Strong supporting actress roles have led to some of cinema’s greatest performances. The Best Supporting Actress category is sometimes overlooked in favor of the flashier Lead Performance categories but the importance of a role is not in any way diminished by a lesser amount of screen-time. Join us in celebrating 20 of the greatest winners of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. 

Academy Award for best supporting actress winners

Complete list of Best Actress Winners

  • 2020: Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari
  • 2019: Laura Dern (Marriage Story
  • 2018: Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk
  • 2017: Allison Janney (I, Tonya
  • 2016: Viola Davis (Fences
  • 2015: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
  • 2014: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood
  • 2013: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave
  • 2012: Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
  • 2011: Octavia Spencer (The Help
  • 2010: Melissa Leo (The Fighter
  • 2009: Mo’Nique (Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
  • 2008: Penélope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • 2007: Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton
  • 2006: Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls
  • 2005: Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener)
  • 2004: Cate Blanchett (The Aviator
  • 2003: Renée Zellweger (Cold Mountain
  • 2002: Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago
  • 2001: Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind
  • 2000: Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock
  • 1999: Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted)
  • 1998: Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love
  • 1997: Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential
  • 1996: Juliette Binoche (The English Patient
  • 1995: Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite
  • 1994: Dianne Wiest (Bullets Over Broadway
  • 1993: Anna Paquin (The Piano
  • 1992: Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny
  • 1991: Mercedes Ruehl (The Fisher King
  • 1990: Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost
  • 1989: Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot
  • 1988: Geena Davis (The Accidental Tourist
  • 1987: Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck)
  • 1986: Dianne Wiest (Hannah and Her Sisters)
  • 1985: Anjelica Huston (Prizzi’s Honor
  • 1984: Peggy Ashcroft (A Passage to India)
  • 1983: Linda Hunt (The Year of Living Dangerously
  • 1982: Jessica Lange (Tootsie
  • 1981: Maureen Stapleton (Reds
  • 1980: Mary Steenburgen (Melvin and Howard
  • 1979: Meryl Streep (Kramer vs. Kramer
  • 1978: Maggie Smith (California Suite
  • 1977: Vanessa Redgrave (Julia
  • 1976: Beatrice Straight (Network
  • 1975: Lee Grant (Shampoo
  • 1974: Ingrid Bergman (Murder on the Orient Express)
  • 1973: Tatum O’Neal (Paper Moon
  • 1972: Eileen Heckart (Butterflies are Free)
  • 1971: Cloris Leachman (The Last Picture Show
  • 1970: Helen Hayes (Airport
  • 1969: Goldie Hawn (Cactus Flower
  • 1968: Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby
  • 1967: Estelle Parsons (Bonnie and Clyde)
  • 1966: Sandy Dennis (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
  • 1965: Shelley Winters (A Patch of Blue)
  • 1964: Lila Kedrova (Zorba the Greek
  • 1963: Margaret Rutherford (The V.I.P.s
  • 1962: Patty Duke (The Miracle Worker)
  • 1961: Rita Moreno (West Side Story
  • 1960: Shirley Jones (Elmer Gantry)
  • 1959: Shelley Winters (The Diary of Anne Frank)
  • 1958: Wendy Hiller (Separate Tables
  • 1957: Miyoshi Umeki (Sayonara
  • 1956: Dorothy Malone (Written on the Wind
  • 1955: Jo Van Fleet (East of Eden)
  • 1954: Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront
  • 1953: Donna Reed (From Here to Eternity
  • 1952: Gloria Grahame (The Bad and the Beautiful
  • 1951: Kim Hunter (A Streetcar Named Desire
  • 1950: Josephine Hull (Harvey)
  • 1949: Mercedes McCambridge (All the King’s Men
  • 1948: Claire Trevor (Key Largo
  • 1947: Celeste Holm (Gentleman’s Agreement)
  • 1946: Anne Baxter (The Razor’s Edge
  • 1945: Anne Revere (National Velvet
  • 1944: Ethel Barrymore (None But the Lonely Heart
  • 1943: Katina Paxinou (For Whom the Bell Tolls)
  • 1942: Teresa Wright (Mrs. Miniver
  • 1941: Mary Astor (The Great Lie
  • 1940: Jane Darwell (The Grapes of Wrath)
  • 1939: Hattie McDaniel (Gone with the Wind
  • 1938: Fay Bainter (Jezebel
  • 1937: Alice Brady (In Old Chicago
  • 1936: Gale Sondergaard (Anthony Adverse)

Best supporting actress Oscar winners

20. Allison Janney — I, Tonya

One of Allison Janney’s best moments from I, Tonya

Allison Janney, having led a long and impressive career, really disappeared into character for I, Tonya (2017). The excellent hair and wardrobe work for her character certainly helped the transformation. She adds a lot to the role as the contemptible mother of Tanya Harding.

