Oscars 2016 Category Breakdown: Best Supporting Actor

Every year before the Oscars I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category, how it typically goes, voting-wise, historically and also as a precursor to my picks article, allowing me to get most of the heavy lifting out of the way beforehand.

What I do is go over each category’s history, give you all the previous winners and nominees, then list the current year’s nominees. And then I’ll go over how each of the guilds (if there is a corresponding guild) have voted, how that corresponds to the Oscars (some guilds mean a lot to how a category will play out. Others mean nothing). It’s basically everything you need to know in order to make an informed decision when you make your picks on Oscar night. And then I also rank the nominees at the end in terms of where I see them in terms of their likelihood to win. So you know what the general favorites are.

Today is Best Supporting Actor. One of those categories that feels like it’s locked, but also feels like it could be wide open? I honestly have no idea. Let’s go with locked. That’s easier.

Year Best Supporting Actor Winners Other Nominees
1936 Walter Brennan, Come and Get It Mischa Auer, My Man GodfreyStuart Erwin, Pigskin Parade

Basil Rathbone, Romeo and Juliet

Akim Tamiroff, The General Died at Dawn

1937 Joseph Schildkraut, The Life of Emile Zola Ralph Bellamy, The Awful TruthThomas Mitchell, The Hurricane

H.B. Warner, Lost Horizon

Roland Young, Topper

1938 Walter Brennan, Kentucky John Garfield, Four DaughtersGene Lockhart, Algiers

Robert Morely, Marie Antoinette

Basil Rathbone, If I Were King

1939 Thomas Mitchell, Stagecoach Brian Aherne, JuarezHarry Carey, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Brian Donlevy, Beau Geste

Claude Rains, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

1940 Walter Brennan, The Westerner Albert Basserman, Foreign CorrespondentWilliam Gargan, They Knew What They Wanted

Jack Oakie, The Great Dictator

James Stephenson, The Letter

1941 Donald Crisp, How Green Was My Valley Walter Brennan, Sergeant YorkCharles Coburn, The Devil and Miss Jones

James Gleason, Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Sydney Greenstreet, The Maltese Falcon

1942 Van Heflin, Johnny Eager William Bendix, Wake IslandWalter Huston, Yankee Doodle Dandy

Frank Morgan, Tortilla Flat

Henry Travers, Mrs. Miniver

1943 Charles Coburn, The More the Merrier Charles Bickford, The Song of BernadetteJ. Carrol Naish, Sahara

Claude Rains, Casablanca

Akim Tamiroff, For Whom the Bell Tolls

1944 Barry Fitzgerald, Going My Way Hume Cronyn, The Seventh CrossClaude Rains, Mr. Skeffington

Clifton Webb, Laura

Monty Woolley, Since You Went Away

1945 James Dunn, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Michael Chekhov, SpellboundJohn Dall, The Corn is Green

