Sometimes you come across an actor or a director who you’re shocked to learn received an Oscar nomination, not necessarily because they aren’t talented, but because they aren’t typically associated with Oscar-friendly films. See Oscar Nominees Rip Torn, Randy Quaid, and Gary Busey, for example.
And then there are those other times when you learn an Actor or Director is an Oscar Nominee, or in some cases, a winner from a category you hadn’t even considered them working in Editing, Original Song, Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Documentary Short, etc.
This list will explore the surprising number of Oscar Nominees you might not even have known were Oscar Nominees. (Only instances where the Actor or Director actually received a nomination will count. Which means Maximillian Schell’s Foreign Film/Documentary nominees are not included).
I won’t be including ‘surprise’ Directing Nominations for Actors who directed their own films. Nor will I include every director or actor who has worked both in front of and behind the screen (Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Rob Reiner, Ron Howard, Robert Redford, etc are all recognizable enough in both fields as to not need mentioning). This is a list for actors who you traditionally associate with acting but were nominated in other categories.
Two-Time Academy Award Winner Ben Affleck
WINS: Best Picture (“Argo”) & Best Original Screenplay (“Good Will Hunting”)
After becoming the youngest winner ever for Best Original Screenplay (at age 25 for “Good Will Hunting”), Affleck not only continued writing and acting, but also began producing, overseeing “Stolen Summer” and “Feast” through his and fellow Oscar winner Matt Damon’s TV show, Project Greenlight. After directing two successful dramas, Affleck managed to receive a producer credit on his third film, “Argo.” Although he shockingly missed out on a Best Director nomination for the Oscar winning film, Affleck ultimately still received a statue (and was allowed to make an Oscar speech) as Argo’s primary producer when the film won Best Picture.
Academy Award Nominee Sean Astin
NOMINATION: Best Live Action Short (“Kangaroo Court”)
Unlike some of the names on this list, Astin actually nearly snagged an acting Oscar. His supporting turn as Samwise Gamgee in “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” received nominations from a number of critics groups during the 2003 awards season. He has yet to be involved in the awards conversation since, but honestly, he’s already an Oscar Nominee, and has been since 1994.
Academy Award Nominee Bob Balaban
NOMINATION: Best Picture (“Gosford Park”)
Best known for his turns in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and the majority of Wes Anderson films, Bob Balaban has acted prolifically over the years, with more than 100 acting credits to his name on IMDB. When Robert Altman directed his Oscar winning murder mystery, “Gosford Park” however, Balaban received a “based on an idea by” writing credit. On some level, Balaban was heavily involved with the creation of Altman’s film. So much so, apparently, that he ultimately received a producing credit, and therefore an Oscar nomination alongside the film.
Academy Award Nominee Sacha Baron-Cohen
NOMINATION: Best Adapted Screenplay (“Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”)
In 2006, after several hilarious turns in his “D Ali G” show, Baron-Cohen made himself into a cinematic icon, with his one-two comedy punch of “Talladega Nights” and “Borat.” The latter of which managed to be one of the few comedic performances ever to enter the Best Actor conversation, winning Best Actor from the Los Angeles Film Critics, and earning a Golden Globe Nomination. And while the Academy would never bring themselves to reward a performance as irreverent as Baron-Cohen’s with an acting nomination, they found a compromise in nominating the film for Best Adapted Screenplay, thereby nominating Baron-Cohen, without nominating the film itself (the irony, of course being that the majority of the film was improvised by Baron-Cohen on set and was barely reliant on its screenplay).
Five-Time Academy Award Nominee Kenneth Branagh
NOMINATIONS: Best Live Action Short (“Swan Song”), Best Adapted Screenplay (“Hamlet”), Best Director (“Henry V”), Best Supporting Actor (“My Week With Marilyn”) & Best Actor (“Henry V”)
Over the course of his distinguished career, Kenneth Branagh has prolifically starred in, produced, written, and directed any number of films. Although he is best known for his acting (Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and numerous Shakespeare characters), only two of his five Oscar nominations have come from performances. The other three have been for his writing (“Hamlet”) or his directing (“Henry V”) and the one that people seem to forget, his short film, “Swan Song.”
