The Worst Best Actor Winner of Each Decade

Because the late Twenties, the Academy Awards have been honoring one of the best that cinema has to supply in any specific yr. One of the vital noteworthy awards of the ceremony is Greatest Actor, for the lead male thespian who greatest proved that appearing is a noble occupation, a transcendental calling for these able to reworking themselves into a personality and instilling all kinds of feelings in audiences.

Over the course of the Oscars’ historical past, there hasn’t been any downright unhealthy efficiency by a Greatest Actor winner. Nonetheless, there have actually been a couple of which were unremarkable at greatest. Notably whenever you examine them to the opposite winners of the class from that very same decade, performances like Rex Harrison‘s from My Fair Lady and Rami Malek‘s from Bohemian Rhapsody have not aged all that properly.

1 Twenties: Warner Baxter

‘In Previous Arizona’ (1928)

Picture by way of Fox Movie Company

Promoting itself as the primary all-talking Western, In Previous Arizona is a few charming bandit who performs cat-and-mouse with the sheriff attempting to catch him, all whereas romancing a neighborhood magnificence. Regardless of its historic significance, that is a kind of Oscar-winning movies that haven’t aged super well.

Warner Baxter created the style staple of the singing cowboy in a captivating, however hilariously cartoonish and campy efficiency (not in a great way) as a Mexican outlaw. It is not a very robust efficiency, nevertheless it’s made to look even weaker in entrance of that decade’s solely different Greatest Actor winner: Emil Jannings for his tour-de-force performances on each The Final Command and The Means of All Flesh.

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2 Nineteen Thirties: Spencer Tracy

‘Captains Brave’ (1937)

A black and white shot of Spencer Tracy holding the binoculars of a child in Captains Courageous.
Picture by way of Loew’s Inc.

Captains Brave is a traditional journey at sea, the place a spoiled brat who falls overboard from a steamship is picked up by a fishing boat, the place he has to hitch the crew and work to earn his spot aboard the vessel. Directed by the identical Victor Fleming behind iconic classics like Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, it is a movie that is positively worthy of the celebrity of its director, who helped define Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Whereas Spencer Tracy was probably the most well-liked and proficient performers of traditional Hollywood, it is unlucky that each his Oscar wins are remembered as two of the weakest of the ’30s. Whereas Boys City is not his greatest work, it is his efficiency in Captains Brave that stands out the least. His poor try at what appears to be a Portuguese accent distracts from his efficiency, nevertheless it’s not prefer it has a lot complexity to supply within the first place.

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3 Forties: Gary Cooper

‘Sergeant York’ (1941)

Sargeant York in the battlefield turning back in Sergeant York
Picture by way of Warner Bros.

Like Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper was an extremely gifted actor who had the misfortune of profitable his first Oscar for a efficiency that did not deserve it. His got here for Sergeant York, an über-patriotic American struggle propaganda movie about actual Tennessee farmer-turned-sergeant Alvin York, as he struggles along with his pacifist inclinations earlier than changing into probably the most celebrated heroes of World Struggle I.

Regardless of sporting its propagandistic intentions out on its sleeve, Sergeant York is a reasonably stable movie (based on some, one of Cooper’s best) with an important lead efficiency. Cooper embodies his character properly, nevertheless it’s such a simplistic character and so very evidently a product of its time, that the actor could not actually do a lot to make himself extra worthy of the award than Orson Welles, who was additionally nominated in 1942 for his unbelievable efficiency in Citizen Kane.

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4 Nineteen Fifties: David Niven

‘Separate Tables’ (1958)

in black and white, man in thick mustache and suit looks back before opening glass door
Picture by way of United Artists

Within the romantic drama Separate Tables, the tales of a number of individuals are instructed as they keep at a seaside lodge in the course of the low season. In such large ensemble films, it is typically an issue attempting to pinpoint who precisely could be thought-about a lead. David Niven had little sufficient screentime to be labeled as a supporting actor, however even then, he received the Greatest Actor Oscar in 1958.

For a very long time, Niven’s win has been remembered as probably the most disappointing within the Oscars’ historical past, and never solely as a result of he beat performances like Paul Newman‘s in Cat on a Scorching Tin Roof. He was very clearly a supporting presence within the movie, so his win within the incorrect class solely blemished what’s in any other case some actually excellent work on a reasonably good film.