Robert Mitchum, The Story of G.I. Joe

J. Carrol Naish, A Medal for Benny

1946 Harold Russell, The Best Years of Our Lives Charles Coburn, The Green YearsWilliam Demarest, The Jolson Story

Claude Rains, Notorious

Clifton Webb, The Razor’s Edge

1947 Edmund Gwenn, Miracle on 34th Street Charles Bickford, The Farmer’s DaughterThomas Gomez, Ride the Pink Horse

Robert Ryan, Crossfire

Richard Widmark, Kiss of Death

1948 Walter Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Charles Bickford, Johnny BelindaJosé Ferrer, Joan of Arc

Oskar Homolka, I Remember Mama

Cecil Kellaway, The Luck of the Irish

1949 Dean Jagger, Twelve O’Clock High John Ireland, All the King’s MenArthur Kennedy, Champion

Ralph Richardson, The Heiress

James Whitmore, Battleground

1950 George Sanders, All About Eve Jeff Chandler, Broken ArrowEdmund Gwenn, Mister 880

Sam Jaffe, The Asphalt Jungle

Erich von Stroheim, Sunset Boulevard

1951 Karl Malden, A Streetcar Named Desire Leo Genn, Quo VadisKevin McCarthy, Death of a Salesman

Peter Ustinov, Quo Vadis

Gig Young, Come Fill the Gap

1952 Anthony Quinn, Viva Zapata! Richard Burton, My Cousin RachelArthur Hunnicutt, The Big Sky

Victor McLaglen, The Quiet Man

Jack Palance, Sudden Fear

1953 Frank Sinatra, From Here to Eternity Eddie Albert, Roman HolidayBrandon de Wilde, Shane

Jack Palance, Shane

Robert Strauss, Stalag 17

1954 Edmund O’Brien, The Barefoot Contessa Lee J. Cobb, On the WaterfrontKarl Malden, On the Waterfront

Rod Steiger, On the Waterfront

Tom Tully, The Caine Mutiny

1955 Jack Lemmon, Mister Roberts Arthur Kennedy, TrialJoe Mantell, Marty

Sal Mineo, Rebel Without a Cause

Arthur O’Connell, Picnic

1956 Anthony Quinn, Lust for Life Don Murray, Bus StopAnthony Perkins, Friendly Persuasion

Mickey Rooney, The Bold and the Brave

Robert Stack, Written on the Wind

1957 Red Buttons, Sayonara Vittorio de Sica, A Farewell to ArmsSessue Hayakawa, The Bridge on the River Kwai

Arthur Kennedy, Peyton Place

Russ Tamblyn, Peyton Place

1958 Burl Ives, The Big Country Theodore Bikel, The Defiant OnesLee J. Cobb, The Brothers Karamozov

Arthur Kennedy, Some Came Running

Gig Young, Teacher’s Pet

1959 Hugh Griffith, Ben-Hur Arthur O’Connell, Anatomy of a MurderGeorge C. Scott, Anatomy of a Murder

Robert Vaughn, The Young Philadelphians

Ed Wynn, The Diary of Anne Frank

1960 Peter Ustinov, Spartacus Peter Falk, Murder, Inc.Jack Kruschen, The Apartment

Sal Mineo, Exodus

Chill Wills, The Alamo

1961 George Chakiris, West Side Story Montgomery Clift, Judgment at NurembergPeter Falk, Pocketful of Miracles

Jackie Gleason, The Hustler

George C. Scott, The Hustler

1962 Ed Begley, Sweet Bird of Youth Victor Buono, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?Telly Savalas, Birdman of Alcatraz

Omar Sharif, Lawrence of Arabia

Terence Stamp, Billy Budd

1963 Melvyn Douglas, Hud Nick Adams, Twilight of HorrorBobby Darin, Captain Newman, M.D.

Hugh Griffith, Tom Jones

John Huston, The Cardinal

1964 Peter Ustinov, Topkapi John Gielgud, BecketStanley Holloway, My Fair Lady

Edmond O’Brien, Seven Days in May

Lee Tracy, The Best Man

1965 Martin Balsam, A Thousand Clowns Ian Bannen, Flight of the PhoenixTom Courtenay, Doctor Zhivago

Michael Dunn, Ship of Fools

Frank Finlay, Othello

1966 Walter Matthau, The Fortune Cookie Mako, The Sand PebblesJames Mason, Georgy Girl

George Segal, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Robert Shaw, A Man for All Seasons

1967 George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke John Cassavetes, The Dirty DozenGene Hackman, Bonnie and Clyde

Cecil Kellaway, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Michael J. Pollard, Bonnie and Clyde

1968 Jack Albertson, The Subject Was Roses Seymour Cassel, FacesDaniel Massey, Star!

Jack Wild, Oliver!

Gene Wilder, The Producers

1969 Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Rupert Crosse, The ReiversElliott Gould, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

Jack Nicholson, Easy Rider

Anthony Quayle, Anne of the Thousand Days

1970 John Mills, Ryan’s Daughter Richard S. Castellano, Lovers and Other StrangersChief Dan George, Little Big Man

Gene Hackman, I Never Sang for My Father

John Marley, Love Story

1971 Ben Johnson, The Last Picture Show Jeff Bridges, The Last Picture ShowLeonard Frey, Fiddler on the Roof

Richard Jaeckel, Sometimes a Great Notion

Roy Scheider, The French Connection

1972 Joel Grey, Cabaret Eddie Albert, The Heartbreak KidJames Caan, The Godfather

Robert Duvall, The Godfather

Al Pacino, The Godfather

1973 John Houseman, The Paper Chase Vincent Gardenia, Bang the Drum SlowlyJack Gilford, Save the Tiger

Jason Miller, The Exorcist

Randy Quaid, The Last Detail

1974 Robert De Niro, The Godfather Part II Fred Astaire, The Towering InfernoJeff Bridges, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Michael V. Gazzo, The Godfather Part II