Academy Award Winner Peter Capaldi
WIN: Best Live Action Short (“Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life”)
Best known for BBC’s “The Thick of It” and for his status as the current ‘Doctor’ in “Doctor Who,” Peter Capaldi has yet to make many major appearances in feature films. Whenever he does, however, he could refer to himself as Academy Award Winner Peter Capaldi, as his 1993 short film, “Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life” won him an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film.
Academy Award Nominee John Cleese
NOMINATION: Best Original Screenplay (“A Fish Called Wanda”)
Monty Python Alum, John Cleese has seldom been in the awards conversation, given that his primary genre (comedy) is not something that Oscar voters gravitate towards. Though his performance in 1988’s “A Fish Called Wanda” was ignored by the Academy in favor of Kevin Kline’s Oscar Winning comedic turn, Cleese managed to nab an Oscar Nomination for writing the film, making it one of the few comedies in Oscar history to receive writing, directing, and acting nominations.
Two-Time Academy Award Winner George Clooney
WINS: Best Picture (“Argo”) and Best Supporting Actor (“Syriana”)
NOMINATIONS: Best Actor (“Michael Clayton,” “Up In The Air,” & “The Descendants”), Best Adapted Screenplay (“The Ides of March”), Best Original Screenplay and Best Director (“Good Night & Good Luck”)
Although Clooney has been nominated for acting Oscars on four separate Occasions (including a win for 2005’s “Syriana”), he also has the distinction of having been nominated in every category humanly possible for him to be nominated in. As of 2016, Clooney has been nominated in six different categories, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, and as a producer for a Best Picture winner (“Argo”).
Two-Time Academy Award Nominee Steve Coogan
NOMINATIONS: Best Adapted Screenplay & Best Picture (“Philomena”)Steve Coogan has been something of a staple of British and American comedy since the 1990s, with memorable turns like recurring TV character, Alan Partridge, and standout film roles including a pompous gladiator in Ben Stiller’s “Night At The Museum” franchise, a pompous police commissioner in “Hot Fuzz
,” a pompous scientist in “Despicable Me
,” and a pompous director in “Tropic Thunder
” (seeing a theme here?). He has never been anything less than hilarious, but also has yet to find a role Oscar-friendly enough to put him into acting awards consideration. 2013’s surprise hit, “Philomena”, was largely his baby however. He starred in, co-wrote, and produced the Best Picture nominee, which ultimately netted him two Oscar Nominations.
Four-Time Academy Award Nominee Bradley Cooper
NOMINATIONS: Best Actor (“Silver Linings Playbook” & “American Sniper”), Best Supporting Actor (“American Hustle”) and Best Picture (“American Sniper”)
Bradley Cooper has been steadily attempting to follow a similar path to that of Brad Pitt: supporting player, then charismatic leading man, and finally, Producer. After receiving Executive Producer credits for “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” (for which he also received his first two acting nominations), Cooper received a full-blown Producers credit on 2014’s “American Sniper.” As a result, on top of his Best Actor nomination for the film, Cooper also received a nomination as a credited producer for Best Picture. He has since used that experience as a producer to produce and direct his next film, the upcoming “A Star Is Born.”
Two-Time Academy Award Nominee Julie Delpy & Four-Time Academy Award Nominee Ethan Hawke
NOMINATIONS: Best Adapted Screenplay (“Before Sunset” & “Before Midnight”)
Although best known for his acting career (which netted him two nominations for “Training Day” and “Boyhood”), Ethan Hawke has also had a successful side career as a writer, having penned several novels. Aside from adapting one of said novels to the screen, Hawke has also worked extensively with co-star Julie Deply, and writer/director Richard Linklater on the Before trilogy. Delpy has also written multiple screenplays, as well as original songs along with her film career. Both Hawke and Delpy gave such extensive input into the dialogue for “Before Midnight” and “Before Sunset,” that the two received co-writing credits, and Oscar nominations for both films as a result.
