Many consider the Academy Award for Best Actress the greatest honor an actress can receive. Over the years, some of cinema’s finest actresses, like Meryll Streep and Elizabeth Taylor, have been given the award. We’re going to list every actress who has won the Academy Award for Best Actress, then we’ll rank some of their best performances. 

Best Actress Oscar Winners

Complete list of Best Actress winners

best actress academy award

academy award for best actress Winners

  • 2019 - Renée Zellweger, Judy
  • 2018 - Olivia Colman, The Favourite
  • 2017 - Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • 2016 - Emma Stone, La La Land
  • 2015 - Brie Larson, Room
  • 2014 - Julianne Moore, Still Alice
  • 2013 - Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
  • 2012 - Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
  • 2011 - Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
  • 2010 - Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • 2009 - Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
  • 2008 - Kate Winslet, The Reader
  • 2007 - Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
  • 2006 - Helen Mirren, The Queen
  • 2005 - Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
  • 2004 - Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
  • 2003 - Charlize Theron, Monster
  • 2002 - Nicole Kidman, The Hours
  • 2001 - Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball
  • 2000 - Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
  • 1999 - Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry
  • 1998 - Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love
  • 1997 - Helen Hunt, As Good as It Gets
  • 1996 - Frances McDormand, Fargo
  • 1995 - Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking
  • 1994 - Jessica Lange, Blue Sky
  • 1993 - Holly Hunter, The Piano
  • 1992 - Emma Thompson, Howards End
  • 1991 - Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs
  • 1990 - Kathy Bates, Misery
  • 1989 - Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy
  • 1988 - Jodie Foster, The Accused
  • 1987 - Cher, Moonstruck
  • 1986 - Marlee Matlin, Children of a Lesser God
  • 1985 - Geraldine Page, A Trip to Bountiful
  • 1984 - Sally Field, Places in the Heart
  • 1983 - Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment
  • 1982 - Meryl Streep, Sophie’s Choice
  • 1981 - Katharine Hepburn, On Golden Pond
  • 1980 - Sissy Spacek, Coal Miner’s Daughter
  • 1979 - Sally Field, Norma Rae
  • 1978 - Jane Fonda, Coming Home
  • 1977 - Diane Keaton, Annie Hall
  • 1976 - Faye Dunaway, Network
  • 1975 - Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • 1974 - Ellen Burstyn, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
  • 1973 - Glenda Jackson, A Touch of Class
  • 1972 - Liza Minnelli, Cabaret
  • 1971 - Jane Fonda, Klute
  • 1970 - Glendale Jackson, Women in Love
  • 1969 - Maggie Smith, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  • 1968 - Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl (tie)
  • 1967 - Katharine Hepburn, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
  • 1966 - Elizabeth Taylor, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • 1965 - Julie Christie, Darling
  • 1964 - Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins
  • 1963 - Patricia Neal, Hud
  • 1962 - Anne Bancroft, The Miracle Worker
  • 1961 - Sophia Loren, Two Women
  • 1960 - Elizabeth Taylor, Butterfield 8
  • 1959 - Simone Signoret, Room at the Top
  • 1958 - Susan Hayward, I Want to Live!
  • 1957 - Joanne Woodward, The Three Faces of Eve
  • 1956 - Ingrid Bergman, Anastasia
  • 1955 - Anna Magnani, The Rose Tattoo
  • 1954 - Grace Kelly, The Country Girl
  • 1953 - Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday
  • 1952 - Shirley Booth, Come Back, Little Sheba
  • 1951 - Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire
  • 1950 - Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday
  • 1949 - Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress
  • 1948 - Jane Wyman, Johnny Belinda
  • 1947 - Loretta Young, The Farmer’s Daughter
  • 1946 - Olivia de Havilland, To Each His Own
  • 1945 - Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce
  • 1944 - Ingrid Bergman, Gaslight
  • 1943 - Jennifer Jones, The Song of Bernadette
  • 1942 - Greer Garson, Mrs. Miniver
  • 1941 - Joan Fontaine, Suspicion
  • 1940 - Ginger Rogers, Kitty Foyle
  • 1939 - Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind
  • 1938 - Bette Davis, Jezebel
  • 1937 - Luise Rainer, The Good Earth
  • 1936 - Luise Rainer, The Great Ziegfeld
  • 1935 - Bette Davis, Dangerous
  • 1934 - Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night
  • 1932/1933 - Katharine Hepburn, Morning Glory
  • 1931/1932 - Helen Hayes, The Sin of Madelon Claudet
  • 1930/1931 - Marie Dressler, Min and Bill
  • 1929/1930 - Norma Shearer, The Divorcee
  • 1928/1929 - Mary Pickford, Coquette
  • 1927/1928 - Janet Gaynor, 7th Heaven, Street Angel, Sunrise

Note on the criteria: all of the performances on this list were ranked for their individual impact. No actresses were included more than once — apologies to Vivian Leigh, Katharine Hepburn, and Meryl Streep.