Lee Strasberg, The Godfather Part II

1975 George Burns, The Sunshine Boys Brad Dourif, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestBurgess Meredith, The Day of the Locust

Chris Sarandon, Dog Day Afternoon

Jack Warden, Shampoo

1976 Jason Robards, All the President’s Men Ned Beatty, NetworkBurgess Meredith, Rocky

Laurence Olivier, Marathon Man

Burt Young, Rocky

1977 Jason Robards, Julia Mikhail Baryshnikov, The Turning PointPeter Firth, Equus

Alec Guinness, Star Wars

Maximilian Schell, Julia

1978 Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter Bruce Dern, Coming HomeRichard Farnsworth, Comes a Horseman

John Hurt, Midnight Express

Jack Warden, Heaven Can Wait

1979 Melvyn Douglas, Being There Robert Duvall, Apocalypse NowJustin Henry, Kramer vs. Kramer

Frederic Forrest, The Rose

Mickey Rooney, The Black Stallion

1980 Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People Judd Hirsch, Ordinary PeopleMichael O’Keefe, The Great Santini

Joe Pesci, Raging Bull

Jason Robards, Melvin and Howard

1981 John Gielgud, Arthur James Coco, Only When I LaughIan Holm, Chariots of Fire

Jack Nicholson, Reds

Howard Rollincs, Ragtime

1982 Lou Gossett Jr., An Officer and a Gentleman Charles Durning, The Best Little Whorehouse in TexasJohn Lithgow, The World According to Garp

James Mason, The Verdict

Robert Preston, Victor Victoria

1983 Jack Nicholson, Terms of Endearment Charles Durning, To Be or Not to BeJohn Lithgow, Terms of Endearment

Sam Shepard, The Right Stuff

Rip Torn, Cross Creek

1984 Haing S. Ngor, The Killing Fields Adolph Ceasar, A Soldier’s StoryJohn Malkovich, Places in the Heart

Pat Morita, The Karate Kid

Ralph Richardson, Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

1985 Don Ameche, Cocoon Klaus Maria Brandauer, Out of AfricaWilliam Hickey, Prizzi’s Honor

Robert Loggia, Jagged Edge

Eric Roberts, Runaway Train

1986 Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters Tom Berenger, PlatoonWillem Dafoe, Platoon

Denholm Elliott, A Room with a View

Dennis Hopper, Hoosiers

1987 Sean Connery, The Untouchables Albert Brooks, Broadcast NewsMorgan Freeman, Street Smart

Vincent Gardenia, Moonstruck

Denzel Washington, Cry Freedom

1988 Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda Alec Guinness, Little DorritMartin Landau, Tucker: The Man and His Dream

River Phoenix, Running on Empty

Dean Stockwell, Married to the Mob

1989 Denzel Washington, Glory Danny Aiello, Do the Right ThingDan Aykroyd, Driving Miss Daisy

Marlon Brando, A Dry White Season

Martin Landau, Crimes and Misdemeanors

1990 Joe Pesci, Goodfellas Bruce Davidson, Longtime CompanionAndy Garcia, The Godfather Part III

Graham Greene, Dances with Wolves

Al Pacino, Dick Tracy

1991 Jack Palance, City Slickers Tommy Lee Jones, JFKHarvey Keitel, Bugsy

Ben Kingsley, Bugsy

Michael Lerner, Barton Fink

1992 Gene Hackman, Unforgiven Jaye Davidson, The Crying GameJack Nicholson, A Few Good Men

Al Pacino, Glengarry Glen Ross

David Paymer, Mr. Saturday Night

1993 Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive Leonardo DiCaprio, What’s Eating Gilbert GrapeRalph Fiennes, Schindler’s List

John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire

Pete Postlethwaite, In the Name of the Father

1994 Martin Landau, Ed Wood Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp FictionChazz Palminteri, Bullets Over Broadway

Paul Scofield, Quiz Show

Gary Sinise, Forrest Gump

1995 Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects James Cromwell, BabeEd Harris, Apollo 13

Brad Pitt, Twelve Monkeys

Tim Roth, Rob Roy

1996 Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire William H. Macy, FargoArmin Mueller-Stahl, Shine

Edward Norton, Primal Fear

James Woods, Ghosts of Mississippi

1997 Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting Robert Forster, Jackie BrownAnthony Hopkins, Amistad

