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The 25 Youngest Men Ever Nominated for Best Actor

by Nathaniel R

Timothée Chalamet photographed by Craig McDean for Interview magazine

With the fine coming of age romantic drama Call Me By Your Name now in limited release, audiences can join critics in swooning over the revelatory work of Timothée Chalamet's as the preternaturally sophisticated but hormonally confused Elio. He won the Gotham Awards "Breakthrough" award last night. Should his incredible performance earn him an Academy nomination for Best Leading Actor, he will be the third youngest man to ever receive that honor (he turns 22 the day after Christmas) - UPDATE 01/23/18 THE LIST BELOW NOW INCLUDES BOTH HIM AND DANIEL KALUUYA FOR "GET OUT"

Only Mickey Rooney and Jackie Cooper were younger in their Oscar races and both happened in Oscar's first dozen years (!) when the Academy's habits and fetishes and aversions were still being sorted out. They quickly turned against really young actors. While many women have won Best Actress in their 20s, it's only happened once for a man. The youngest leading male winner is currently Adrien Brody who won his Oscar for The Pianist  (2002) just three weeks before he turned 30.

But who are the youngest male leads ever nominated? Read on for the dewiest 25. Tell us how many you've seen and who is your favorite...


THIRD RUNNER UP: Leonardo DiCaprio (30) for The Aviator (2004)
Second of five acting nominations. Leo turned 30 right before The Aviator opened. He'd ultimately lose to Jamie Foxx's in one of those awful years where nearly everyone in Best Actor was starring in a biopic. It was only his second nomination but he was arguably the youngest actor ever to get the intangible but unmistakable "overdue" treatment each time he was up for the leading prize. He finally won at 41 by eating raw liver in The Revenant. Did you know that he wasn't the first Oscar nominated "Howard Hughes," though? That honor goes to Jason Robards who was nominated for Melvin & Howard (1980) in the supporting category. 

SECOND RUNNER UP  Adrien Brody (29) for The Pianist (2002)
First and only nomination. He took over the "youngest lead male winner ever" record from Richard Dreyfuss who had held the record for two decades at the age of 30 for The Goodbye Girl (1977)

FIRST RUNNER UP:  Marlon Brando (29) for Julius Caesar (1953)
During the 1950s Marlon Brando was repeatedly nominated for Best Actor in his 20something years -- four consecutive nominations, the last of which he won for at the age of 30 (On the Waterfront). This four consecutive nomination trick has been duplicated by only one man (Al Pacino) but Pacino wasn't this young when he did it.

25 Ryan O'Neal (29) for Love Story (1970)
First and only nomination. He was actually younger than Ali McGraw by two years -- and that's pretty rare for romantic movie casting with Hollywood's crazy age disparity for male and female actors. Tis a pity he wasn't recognized for Paper Moon, too.

24 Edward Norton (29) for American History X (1998)
Second of three nominations. The 1998 Best Actor race was such a curious beast, with opinion sharply divided all over the place as to who was most deserving and somehow Roberto Benigni lept over chairs in the theater to take it. American History X, which seemed like such a super niche topic back in 1998, is suddenly relevant again and this sentence couldn't be any sadder.

23 Anthony Franciosa (29) for A Hatful of Rain (1957)
First and only nomination. Though he's not as famous as most of the men on this list he had quite a fine career in the 1950s. This nomination was actually for a reprisal of a role he played on stage for which he was Tony nominated.

MORE TRIVIA: He was, get this, married to infamous double Oscar winner Shelley Winters at the time of this Oscar nomination! He was actually a favorite of the Golden Globes as well with two follow up nominations after this breakthrough and a Globe Drama win for a film called Career which Oscar liked but didn't love (3 below the line nominations)

22 Kenneth Branagh (29) for Henry V (1989)
First of two acting nominations. Like Orson Welles, who you'll have to scroll down for, he was a big deal multi-hyphenate right out of the gate, nominated for Directing and Acting. He has five Oscar nominations in total now spread across five categories but he has yet to win. 

21 Marlon Brando (28) for Viva Zapata  (1952)
Yet another.

20 Daniel Kaluuya (28) for Get Out (2017)

19 Chester Morris (28) for Alibi (1929)
A Broadway regular in the 1920s before shifting his focus to film. This was his only nomination but he had a healthy film career until 1950 after which he began shifting into TV and then back to the stage.