Academy Award for Best Actress

20. Norma Shearer (The Divorcee)

Oscar Winners Best Actress  •  Norma Shearer Wins Best Actress Oscar

The Divorcee is one of the most admired films of Pre-Code Hollywood for the way in which it depicts complex relationships and sexuality. Norma Shearer carries the picture with her powerhouse performance as a socially progressive woman who gets even with her husband after he has an affair. 

The subject matter of The Divorcee may not seem radical by today’s standards, but at the time, it was truly liberal.

List of Best Actress Oscar Winners 

19. Diane Keaton (Annie Hall)

Best Actress Award  •  Diane Keaton Wins Best Actress Oscar

Diane Keaton’s performance in the eponymous role of Annie Hall is one of the most iconic performances in cinema history. Annie Hall is a character that has inspired countless copycats, from personality to costume design. Keaton is a three-time Best Actress nominee but her only win was for Annie Hall.

Academy Award for Best Actress

18. Claudette Colbert (It Happened One Night)

Oscar Winners Best Actress  •  Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night is just one of three movies to ever win the “Big 5” Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted).

Of all of the performances in the film, Colbert’s is perhaps the most lauded — which is ironic because she reportedly hated working on the film. Many film historians say that Colbert’s “scandalous” performance in It Happened One Night fast-tracked the implementation of the Hays Code.

List of Best Actress Oscar Winners 

17. Olivia de Havilland (To Each His Own)

Best Actress Award  •  Olivia de Havilland Oscar Reunion

Olivia de Havilland won her first Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in To Each His Own in 1946. Three years later she won the same honor for her performance in The Heiress

Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine are just one of two pairs of siblings who have won Academy Awards for acting — the other pair was Lionel Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore. Olivia de Havilland died in 2020 at the age of 104. 

Academy Award for Best Actress

16. Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich)

Best Academy Award Actresses  •  Julia Roberts Wins Best Actress Oscar

2001 was a stacked year for the Best Actress category at the Academy Awards. Joan Allen, Juliette Binoche, Ellen Burstyn, and Laura Linney all gave great performances, but it was Julia Roberts who took home the top honor.

Julia Roberts is captivating in the title role of Erin Brockovich, playing the woman who exposed a massive corporate cover-up. 

List of Best Actress Oscar Winners 

15. Jane Fonda (Klute)

Best Actress Oscar  •  Jane Fonda on Klute

Jane Fonda has received plenty of praise for her acting, but her performance as the prostitute Bree Daniels in Klute is probably her most acclaimed work. Fonda won her first of two Academy Awards for Best Actress for her work in Klute — the second was for Coming Home.

Jane’s father Henry Fonda won the Academy Award for Best Actor ten years after her win for Klute.

Academy Award for Best Actress

14. Katharine Hepburn (Morning Glory)

Who Won Best Actress in 1932?  •  Katharine Hepburn in Morning Glory

Katherine Hepburn’s cadence defined an era of cinema. When I think of “old-time talkies,” I think of Katherine Hepburn’s nasally voice. It’s for this reason why her performance in Morning Glory is still referenced in pop-culture today.

Hepburn won more Best Actress Oscars than any other actor, for her performances in Morning Glory, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Lion in Winter, and On Golden Pond.

List of Best Actress Oscar Winners

13. Charlize Theron (Monster)

Oscar Winners Best Actress  •  Charlize Theron Wins Best Actress Oscar

Charlize Theron won the Academy Award for Best Actress for portraying serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’ directorial debut Monster. To call Theron’s performance unsettling would be an understatement — it’s downright terrifying.

Monster is a nuanced film, full of complex characters and themes, but it would’ve never gotten the exposure that it did if not for Theron’s performance.

Academy Award for Best Actress

12. Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry)

Who Won Best Actress in 1999?  •  Hilary Swank Wins Best Actress Oscar

Hilary Swank won her first Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Boys Don’t Cry. In the film, Swank portrays Brandon Teena, a trans-man who was murdered in Humboldt, Nebraska in 1993.

Five years after the release of Boys Don’t Cry, Swank won her second Best Actress Oscar for Million Dollar Baby.

List of Best Actress Oscar Winners 

11. Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins)

Who Won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1962?  •  Julie Andrews Looks Back on Marry Poppins

How could we not put Julie Andrews on this list? Her performance as Mary Poppins in Robert Stevenson’s 1962 film of the same name is perhaps one of the most iconic performances in cinema history.

If Andrews’ performance wasn’t impressive enough on its own, let’s remember that it was also her feature film debut. Andrews was primarily a theater actor prior to the release of Mary Poppins.

Academy Award for Best Actress

10. Joan Fontaine (Suspicion)

Oscar Winners Best Actress  •  Joan Fontaine Reflects Back on Her Oscar Win

Did you know that Joan Fontaine is the only actor to win an Academy Award for their performance in a Hitchcock movie? Can we acknowledge how insane that is? No win for James Stewart in Vertigo, Cary Grant in North By Northwest, or Ingrid Bergman in Notorious.

