And for most Oscar nominees, that's it. If I remember my statistics right, it's about 65% of all Oscar nominees for acting will only get that one nomination, that one moment in the sun that will be in the first two lines of their obituary. And that's great-we'll get to all of you in the OVP (or we've already gotten to you, in which case don't get greedy).
But for other actors, that one Oscar nomination is hardly enough, and they want more. Some of these actors enjoy quick bursts of nominations like Renee Zellweger, Russell Crowe, or (currently) Jennifer Lawrence, but we're going to focus today on people who have managed to sustain decades of Oscar stamina.
It's actually extremely rare to be able to be nominated at least one time in four different decades, and even rarer to pull it off consecutively. As there seem to be several actors this year who are looking to get a nomination decades away from their last citation, I figured it was time to take a look at this list again.
Before we start, let's go through the people who have passed on and are no longer in the running but hit 4 or 5 decades (as the title alludes to, no one has hit six...and yes, this is a trivia article so if I missed an actor, share in the comments below).
Five Decades in a Row: Laurence Olivier (1930's-70's)
Five Decades Non-Consecutively: Katharine Hepburn (1930's-1980's, no 70's), Paul Newman (1950's-00's, no 70's as well)
Four Decades in a Row: Bette Davis (1930's-60's), Jack Lemmon (1950-80's), Geraldine Page (1950's-80's),
Four Decades Non-Consecutively: Mickey Rooney (1930's-70's, no 60's), Peter O'Toole (1960's-00's, no 90's)...both of whom never won competitive Oscars though they both won Honorary ones
Again, it's a short list, and one that has gotten considerably longer as the stars of the 1960's have stuck around further than was typical with stars of yore. We'll start out with those actors that are still living and have already hit three decades.
Waiting for the Fourth...
Of the 18 living actors who have been nominated in three separate decades for acting awards (and for the record, the year the film came out is the beginning of the decade-none of this "Google Search Driving Miss Daisy won the 1990 Oscars" crap), some actually have to wait a few more years before they can try again as their third nomination came in the 2010's and they can't get another decade under their belt for a few more years. Most of these actors did this in the 1990's, 2000's, and 2010's: Brad Pitt, Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Julianne Moore, and Annette Bening all have nominations in each of the past three decades (it's worth noting that Bening is the only one of these eight actors who doesn't have an Oscar, (though Damon has his for screenwriting) and is one of only two actors who have hit more than three that is still alive without an Oscar-I'm just saying AMPAS, but keep that in mind in a few years when you're handing out Honoraries and Bening is still empty-handed). The only non-consecutive actor who has scored this decade would be Sally Field, who took a 28-year gap between her second and third nods, and did this oddly with only three nominations (Lincoln, her most recent nod, is her only loss to date). And though it's hardly worth listing all of the actors who have two decades behind them, there are a few names in this year's mix that could be headed toward a third decade of dominance (Michelle Pfeiffer and Woody Harrelson both spring to mind).
Of the actors who could jump to four decades this year, most of them don't have films out this year, but none of them are in "retirement." Weirdly a surprising number of actors actually are ones who skipped at least one decade: Jodie Foster (missing 00's), Sissy Spacek (missing 90's), Ellen Burstyn (missing 90's), and Al Pacino (missing 00's). While all of these actors continue to work, Foster and Spacek in particular don't appear onscreen very often and it's been years since any of them were in the sort of movie that would garner Oscar's attention. Still, they're all legends so a random showy role could do the trick if they got back in the game in a major way.
The actors who have consecutive nominations are a bit more likely, in my opinion, to make a jump into a fourth decade. Both Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman continually work in movies, and though I have to admit they both tend to be going for "paycheck roles" more than they should (they seem to be in everything), they work so constantly that a random supporting nomination once more seems probable, if not inevitable.
The three remaining actors, though, actually have films out this year with a lot of potential Oscar buzz. Toward the top of the list is Holly Hunter, who has a major role in The Big Sick as a mother getting to know her daughter's boyfriend while she's in a coma. Hunter is getting really solid reviews for the film and could nab her fifth nomination (in a fourth decade) this year if the buzz continues. While their films haven't come out yet, both Frances McDormand (another five in four) who has a showy lead role in Three Billboards or Tom Hanks who may be in The Papers with Meryl Streep (directed by Steven Spielberg, in a film premise that sounds like it was made in an Oscar bait factory), both could be in the running. Hanks is strange in the sense that his fourth decade nomination seemed certain with work in Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, and Bridge of Spies, but Oscar hasn't warmed to him like they have in the past? Perhaps things will change this year?
Once again, we can start out with six actors who have already scored their 2010's hit and are now just biding their time until they can try again. Three of these actors have done five decades (shockingly) non-consecutively (which means they very well could have been in the running for six if they'd had a little more luck in a certain year). Jeff Bridges skipped the 1990's (missing for The Fisher King), Robert Duvall missed in the Aughts (but came damn close for Get Low) and Robert de Niro also missed the Aughts (probably getting closest for Meet the Parents...though admittedly not too close). The other four actors, though, have hit every decade since the 1980's consecutively: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, and Daniel Day-Lewis (all, oddly enough, nominated in 1989), and have already gotten this decade crossed off. Day-Lewis has notably won in three of those four decades.
