When thinking about the Academy Awards, the usual suspects come to mind. Names like Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and Cate Blanchett have a privileged place in Hollywood, and audiences expect them to receive accolades. But what about those performers that don’t always receive critical recognition?
Multiple actors delivered compelling and triumphant work worthy of receiving an Oscar nomination, yet audiences don’t remember them. Perhaps their movies weren’t very memorable, or maybe their careers took a different turn. Whatever the reason, audiences have all but forgotten that these actors once received an Oscar nomination.
10 Laurence Fishburne
Nowadays, Laurence Fishburne is best known for his roles in massive franchises like The Matrix, John Wick, the MCU, and the DCEU. He got his big break in 1979’s Apocalypse Now before receiving further recognition with John Singleton’s 1991 debut Boyz n the Hood.
However, Fishburne received his first, and so far, only Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Ike Turner, Tina Turner’s abusive husband, in 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do With It. The early 1990s were a period of great critical acclaim for the actor; he also won a Tony Award for his performance in the play Two Trains Running and an Emmy for his guest role in the series TriBeCa. Maybe his roles in big franchises these days are why his nominated work is less remembered.
9 Gary Busey
Gary Busey has had a versatile career. One of the most recognizable character actors, he played roles in popular movies like 1976’s A Star is Born, Lethal Weapon, Point Break, and The Firm.
Back in 1978, Busey earned his first and only Oscar nomination for The Buddy Holly Story. The actor played Buddy Holly, a crucial figure during the rise of rock and roll in the 1950s who died at the young age of 22, after the plane he chartered crashed shortly after take-off. Busey’s film career declined in the late 1990s, and nowadays, his primary focus is on television, making guest appearances in shows like American Dad and Shameless.
8 Diane Lane
Once described by screen legend Laurence Olivier as “the new Grace Kelly,” Diane Lane rose to prominence in 1979’s A Little Romance. She gained further recognition with The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, but her career wained for the rest of the 1980s after a string of critical and commercial misfires. She recovered by the early ’90s, thanks to roles in Chaplin and A Walk to the Moon.
Lane received the best reviews of her career and her sole Oscar nomination for 2002’s Unfaithful. The actress played Connie, a married housewife whose affair with a book dealer threatens to destroy her otherwise stable life. Unfaithful is now all but forgotten, but it succeeded in giving a second wind to Lane’s career, and the actress continues her success to this day.
7 Samantha Morton
Although mainstream audiences might recognize Samantha Morton as Alpha in The Walking Dead, the actress has a long and proficient career in television and film. She rose to prominence in the late 1990s, thanks to her roles in period pieces like Emma and Jane Eyre.
Morton has not only one but two Oscar nominations. The first came in the Supporting Actress category with the 1999 comedy Sweet and Lowdown. She earned her second nomination in 2003, this time in the Lead category, for her performance in the independent drama In America. Morton was never a major movie star, and mainstream audiences might not be familiar with her oeuvre. However, she’s a brilliant actress who deserves all the recognition she’s received.
6 John Lithgow
John Lithgow is one of the most acclaimed actors in television history. He’s played some of the most memorable characters in modern tv, including Dick Solomon in 3rd Rock From the Sun, Arthur Mitchell in Dexter, and Winston Churchill in The Crown, winning six Emmys, two Golden Globes, and three Screen Actors Guild Awards for his efforts.
His success in television is so vast that it overshadows most of his film achievements. In fact, most audiences could easily forget he also received recognition for his movie roles. Lithgow earned back-to-back Oscar nominations in the ’70s, both in the Supporting Actor category, for his roles in The World According to Garp and Terms of Endearment.
5 Julie Walters
After winning the hearts of millions, Julie Walters is more popular than ever. Book fans know her as Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter franchise, while musical lovers will recognize her as Rosie in the Mamma Mia! films. Walters also appeared in some of the most popular family movies of the new millennium, including both Paddington movies and Mary Poppins Returns.
However, fans may not know Walters received two Oscar nominations throughout her career. Her first came in the Lead category for her film debut, 1983’s Educating Rita opposite Michael Caine. Her second was in the Supporting category, for her scene-stealing turn in 2001’s Billy Elliot. Walters has been away from the Oscars for 20 years now, and newer audiences might not be aware of her recognized work. Educating Rita and Billy Elliot are great films, though, and anyone who sees them will agree that Walters is stellar in both.
4 Jeff Goldblum
Jeff Goldblum might be everyone’s favorite quirky actor. He received his breakthrough role in David Cronenberg’s 1986 sci-fi horror The Fly and has since starred in some of the most acclaimed movies of his time, like Jurassic Park, Independence Day, and Thor: Ragnarok.
Although he has never received an Oscar nomination for his acting, Goldblum did earn recognition from the Academy for his directing thanks to the short film Little Surprises. At the 1997 Academy Awards, the film was up for Best Live-Action Short Film, although it failed to prevail. Live-Action Short is one of the least memorable categories in any Oscar ceremony, by far, so Goldblum’s nomination isn’t exactly common knowledge.
3 Billy Bob Thornton
After rising to prominence with 1992’s One False Move, Billy Bob Thornton earned further recognition thanks to Sling Blade. He went on to find great success in the late ’90s, with films like Armaggedon and Primary Colors. Thornton’s success carried into the new millennium, starring in cult classics like Bad Santa and Friday Night Lights and achieving critical acclaim with shows like Fargo and Goliath.
Thornton is actually an Oscar winner, not that many people remember. He won the 1997 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and received a Best Actor nomination for Sling Blade. He would receive a third and final Oscar nomination for his supporting role in 1998’s A Simple Plan. Although Sling Blade was a sleeper hit, neither it nor A Simple Plan are among Thornton’s most recognizable work, so his nominations aren’t exactly common knowledge.
2 Jennifer Tilly
Jennifer Tilly is perhaps best known for her roles in the neo-noir film Bound and the slasher franchise Child’s Play. Tilly is one of the most recognizable and iconic scream queens of cinema, famous for her distinctive high-pitched voice and comedic ability.
Because she’s so related to the Chucky franchise, fans might not know that Tilly was once a critical darling. Indeed, she received an Oscar nomination in 1994 in the Best Supporting Actress category, thanks to her breakthrough role in the dark comedy Bullets Over Broadway. Tilly never starred in Oscar bait again, and her career focused on horror and B-movies instead.
1 Harrison Ford
The iconic Harrison Ford has played multiple memorable roles, from Han Solo to Indiana Jones to Rick Deckard. The actor has a place in Hollywood history thanks to his enormous success. Indeed, many consider him one of the greatest and most beloved action stars ever.
Ford has also received critical acclaim for his performances. He even earned an Oscar nomination, his only to this date, for his lead performance as a police detective protecting a young Amish boy in 1985’s Witness. Ford starred in several other Oscar-nominated movies like Working Girl and The Fugitive but never received another nomination for his acting. Ford is a screen legend, but his success in genre films is so great that most audiences might not relate him with acclaimed, Oscar-nominated performances.