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Ranking the Best Supporting Actors

I ranked the Best Supporting Actresses earlier in the day, so the same things apply.

  • The rankings are irrelevant. They’re just personal preference. The goal here is to help you discover more movies.
  • The Supporting categories are tough because they’re mainly about rewarding veterans or up-and-coming actors and actresses. (This one more so is about memorable characters and veterans.) A lot of people win for their body of work than their performances, so it makes it tougher to rank.
  • Don’t get hung up on the numbers, focus on the fact that it’s about getting people to see more movies. (And if you want to criticize, I require that you’ve seen at least 50 of the performances, otherwise you’ll be completely ignored.)

This category, just to clarify, before I start ranking, is mostly about memorable characters. So I based my rankings primarily on that — on those characters that you just seem to remember after the films are over. You’ll notice that the top ten are very memorably characters. And that, to me, is the epitome of what a Best Supporting Actor winner is.

Also, keep in mind, there are only 75 of these. The category only started in 1936.

Here’s how I rank the Best Supporting Actors:

TIER 1: The Best of the Best:

1. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

2. Robert De Niro, The Godfather Part II

3. Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

4. Joe Pesci, Goodfellas

5. Edmund Gwenn, Miracle on 34th Street

6. Martin Landau, Ed Wood

7. Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects

8. Sean Connery, The Untouchables

9. Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

10. John Gielgud, Arthur

TIER 2: Really Solid Performances:

11. Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter

12. Walter Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

13. George Chakiris, West Side Story

14. Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire

15. George Burns, The Sunshine Boys

16. George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke

17. Walter Matthau, The Fortune Cookie

18. Charles Coburn, The More the Merrier

19. Christian Bale, The Fighter

20. George Sanders, All About Eve

21. James Dunn, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

22. Thomas Mitchell, Stagecoach

23. Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda

24. Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

25. Barry Fitzgerald, Going My Way

26. Jason Robards, All the President’s Men

27. Burl Ives, The Big Country

28. Chris Cooper, Adaptation.

29. Jack Lemmon, Mister Roberts

30. Frank Sinatra, From Here to Eternity

TIER 3: More Solid Performances/Sentimental Favorites:

31. Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People

32. Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

33. Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

34. Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting

35. Karl Malden, A Streetcar Named Desire

36. Peter Ustinov, Spartacus

37. Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive

38. Walter Brennan, The Westerner

39. Jack Palance, City Slickers

40. Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

41. Don Ameche, Cocoon

42. Jim Broadbent, Iris

TIER 4: Solid Performances All Around (But Not My Favorites):

43. Peter Ustinov, Topkapi

44. Jack Albertson, The Subject Was Roses

45. Donald Crisp, How Green Was My Valley

46. Melvyn Douglas, Hud

47. Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

48. Denzel Washington, Glory

49. Haing S. Ngor, The Killing Fields

50. Benicio del Toro, Traffic

51. Joel Grey, Cabaret

52. Jack Nicholson, Terms of Endearment

53. George Clooney, Syriana

TIER 5: Performances That are Good/Enjoyable, But….Mehh:

54. Hugh Griffith, Ben-Hur

55. Lou Gossett Jr., An Officer and a Gentleman

56. Anthony Quinn, Viva Zapata

57. Ed Begley, Sweet Bird of Youth

58. Melvyn Douglas, Being There

59. Edmund O’Brien, The Barefoot Contessa

60. Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters

61. John Houseman, The Paper Chase

62. Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby

63. Walter Brennan, Kentucky

64. Tim Robbins, Mystic River

65. Jason Robards, Julia

66. James Coburn, Affliction

67. Christopher Plummer, Beginners

68. Martin Balsam, A Thousand Clowns

TIER 6: The Worst of the Worst:

69. Ben Johnson, The Last Picture Show

70. Walter Brennan, Come and Get It

71. Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules

72. Anthony Quinn, Lust for Life

73. Red Buttons, Sayonara

74. Harold Russell, The Best Years of Our Lives

75. Van Heflin, Johnny Eager

76. Joseph Schildkraut, The Life of Emile Zola

77. Dean Jagger, Twelve O’Clock High

78. John Mills, Ryan’s Daughter

Also check out:

Ranking the Best Pictures

Ranking the Best Actors

Ranking the Best Actresses

Ranking the Best Supporting Actresses

Ranking the Best Directors

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4 responses

  1. My brother recommended I would possibly like this blog. He was entirely right. This publish truly made my day. You cann’t consider simply how much time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

    June 1, 2012 at 2:06 am

  2. Mike Morrison

    Christian Bale’s performance in my opinion should be in the top 3. Other than that great list

    February 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm

  3. Good on you for putting Martin Landau in your Top 10. He makes my Top 10 as well. Although I am little surprised that Sean Connery ranks so high up and that Gene Hackman ranks relatively low. I’d put the latter in my Top 10 but the former would still easily make my Top 20, maybe Top 15.

    September 27, 2013 at 5:52 pm

  4. Dan

    I really appreciate the effort in doing this and the dialogue about film it inspires. Like the Oscar itself, this list makes me think about what constitutes a great performance and so by staking out a position, it can instantly become a point of comparison and a way to organize thought. i would lve to see this updated to include J.K. Simmons, Mark Rylance and Mahershala Ali.

    Finally, just a note on your bottom tier (and an example of how great these performances are) i thought Ben Johnson was magnificent in The Last Picture Show both by conjuring a bygone era of film acting and by the sad wounded work in this movie, Harold Russell’s performance in Best Years is a classic and moving piece of work and Van Heflin’s strange and tortured work in Johnny Eager still haunts me

    March 29, 2017 at 6:21 am

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