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Tues Top 10: Oscar's All Time Favorite Supporting Actresses

Let's discuss Oscar hiearchies. This one is ultra specific and could be argued that it doesn't exist since actors can be nominated in leading categories, too. But we love ultra niche rankings and trivial Oscar Trivia, and you do too! So who are Oscar's 10 favorite supporting actresses of all time? We'll work the ranking like so: Supporting nominations count most, and wins act like half a nomination to help determine rank. The tiebreaker is the spread of time of nominations which can denote either long term fandom on the Academy's part or more shortlived enthusiasms. If a final tiebreaker is still required (and it is in the case of the second place ranking on this list), that's the only time activity in the Leading Actress category is factored in. READY?

The Ten Most Oscar-Lauded Supporting Women

AMY ADAMS (4 nominations across a 7 year period)
Her leading miss for Arrival (2016) despite its Best Picture nomination could mean her Oscar time is up (it ends for most performers at some point, no matter how beloved they are). On the other hand that might have just been the actors branch bias against science fiction throwing a tight race. If she's nominated for the political drama Backseat this year, she might be impossible to beat given the decade plus of momentum. Currently in Sharp Objects on HBO.


10 DIANNE WIEST (3 nominations, 2 wins, across an 8 year period)
We've argued before and will again that her two Oscar wins show more range than any other two time winner's do. It's sad that major auteurs aren't courting her and trying to give her yet more showcases to test how far that range could possibly go. She always delivers. Still working on both screen and stage. 

09 SHELLEY WINTERS (3 nominations, 2 wins, across a 13 year period)
One of Hollywood's most memorable loudmouths. My favorite story about her is her "audition" for Stepping Out (1991) when she showed up to the meeting, instead of reading lines she reportedly pulled her two Oscars out of her bag, 'Some people say I can act.' When I was a little kid I devoured her autobiography from the library in paperback because it was so Hollywood juicy. She died in 2006 leaving a giant filmography behind that stretches from 1943 to 1999. 

08 AGNES MOOREHEAD (4 nominations across a 22 year span)
Though she's best known for her classic sitcom role of "Endora" on Bewitched from the 1960s she sure was a striking and fun big screen presence for two full decades before it. Her first nomination for Magnificent Ambersons is one of our favorites in the category ever. 

07 GERALDINE PAGE (4 nominations across a 31 year span)
The ultimate actor's actor. I loved discussing why and how enamored thespians were by her with Sheila O'Malley a couple of years on the podcast.  A trivia note: her 8 Oscar nods were neatly split in half across lead and supporting, though some would argue that her Interiors leading nomination should've been in supporting and her Hondo supporting nomination should've been in lead.  

06 ETHEL BARRYMORE (4 nominations, 1 win across a 6 year period)
The middle child of three esteemed screen and stage actors, her older brother Lionel was also an Oscar winner. They were the first siblings to ever be Oscar winners for acting. That trick was only repeated once thereafter by Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland. (Other siblings have since both won Oscars but never again have siblings both won their statue for acting.)

05 MAUREEN STAPLETON (4 nominations, 1 win across a 23 year span)
Another actor's actor.  Her autobiography "A Hell of a Life" is a good read. That win for Reds was surely a landslide victory, but she's dynamite in all of her nominated roles. 

04 LEE GRANT (4 nominations, 1 win, across a 25 year span)
That 25 year span suggests endurance, which she had, but it's more complicated than that since she didn't work regularly in the movies for about 15 years after her film debut and first nomination (Detective Story, 1951) due to Hollywood blacklisting. When she came back, she proved well loved by the Academy. But here's a strange nomination snub given their love for both her and this particular film: how did she miss for that stellar short performance in Best Picture winner In the Heat of the Night (1967)? Or was that just the 'oh, remember how good she is?' before they embraced her again with The Landlord... which she's just genius in

03 MAGGIE SMITH (4 nominations, 1 win, across a 36 year span)
If The V.I.P.s (1963) had been released after her breakthrough in Othello (1965) perhaps this count would be higher? We keep expecting her to return for one last Oscar run but she hasn't been nominated since Gosford Park (2001) despite constant work. Maggie is 83 and still beloved (see all those Emmy wins for Downton Abbey) so maybe we'll see her in the Oscar lineup again now that she's reprising that late-career signature role for the big screen?

02 MERYL STREEP (4 nominations, 1 win, across a 36 year span)
it's pretty crazy that in her first three years on screen she co-starred in three best picture nominees, two of which won! (Julia, The Deer Hunter, Kramer vs Kramer). This is possibly the only actressy list where you'll see Meryl Streep in second place. She'd need another two nominations in supporting to displace the queen of supporting players and we think that would be a shame since Meryl is quite obviously queen of leading ladies and you shouldn't get to wear both crowns!  Still two more supporting nominations do seem quite possible given the ease with which she collects honors. (If you include her leading nominations her Oscar record is the impossibly enormous 21 nominations and 3 wins. Just three more overall nominations and she'll have doubled the nomination count of her nearest rival, Jack Nicholson, who retired after 12 nominations and 3 wins.)