Greg Kinnear, As Good as It Gets

Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights

1998 James Coburn, Affliction Robert Duvall, A Civil ActionEd Harris, The Truman Show

Geoffrey Rush, Shakespeare in Love

Billy Bob Thornton, A Simple Plan

1999 Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules Tom Cruise, MagnoliaMichael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile

Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley

Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense

2000 Benicio del Toro, Traffic Jeff Bridges, The ContenderWillem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire

Albert Finney, Erin Brockovich

Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator

2001 Jim Broadbent Iris Ethan Hawke, Training DayBen Kingsley, Sexy Beast

Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Jon Voight, Ali

2002 Chris Cooper, Adaptation. Ed Harris, The HoursPaul Newman, Road to Perdition

John C. Reilly, Chicago

Christopher Walken, Catch Me if You Can

2003 Tim Robbins, Mystic River Alec Baldwin, The CoolerBenicio del Toro, 21 Grams

Djimon Hounsou, In America

Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai

2004 Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby Alan Alda, The AviatorThomas Haden Church, Sideways

Jamie Foxx, Collateral

Clive Owen, Closer

2005 George Clooney, Syriana Matt Dillon, CrashPaul Giamatti, Cinderella Man

Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain

William Hurt, A History of Violence

2006 Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine Jackie Earle Haley, Little ChildrenDjimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond

Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls

Mark Wahlberg, The Departed

2007 Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert FordPhilip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War

Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild

Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

2008 Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight Josh Brolin, MilkRobert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt

Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

2009 Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds Matt Damon, InvictusWoody Harrelson, The Messenger

Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones

2010 Christian Bale, The Fighter John Hawkes, Winter’s BoneJeremy Renner, The Town

Mark Ruffalo, The Kids are All Right

Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

2011 Christopher Plummer, Beginners Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

2012 Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained Alan Arkin, Argo

Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

2013 Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper, American Hustle

Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street

2014 J.K. Simmons, Whiplash Robert Duvall, The Judge

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Edward Norton, Birdman

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

2015 Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies


Christian Bale, The Big Short

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Sylvester Stallone, Creed

This is the least accurate acting category in regard to SAG. They’re only 13/22.

  • Idris Elba in 2015. Mark Rylance won the Oscar.
  • Tommy Lee Jones in 2012. Christoph Waltz won the Oscar.
  • Eddie Murphy in 2006. Alan Arkin won the Oscar.
  • Paul Giamatti in 2005. George Clooney won the Oscar.
  • Christopher Walken in 2002. Chris Cooper won the Oscar.
  • Ian McKellen in 2001. Jim Broadbent won the Oscar.
  • Albert Finney in 2000. Benicio Del Toro won the Oscar. (He won Best Actor for SAG that year.)
  • Robert Duvall in 1998. James Coburn won the Oscar.
  • Ed Harris in 1995. Kevin Spacey won the Oscar.

If we take off 2000, it’s still 13/21.

Of those years, though:

BAFTA got it right in 2015, 2012, 2006 and 2001.

BFCA got it right in 2002 and 1995.

So that account for every year but 2005 and 1998. That’s not so bad.

Oh, I guess… the Globes. They got it right in 2012, 2005, 2002 and 2001.

That picks up 2005, leaving only 1998 as the year where everyone else got it wrong. But the Globes will be wrong this year, so that one doesn’t matter as much.

What this tells me though is that you should listen to the precursors, and if you think SAG is gonna be wrong, whoever wins the other ones will be the one who wins just about every single time.

SAG and BFCA went to Mahershala Ali.

BAFTA went to Dev Patel.

The Globes went off the board for the first time in 41 years.

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel, Lion

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

While there were some combinations of what could happen here, four of the nominees felt locked most of the way, and the only surprise was Michael Shannon getting on, which was nice to see, though it left off Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Hugh Grant, who has never been nominated for an Oscar.

This is a great category though.


5. Dev Patel — The nomination is his reward. He’s great in Lion, but he has no support from anywhere to get him a win. Even if people love his performance, he’s not beating the other four actors. One is a beloved veteran in a movie people loved, one is a newcomer who gives a tremendous performance in a movie the actors love, one is a veteran people love who is just consistently awesome, and the other is your frontrunner. Can’t see him getting any support anywhere. (Update: Yes, he won BAFTA, but still, I can’t see him getting that far at this point. Still maybe a fourth choice at best.)