Academy Award Nominee Danny DeVito
NOMINATION: Best Picture (“Erin Brockovich”)
DeVito has turned in any number of memorable performances over the years, from his oily villain turns in “Batman Returns” and “LA Confidential,” to his iconic role in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but has never found himself in the acting Oscar conversation. DeVito has had a quiet second life as a producer, however, and received producing credits on a number of films, including “Get Shorty,” “Man on the Moon” and most famously, Steven Soderbergh’s Oscar Winning film, “Erin Brockovich.”
Academy Award Winner Leonardo DiCaprio
WIN: Best Actor (“The Revenant”)
NOMINATIONS: Best Actor (“The Aviator,” “Blood Diamond,” & “The Wolf Of Wall Street”), Best Supporting Actor (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”) Best Picture: (“The Wolf of Wall Street”)
When Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar for “The Revenant,” he won on his sixth nomination, despite “The Revenant” only being his fifth Oscar nominated performance. DiCaprio has been producing since relatively early in his career (2004), having overseen a bizarre combination of films: George Clooney’s “The Ides of March,” but also the 2009 horror film, “Orphan” and the “Twilight” wannabe, “Red Riding Hood.” Finally, in 2013, he struck gold with Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” for which he was nominated, not only for Best Actor, but also as a producer when the film received a Best Picture nomination.
Two-Time Academy Award Winner Michael Douglas
WINS: Best Actor (“Wall Street”) and Best Picture (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”)
Michael Douglas is best known for his Oscar winning turn in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” but back in the 1970s, when a young Douglas had only 3 films to his name, he successfully produced, and won an Oscar for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” His father had owned the rights to the novel since 1960 (before the novel was even fully published), and after running the novel as a stage production, and then attempting to pull a feature film together based on the material, he passed on the rights to the novel to his son (who had read the book in college). Douglas successfully used the project to cement himself as a recognizable name in cinema, and won an Oscar in the process.
Academy Award Winner Henry Fonda
WIN: Best Actor (“On Golden Pond”)
NOMINATIONS: Best Actor (“The Grapes Of Wrath”) and Best Picture (“12 Angry Men”)
Despite his status as an acting legend, Henry Fonda was only ever nominated for two of his performances: “The Grapes of Wrath” and “On Golden Pond” (which he won for). His leading turn in “12 Angry Men” was ultimately ignored by AMPAS, but the film itself was not, snagging a Best Picture nomination. It was the only film Fonda ever produced, but receiving an Oscar nomination for your producing debut isn’t a bad track record.
Two-Time Academy Award Nominees Peter Fonda & Dennis Hopper
NOMINATION: Best Adapted Screenplay (“Easy Rider”)
Both Hopper and Fonda would go on to receive Oscar nominations for their acting careers (“Hoosiers” for Hopper and “Ulee’s Gold” for Fonda), but the two first entered the awards conversation by co-writing ‘60s counter-culture hit, “Easy Rider.” Although the two would ultimately opt to pursue the acting sides of their careers over writing careers, the film remains a high point for both men. It should be noted, that the two actors co-wrote the screenplay with writer, Terry Southern who claims that neither asked for screenplay credits until after the first screening of the film, and that Hopper later took credit for the entire project. As he put it, “You know if Den Hopper improvises a dozen lines and six of them survive the cutting room floor he’ll put in for screenplay credit. Now it would be almost impossible to exaggerate his contribution to the film—but, by George, he manages to do it every time.”