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5 Nineteen Sixties: Rex Harrison

‘My Honest Girl’ (1964)

a man in a suit offering a woman with a big hat a tray with food
Picture by way of Warner Bros.

My Honest Girl is definitely one in every of the most iconic musicals of all time, a modern-day interpretation of the Greek fable of Pygmalion, based mostly on the stage musical of the identical title. In it, a snobbish professor in 1910s London agrees to a guess that he could make a crude flower lady presentable in excessive society. It is a controversial topic that has develop into the movie’s most criticized side because the years have handed, even when it is nonetheless thought-about an beautiful film.

Rex Harrison performs the professor, a cynical and misogynistic man who would not actually know any higher. Harrison is charming and commanding, however Greatest Actor materials? Actually not. His singing (if it could possibly even be referred to as that, since he speaks his lyrics extra typically than he intones them) is underwhelming, and Audrey Hepburn always acts circles round him. The ’60s had a couple of different forgettable winners, akin to Cliff Robertson in Charly, however the truth that Harrison received that yr whereas Hepburn didn’t taints his work much more.

My Fair Lady

In 1910s London, snobbish phonetics professor Henry Higgins agrees to a wager that he could make crude flower lady, Eliza Doolittle, presentable in excessive society.

Launch Date
October 21, 1964

George Cukor

Audrey Hepburn , Rex Harrison , Stanley Holloway , Wilfrid Hyde-White , Gladys Cooper , Jeremy Brett


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6 Nineteen Seventies: Richard Dreyfuss

‘The Goodbye Woman’ (1977)

a man and woman speaking in front of a girl's bedroom, door open
Picture by way of Warner Bros.

One can be forgiven for forgetting that Richard Dreyfuss has an Oscar win beneath his belt. Maybe it is as a result of he received it for probably the most forgettable Greatest Actor-winning performances, because the struggling off-Broadway actor that an unemployed dancer and her daughter reluctantly have to maneuver in with after her boyfriend dumps her, in The Goodbye Woman.

The forged is as implausible because the forged of a really typical rom-com could be. Marsha Mason is endearing, Quinn Cummings turned one in every of the youngest Oscar nominees ever, and Dreyfuss is witty, energetic, and actually enjoyable to observe. Nonetheless, within the grand scheme of the magnificent performances that received Greatest Actor within the ’70s, like Marlon Brando for The Godfather and Jack Nicholson for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, an above-average rom-com main man efficiency like Dreyfuss’s simply would not lower it.

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7 Nineteen Eighties: Paul Newman

‘The Colour of Cash’ (1986)

Paul Newman in The Color of Money
Picture by way of Buena Vista Distribution

By the point the Nineteen Eighties got here round, Paul Newman was lengthy overdue for an Academy Award win. It got here within the type of a Greatest Actor victory for Martin Scorsese‘s highly underrated gemThe Colour of Cash, a sports activities drama the place Newman reprised his function as pool hustler Quick Eddie Felson from the Nineteen Sixties’ The Hustler. Right here, Felson teaches a cocky protégé the ropes of pool hustling, making an sudden comeback within the course of.

Newman was all the time an utter enjoyment of no matter function he performed, and this was no completely different. He slipped into the footwear of Quick Eddie Felson effortlessly, delivering a implausible efficiency reverse Tom Cruise. Whereas it’s going to all the time be a reduction that he received an Oscar earlier than his profession ended, although, it simply wasn’t for the precise function, and felt extra like a legacy win than anything. It is an important piece of labor, however not a very distinctive one, and positively not among the many better of the ’80s.

The Colour of Cash

Launch Date
October 7, 1986


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8 Nineties: Roberto Benigni

‘Life is Lovely’ (1997)

Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi and Giorgio Cantarini in 'Life is Beautiful'
Picture by way of Miramax Movies

Life Is Lovely is a interval dramedy the place a loving Jewish father and his son develop into victims of the Holocaust. On the focus camp they throw them in, he makes use of a mix of humor and creativeness to make his son assume that it is all an elaborate sport. It is one in every of the most highly divisive movies of the ’90s, with some discovering its playful depiction of the Holocaust abhorrent, and others considering that its celebration of that form of childhood innocence and surprise is exactly the purpose.