That’s not to discredit Fontaine — she was great in Suspicion starring across Cary Grant. It’s just amazing that no actors were honored by the Academy for their performances in Hitchcock films other than Fontaine.

Best Academy Award Actresses

9. Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)

Who Won Best Actress in 1975?  •  Louise Fletcher Wins Best Actress Oscar

Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the most “hateable” characters of all-time. In many ways, she’s a perfect villain — just completely insidious, maniacal, and rotten to the core.

Louise Fletcher played the character with total control, and made her idiosyncrasies seem effortless. Any and every actor should consider studying her performance if they’re preparing for an antagonistic role. 

Academy Award for Best Actress

8. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

Who Won Best Actress in 2013?  •  Cate Blanchett on Blue Jasmine

There aren’t many Woody Allen movies that I’d call “haunting” but Blue Jasmine may be the exception. Blue Jasmine follows the story of a woman who loses everything, including her sanity, after a rough divorce.

Cate Blanchett is magnetizing in the title role, dominating the screen with an anxious energy we rarely see portrayed so excellently.

Best Academy Award Actresses

7. Ingrid Bergman (Gaslight)

Who Won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1944?  •  Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight

Did you know that the term “gaslighting” comes from Patrick Hamilton’s play Gaslight, which was adapted into a film of the same name by George Cukor?

Three-time Oscar winner Ingrid Bergman stars in the film-version of Gaslight as a young woman who’s psychologically manipulated by her husband into thinking she’s gone insane.

Academy Award for Best Actress

6. Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Best Actress Oscar Winners  •  Julianne Moore Wins Best Actress Oscar

Julianne Moore’s performance in Still Alice is heart-breaking. And when I say heart-breaking, I mean bone-chilling, tear-inducing, heart-breaking. There are no words that can describe the emotional weight that defines the silence of Alzheimer’s.

Moore reportedly researched Alzheimer’s extensively for the role, which paid dividends for her performance. We’re not often gifted performances of the same emotional magnitude as Moore’s in Still Alice.

Best Actress Oscar List

5. Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday)

Academy Award for Best Actress  •  Audrey Hepburn Wins Best Actress Oscar

I won’t go so far as to say that Roman Holiday is a perfect movie, but it comes pretty darn close. Audrey Hepburn stars as a royal princess who longs to be treated like a regular person. When she escapes into the night, she finds that ever elusive connection with a newspaperman, played by Gregory Peck.

For many, Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday is the definition of beauty — don’t sell her acting chops short though. You’d be a fool to say she’s incapable of executing in a leading role. 

Academy Award for Best Actress

4. Sophia Loren (Two Women)

Academy Award for Best Actress  •  Sophia Loren Wins Best Actress Oscar

Sophia Loren was the first actor or actress to win an Oscar for a foreign language performance. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Loren is one of the most underappreciated actors of all-time. I’d venture to say that if she had been given better roles in Hollywood, she’d be regarded as one of the top two or three actors ever.

Two Women is a brutal war-time film from Vittorio De Sica, which features great performances from Loren and French New Wave star Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Best Actress Oscar List

3. Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice)

Academy Award for Best Actress  •  Meryl Streep Wins Best Actress Oscar

Meryl Streep has been nominated for more Academy Awards than any other actor. Think about that for a second — a serious case could be made that Streep is the greatest actor, man or woman, living or dead, to ever grace the screen. She’s been nominated for 21 Academy Awards, including 17 nominations for Best Actress.

For her performance in Sophie’s Choice, Streep was awarded her first Best Actress Oscar. Many critics regard Streep’s performance in the film as Holocaust survivor Sophie Zawistowski as one of the greatest film performances of all-time.

Academy Award for Best Actress

2. Elizabeth Taylor (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

Academy Award for Best Actress  •  Elizabeth Taylor Wins Best Actress Oscar

If you’ve never seen Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, I recommend you go watch it — for better or worse, I can definitively say, there’s nothing like it. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was a Broadway play before it was a 13-time Oscar nominated film. 

Taylor received critical acclaim for her performance in the role of Martha. Few people thought Taylor was a good fit for the character because of her natural beauty, but she put on 30 pounds to quite literally grow into the role.

Best Actress Oscar List

1. Vivien Leigh (A Streetcar Named Desire)

Academy Award for Best Actress  •  Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire

There aren’t many roles in film or theater that are harder to “pull off” than Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. As an audience, we’re simultaneously sympathetic to her plight but repulsed by her actions.

Vivien Leigh strikes a tremendous balance between Blanche’s two polar extremes. There’s no doubt about it, her performance is simply masterclass. The scenes with her and Marlon Brando are some of the most explosive in cinema history.

UP NEXT

Academy Award for Best Director

Now that we’ve reviewed all of the Academy Award winners for Best Actress and some of their best works, let’s do the same with Oscar winning directors. In this next article we look at the Academy Award winners for Best Director and break down what made them so great. Roll out the red carpet, these are the directors who won their industry’s most prestigious award.

Up Next: Best Director Winners →
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