Gary Oldman, Tom Hanks, or James Franco might soon be joining Oscar’s legendary ranks for playing real life men. Oscar voters have proven over and over that they love actors who portray historic people. Maybe it’s because they can make easy comparisons. Or maybe it’s because they are often heroic figures. Whatever the reason, it’s been happening almost since the very beginning. Tour our photo gallery above of every single man who has won the Best Actor category at the Academy Awards for playing a true life character.
The very first person to win the illustrious prize for stepping into a real person’s shoes was George Arliss, who portrayed former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in the biopic “Disraeli” (1929). Arliss was only the third Best Actor winner in history, and in those early days of the Oscars, Academy rules allowed performers to be nominated for more than one film in the same category. This allowed the actor to contend for his role as the Raja in “The Green Goddess” as well. Luckily for him, he wasn’t a victim of vote-splitting.
Since then, actors as diverse as Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant” in 2015), Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything” in 2013), Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln,” 2012), Sean Penn (“Milk” in 2008), Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland” in 2006), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote” in 2005), and Jamie Foxx (“Ray” in 2004) have all triumphed for effortlessly becoming a recognizable figure.
This year offers a plethora of Best Actor contenders who star in biopics. Oldman could be leading the pack for bringing to life Winston Churchill (with the help of some heavy makeup) in “Darkest Hour.” He faces stiff competition from Franco, who embodies cult filmmaker Tommy Wiseau in “The Disaster Artist.”
Hanks could return to the Oscar race for the first time since “Cast Away” (2000) for his performance as newspaperman Ben Bradlee in Steven Spielberg‘s “The Post.” Two previous nominees could likewise find themselves in the hunt for playing heroes with disabilities: Jake Gyllenhaal (“Stronger”) and Andrew Garfield (“Breathe”).
Hugh Jackman may also factor in for his Golden Globe-nominated portrayal of P.T. Barnum in “The Greatest Showman,” and Chadwick Boseman could break through for the first time as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall.”
Be sure to check out how our experts rank Oscar contenders in this and the other top races. Use the drop-down menus at the top of each page to see the other categories. Then take a look at the most up-to-date odds before you make make your Oscar nomination predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.