18 Montgomery Clift (28) for The Search (1948)
First of four nominations. Sadly this great influential actor (my personal favorite) never won and his life was marked by tragedy. Brando is among the many artists who were influenced by him and as great as Brando is, he didn't singlehandedly cause the shift in screen acting that he is usually given 100% of the credit for. 

17 Richard Burton (28) for The Robe (1953)
Second of seven nominations. He is second only to Peter O'Toole for most acting nominations without a competitive Oscar win. Glenn Close & Thelma Ritter are in third place with six each.

16 Marlon Brando (27) for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
First of the four consecutive nods... though his grand total hit 8 nominations with 2 wins. It's rather insane that he didn't win for this role. No movie has yet won all four acting prizes but this one and Network almost did.

15 Matt Damon (27) for Good Will Hunting (1997)
First of three acting nominations. He won that same Oscar ceremony for the screenplay to this film.

14 Tom Cruise (27) for Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
First of three nominations. Back in the day when he was doing dramas people thought he would eventually win.

13 Robert Downey Jr (27) for Chaplin (1992)
First of two nominations. He seems happily settled into superhero millions now with no remaining artistic ambitions but for a while people thought he might become THE actor of his generation.

12 Albert Finney (27) for Tom Jones (1963)
First of five nominations. Hey, where's his honorary? He's 81. It's past time for it. 

11 Jesse Eisenberg (27) for The Social Network (2010)
First and to date only nomination. Uff he was so great in this movie.


10 Heath Ledger (26) for Brokeback Mountain (2005)
First of two nominations. Shoulda won both but he had to settle for a posthumous for The Dark Knight (2008) after his tragic death. Still miss him so much, don't you?

09 Orson Welles (26) for Citizen Kane (1941)
First and only acting nomination. Orson Welles is one of those people who always seemed to be like 40something right? Even in this film with the aging makeup. But he really was a young wunderkind at the time of his breakthrough and genius string of movies. He received three nominations for his multi-hyphenate work on Citizen Kane (it was highly irregular back then to write, direct, and act) but like Matt Damon he had to settle for the screenplay win in his big year.

08 Ryan Gosling (26) for Half Nelson (2006)
First of two nominations. Seems like it should be more by now, right? 

07 James Dean (26*) for Giant (1956)
06 James Dean (25*) for East of Eden (1955)
* James Dean didn't live past the age of 24, dying in the fall of 1955 after committing three indelible movie star turns for the cameras. He became an instant star with the release of his debut East of Eden just five months before his tragic death. Rebel Without a Cause was released a month after his death and the epic Giant (which was still in production when Dean died) came out a year later, so this listing is projected ages since both of his nominations were posthumous. Some of Dean's less intelligible dialogue on Giant was rerecorded later by his friend, the actor Nick Adams (Rebel Without a Cause), during the film's lengthy post-production process. 

05 John Travolta (24) for Saturday Night Fever (1977)
First of two nominations. He'll lose this fourth place ranking to Timothée Chalamet  should Chalamet be Oscar nominated. It's probably difficult for today's audiences to understand how big a deal Travolta was in the late 70s. He was a breakout player on TV (Welcome Back Kotter and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble) and cinema (Carrie) in 1976. And he followed that up with superstardom via two back to back blockbusters (Saturday Night Fever and Grease) from 1977 and 1978. 

04 *see the 2nd youngest listing below

03 Timothée Chalamet (22) for Call Me By Your Name (2017)

04 Mickey Rooney (23) for The Human Comedy (1943)
02 Mickey Rooney (19) for Babes in Arms (1939)
This is quite a record to hold but babyface Mickey Rooney was no ordinary actor, but a bonafide superstar of the Hollywood studio system. In addition to headlining the long running early comedy franchise "Andy Hardy..." he also made dramas and musicals which accounts for these two nominations. Babes in Arms is, in some ways, the perfect distillation of Hollywood's numerous vaudeville-influenced 'let's put on a show!' movies, but The Human Comedy, despite the title, is the more typical Oscar situation where a comic performer gets serious for Oscar love.

Oscar Trivia Note: Weird isnt it that his historic nomination for Babes in Arms which features one scene with Rooney in "black-face" is in the very same year that the Academy first gave a black actor the statue: Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind (1939).