Another twelve actors have scored four decades and are on the search for a fifth. They range from actors who are constantly churning out films to actors who have largely retired from the cinema but are thankfully still kicking. Though many of these actors scored their nominations consecutively, only one of the dozen is currently on a streak: that would be Diane Keaton, who has scored a nomination every decade since the 1970's (and only one nomination per decade, it's worth pointing out). Keaton rarely challenges herself since Something's Gotta Give, but she's the sort of actor who bides her time until something brilliant randomly comes along and everyone remembers how much they love her-considering the wave of adoration coming from her recent AFI win, this would be the time to strike if she wanted to go there.
Other working actors that could make it include busy actors such as Jon Voight (who skipped the 1990's despite constantly making movies since his big break in Midnight Cowboy), Shirley MacLaine (who, had she scored for Postcards from the Edge as she was expected to and should have, would be a column down), Vanessa Redgrave (her near-miss campaigns for Atonement and Coriolanus actually mean that she could well have had the record by now!), Dustin Hoffman (who continues to make enough films often enough that he should be able to pull this off in a surprise supporting role at some point, despite missing the Aughts), and of course Dame Maggie Smith (who skipped the 1990's, but came roaring back in the past ten years as a genuine box office draw and nearly won a citation for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel a couple of years ago). Hoffman probably has the best shot this year for The Meyerowitz Stories, but it's not entirely clear if it will meet release date eligibility. I'd imagine that Scott Rudin will force Netflix to meet AMPAS qualifications considering his long history with the body, in which case Hoffman is most definitely a threat, but Netflix seems to want to have it available same day as its digital platform. We shall see, but by my count the only other one of these actors with a major film in contention this year is Redgrave, who is in Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, though I can't tell how big her role is.
Other actors who are looking for a fifth don't work as often or are notoriously curmudgeonly about working again. Joanne Woodward (not nominated since 1990, but extending all the way back to the 1950's with her streak, the earliest nomination for a living person in this article) hasn't appeared in theaters since 1993, and Gene Hackman (who missed for The Royal Tenenbaums due to category confusion, costing him his fifth consecutive citation) is happily retired. Albert Finney (who missed the 1990's) hates the Oscars and only does bit parts these days, though he's the other actor (aside from Bening) who is living and has hit the 3+ decade counter, so he'd also be a decent contender for an Honorary Award (that he'd never show up for it in a million years). Warren Beatty did finally make another movie with Rules Don't Apply, but it bombed so horribly I'm kind of scared he'll never make a movie again at this point, and he was already dodgy about making pictures to begin with. And finally there is Julie Christie, who has resumed working if not necessarily in major cinematic work. She skipped the 1980's and bizarrely has only received one nomination in each decade she's been cited in (much like Keaton).
As the stats above corroborate, getting a sixth is damn hard work, as there's a reason no one has done it. Kate Hepburn probably could have had she done more significant film work in the 1970's, but she spent most of that time on the stage, and she's probably the only one who has come close until now. Three living actors have pulled off five decades in a row, and one in particular seems determined to break yet another of Hepburn's records (not settling for a tie).
Meryl Streep is the only actor who has managed to pull off a 2010's nomination already and have five in a row (ever the showoff, she's managed to land four nods this decade). Streep, it's worth noting, is also the only actor to have more than one nomination in five different decades (Olivier getting Rebecca made a year too late), a record that may stand for infinity. Streep will need to continue her current stamina to hit the goal, but at this rate she could well take it in the 2020's (she'll only be in her seventies).
That is if one of the two other living actors don't go for the title first. Both have received consecutive nominations since the 1960's, and at least one is still working. Michael Caine, an actor you don't always think of for such lists, got his first nomination in 1966, then got cited in 1972, 1983, 1986, 1999, and 2002, and despite being 81, continues to work constantly (he was well-regarded in the recently Oscar-nominated Youth) and has made no secret about his desire to win a third Oscar for a leading role. Just one nomination would land him the record, and put Streep in a difficult position-2030 is a long way to go to actually beat this title outright.
The other person is the recently retired Jack Nicholson, who made his last film four years ago and claims he is done with cinema, but rumors persist that he might make one step out-of-retirement to do that English-language Toni Erdmann with Kristin Wiig (they've even go so far as to hire Lena Dunham as the writer). If that actually happens, all bets are off-it's obviously a movie that AMPAS liked (it was nominated), and Nicholson making one last role would be pretty hearty catnip for the Oscars.
And there you have it folks-a morning's dose of Oscar trivia. Do you think that Streep, Caine, or Nicholson could take the record? Who will be the next person to score four or five decades' worth of nominations? Share in the comments!