Academy Award Nominee Jeff Goldblum
NOMINATION: Best Live Action Short (“Little Surprises”)
Jeff Goldblum is famous for his entertaining turns in “Jurassic Park,” “Independence Day” and “The Fly.” He also managed to singlehandedly steal the internet’s heart. The closest any of his performances have come to Awards consideration was his small turn in frequent collaborator, Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (for which he received a SAG Ensemble Nomination). In 1996, however, Goldblum directed a 36-minute short film that snagged him an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short.
Academy Award Winner Alec Guinness
WIN: Best Actor (“The Bridge On The River Kwai”)
NOMINATIONS: Best Actor (“The Lavender Hill”), Best Supporting Actor (“Star Wars” & “Little Dorrit”) and Best Adapted Screenplay (“The Horse’s Mouth”)
Sir Alec Guinness’s Oscar winning turn in “The Bridge on the River Kwai” certainly hasn’t been forgotten. Nor has his Oscar-Nominated turn as Obi Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars.” What you might not remember is that Guinness also wrote an Oscar nominated screenplay once. “The Horse’s Mouth,” which was the only screenplay Guinness ever wrote, focuses on the life of a troubled painter (played by Guinness), and garnered yet another Oscar nomination for Guinness’s already impressive résumé.
Academy Award Nominee Paul Hogan
NOMINATION: Best Original Screenplay (“Crocodile Dundee”)
Australian comedian, Paul Hogan is not known for much else beyond starring in “Crocodile Dundee” and its various sequels (his IMDB acting page only shows 11 credits). But for a brief period in the 1980s, Hogan was all the rage, with many of his quotes from Dundee becoming pop culture staples. Hogan won a Golden Globe for his turn as the titular Aussie larrikin, and received a BAFTA nomination as well, but AMPAS, in keeping with its anti-comedy bias, refused to bestow a Best Actor nomination upon him. The film’s screenplay, which Hogan co-wrote was nominated, however, meaning that to this day, we will always refer to Paul Hogan as Academy Award Nominee Paul Hogan.
Academy Award Winner Christine Lahti
WIN: Best Live Action Short (“Lieberman in Love”)
NOMINATION: Best Supporting Actress (“Swing Shift”)
With more than 70 acting credits to her name, Lahti has had a prolific career, from her long-running role on the TV series, “Chicago Hope,” to her Oscar nominated turn in “Swing Shift.” What many don’t remember, however, is her Oscar win for “Lieberman in Love,” her directorial debut short film in 1995.
Academy Award Winner Shirley MacLaine
WINS: Best Actress (“Terms Of Endearment”) and Best Documentary Feature (“The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir”)
NOMINATIONS: Best Actress (“Some Came Running,” “The Apartment,” “Irma la Douce” and “The Turning Point”)
Shirley MacLaine, a living legend, is best known for her acting career. She has received five acting Oscar nominations (including a win for “Terms of Endearment”), but her sixth nomination is often forgotten. “The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir” is a MacLaine directed-documentary that offers a glimpse into mainland China under the Mao government.
Academy Award Winner Brad Pitt
WIN: Best Picture (“12 Years a Slave”)
NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actor (“12 Monkeys”) and Best Actor (“The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button” & “Moneyball”)It’s always a bit amusing to see trailers for new Brad Pitt films that still list the actor as ‘Academy Award Nominee Brad Pitt.’ Brad Pitt is an Oscar Winner, and has been since 2014 when he accepted the Best Picture trophy for “
12 Years a Slave.” As much of a producer as he is an actor, Brad Pitt has almost single-handedly willed a number of recent films into existence (“Moneyball,” “World War Z,” “The Big Short”), two of which he received Oscar nominations for. As a result, Pitt has a total of six Oscar nominations, only three of which are for acting.
Three-Time Academy Award Nominee Peter Sellers
NOMINATIONS: Best Live Action Short (“The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film”) and Best Actor (“Dr. Strangelove” & “Being There”)
Prior to his two acting nominations for his iconic turns in “Dr. Strangelove” and “Being There,” Peter Sellers made his directing debut with an Oscar nominated plotless slapstick short. The piece ultimately netted Sellers an Oscar nomination.