01 Jackie Cooper (9) for Skippy (1931)
The only boy actor ever nominated for Best Actor. We'll never know how close Jacob Tremblay got for Room (2015) or Jamie Bell (2000) got for Billy Elliott but one can freely imagine, should one choose to, that they were in the dread 6th place in their respective years given the overall receptions of those films and the deep bench of enthusiasm for their performances. We still sometimes kinda think Tremblay could have pulled it off if they hadn't tried to pretend he was supporting. Our suspicion is he got caught with too little votes in both categories.

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Reader Comments (46)

Speaking of Room, what was with the odd music choice they had for Brie when she accepted the Oscar?

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I have seen them all…

Dean in East of Eden

Brando in Streetcar

Edward Norton in American History X

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commentergrrr

More articles like this please esp on Monty C,I agree on the Monty not Brando started the shift in male acting,I watched his last ever film 1966's The Defector and it was so sad to see him looking and sounding like that,thanks.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Hanks and Streep just won the Lead acting prizes at NBR,No 3 billboards or TSOW.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Orson Welles won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Citizen Kane -- just FYI.

Fascinating read overall!

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarc

Ryan Gosling had an entirely different face. He has had some major work done.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Peak Brando was probably the most fabulously glorious face ever seen on the silver screen. Gloriously, other-worldly beautiful.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Gosling should've been nommed for Blue Valentine.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTr

Nathaniel - Why do you call Shelley Winters "Infamous" I would have gone for "beloved"

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Lewis

@ 3rtful - There is one part in Room, where Ma sings The Big Rock Candy Mountain and that's what they played for Brie's win.

And Jacob Tremblay should have been nominated especially with Room overperforming in director.

A nod for Timothee is my Oscar wish this year. And Sufjan.

Gosling should have more nominations.

Wow Brando and Dean.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

I've tried for a decade and a half to get on board the "Ryan Gosling, one of the greatest actors of his generation train," and despite liking him as both performer and celebrity, nothing about him makes me want to. To that end, I'm fine with his two nominations.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Surely James Dean couldn't age past 24?

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoe (UK)

How did Jamie Bell not outright WIN for Billy Elliot? That year's Best Actor category was so dreadful.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAkash

adam lewis --well she's kind of both but beloved for being infamous, don'cha think? quite a "broad" if you will.

November 28, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I started following the race in around 04-05. I remembered really rooting for Heath Ledger's win. We lost him way too soon but his legacy remains. Sadly two of the best actors of that year left us way too soon.

The following year, Ryan Gosling's nomination for Half Nelson was an inspired one given how he didn't win a single precursor. He's turned out to be a different type of actor since, and a movie star, who would have thought. He is a very specific actor, but I'm always intrigued by what he does.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterguest

Read "Shelley 1" and you'll understand the word "broad". She had some stories!!!

Brando and Clift, So. Much. Beauty!!!

I love these lists too.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Ah, a list full of white people. How refreshing.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

Would you say that any movie has DESERVED to win all four acting prizes in any year?

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBD

BD -- hmmm i would maybe say that STREETCAR deserved it. though i'd want to look more closely at the supporting categories as there are a couple of films i haven't seen that year nominated.

November 28, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Had Peter Finch gone supporting actor, maybe Network would have swept with a win for Holden in best actor.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

Favorite of these 25 - Dean in East of Eden (with probably Brody as my runner-up).

Always surprised by how young Welles and Ledger were. And yeah, for awhile there Downey was something special.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

That picture of Brando is pure sex

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoey

Awkward (cringe-worthy) confession: I always thought I'd become the youngest best actor winner and this year was my last chance at having that record (at least for a year). And now seeing this big-haired white kiddo being mentioned here and there and even getting a chance of winning, feels like the universe punching me in the guts. LOL

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

Heath Ledgers early death was great loss to the art of cinema.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

This post just reminds me of how pissed off I still am over The Social Network losing out in the major categories to that dammed Oscar bait.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

I'm 31. I feel so unaccomplished.

But thank you for that Brando pic. God DAMN.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

In Shelley Winters' memoirs (the second edition), she recalls taunting hubby Anthony Franciosa because she'd been a Best LEAD Actress Oscar nominee for A PLACE IN THE SUN and he (inaccurately) was merely a Best SUPPORTING Actor contender for his film. Poor guy!

