Since the first Oscar for Best Actress was presented to Janet Gaynor at the 1929 ceremony, 77 different women have heard their names called on the big night, 14 of whom have won more than once. In 1982, Katharine Hepburn became the first, and to date only, individual to win four acting Oscars, all in the leading category. She held the record for most competitive acting nominations (12) from 1982 until Meryl Streep tied her in 2000, and then surpassed her in 2003. Streep currently holds the record for acting nominations with 21, 17 as a lead and four in supporting. However, it’s one of her contemporaries who is right behind Hepburn for most wins for Best Actress.
At the 2021 ceremony, Frances McDormand won her third Best Actress trophy, having won every time she has been up in this category (she lost all three bids in supporting). A total of 12 actresses have each received two awards in this category, two of whom — Streep and Ingrid Bergman — also have received a Best Supporting Actress statue.
Here’s a look back at the actresses who have taken home the coveted trophy in the 21st century. Eight won on their first Academy Award nomination, three won on their first nom in the leading category and 11 have won from performances based on real-life people. Watch each acceptance speech video below and see which other actresses that lost for each of these 22 ceremonies (year listed is for the ceremony and not each film’s release date).
Frances McDormand (2021), “Nomadland”
McDormand’s win as nomad Fern makes her three-for-three on Best Actress nominations, and puts her second only to Hepburn for most wins in this category. She faced tough competition from previous winner Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”), Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) and Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”), but managed to pull out her second win in three years, as well as a Best Picture win as producer.
Renée Zellweger (2020), “Judy”
A previous winner in the supporting category (for “Cold Mountain” in 2004), Zellweger claimed her first victory out of three nominations in the lead category. Her portrayal of legendary actress/singer Judy Garland beat out two other real-life portrayals — Cynthia Erivo’s “Harriet” Tubman and Charlize Theron’s Megyn Kelly (“Bombshell”) — as well as Saoirse Ronan for “Little Women” and Scarlett Johansson for “Marriage Story.”
Olivia Colman (2019), “The Favourite”
Now an Emmy winner for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II (“The Crown”), Colman was a surprise win for her portrayal of another queen, Anne, in this dark comedy, and won over audiences with her witty and flabbergasted speech. Three of her competitors were also first-time nominees — Yalitz Aparicio (“Roma”), Lady Gaga “(“A Star Is Born”) and Melissa McCarthy (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” — a previous supporting nominee) — while Glenn Close (“The Wife”) lost yet again on her seventh overall career nomination.
Frances McDormand (2018), “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
After her win for “Fargo” 21 years earlier, McDormand took home her second of three Best Actress statues for her portrayal of a grieving mother in this dark -comedy drama. She beat out fellow awards-show-veteran Meryl Streep (“The Post”), as well as Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”), Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”) and Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”).
Emma Stone (2017), “La La Land”
It had been 44 years since someone had won Best Actress for leading a musical (Liza Minnelli for “Cabaret”), but Stone pulled off this feat on her first nomination in this category. Her portrayal of an aspiring actress beat out three real-life portrayals — Ruth Negga as Mildred “Loving,” Natalie Portman as “Jackie” Kennedy and Meryl Streep as “Florence Foster Jenkins” — as well as Isabelle Huppert’s acclaimed performance in “Elle.”
Brie Larson (2016), “Room”
Larson won on her first, and to date only, Oscar nomination for her riveting performance as young captive and mother Joy Newsome. She pretty much swept the awards that season, beating out other first-time Best Actress nominees 22-year-old Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) and 70-year-old Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”), as well as former winners Cate Blanchett (“Carol”) and Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy”).
Julianne Moore (2015), “Still Alice”
Having previously received two bids each in lead and supporting, Moore won on her fifth overall nomination for her portrayal of a middle-aged woman with early onset familial Alzheimer’s disease. Also nominated that year were Marion Cotillard (“Two Days, One Night”) and Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”), each of whom had won previously in this category, as well as Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”) and Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”), each of whom received their first (and to date only) Oscar nom.
