Uh-oh, Robert De Niro: Oscars only honor comeback bids after even longer absences

Our experts just gave Robert De Niro (“Silver Linings Playbook“) the edge to win Best  Supporting Actor over Tommy Lee Jones (“Lincoln“) at this Sunday’s Oscars.

An even dozen of them now predict this two-time Oscar champ (“The Godfather: Part II,” 1974; “Raging Bull,” 1980) to prevail while nine support the bid by Jones, who won this award in 1993 for “The Fugitive.” Five experts forecast Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained“) taking home a bookend to his 2009 trophy for “Inglorious Basterds.”  

This groundswell of support for De Niro is based on the notion that decades of absence from the ballot pays off with a win as academy members embrace the chance to vote for an old favorite. However, Oscar history contradicts this idea.  

-ADDPREDICTION:85:7:Click to predict Supporting Actor Oscar:ADDPREDICTION-

This marks De Niro’s first Oscar nomination since 1991 when he lost his Best Actor bid for “Cape Fear” to Anthony Hopkins (“Silence of the Lambs”).  

Using this 21-year gap as a threshold, only four of the 23 acting nominees who had to wait at least that long between Oscar bids won their comeback races. Of these, three had to bide their time for 38 years while the fourth had a jaw-dropping 41-year wait in the woods. (Wins are noted in gold.)

Helen Hayes: “The Sin of Madelon Claudet” (1931/32) to “Airport” (1970) = 38 years

Jack Palance: “Shane” (1953) to “City Slickers” (1991) = 38 years 

Alan Arkin: “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” (1968) to “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) = 38 years, 

Henry Fonda: “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940) to “On Golden Pond” (1981) = 41 years  

The other 19 contenders — who had a break of from 21 to 35 years between Oscar nominations — all went home empty-handed for their return engagement. 

Seven could console themselves as they, like De Niro, already had an Oscar:

Charles Laughton: “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935) to “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957) = 22 years (Best Actor – “The Private Life of Henry VIII,” 1932); 

Paul Muni: “The Life of Emile Zola” (1937) to “The Last Angry Man” (1959) = 22 years; (Best Actor – “The Story of Louis Pasteur,” 1936); 

Fay Bainter: “White Banners” and “Jezebel” (1938) to “The Children’s Hour” (1961) = 23 years; 

William Holden: “Stalag 17” (1953) to “Network” (1976) = 23 years; 

Christopher Walken: “The Deer Hunter” (1978) to “Catch Me If You Can” (2002) = 24 years; 

Julie Christie: “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” (1971) to  “Afterglow” (1997) = 26 years; (Best Actress – “Darling,” 1965); 

Paul Scofield: “A Man for All Seasons” (1966) to “Quiz Show” (1994) =  28 years.

The other 12 also-rans were: 

Gladys Cooper: “The Song of Bernadette” (1943) to “My Fair Lady” (1964) = 21 years; 

Richard Farnsworth: “Comes a Horseman” (1978) to “The Straight Story” (1999) = 21 years

Jean Simmons: “Hamlet” (1948) to “The Happy Ending” (1969) = 21 years; and 

Kenneth Branagh: “Henry V” (1989) to “My Week with Marilyn” (2011) = 22 years;

Glenn Close: “Dangerous Liaisons” (1988) to “Albert Nobbs” (2011) = 23 years; 

Mickey Rooney: “The Bold and the Brave” (1956) to “The Black Stallion” (1979) = 23 years;

Peter O’Toole: “My Favorite Year” (1982) to “Venus” (2006) =  24 years; 

Max von Sydow: “Pelle the Conqueror” (1987) to “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (2011) =  24 years;

James Whitmore: “Battleground” (1949) to  “Give ’em Hell, Harry!” (1975) = 26 years; 

Richard Harris: “This Sporting Life” (1963) to “The Field” (1990) = 27 years;

Lynn Redgrave: “Georgy Girl” (1966) to “Gods and Monsters” (1998) = 32 years; 

Ralph Richardson: “The Heiress” (1949) to “Greystroke” (1984) = 35 years;

Another of this year’s acting nominees — Sally Field (“Lincoln”) — is contending for the first time since she won her second Best Actress award in 1984 for “Places in the Heart.” Despite this 28-year gap, she is all but certain to lose her Supporting Actress bid to Anne Hathaway (“Les Miserables“). 

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