22 ways to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar

Over the last 84 years, the winners of  the Best Supporting Actress Oscar race have often aligned with the outcomes of Best Picture and the three other acting categories. A whopping 22 different combinations have led to featured female victories, with several of them accounting for significantly large blocks. Any of the five 2021 contenders would add her name to one of these running lists and thus carry on an academy tradition.

Fifty-one (or 61%) of the performances that have won this award have appeared in Best Picture nominees including seven of the last 10. Turns out supporting actresses are at an advantage when their film does not take the top prize, as only 13 (or 25%) of these situations have resulted in dual wins. The most recent of the lucky 13 matchups were Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave,” 2014), Catherine Zeta-Jones (“Chicago,” 2003), and Jennifer Connelly (“A Beautiful Mind,” 2002). 

Fifty films featuring the Best Supporting Actress winner competed in at least one lead acting category, with 25 involving Best Actor nominees, 12 Best Actress, and 13 one or more of each. The only two featured ladies to have triumphed with three nominated leads are Donna Reed (“From Here to Eternity,” 1954) and Beatrice Straight (“Network,” 1976). Both films earned double Best Actor bids and won at least one other acting award. Reed shared her glory with her fellow supporting player, Frank Sinatra, while Straight saw her castmates Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway take the lead trophies.

SEE 2021 Oscar nominations: Full list of nominees in all 23 categories at the 93rd Academy Awards

Again, a supporting actress stands a better chance of taking the gold if her lead-nominated costar comes up short. Both parties have only benefitted in 16 of these 50 cases, with the most recent successful pairs being Judi Dench and Gwyneth Paltrow (“Shakespeare in Love,” 1999) and Anna Paquin and Holly Hunter (“The Piano,” 1993). In 2020, Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”) prevailed while both of her film’s stars (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson) went home empty handed.

Thirty-two of the films that have conquered this category were also up for Best Supporting Actor, the most recent being “Boyhood” (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) in 2015. Only eight films have won both awards, beginning with “A Streetcar Named Desire” (Kim Hunter and Karl Malden) in 1952 and ending for now with “The Fighter” (Melissa Leo and Christian Bale) in 2011. Eleven women have defeated a supporting female castmate from the same film, from Hattie McDaniel (“Gone with the Wind,” 1940) to Octavia Spencer (“The Help,” 2012).

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Breaking down past combinations reveal that it is best for a nominee in this category to enter their Oscar ceremony with her film not in contention for Best Picture and with no nominated costars. Of the past winners, 18% have succeeded this way, including Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk,” 2019) and Penélope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” 2009). This year, Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) or Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”) could join that group. 

Any of this year’s three remaining nominees (Olivia Colman, “The Father,” Amanda Seyfried, “Mank,” or Yuh-jung Youn, “Minari’) would become the ninth recipient of this prize for a film that is also in the running for Best Picture and Best Actor but no other acting awards. That group already includes Viola Davis (“Fences,” 2017) and Anne Hathaway (“Les Misérables,” 2013). 

Another 10% of past winners have had just a Best Actor-nominated costar, including 2016 champ Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”). Seven women have won for films that contended for the top honor and every acting award; the last such instance occurred nearly four decades ago (Maureen Stapleton, “Reds,” 1982). Another seven (including Nyong’o) have prevailed for films that scored bids in all of these categories except Best Actress.

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