Cate Blanchett (2014), “Blue Jasmine”
Having previously won in the supporting category, Blanchett finally won a well-deserved Best Actress statue for her portrayal of the beleaguered Jasmine. It was a year of Oscar-nominee veterans in this category: she competed against Oscar favorite Meryl Streep (“August: Osage County”), former Best Actress winner Sandra Bullock (“Gravity”), former Best Supporting Actress winner Judi Dench (“Philomena”) and perennial Best Supporting nominee Amy Adams (“American Hustle”), in what is her only bid in the lead category thus far.
Jennifer Lawrence (2013), “Silver Linings Playbook”
In 2011, Lawrence became the second-youngest nominee in this category up to that time, and with her performance as a young widow with a mental disorder, she became the second-youngest Best Actress winner at age 22, a record which still stands. It was a year of such records in this category: nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) and 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva (“Amour”) still hold the records for the youngest and oldest Best Actress nominees. Also nominated were Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”) and Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”).
Meryl Streep (2012), “The Iron Lady”
In a year of veteran nominees, the most-nominated actress in Academy history received her second Best Actress statue (her first win was for supporting), this time for her acclaimed portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Another much-nominated actress, Glenn Close (“Albert Nobbs”) received her sixth of eight overall nominations; Viola Davis (“The Help”) received her second of four overall bids, and her first in the lead category; Michelle Williams (“My Week with Marilyn”) received her third of four overall career nominations; and Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) was the lone first-time nominee.
Natalie Portman (2011), “Black Swan”
A previous nominee in the supporting category, Portman won on her first nomination in the lead category for her portrayal of a mentally unstable ballerina in this psychological thriller. Michelle Williams (“Blue Valentine”) was also a previous supporting nominee and received her first lead bid this year; Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”) became the second-youngest nominee up to that time with her first Oscar nomination; Annette Bening (“The Kids Are All Right”) received her fourth overall, and to date last, nomination; and Nicole Kidman (“Rabbit Hole”) received her third of four overall nominations, and was the only previous winner in this category.
Sandra Bullock (2010), “The Blind Side”
For her portrayal of feisty adoptive mom Leigh Anne Tuohy, Bullock won the coveted statue on her first nomination. Her competitors were two more first-time nominees, Carey Mulligan (“An Education”) and Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”), as well as two previous winners in this category, Helen Mirren (“The Last Station”) and Meryl Streep (“Julie & Julia”), who received her 13th nomination in this category, surpassing Katharine Hepburn for most nominations for Best Actress.
Kate Winslet (2009), “The Reader”
After an impressive career, Winslet finally won on her sixth overall nomination in 13 years with her sensitive portrayal of a German woman on trial for her Nazi past. Also in contention were previous winner Meryl Streep (“Doubt”), previous Supporting Actress winner Angelina Jolie (“Changeling”), and first-time nominees Anne Hathaway (“Rachel Getting Married”) and Melissa Leo (“Frozen River”), both of whom would eventually win in the supporting category.
Marion Cotillard (2008), “La Vie en Rose”
Cotillard is one of only six actors to win for a performance spoken in a non-English language, and to date, the only to win to win for a French-language performance. Her portrayal of tragic French singer Edith Piaf beat Cate Blanchett’s Queen Elizabeth I (“Elizabeth: The Golden Age”), previous Best Actress winner Julie Christie’s Alzheimer’s-stricken wife (“Away from Her”), Laura Linney’s emotionally unstable daughter (“The Savages”) and Ellen (Elliott) Page’s pregnant teenager (“Juno”).
