Oscars 2019 Category Breakdown: Best Actress

Here’s how this works: every day leading up to the Oscars, I break down each of the 24 categories. The goal is to both familiarize everyone with the category itself (how it works, what its history is and how you go about figuring out what’s gonna win) while also making it easier to reference when I write my giant article with picks and everything. A lot of the leg work is already here. But really, the goal is to see if there’s anything to look for leading into Oscar night that could be a shortcut to me picking the category.

What we do is — I give you all the winners of the category throughout history, go over all the recent trends if there are any, discuss the precursors and whether or not they matter, and then we talk about this year’s category and how we got to it, and then just look at where we are and rank the nominees in terms of their likelihood of winning (at the current moment in time. Of course, things can and will change going into the ceremony). It’s all pretty simple. I’ve done this every year. Everyone should know the drill.

Today is Best Actress. And the only category that seemed like maybe it could have been interesting going into precursors… and then it turned out to be as locked as the rest of them.

Year Best Actress Winners Other Nominees
1927-1928 Janet Gaynor, Seventh Heaven & Street Angel & Sunrise Louise Dresser, A Ship Comes In

Gloria Swanson, Sadie Thompson

1928-1929 Mary Pickford, Coquette Ruth Chatterton, Madame X

Betty Compson, The Barker

Jeanne Eagels, The Letter

Corrinne Griffith, The Divine Lady

Bessie Love, The Broadway Melody

1929-1930 Norma Shearer, The Divorcee Nancy Carroll, The Devil’s Holiday

Ruth Chatterton, Sarah and Son

Greta Garbo, Anna Christie & Romance

Norma Shearer, Their Own Desire

Gloria Swanson, The Tresspasser

1930-1931 Marie Dressler, Min and Bill Marlene Dietrich, Morocco

Irene Dunne, Cimarron

Ann Harding, Holiday

Norma Shearer, A Free Soul

1931-1932 Helen Hayes, The Sin of Madelon Claudet Marie Dressler, Emma

Lynn Fontaine, The Guardsman

1932-1933 Katharine Hepburn, Morning Glory May Robson, Lady for a Day

Diana Wynyard, Cavalcade

1934 Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night Grace Moore, One Night of Love

Norma Shearer, The Barretts of Wimpole Street

Bette Davis, Of Human Bondage

1935 Bette Davis, Dangerous Elisabeth Bergner, Escape Me Never

Claudette Colbert, Private Worlds

Katharine Hepburn, Alice Adams

Miriam Hopkins, Becky Sharp

Merle Oberon, The Dark Angel

1936 Luise Rainer, The Great Ziegfeld Irene Dunne, Theodora Goes Wild

Gladys George, Valiant is the Word for Carrie

Carole Lombard, My Man Godfrey

Norma Shearer, Romeo and Juliet

1937 Luise Rainer, The Good Earth Irene Dunne, The Awful Truth

Greta Garbo, Camille

Janet Gaynor, A Star is Born

Barbara Stanwyck, Stella Dallas

1938 Bette Davis, Jezebel Fay Bainter, White Banners

Wendy Hiller, Pygmalion

Norma Shearer, Marie Antoinette

Margaret Sullivan, Three Comrades

1939 Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind Bette Davis, Dark Victory

Irene Dunne, Love Affair

Greta Garbo, Ninotchka

Greer Garson, Goodbye, Mr. Chips

1940 Ginger Rogers, Kitty Foyle Bette Davis, The Letter

Joan Fontaine, Rebecca

Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story

Martha Scott, Our Town

1941 Joan Fontaine, Suspicion Bette Davis, The Little Foxes

Olivia de Havilland, Hold Back the Dawn

Greer Garson, Blossoms in the Dust

Barbara Stanwyck, Ball of Fire

1942 Greer Garson, Mrs. Miniver Bette Davis, Now, Voyager

Katharine Hepburn, Woman of the Year

Rosalind Russell, My Sister Eileen

Teresa Wright, The Pride of the Yankees

1943 Jennifer Jones, The Song of Bernadette Jean Arthur, The More the Merrier

Ingrid Bergman, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Joan Fontaine, The Constant Nymph