Acting opposite Margot Robbie delivering a stellar performance of her own makes for plenty of great friction between the two.

Academy Award winners best supporting actress

Conclusion

Margot Robbie was also nominated for her lead performance in
I, Tonya but lost out to Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.

Academy award for best supporting actress

19. Cate Blanchett — The Aviator

Cate Blanchett wins her first of two Oscars

In Martin Scorsese’s 2004 biopic on Howard Hawks, The Aviator (2004), Cate Blanchett took on the role of Hollywood screen icon Katherine Hepburn. Blanchett’s portrayal feels true to the persona of Katherine Hepburn without it limiting her emotional range or feeling like a simple impression.

Director Martin Scorsese manages often to bring out the best in the actors he works with, and Cate Blanchett is no exception.

Best supporting actress Oscar

Conclusion

Cate Blanchett’s Best Supporting Actress award was one of five total Oscars won by The Aviator.

Who won supporting actress

18. Melissa Leo — The Fighter

Melissa Leo wins at the Oscars, presented by Kirk Douglas

No matter how big or small a role is, Melissa Leo always gives it her all. After being nominated for Best Lead Actress two years earlier for her performance in Frozen River, Melissa Leo went on to win both the Oscar and the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her impressive work in David O. Russell’s
The Fighter (2010). The entire cast is firing on all cylinders, by Melissa Leo manages to stand out from the pack with a committed performance.

Academy Award for best supporting actress winners

Conclusion

Melissa Leo’s co-star in The Fighter, Amy Adams, was also nominated in the same category.

Academy award for best supporting actress

17. Mo’Nique — Precious

Mo’Nique’s big scene in Precious

Mo’Nique began her career as a stand-up comedian. By the time she gave her Oscar winning performance in Precious (2009) as the titular character’s abusive mother, her career had taken off in a drastically different direction. Mo’Nique’s performance in Precious is excellent and layered in surprisingly nuanced ways.

Though the film isn’t telling her character’s story, Mo’Nique manages to steal the show, especially in her big show-stopping scene toward the end. Here's a pivotal scene we brought into StudioBinder's screenwriting software.

Precious screenplay quotes  •  read the full scene

Who won best supporting actress?

Conclusion

Interestingly, Mo’Nique previously played a character named Precious in 2005’s Shadowboxer from the same director, Lee Daniels.

Best supporting actress oscar winners

16. Beatrice Straight — Network

Beatrice Straight won an Oscar for this single scene

Beatrice Straight’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar win came as a huge surprise to many as her involvement in Network (1976) s confined to just a single scene. It speaks to the immense talents that she was able to pack so much memorable emotion into less than five minutes.

It is also a testament to Paddy Chayefsky’s writing that a character with such limited screen time can feel fully fleshed out and believably dramatic. Follow the image link to read the entire scene.

Network quotes  •  Read the entire scene

Best supporting actress oscar

Conclusion

Beatrice Straight’s performance, though brief, is fully deserving of the honor bestowed upon it by the Academy.

Who won best supporting actress?

15. Jennifer Connelly — A Beautiful Mind

A harrowing scene from A Beautiful Mind

In a film so heavily dominated by Russell Crowe in the male lead, Jennifer Connelly faced a challenging supporting role as a character who could have been cast off to the periphery if not for her excellent performance.

Jennifer Connelly needed to leave a deep impression as concisely as possible since A Beautiful Mind (2001) is so deeply rooted in the psychology of the protagonist. Obviously, that's exactly what she did.

Best supporting actress oscar winners

Conclusion

A Beautiful Mind was nominated for eight Oscars in total and won four of them including Best Picture.