Helen Mirren (2007), “The Queen”
The elegant Mirren reigned over the 79th ceremony as Best Actress for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II, winning on her first bid as a leading actress, having previously received two noms in the supporting category. Future supporting actress winner Penélope Cruz received her first career nomination and became the first Spanish woman to garner a Best Actress nod for her role in “Volver.” Also competing were veteran nominees Judi Dench (“Notes on a Scandal”), Kate Winslet (“Little Children”) and Meryl Streep (“The Devil Wears Prada”).
Reese Witherspoon (2006), “Walk the Line”
Witherspoon won on her first nomination for role as country music singer June Carter. Two other actresses were up for roles inspired by true events: previous Supporting Actress winner Judi Dench (“Mrs. Henderson Presents”) and previous Best Actress winner Charlize Theron (“North Country”); and the other two were also first-time nominees: Felicity Huffman (“Transamerica”) and Keira Knightley (“Pride and Prejudice”).
Hilary Swank (2005), “Million Dollar Baby”
Swank won her second Best Actress award in five years (making her two-for-two) for her portrayal of a scrappy underdog amateur boxer. Her competition included two fellow veteran nominees, Annette Bening (“Being Julia”) and Kate Winslet (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) — both up for their second bids in the lead category — as well as two actresses who received their first and, thus far only, nominations, Imelda Staunton (“Vera Drake”) and Catalina Sandino Moreno (“Maria Full of Grace”). Moreno is one of the few performers to receive a nomination on her film debut and was the third Hispanic actress to receive an Oscar bid.
Charlize Theron (2004), “Monster’s Ball”
Theron transformed herself into convicted serial killer Aileen Wuornos, and won the Oscar on her first nomination. Three of her competitors were also first-time nominees in this category: Naomi Watts (“21 Grams”); Samantha Morton (“In America”), who had previously received a supporting bid; and 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”), who became the youngest nominee in this category, a record she held for nine years. The final nominee was previous Best Actress recipient Diane Keaton, who received her fourth, and to date last, nomination for “Something’s Gotta Give.”
Nicole Kidman (2003), “The Hours”
In her second consecutive year in this category, Kidman won for her moving portrayal of tragic novelist Virginia Woolf. Two future winners in this category were also up: Renée Zellweger (“Chicago”), who would eventually win a Lead and Supporting award, and Julianne Moore (“Far from Heaven”), who was also nominated in the supporting category this year for “The Hours.” Two actresses received their first, and to date only Oscar nominations: Salma Hayek (“Frida”) and Diane Lane (“Unfaithful”).
Halle Berry (2002), “Monster’s Ball”
Almost 20 years ago, Berry became the first, and to date only, African-American woman to earn an Academy Award for Best Actress, winning for her role as a despondent widow and mother. She and two future winners in this category, Nicole Kidman (“Moulin Rouge!”) and Renée Zellweger (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”), received their first nominations at this ceremony. Also up were previous winner Sissy Spacek (“In the Bedroom”), who received her sixth and, to date final, bid in this category, and previous Supporting winner Judi Dench (“Iris”).
Julia Roberts (2001), “Erin Brockovich”
One of America’s favorite actresses got her time in the spotlight for her portrayal of the real-life single mom who fought a big corporation’s greed and corruption. Among her competition were three first-time nominees for Lead: Joan Allen (“The Contender”), Laura Linney (“You Can Count on Me”) and previous Supporting winner Juliette Binoche (“Chocolat”). Twenty-six years after her win in this category, Ellen Burstyn (“Requiem for a Dream”) received her fifth lead and sixth, and to date last, overall nomination.
Hilary Swank (2000), “Boys Don’t Cry”
Swank received her first of two Best Actress statues for her portrayal of the tragic life of Brandon Teena, a young transgender man brutally assaulted and murdered. She and three of her fellow nominees received their first Best Actress bids at this ceremony: Annette Bening (“American Beauty”), Julianne Moore (“The End of the Affair”) and Janet McTeer (“Tumbleweeds”). Oscar darling Meryl Streep was also in the running, for “Music of the Heart.”
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