Greer Garson, Madame Curie

1944 Ingrid Bergman, Gaslight Claudette Colbert, Since You Went Away

Bette Davis, Mr. Skeffington

Greer Garson, Mrs. Parkington

Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity

1945 Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce Ingrid Bergman, The Bells of St. Mary’s

Greer Garson, The Valley of Decision

Jennifer Jones, Love Letters

Gene Tierney, Leave Her to Heaven

1946 Olivia de Havilland, To Each His Own Celia Johnson, Brief Encounter

Jennifer Jones, Duel in the Sun

Rosalind Russell, Sister Kenny

Jane Wyman, The Yearling

1947 Loretta Young, The Farmer’s Daughter Joan Crawford, Possessed

Susan Hayward, Smash-up, the Story of a Woman

Dorothy McGuire, Gentleman’s Agreement

Rosalind Russell, Mourning Becomes Electra

1948 Jane Wyman, Johnny Belinda Ingrid Bergman, Joan of Arc

Olivia de Havilland, The Snake Pit

Irene Dunne, I Remember Mama

Barbara Stanwyck, Sorry, Wrong Number

1949 Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress Jeanne Crain, Pinky

Susan Hayward, My Foolish Heart

Deborah Kerr, Edward, My Son

Loretta Young, Come to the Stable

1950 Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday Anne Baxter, All About Eve

Betty Davis, All About Eve

Eleanor Parker, Caged

Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard

1951 Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire Katharine Hepburn, The African Queen

Eleanor Parker, Detective Story

Shelley Winters, A Place in the Sun

Jane Wyman, The Blue Veil

1952 Shirley Booth, Come Back, Little Sheba Joan Crawford, Sudden Fear

Bette Davis, The Star

Julie Harris, The Member of the Wedding

Susan Hayward, With a Song in My Heart

1953 Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday Leslie Caron, Lili

Ava Gardner, Mogambo

Deborah Kerr, From Here to Eternity

Maggie McNamara, The Moon is Blue

1954 Grace Kelly, The Country Girl Dorothy Dandridge, Carmen Jones

Judy Garland, A Star is Born

Audrey Hepburn, Sabrina

Jane Wyman, Magnificent Obsession

1955 Anna Magnani, The Rose Tattoo Susan Hayward, I’ll Cry Tomorrow

Katharine Hepburn, Summertime

Jennifer Jones, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing

Eleanor Parker, Interrupted Melody

1956 Ingrid Bergman, Anastasia Carroll Baker, Baby Doll

Katharine Hepburn, The Rainmaker

Nancy Kelly, The Bad Seed

Deborah Kerr, The King and I

1957 Joanne Woodward, The Three Faces of Eve Deborah Kerr, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

Anna Magnani, Wild is the Wind

Elizabeth Taylor, Raintree County

Lana Turner, Peyton Place

1958 Susan Hayward, I Want to Live! Deborah Kerr, Separate Tables

Shirley MacLaine, Some Came Running

Rosalind Russell, Auntie Mame

Elizabeth Taylor, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

1959 Simone Signoret, Room at the Top Doris Day, Pillow Talk

Audrey Hepburn, The Nun’s Story

Katharine Hepburn, Suddenly, Last Summer

Elizabeth Taylor, Suddenly, Last Summer

1960 Elizabeth Taylor, BUtterfield 8 Greer Garson, Sunrise at Campobello

Deborah Kerr, The Sundowners

Shirley MacLaine, The Apartment

Melina Mercouri, Never on Sunday

1961 Sophia Loren, Two Women Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Piper Laurie, The Hustler

Geraldine Page, Summer and Smoke

Natalie Wood, Splendor in the Grass

1962 Anne Bancroft, The Miracle Worker Bette Davis, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Katharine Hepburn, Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Geraldine Page, Sweet Bird of Youth