Academy award for best supporting actress

14. Josephine Hull — Harvey

Josephine Hull wins in an early colorized Oscars broadcast

In a film containing one of the inimitable Jimmy Stewart’s finest performances, it would be easy for the rest of the cast to be overshadowed, but Josephine Hull stands out wonderfully in her supporting role in Harvey (1950). Jimmy Stewart was also nominated for his performance alongside Josephine Hull but lost out to Jose Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac.

This whimsical tale of invisible rabbits and pookahs needed a strong cast to ground the zaniness, and Josephine Hull absolutely delivered.

Best supporting actress winners

Conclusion

Harvey is a classic of the early 50s and could even be considered a progenitor of Donnie Darko so many years later.

Academy Award winners best supporting actress

13. Eva Marie Saint — On the Waterfront

Eva Marie Saint wins at the 27th Oscars ceremony

Playing opposite Marlo Brando in one of his defining roles, Eva Marie Saint stands out to the same impressive degree as the acting titan. The romance between Brando and Maria Saint’s characters is magnetic and serves as the driving force behind much of the film’s external drama.

Though she might not be remembered with quite the same reverence as her co-star, Saint’s fine work in On the Waterfront (1954) is not to be overlooked. Here's a classic scene from the script the helped propel her to Oscar glory.

Edie’s first big scene  •  Read the script

Who won supporting actress?

Conclusion

On the Waterfront was nominated for a staggering 12 Oscars and won an impressive 8 Academy Awards.

Academy award for best supporting actress

12. Ruth Gordon — Rosemary’s Baby

The introduction to Ruth Gordon’s character

In a film stacked with impressive performances such as those from Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon stands out as Minnie Castevet, the manipulative neighbor. She plays a character that is just as evil as she is seemingly sweet and doting.

She pulls off a complex balance that many other performers would struggle with. See where Rosemary’s Baby (1968) ranks on our list of the greatest horror films ever made.

Best supporting actress Oscar

Conclusion

Ruth Gordon received the only Oscar win for Rosemary’s Baby, now hailed as an all-time classic.

Who won best supporting actress?

11. Dianne Wiest — Hannah and Her Sisters

Dianne Wiest wins at the 59th annual Academy Awards

In Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Dianne Wiest manages to stand out from a large cast of performers who are all working at the top of their game. She strikes a perfect balance between the dramatic and the comedic sides of her character.

Hopefully, the massive creep behind the camera that is Woody Allen doesn’t completely tarnish all of the hard work performed by his casts.

Academy Award for best supporting actress

Conclusion

Michael Caine also won an Oscar for his work on the film, and Woody Allen’s script was given the Best Original Screenplay award.

Best supporting actress oscar

10. Tatum O’Neal — Paper Moon

Immense talent in such a young actor

Tatum O’Neal made history when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar at the 1974 Academy Awards. She was just 10 years old when she gave her performance in Paper Moon (1973). To this day, she remains the youngest person to ever receive an Oscar.

O’Neal earned her Oscar while acting opposite actor Ryan O’Neal, her real-life father. O’Neal’s performance is one that would be impressive at any age.

Academy Award for best supporting actress

Conclusion

Paper Moon is set during the great depression and explores the budding relationship between a possible father-daughter pairing.

Academy award for best supporting actress

9. Mary Steenburgen — Melvin and Howard

Mary Steenburgen’s Oscar acceptance speech

Mary Steenburgen has given a number of excellent performances throughout her career but it was her turn in Melvin and Howard (1980) that earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. This win came early in her career as it was just her third film role ever.

She has gone on to have a long and illustrious career that has seen her giving excellent performances across all genres of films.

Best supporting actress

Conclusion

Her co-star Jason Robards was also nominated for his work in the film and Melvin and Howard also took home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Best supporting actress winners

8. Jessica Lange — Tootsie

Jessica Lange wins at the 1983 Oscars

Jessica Lange won her first of two Oscars for her performance in Tootsie (1982). The film was nominated for an impressive 10 Oscars, but Jessica Lange was the only one from the film to walk away with a statuette. Jessica Lange has given many great performances over the years and the award is well-deserved.

Who won supporting actress?

Conclusion

Jessica Lang’s second Oscar would be for her lead performance in Blue Sky (1994).