4. Michael Shannon — I’d put him third, but let’s face it… people rejected his film. So while they like him, they’re gonna view the nomination as the reward and skip him over. He’ll get a few votes, because people thought he was awesome and think he should win, but he’s not gonna get enough support to get anywhere. If anything, this is a makeup for the 99 Homes snub last year. He’ll likely get one of these at some point, but this isn’t the year.

3. Lucas Hedges — The reason he places as high as third choice here is because his film is really well liked and some people will double him up with Casey Affleck. It won’t be enough to get him the win, but I think that makes him a third choice. Maybe he’s fourth, I don’t really care enough to split those hairs, but he will get votes, and he ultimately has no shot because he’s 20 and unless it’s been decided that he’s the choice this year (which it clearly hasn’t, based on the precursors) they’re not gonna give it to a 20-year-old. They just aren’t. People still think that way.

2. Jeff Bridges — He’s a veteran, and he’s awesome in this movie. I’m not really sure why he’s second choice here, since I feel like if Ali doesn’t win, Bridges isn’t necessarily the one that will, but I think all those factors go into why he feels like a second choice. People loved the movie and his character, and if people don’t vote for Ali, where are the majority of those votes going? I don’t know, but I feel like Bridges is the likely choice. So he’s second choice here, and that only increases my resolve that this category is locked. Because if it isn’t, good luck figuring out how it ends up.

1. Mahershala Ali — He’s hit the precursor that matters, and he’s won some sort of critics awards too, if I remember correctly. This seems like one of those situations where, like Patricia Arquette in Boyhood, as soon as the category solidified, all the votes funneled in his direction and he’s gonna walk to an easy win. He’s great in this movie, and I can’t really see anything derailing him at this point. Definitely your favorite, and probably one of the easy locks of the night.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow is Best Live-Action Short.


4 responses

  1. You incorrectly stated that Mahershala Ali won BAFTA. Dev Patel won BAFTA.

    February 17, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    • …which is why I have this sneaking suspicion that Dev Patel is the true runner-up in this category. Of the important precursors, he’s the only other Oscar nominee who has won something besides Ali. Winning the BAFTA over Mahershala Ali, to me, doesn’t feel like it was just the Brits being Brits. Patel’s BAFTA victory actually feels like the entire British contingent of the Oscar voting body (high overlap) could be supporting him.

      To speak earnestly for a moment…am I the only one who’s starting to feel that Ali’s performance is rather overrated? Of the five Supporting Actor nominees, he’s clearly the one with the least screentime. Of the males in the entire acting ensemble of Moonlight, why did the one with the least screentime attract all of the acclaim? Were it not for the awards he has already won, voting for Ali would honestly bother me a little bit.

      Of the five nominees, Patel feels like he has the fewest drawbacks. He clearly has the screentime while also justifying why he’s in this category and not in lead actor, so he doesn’t necessarily fit the “big fish, small pond” metaphor. Furthermore, his nomination feels like a belated makeup nomination for his performance in the Best Picture-winning Slumdog Millionaire, almost a decade earlier (for which he was also SAG-nominated in Supporting for what many perceived to be a lead performance). This could be his time as much as Ali’s.

      Finally, while the DGA nom for Lion director Garth Davis wasn’t enough to withstand the renewed goodwill towards Hacksaw Ridge’s Mel Gibson, the Academy might want to spread the love anyway like BAFTA did. Moonlight is clearly the frontrunner for Adapted Screenplay (BAFTA giving that award to Lion, on the other hand, DID feel like the Brits just being the Brits), while Arrival and Hacksaw Ridge will duke it out in Sound Editing. Supporting Actor or even Cinematography (La La Land has Picture and Director, but its sweep chances are closing) could be the categories where the Academy could consider throwing Lion a bone (or rather, a statuette).

      Ultimately, if Ali wins that Oscar, it will have been the expected outcome all along. However, if Patel that the Oscar, I’ll actually be quite overjoyed for him. He’ll have earned it. Either men will have earned it, and that’s what matters when all is said and done.

      February 17, 2017 at 2:22 pm

      • Yeah, I can honestly think of at least two performances in Moonlight I liked more than Ali’s, and in this category, I’d personally rank him 2nd or 3rd (Michael Shannon is 1st by a long way).

        February 19, 2017 at 12:18 am

  2. ROY

    Dev Patel won BAFTA, Ali did not

    February 17, 2017 at 7:49 pm

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