Lee Remick, Days of Wine and Roses

1963 Patricia Neal, Hud Leslie Caron, The L-Shaped Room

Shirley MacLaine, Irma La Douce

Rachel Roberts, This Sporting Life

Natalie Wood, Love with the Proper Stranger

1964 Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins Anne Bancroft, The Pumpkin Eater

Sophia Loren, Marriage, Italian Style

Debbie Reynolds, The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Kim Stanley, Séance on a Wet Afternoon

1965 Julie Christie, Darling Julie Andrews, The Sound of Music

Samantha Eggar, The Collector

Elizabeth Hartman, A Patch of Blue

Simone Signoret, Ship of Fools

1966 Elizabeth Taylor, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Anouk Aimée, A Man and a Woman

Ida Kaminska, The Shop on Main Street

Lynn Redgrave, Georgy Girl

Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan!

1967 Katharine Hepburn, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Anne Bancroft, The Graduate

Faye Dunaway, Bonnie and Clyde

Edith Evans, The Whisperers

Audrey Hepburn, Wait Until Dark

1968 TIE

Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter

Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl

Patricia Neal, The Subject Was Roses

Vanessa Redgrave, Isadora

Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel

1969 Maggie Smith, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Geneviève Bujold, Anne of the Thousand Days

Jane Fonda, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Liza Minnelli, The Sterile Cuckoo

Jean Simmons, The Happy Ending

1970 Glenda Jackson, Women in Love Jane Alexander, The Great White Hope

Ali MacGraw, Love Story

Sarah Miles, Ryan’s Daughter

Carrie Snodgress, Diary of a Mad Housewife

1971 Jane Fonda, Klute Julie Christie, McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Glenda Jackson, Sunday Bloody Sunday

Vanessa Redgrave, Mary, Queen of Scots

Janet Suzman – Nicholas and Alexandra

1972 Liza Minnelli, Cabaret Diana Ross, Lady Sings the Blues

Maggie Smith, Travels with My Aunt

Cicely Tyson, Sounder

Liv Ullmann, The Emigrants

1973 Glenda Jackson, A Touch of Class Ellen Burstyn, The Exorcist

Marsha Mason, Cinderella Liberty

Barbra Streisand, The Way We Were

Joanne Woodward, Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams

1974 Ellen Burstyn, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore Diahann Carroll, Claudine

Faye Dunaway, Chinatown

Valerie Perrine, Lenny

Gena Rowlands, A Woman Under the Influence

1975 Louise Fletcher, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest Ann-Margret, Tommy

Isabelle Adjani, The Story of Adele H.

Glenda Jackson, Hedda

Carol Kane, Hester Street

1976 Faye Dunaway, Network Marie-Christine Barrault, Cousin, cousine

Talia Shire, Rocky

Sissy Spacek, Carrie

Liv Ullmann, Face to Face

1977 Diane Keaton, Annie Hall Anne Bancroft, The Turning Point

Jane Fonda, Julia

Shirley MacLaine, The Turning Point

Marsha Mason, The Goodbye Girl

1978 Jane Fonda, Coming Home Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata

Ellen Burstyn, Same Time, Next Year

Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman

Geraldine Page, Interiors

1979 Sally Field, Norma Rae Jill Clayburgh, Starting Over

Jane Fonda, The China Syndrome

Marsha Mason, Chapter Two

Bette Midler, The Rose

1980 Sissy Spacek, Coal Miner’s Daughter Ellen Burstyn, Resurrection

Goldie Hawn, Private Benjamin

Mary Tyler Moore, Ordinary People

Gena Rowlands, Gloria

1981 Katharine Hepburn, On Golden Pond Diane Keaton, Reds

Marsha Mason, Only When I Laugh

Susan Sarandon, Atlantic City

Meryl Streep, The French Lieutenant’s Woman

1982 Meryl Streep, Sophie’s Choice Julie Andrews, Victor Victoria

Jessica Lange, Frances

Sissy Spacek, Missing

Debra Winger, An Officer and a Gentleman

1983 Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment Jane Alexander, Testament

