Curious about the top 10 Best Actor Oscar winners? The awards ceremony, which honors excellence in feature films, has been handing out awards in this category since 1927. These men are the cream of a very worthy crop.
- Robert De Niro. The incredibly talented Robert De Niro might never have had the chance to join the class of Best Actor Oscar winners for “Raging Bull” if he hadn’t pushed the project on his friend Martin Scorsese to direct. Much has been made of De Niro’s 70-pound weight gain for the role of boxer Jake LaMotta, but the true brilliance of his performance lies in his ferocious behavior in and out of the ring.
- Jack Lemmon. The always flawless and incredibly versatile Jack Lemmon is one of only six actors who have won both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Oscars (the others are Gene Hackman, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Kevin Spacey, and Denzel Washington). And while he didn’t win the top honor for any of his three most classic films (“Some Like It Hot,” “The Apartment,” or “The Days of Wine and Roses”), he finally took home the Best Actor statue in 1973 for “Save the Tiger.”
- Jimmy Stewart. Long before there was Tom Hanks, there was Jimmy Stewart. Hollywood’s first everyman was the 1940 Best Actor Oscar winner for his role in “The Philadelphia Story.” But if you want to see Stewart in his most heart-wrenching performance, just watch the holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
- Tom Hanks. Is there anyone on the planet that doesn’t like Tom Hanks? Not only is he a charming actor who has created lovable characters on screen, he’s universally revered in Hollywood. No easy task. Both his fans and colleagues alike seemed genuinely happy for Tom when he became the Best Actor Oscar winner in back-to-back nods in 1993 and 1994 for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump” respectively.
- Jack Nicholson. Even if you don’t consider Jack Nicholson to be the greatest actor, he’s worthy of becoming 1975’s Best Actor Oscar winner for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and deserves his 1997 honor for “As Good as it Gets” for one simple reason: there has never been, and there will never be, an actor cooler than Jack Nicholson.
- Sean Penn. As well-loved as Robert Downey, Jr. and Johnny Depp have become, Sean Penn is the finest actor of his generation. The intensity of his performances can transcend even the most mediocre scripts. He deserved the statue he took home in 2003 for his portrayal of a devastated father in “Mystic River.” And he truly deserved to become the 2008 Best Actor Oscar winner for his performance in the title role in “Milk."
- Sidney Poitier. The classy and sophisticated star Sidney Poitier’s 1963 Best Actor Academy Award win for “Lilies of the Field” was groundbreaking because he was the first African American male to win in the category. Regardless of race, the trailblazing actor is one of the greatest American treasures in the cinema.
- Henry Fonda. Hollywood legend Henry Fonda is the oldest actor to take home an Academy Award, when at the age of 77 he won for the 1981 film “On Golden Pond.” It was his first competitive Oscar, although he had been given an honorary award the year before. Sadly, Fonda died just a few months after receiving the honor.
- Anthony Hopkins. Never has a villain been more deserving of a Best Actor Academy Award than Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs.” His portrayal of Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter was spine-tinglingly scary.
- Al Pacino. Dramatic actor Al Pacino should not have been named the 1992 Best Actor Oscar winner for his performance in “Scent of a Woman.” He was way too over the top (“Boo-yah!”). But since Pacino should have won in 1974 for “The Godfather Part II" (he lost to Art Carney), and again in 1975 for “Dog Day Afternoon” (he lost to Jack Nicholson), and once again in 1979 for “…And Justice for All” (he lost to Dustin Hoffman), he’s definitely worthy of taking home a Best Actor Academy Award.
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