It doesn’t matter what anybody thinks of the film, one thing cannot be denied, and it is that Roberto Benigni (who directed, wrote, and starred within the movie) made Oscar historical past along with his extraordinarily enthusiastic acceptance speeches for Greatest International Movie and Greatest Actor. The latter, nevertheless, is a victory that hasn’t aged properly in any respect. Benigni is humorous and charming within the function, however that is about it. Everyone else within the class that yr provided a extra complicated and satisfying efficiency, and each different winner within the ’90s felt extra deserving of their victory than him.

Life Is Lovely

Launch Date
December 20, 1997

Roberto Benigni , Nicoletta Braschi , Giorgio Cantarini , Giustino Durano , Sergio Bini Bustric , Marisa Paredes


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9 2000s: Sean Penn

‘Mystic River’ (2003)

Picture by way of Warner Bros.

Over the course of his profession as a director, Clint Eastwood has had simply as many hits as he is had misses. Whereas removed from his greatest work, Mystic River is one in every of his most acclaimed outings behind the digicam, with some praising it as one in every of the greatest murder mysteries ever. In it, Jimmy’s (Sean Penn) daughter is mysteriously killed, reuniting him with childhood associates Sean (Kevin Bacon), the cop assigned to the case, and Dave (Tim Robbins), who Jimmy suspects is behind the homicide.

Whereas it has an enveloping environment of suspense and thriller, Mystic River is affected by a very melodramatic tone that borders on cleaning soap opera. Because of this, Sean Penn’s lead efficiency suffers as properly, coming throughout as cartoonishly over-the-top, particularly in his most intense scenes. It is nonetheless an important portrayal stuffed with gut-wrenching emotion, however its lack of nuance would not let it beat different lower-tier winners of this decade like Russell Crowe for Gladiator.

Mystic River

Launch Date
January 1, 2003


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10 2010s: Rami Malek

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (2018)

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in 2018's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'
Picture by way of twentieth Century Studios

For the 2010s, there actually is not a lot of a query: Greatest Actor Oscar wins hardly get rather more underwhelming than Rami Malek’s for Bohemian Rhapsody. The movie tells a watered-down, extremely commercialized model of the story of legendary British rock band Queen, specializing in their lead singer Freddie Mercury. It is a movie with many strengths, such because the monumentally crafted recreation of the band’s iconic 1985 Reside Support efficiency, however all in all, it is an Oscar winner that hasn’t aged particularly well.

There’s nothing flat-out incorrect with Malek’s efficiency. He brings a number of coronary heart and emotion to the function, working across the limitations of the script properly sufficient. Nonetheless, most of the time, it looks like he is doing nothing greater than a semi-decent Freddie Mercury impression with a diluted character. He targeted a lot on being plausible as Freddie, that he forgot to ship a recent, thrilling, or layered efficiency.

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11 2020s: Will Smith

‘King Richard’ (2021)

Will Smith, Saniyya Sidney, and Demi Singleton in 'King Richard'
Picture by way of Warner Bros. Photos

Fortunately, the 2020s have had three (very possible quickly to be 4) excellent Greatest Actor winners. Nonetheless, evaluating him to Anthony Hopkins‘s harrowing flip in The Father and Brendan Fraser‘s devastating work on The Whale, Will Smith in King Richard is definitely the weakest hyperlink. On this extremely acclaimed biopic, Richard Williams serves because the coach of his daughters Venus and Serena, who will develop into two of the largest icons in tennis’s historical past.

Smith is terrific as Williams, completely embodying his irresistible allure and domineering character. Nonetheless, whereas Hopkins’s and Fraser’s performances are positively all-timers, Smith solely settles for being completely above common. His line supply generally feels over-the-top, and he often begins leaning extra towards heavy-handed impersonation territory than compelling transformation. Even outdoors of the notorious slap fiasco on the Oscars ceremony, this may possible not be remembered because the actor’s greatest work sooner or later.

King Richard


Launch Date
November 18, 2021

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KEEP READING:The Worst Best Picture Winner from Each Decade

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