Meryl Streep, Silkwood

Julie Walters, Educating Rita

Debra Winger, Terms of Endearment

1984 Sally Field, Places in the Heart Judy Davis, A Passage to India

Jessica Lange, Country

Vanessa Redgrave, The Bostonians

Sissy Spacek, The River

1985 Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful Anne Bancroft, Agnes of God

Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple

Jessica Lange, Sweet Dreams

Meryl Streep, Out of Africa

1986 Marlee Matlin, Children of a Lesser God Jane Fonda, The Morning After

Sissy Spacek, Crimes of the Heart

Kathleen Turner, Peggy Sue Got Married

Sigourney Weaver, Aliens

1987 Cher, Moonstruck Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction

Holly Hunter, Broadcast News

Sally Kirkland, Anna

Meryl Streep, Ironweed

1988 Jodie Foster, The Accused Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons

Melanie Griffith, Working Girl

Meryl Streep, A Cry in the Dark

Sigourney Weaver, Gorillas in the Mist

1989 Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy Isabelle Adjani, Camille Claudel

Pauline Collins, Shirley Valentine

Jessica Lange, Music Box

Michelle Pfeiffer, The Fabulous Baker Boys

1990 Kathy Bates, Misery Anjelica Huston, The Grifters

Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman

Meryl Streep, Postcards from the Edge

Joanne Woodward, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge

1991 Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs Geena Davis, Thelma & Louise

Laura Dern, Rambling Rose

Bette Midler, For the Boys

Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise

1992 Emma Thompson, Howards End Catherine Deneuve, Indochine

Mary McDonnell, Passion Fish

Michelle Pfeiffer, Love Field

Susan Sarandon, Lorenzo’s Oil

1993 Holly Hunter, The Piano Angela Bassett, What’s Love Got to Do with It

Stockhard Channing, Six Degrees of Separation

Emma Thompson, The Remains of the Day

Debra Winger, Shadowlands

1994 Jessica Lange, Blue Sky Jodie Foster, Nell

Miranda Richardson, Tom & Viv

Winona Ryder, Little Women

Susan Sarandon, The Client

1995 Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking Elisabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas

Sharon Stone, Casino

Meryl Streep, The Bridges of Madison County

Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility

1996 Frances McDormand, Fargo Brenda Blethyn, Secrets & Lies

Diane Keaton, Marvin’s Room

Kristin Scott Thomas, The English Patient

Emily Watson, Breaking the Waves

1997 Helen Hunt, As Good as It Gets Helena Bonham Carter, The Wings of the Dove

Julie Christie, Afterglow

Judi Dench, Mrs. Brown

Kate Winslet, Titanic

1998 Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth

Fernanda Montenegro, Central Station

Meryl Streep, One True Thing

Emily Watson, Hilary and Jackie

1999 Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry Annette Bening, American Beauty

Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds

Julianne Moore, The End of the Affair

Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart

2000 Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich Joan Allen, The Contender

Juliette Binoche, Chocolat

Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream

Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me

2001 Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball Judi Dench, Iris

Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!

Sissy Spacek, In the Bedroom

Renée Zellweger, Bridget Jones’s Diary

2002 Nicole Kidman, The Hours Salma Hayek, Frida

Diane Lane, Unfaithful

Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven

Renée Zellweger, Chicago

2003 Charlize Theron, Monster Keisha Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider

Diane Keaton, Something’s Gotta Give

Samantha Morton, In America

Naomi Watts, 21 Grams

2004 Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby Annette Bening, Being Julia

Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace

Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake

Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

2005 Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line Judi Dench, Mrs. Henderson Presents

Felicity Huffman, Transamerica

Keira Knightley, Pride & Prejudice

Charlize Theron, North Country

2006 Helen Mirren, The Queen Penèlope Cruz, Volver

Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal

Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada

Kate Winslet, Little Children

2007 Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Julie Christie, Away from Her

Laura Linney, The Savages

Ellen Page, Juno

2008 Kate Winslet, The Reader Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married

Angelina Jolie, Changeling

Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Meryl Streep, Doubt

2009 Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side Helen Mirren, The Last Station