Two-Time Academy Award Winner Emma Thompson
WINS: Best Adapted Screenplay (“Sense & Sensibility”) and Best Actress (“Howard’s End”)
NOMINATIONS: Best Actress (“The Remains Of The Day” & “Sense & Sensibility”) and Best Supporting Actress (“In The Name Of The Father”)
If you watched the credits of “Bridget Jones’ Baby” recently, you’ll notice that Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay. Aside from being a singularly talented (and Oscar Winning) actress, Thompson has written her fair share of screenplays. She penned both “Nanny McPhee” films, did uncredited rewrites for Joe Wright’s “Pride & Prejudice,” and won an Oscar for writing Ang Lee’s “Sense & Sensibility.”
Two-Time Academy Award Nominee Mark Wahlberg
NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actor (“The Departed”) and Best Picture (“The Fighter”)
After establishing himself as a bona fide serious actor with his Oscar nominated turn in “The Departed,” Wahlberg turned his eye to producing. After producing James Gray’s “We Own the Night,” Wahlberg began producing the majority of films he starred in (including most of Peter Berg’s recent films.) In 2010, he received a producing credit for David O. Russell’s “The Fighter,” and therefore a nomination along with the film itself.
Academy Award Nominee Peter Weller
NOMINATION: Best Live Action Short (“Partners”)
Best known for ‘80s Sci Fi’s like “Robocop” and “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,” Peter Weller never seemed like an Oscar friendly actor. In 1993, however, he directed and starred in a law-themed short film (that co-starred a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that managed to net him his only Oscar nomination.
Academy Award Nominees Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo
NOMINATION: Best Original Screenplay (“Bridesmaids”)
Although both Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo had both written for TV prior to “Bridesmaids,” neither had written a feature before. The resulting film became one of the few mainstream comedies to find Oscar success, earning a Best Supporting Actress of Melissa McCarthy and a Best Original Screenplay nomination for Wiig and Mumolo.
Two-Time Academy Award Nominee Gene Wilder
NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actor (“The Producers”) and Best Adapted Screenplay (“Young Frankenstein”)
The late Gene Wilder is best known for his starring roles in “Willy Wonka and the Chololate Factory,” “Young Frankenstein” and “The Producers” (the latter of which he received a Supporting Actor Oscar Nomination for), but many forget his side career as a screenwriter. His first ever screenwriting effort earned him his second Oscar nomination (which he shared with Mel Brooks) for adapting Mary Shelley’s horror novel Frankenstein into the gleefully comedic farce that was “Young Frankenstein.”
Academy Award Nominee Owen Wilson
NOMINATION: Best Original Screenplay (“The Royal Tenebaums”)Owen Wilson is best known for his comedic turns in mainstream comedies, such as “Zoolander,” “Shanghai Noon,” and “Wedding Crashers,” as well as his many cameos in Wes Anderson films. But many forget, Wilson came to fame alongside Anderson, and even co-wrote most of Anderson’s early films (“Bottle Rocket and “Rushmore”). “The Royal Tenebaums” was Anderson’s first Oscar nomination (and Wilson’s only Oscar nomination), and would ultimately be the last film Wilson received a screenplay credit for.
Two-Time Academy Award Nominee Oprah Winfrey
NOMINATIONS: Best Picture (“Selma”) and Best Supporting Actress (“The Color Purple”)
Oprah Winfrey began her career with an Oscar nomination for “The Color Purple” before launching herself into her enormously lucrative television career. In 2013, many considered her the frontrunner for the Supporting Actress Oscar for “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” but she ultimately missed out for a nomination. She made up for it a year later, however, when she received an Oscar nomination for producing Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” (which she also starred in).
You can follow Will and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @mavericksmovies