15 Best Actresses Who’ve Won the Oscar Through History, Ranked
As they say, directing is 90% casting. And it’s really one of the extremes of how directors work with their actors and why their movies live on through time and become truly iconic. But this time, let’s concentrate more on the actors themselves — the actresses in particular — and see which performances became monumental and in which movies they performed to their best ability, winning one of the most coveted prizes of all time.
15. Liza Minnelli
Bob Fosse’s Cabaret won 8 awards and was nominated 10 times. At the time, it was a record-holder for most Oscars for a single movie (that later went to The Godfather). And one of the statuettes was given to Liza Minnelli.
For her, this role was the role of a lifetime. The actress said, “We were this scrappy little family trying to prove ourselves.” And that she did, staying in our memories in that immortal image of nightclub singer Sally Bowles forever.
14. Julie Andrews
Julie Andrews helped to create one of the cinema’s most famous characters, Mary Poppins. Her charisma and talent brought decades of wisdom to the magical nanny, perfect in every way. The screen image became iconic. So iconic that even Emily Blunt felt like she wanted to cry when she got Andrews’ “stamp of approval” when the time came to shoot a new Mary Poppins movie.
13. Julianne Moore
Moore got her Oscar for the leading role in Still Alice, directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. In the movie, she played a mother of 3 adult children and a linguistics professor suffering from the heartbreaking effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
The woman would go somewhere and suddenly have no idea where she was. She was losing her memories, piece by piece, realizing her mind was betraying her. And the actress did a fantastic job showing all the terror in her character’s eyes and conveying that fear without any words.
12. Jodie Foster
Of course, Anthony Hopkins is still more celebrated for his incredible performance of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. But it’s Jodie Foster who we watch carefully for most of the movie and who drives all the intentions of the thriller.
Her character comes to the climax, trapped in serial killer Buffalo Bill’s basement. And it’s Clarice that the majority of viewers identify with and fear for the most when she’s alone in the dark with the monster.
11. Kathy Bates
Seeing a psychopathic woman on screen is quite an unexpected experience. So finding an actress for the role was quite a hard thing to do. Even so, the director of Misery, Rob Reiner, accomplished this mission successfully.
Kathy Bates made the character really memorable for a huge number of fans around the globe. Many of her lines, like “I’m your number one fan!” and “How are your legs, Jimmy?” still bring chills to all who watch this movie even a second or third time. And it’s no wonder! Annie was intended in the novel to be an amalgam of Stephen King’s scariest fans. And Bates did her best, so it was truly scary!
10. Marion Cotillard
Another group of Best Actresses consists of those who fabulously portray historical figures. In this case, Marion Cotillard fully transformed into the legendary French songstress, Édith Piaf.
She had an arduous task: to play a long-life fighter who never separated her life from her art. It was a profoundly emotional, partly spirited, partly melancholy journey, especially when Piaf’s love dies in a plane crash. And it all ends with a passionate Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, which the actress lip-synched to. But still, we believe every second of it while watching it on-screen.
9. Louise Fletcher
As actors often say, the secret to playing villains is not to play them as a villain. And still, a number of actresses were considered for the role of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Initially, the director, Milos Forman, saw the nurse as the personification of evil. But later, he changed his mind after seeing Louise Fletcher at the audition. He realized that evil shouldn’t be visible, that the character is only an instrument of it. What’s more, she doesn’t even believe to be terrible at all, thinking she’s only helping people. The genius of Fletcher portrayed exactly that, showing the true colors of Nurse Ratched coming out right before our eyes.
8. Hilary Swank
The actress had just finished her work in television and went to audition for the role of Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry. This role of a transgender man brought her international recognition, as well as the role of an aspiring boxer in Million Dollar Baby.
Both performances were well-received by critics, and the actress got 2 Academy Awards for Best Actress. She was even named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2005.
7. Vivien Leigh
Vivien Leigh was a relatively unknown actress before filming Gone with the Wind. However, the young actress, without significant experience, tapped into all the aspects of Scarlett O’Hara’s complicated, multi-layered character, making the audience feel both scorn and sympathy for the legendary figure all of these years.
6. Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron, a South African American actress and producer, has received various awards and nominations, including one Academy Award for the movie, Monster. And she still remembers that emotional night in 2004. As we remember, she played many roles, and we look forward to seeing this incredibly talented actress on-screen again and again.
5. Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson started as a comedian, screenwriter, and author in 1987 in a BBC TV series before moving into films in 1989. And yes, this British actress also has some Oscars of her own. 2 of them, in particular. Though every character she plays is a unique masterpiece, not every actress can do the same.
4. Frances McDormand
Her first Oscar was for her work in Fargo in 1996. Then came a few nominations and 2 more awards for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in 2017 and Nomadland in 2020. And in all 3 movies, she serves as an emotional center that carries us through human nature, at its best or worst, and shows us the true sides of life, which we can all relate to.
3. Kate Winslet
Kate Winslet was the youngest person to acquire 6 Academy Award nominations, 7 nominations in total. And one Oscar became a jewel in the collection of her awards. But surprisingly, she didn’t get it for Titanic.
She achieved recognition due to her leading role in the movie, but the most important award in any actor’s life was given to her for The Reader in 2009. Well, if there were a People’s Choice Oscar Award, she likely would’ve won it much earlier — and not only for that movie.
2. Jane Fonda
Fonda is a 7-time Oscar nominee, 2 of which she won. Her first time was in 1972 for her leading role in the film Klute, then again in 1979 for the film, Coming Home. Today, she appears on the Oscar stage mainly as a presenter and is always welcomed warmly and with a standing ovation in her honor.
1. Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep is widely regarded as one of the most talented actresses of all time — after all, her number of Oscar nominations speaks for itself — she’s been nominated 20 times, winning 3 statuettes. She still holds this record and probably will for a long time.
The actress herself understands that she has been seen on Academy Awards lists very often, so she even jokes about it, saying, “When they called my name I’d had this feeling I could hear half of America going, ’Oh no...oh c’mon...why...her...again?’” But still, nobody would deny that she fully deserved each and every win and nomination for her fantastic work.
There are many more wonderful actresses we didn’t include on our list. Which one of them is your favorite? Why? Please share your own list with us all in the comments below.