Carey Mulligan, An Education

Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire

Meryl Streep, Julia and Julia

2010 Natalie Portman, Black Swan Annette Bening, The Kids are All Right

Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone

Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

2011 Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs

Viola Davis, The Help

Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

2012 Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

Emmanuelle Riva, Amour

Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Naomi Watts, The Impossible

2013 Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine Amy Adams, American Hustle

Judi Dench, Philomena

Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Naomi Watts, The Impossible

2014 Julianne Moore, Still Alice Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

2015 Brie Larson, Room


Cate Blanchett, Carol

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

2016 Emma Stone, La La Land Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

2017 Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Meryl Streep, The Post

2018 Olivia Colman, The Favourite Yalitza Aparicio, Roma

Glenn Close, The Wife

Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born

Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Another acting category, which means that it’s SAG as the main precursor and then BAFTA, BFCA and the Globes to back it up like the Pips.

SAG is 18/25 all-time in this category. Here are the seven times they missed:

  • 1994, Jodie Foster won SAG, Jessica Lange won the Oscar.
  • 1999, Annette Bening won SAG, Hilary Swank won the Oscar.
  • 2002, Renée Zellweger won SAG, Nicole Kidman won the Oscar.
  • 2007, Julie Christie won SAG, Marion Cotillard won the Oscar.
  • 2008, Meryl won SAG, Kate Winslet won the Oscar. (Though she also won SAG Supporting for that same performance.)
  • 2011, Viola Davis won SAG, Meryl won the Oscar.
  • 2018, Glenn Close won SAG, Olivia Colman won the Oscar.

They were stone cold locks in recent years and then last year they missed. Though granted, most of us figured Glenn Close had it. But it turns out, just being a veteran doesn’t mean anything anymore if no one saw your movie. Olivia Colman was actually in a movie people saw and loved. But yeah, otherwise, you wanna listen to SAG. Pretty sure we’re not gonna have that doubt this year.

I won’t fully cross-list with BAFTA and BFCA. We pretty much know where this one’s going. Though I will say, since 2000… BAFTA has had every single SAG miss.

Best Actress

Cynthia Erivo, Harriet

Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Charlize Theron, Bombshell

Renée Zellweger, Judy

These were the five that hit the most precursors. It was kinda boring, honestly. Still is. Thought they’d find someone cooler to put on over Erivo, but instead, nope. We got this category. Can’t say I love it, but at least it’ll be easy enough to pick.

Renée Zellweger’s won SAG, the Globe and BFCA so far. BAFTA will make it a clean sweep, and honestly, at this point, she doesn’t even need it, does she?


5. Cynthia Erivo, Harriet — I’m still not entirely sure how she got nominated. But here she is. It’s one thing to get votes to get in this category, it’s another to get them to actually contend for the win. And this is the film of the five that nobody’s seen. Nobody cares, and if they have seen it, I don’t know if anyone actually thinks it’s a great movie. There’s no way she gets any sort of votes to contend for this one. The nomination is the reward here.

4. Charlize Theron, Bombshell — People like her a lot, and maybe she’ll get a few votes on that and on performance. But it’s hard seeing her as anything higher than a third choice. I’m putting her fourth because the film has the least overall support. Maybe you can consider her the third choice, but it’s hard going higher than that. We know where this one’s going.

3. Saoirse Ronan, Little Women — Six nominations for the film, people love her and, for people like me, she’s really the only person we’d vote for. That last part means absolutely nothing, but I think there’s a case to be made for her as third choice here. In terms of overall votes, I’m sure she’s no more than a fourth choice, but when one person has run away with every single precursor, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

2. Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story — Double nominations means clear support, and some people actually think she gave the best performance. I can’t see her having enough to win this, especially absent a single precursor win. But she feels like the second choice here, all things considered.

1. Renée Zellweger, Judy — She’s won every precursor to this point, and it’s hard to think that she’s gonna lose BAFTA. She’s the frontrunner until the end. Also, it should be noted, a clean sweep winner has never lost the Oscar. So if she wins BAFTA too, it’s over.

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