01. THELMA RITTER (6 nominations across a 12 year span) 
Horrifically this salt of the earth supporting star neither won the Oscar nor was given an Honorary even though in many ways she DEFINES the Hollywood character actress. Despite Oscar's love she somehow missed for both Rear Window and The Misfits both of which she is fantastic in. 

What do you make of this ranking?

We're always wondering if anyone else will ever join this group to make it a top dozen...

Nobody else in history has 4 nominations (and Shelley and Dianne remain the only women to have won the Supporting Actress category twice). Multiple noms in supporting used to be harder to pull off but with the increased habit of category frauding, it's easier to do now... for the movie stars. It's harder to do now for the actual supporting actresses as a result!

Eight living women (beside Dianne Wiest on the list above) have three nominations in the Supporting Actress category. Those women are:

Do you think any of them will make it an even top dozen or will someone like Viola Davis (who has two), leapfrog them to join this rarified group first?

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Reader Comments (59)

Ultra niche rankings are our kind of porn, right? Very well written profiles,dear.

My heart goes out to Diane Ladd who got nominated for three very good performances and despite that she never had a chance of winning any race.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

The irony is, if Harvey wasn't a mess in 2013, Octavia Spencer would have been 4 times Oscar nominee.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLeon

Wow - a great post to wake up to and a good antidote to the awful Oscar announcements of recent days!

* Thelma Ritter should have been nominated for Rear Window.
* Octavia Spencer is most likely to become queen of the supporting actresses.
* I most recently adored Maggie Smith in The Second Best Marigold Hotel

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Lewis

Terrific stuff!

I understand why she's there but I don't think of Streep as a supporting actress in the same way these other women are. She's always fine but I hope she doesn't move forward because of lazy voting.

Thelma should always reign here. I can see her missing out on a nomination for The Misfits since the film wasn't appreciated in its day but the lack of a nod for Rear Window is truly mystifying. But the acting branch didn't embrace it, there should have been an easy nomination for Jimmy Stewart as well.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I think it will be Octavia Spencer who moves into this group next. She seems to be their supporting darling and she's still getting the quality roles to make it happen.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

What a perfect read to end the work day! I agree that Octavia Spencer seems likely but I wouldn't put it past Kate Winslet to jump there first. She seems to really get noticed and try interesting things in supporting roles.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom M

Your list over emphasizes nominations over wins. Supporting Actress has only two multiple wins and therefore should have them placed at the top two instead of the bottom two.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I love that Marisa Tomei is included here
I think her talent and choice of roles really shut people up about potentially never seeing her again after the My Cousin Vinny win

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPatagonia

it is (surprisingly) easy to imagine a lot of those women get to 4 supporting nominations over the next 5 years or so. All it’ll take is a meaty supporting role in a prestige film or biopic. Blanchett, Spencer, Winslet, McDormand, Close (esp. if she loses or misses out this year), etc., are all very possible and oscar pays attention to them. The bigger question is if these LEADING lady talents even want to focus on supporting roles or not.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterwhaaa

Love this list. It’s so odd how we love supporting actess but supporting actors we just totally ignore. I’d be interested who’d rank high. I love Ritter but can we replace her bond for With a Song, Pillow Talk and Birsmab with Letter to Three wives, Rear window & misfits. Let’s also skip past her fraud non for Maring season and instead pick Boeing Boeing.

I do hope Octavia gets leading roles but I woukdbt mind her joining this list because she’s such a reliable actress. I think Allison once she moves past Mom could make a play for supporting roles now that she’s in the club. My dream would be Laurie would make a supporting return given her good will having now received an Oscar, Tony and Emmy nom within the same calendar year.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

Maggie should have been nominated for The Best Exotic (that line up still sucks considering Nicole in the Paperboy and Maggie were right there!)

Awesome list as always!!

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan

I agree Streep can easily get 2 more supporting noms and probably win again in the category.
She may be able to win here easier than lead. Also as she gets older she won’t want to do all the carrying.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

Love, love this post. Thelma Ritter always played the same character... to a certain extent. She definitely should have won an Oscar.

Streep could win again in this category as she gets older ... the leading roles will diminish.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

Thelma is my favorite here. I think she was unjustly taken for granted by The Academy, and should have won at least twice (Eve and Pickup). And nominations should have been given for both Window, Misfits. And if I remember correctly, Smackdown ignored her best work. Holm in '50, Hunter in '51 (as it should have), Hagen in '52, Page in '53. Not sure if '59 or '62 have been done yet.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Have you ever seen Pickup on South Street? As good as she was in everything, Thelma Ritter is next level in that.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobert A

So entertaining thank's! My heart is set on Tomei brillant underrated actress, the great Fanny Ardent said once about Tomei that if she were a Europen actress she would have a HUGE career as she felt (Ardant that is) that Hollywood doesn't know what to do with her and I agree (I could add to that list Chloé Sévigny, Annabella Sciorra, Jessica Chastain and many many many more...)