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

Timothée Chalamet’s lead male performance in CMBYN is probably my favorite since DDL in There Will Be Blood. He should be winning EVERYTHING this year.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBecausewhynot

Ugh, just imagine how lengthy James Dean's career would've been had he not passed? Ditto that for Ledger.

I would LOVE to see this list in the other 3 acting categories.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBushwick

I feel like male actors that died young were so much more respected than actresses that died young. Hm.

I don't know that Jacob Tremblay was sixth place, but Jamie Bell was 100%, and the fact that he was snubbed is still painful (along with Evan Rachel Wood for Thirteen--can't let those go).

It's so funny that when young male performers are ignored, it's not even a slight against them. It's still just sexism at work. It's like a pat on the head "great job, buddy. Now you have time to grow and mature and we'll reward you in the future." Whereas with women, they're like "wow!! Incredible performance and you are SO fuckable -- here's a trophy!"

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

I rem distinctly Monty n Liz as the leads in A Place in the Sun. Shelley is actually more o a big supporting player with the big climax ends w her.

I guess Liz is way too young n pretty to be considered a serious lead actress then (she's only 17 when Place in the Sun was made). Thus, Shelley gets the full attention n promotion to the lead come awards times.

Had Shelley campaigned in supporting which she surely cld've, I'd tink she've won over Kim Hunter fr Streetcar.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

RE: sexism I was speaking on -- males are allowed to grow and create a real career with longevity, where women are running against an hourglass, and this is all apart of that.

November 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

They foolishly campaigned Tremblay in Supporting for Room so he split his votes. The best performance by a child I have ever seen on film. Just amazing.

November 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

Wait, didn't Kenneth Branagh 29 years old when he was nominated for Henry V in 1990? He should be on the list.

November 29, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterleon

A few of the younger ones come close, but if I would have been voting, Marlon Brando ('51 AND '52) would be the youngest and second youngest winner ever.

November 29, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterken s

Leon -- oops you're totally right. I will have to figure out where he goes.

November 29, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Amanda - interesting. what work do you think he's had done? I think he looks older, so his face has filled out somewhat, but can't see any distinct structural differences.

I wish The Search was easier to watch. You have to either buy it on streaming or on DVD, no renting. But Clift is just so beautiful and such a captivating presence that maybe it's worth it.

November 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Nat: Jacob Tremblay was almost definitely 6th in 2015. But 6th place in 2000? Bell was one person you could peg for that, but you could also pretty easily argue that Michael Douglas (the Globe Drama nominee that didn't make it) or George Clooney (still not nominated for acting at that point AND won the Mus/Com Globe) wound up at 6th place.

November 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Volvagia -- yeah, Michael Douglas was maybe 6th. ( I would be very shocked if Clooney was ahead of Bell though given the Academy's difficulity with stylized performance and with comedy. The two of them combined -- watch out!)

November 29, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

There's always been a strange disconnect between the Lead Actor & Actress races, as far as age is concerned. It's been virtually impossible for a man under 40 to win Lead Actor, and almost as difficult for women over 40 to win Lead Actress. Women in their twenties are routinely nominated as in their twenties, seldom. I'm not sure how to fully account for this. Surely, you can chalk up some of it up to plain old-fashioned misogyny as far as age bias against women is concerned....but has there also been an element of reverse age bias against male actors? I'm loath to suggest post topics...but this may warrant a more extended discussion...

November 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJosh R

Bosworth's bio on Monty Clift is devastating. I am still struck by her account of how he went to the same diner regularly, but would sit facing the wall, which had a mirror on it. He would look up in the mirror at people as they entered the diner.

November 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

@Josh R - this site has discussed this topic really well, with thoughtful, intelligent posts throughout the last couple years. Worth a search if you have the time.

November 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Will do, DJDeeJay - thanks for the heads up!

November 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJosh R

Bushwick -- i have started research on that but it probably won't surprise you to hear that this one was the easiest to research (since the instances stand out). i'm having a lot of trouble with best actress because there are dozens of people just days apart in age ;)

November 30, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

How old was Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything?

December 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

Michael - he was 32 or 33

February 5, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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