Nicholson - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) 

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest  •  You're not Crazy

Jack Nicholson's incredible performance as Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a masterclass in embodying a character's spirit, bringing to life a rebellious and charismatic antihero. His defining traits and quirks, such as the mischievous grin and defiant attitude, showcase Nicholson's ability to fully inhabit a role, making his performance truly unforgettable. 

Psychological Perfromances


Nicholson's electrifying portrayal elevates this already transcendent drama, solidifying its status as one of the most compelling and enduring films of its time.

Classic Oscar Perfromances

4. Tom Hanks - Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump  •   Emotional scene

Did you know that Tom Hanks actually trained for months with a running coach to perfect Forrest Gump's distinct stride? In this iconic film, Hanks delivers a heartwarming and transformative performance as the lovable and simple-minded protagonist, Forrest Gump. 

His ability to capture the character's innocence, vulnerability, and unwavering optimism is nothing short of remarkable, demonstrating his incredible range as an actor.

Tom Hanks Oscar Winning Perfromance


Hanks' portrayal resonated deeply with audiences, who found themselves emotionally invested in Forrest's life journey, filled with moments of joy, sorrow, and triumph

De Niro’s Best Perfromances

3. Robert De Niro - Raging Bull (1980) 

Robert De Niro And Joe Pesci in Raging Bull

Robert De Niro gained 60 pounds to authentically portray the physical transformation of boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. His unwavering commitment to method acting allowed De Niro to fully embody the character's volatile nature and undeniable talent, making his performance truly iconic. The raw intensity and emotional depth he brought to the role showcased his unparalleled ability to immerse himself in a character.

De Niro’s Oscar-Winning Performance


De Niro's powerful transformation into the world of boxing demonstrated his commitment to the craft and the depths he would go for a role.

Best Oscar-Winning Perfromances

2. Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood (2007)

There Will Be Blood  •  I ABANDONED MY CHILD

How can an actor consistently evoke powerful emotions, captivating audiences? Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood exemplifies an actor's dedication and skill. Rooted in method acting, he fully immerses himself in the character, resulting in a complex, emotionally resonant performance that stands as a masterclass in acting.

Daniel Day-Lewis' performance in There Will Be Blood is a masterclass in acting, demonstrating the power of method acting in creating a complex and emotionally resonant character.

DDL Oscar-Winning Perfromance


Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Daniel Plainview has left an indelible mark on the film industry, inspiring actors and filmmakers to push the boundaries of their craft and explore the depths of human emotion.

Best Performance by an Oscar-Winning Actor

1. Marlon Brando - On the Waterfront (1954)

I Coulda Been a Contender  •  On the Waterfront

Marlon Brando's groundbreaking performance in On the Waterfront is widely regarded as the pinnacle of acting by an Oscar winner for Best Actor. His raw, visceral portrayal of Terry Malloy, a conflicted ex-boxer turned longshoreman, revolutionized the art of film acting with its emotional depth and authenticity. 

Brando's use of method acting and his ability to convey the internal struggle of a man grappling with moral dilemmas set a new standard for cinematic performances. This unforgettable portrayal continues to inspire actors worldwide, cementing Brando's legacy as a true icon in the history of cinema.

Brando’s Best Oscar-Winning Performance


Brando's raw, emotional performance transformed how actors approached their craft and inspired generations to come.


Best Supporting Actor Winners

These actors have earned their keep in the ranks of some of the best actors of all time. But what about those actor performances that weren't exactly the lead? Just because they have less screen time doesn't mean the acting on display is any less awe-inspiring. Let's continue with a rundown of all the Best Supporting Actors and our favorites of the bunch.

Up Next: Supporting Actor Gold →
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