Academy award for best supporting actress

7. Marisa Tomei — My Cousin Vinny

An automotive expert on the stand

Marisa Tomei had her work cut out for her going into My Cousin Vinny (1992). Both Tomei and Joe Pesci were tasked with giving life to characters that could have very easily slipped into caricature. And both deftly made their mark on the film, threading the needle between comedic exaggeration and a more-grounded dramatic heart.

Best supporting actress Oscar winners

Conclusion

Marisa Tomei would be nominated twice more at the Academy Awards, both for supporting roles, in The Wrestler (2008) and In the Bedroom (2001).

Academy award for best supporting actress

6. Patricia Arquette — Boyhood

A jam-packed 30-second performance

Boyhood (2014) demanded a high level of commitment from all of the actors involved as it was filmed incrementally over the course of 12 years. For more than a decade, Patricia Arquette returned to this role, bringing her A-game each and every time. Her performance feels incredibly real and raw, and the natural aging adds tangible depth to her performance. Patricia Arquette walked away as the only winner out of Boyhood’s six total Oscar nominations.

Who won supporting actress?

Conclusion

Despite having given a number of excellent performances, Boyhood has been Patricia Arquette’s only nomination at the Academy Awards.

Best supporting actress winners

5. Ingrid Bergman — Murder on the Orient Express

Grilled by Hercule Poirot

In a huge, star-studded cast, Ingrid Bergman steals the show in The Murder on the Orient Express (1974). This is no easy task when acting alongside the likes of Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Michael York, and many others. Director Sidney Lumet is always able to wring excellent performances from the actors he works with.

Who won supporting actress?

Conclusion

The original Murder on the Orient Express remains one of the most beloved adaptations of Agatha Christie’s many murder-mysteries.

Academy award for best supporting actress

4. Juliette Binoche — The English Patient

A compilation of Binoche’s best scenes

One of the finest actresses working in motion pictures, Juliette Binoche has graced film after film with incredible performances. It is highly debatable whether or not The English Patient (1996) is the most deserving performance of hers to have won the Academy’s acting honor but it is not a matter of debate that her performances are always impressive.

Who won supporting actress?

Conclusion

Juliette Binoche would receive one further nomination a few years later, this time for Best Lead Actress for her work in Chocolat.

Supporting actress

3. Lupita Nyong’o — 12 Years a Slave

Lupita Nyong’o is incredible in her first feature-film role

Lupita Nyong’o burst onto the scene with her performance in Steve McQueen’s masterful 12 Years a Slave (2013). Her performance is impressive enough in its own right but even more impressive when taking into account that this was her first feature-film performance. In the years since, Nyong’o has cemented herself as a talented thespian with remarkable range.

Best supporting actress

Conclusion

12 Years a Slave would win three of the nine total Oscars that it was nominated for, including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

Academy award for best supporting actress

2. Viola Davis — Fences

Viola Davis unleashes her character’s pent-up frustrations

Viola Davis made a name for herself as both a scene-stealer and as a one-scene wonder, often accomplishing all that lead performers could do in just a single scene. Davis’ Oscar-winning performance in Fences (2016) should arguably be considered a leading performance since she is present throughout the entire film and her character is just as important to the story as Denzel Washington’s lead character. Her show-stopping scene in Fences is truly astounding.

Best supporting actress Oscar

Conclusion

Viola Davis’ first brush with the Academy Awards came with her small, powerful role in 2009’s Doubt.

Academy Award winners best supporting actress

1. Meryl Streep — Kramer vs. Kramer

Meryl Streep’s big moment in Kramer vs. Kramer

Meryl Streep has been nominated at the Academy Awards an astonishing
21 times! Her very first win came after just her second nomination with 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer. While much of the film is helmed by Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep gets the absolute-most mileage out of every single line she is given in her couple of big scenes.

Best Supporting Actress

Conclusion

Meryl Streep has won three of the 21 Oscars she has been nominated for. She won Supporting and Lead Actress Oscars for Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, and The Iron Lady.

UP NEXT

Best Actress Oscar Winners

So, that was our ranking of the best performances ever awarded the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Now that we’ve covered the supporting actress category, it’s the perfect time to explore the best lead actress category. Check out our ranking of the greatest ‘Best Actress’ Oscar winners of all time.

Up Next: Best Actress Winners →
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