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

@ Robert A: Thelma Ritter gives one of the greatest performances of all time in Pickup on Second Street. It's not a great movie. But she is truly spectacular in it.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

Spencer's latter two noms feel like roles that she could do in her sleep, but yet she's SO GOOD.

I would love to see Blanchett as the next entry. Yes, "Notes" could be seeen as category fraud because of a female co-lead; but all three of her noms are from such risky choices (a pedophile, Bob Dylan, and Katharine Hepburn, hello!).

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

Oops adding onto myself

But Patagonia, that Marisa Tomei comment is everything. She blew me away in her latter two noms

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

Thelma Ritter with Chus Lampreave as runner up. Chus was never nominated for an Oscar, understandably (was she ever promoted for one?). Octavia Spencer is THE character actress nowadays... is there anyone who doesn't love her?

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

Pickup on South Street is a masterpiece. It's beyond great. And it's Ritter's best performance.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

A few years ago I said that Octavia Spencer was the current, African American Thelma Ritter!

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

Geraldine Page winnng a smackdown for Hondo over Reed, or especially Ritter, is a travesty. Of the already done years over at stinklulu’s can we put 1953 at the top. For justice’s sake. If you’re going to fraud your way to a smackdown win, good, but closer to mediocre than great, just does not cut it.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGrid

It's so weird when Oscar just stops nominating you,I wonder why this happens esp if you have never won,I know why it happened to Sarandon.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

None of the movies in the immediate wake of Sarandon's Oscar win warranted Academy consideration.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Imagine if Shelley Winters was alive and had a Twitter account.

Oh, and I'm not convinced Maureen Stapleton won in a landslide in '81 - Joan Hackett was probably a reasonably close runner-up.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

Imagine if Shelley Winters was alive and had a Twitter account.

Also, for what it's worth, I don't think Maureen Stapleton quite won in a landslide in '81. Joan Hackett was likely a reasonably close runner-up.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

Imagine if Shelley Winters was alive and had a Twitter account.
ohmygod. I CAN.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I'll throw a monkey wrench of a name in the mix. How about Jacki Weaver? She keeps getting interesting roles, and they obviously like her from that inexplicable Silver Linings Playbook nomination. I still don't understand that one. Who got left out because she got the spot?

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Amy Adams is overdue for an Oscar. She was great in Doubt, and turned in a nuanced performance in American Hustle. I hope she wins this year.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterrrrich7

Spencer and Winslet seem most likely to me but I’d love to see Tomei show up again, I’m so happy she got those noms for In the Bedroom and The Wrestler. It was great to see her pop up on The Handmaid’s Tale recently, though I wish she would’ve been given more to do.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBJ

@Marco - funny!
@stjean and Jakey - Agreed. Tomei is my pick too. She was also extraordinary in In the Bedroom, one of my favorite films from 2001.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I still think that Tomei could join the four-timers club easily, and possibly win again, before her career wanes.

As Spencer's film choices become more interesting, I believe that her roles also will become more challenging and land her at least one more nomination, maybe even two.

Blanchett, Close, McDormand, and Winslet have been carrying movies for so long now that it seems unlikely that future nominations will be for supporting roles. Possible but unlikely.

Now, with Julia Roberts making the transition from America's Sweetheart to wife/mother I could see her start to be a real presence as supporting actress. She'd only need two more nominations, and if any actress from her era has stored up enough good will to do it, it would be she.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Nathaniel, would you someday do a top 10 list of your favorite celeb memoirs/autobiographies? I would love to add some of them to my reading list.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

@Suzanne. Oh, good question!

(FYI Karina Longworth is doing some amazing work on fact-checking stories from Hollywood Babylon in her new season of You Must Remember This)

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Suzanne -- i haven't read enough of them to make such a list. But i like them enough that I should probably start reading some.

August 15, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Pam - I love You Must Remember This!

Nathaniel - Oh, that's okay. I just picked up on the Shelley Winters recommendation and thought it might have been an early hobby...

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Thelma! Thelma! Thelma! Crusty exterior, heart of gold - forever spreading wisdom with insightful wisecracks. Audiences loved her. And so did Oscar (all those nominations) but she never quite made it onto the podium. Her first nomination should have been in '49 for "A Letter to Three Wives" - she and Connie Gilchrist make for an amazing double act, dispensing beer bottle bon mots in that rickety wrong side of the tracks kitchen). The Academy rightly honed in on her the following year with "All About Eve". I suppose those who loved that film may have split their votes between her and fellow nominee Celeste Holm. I took part in many of the old Stinkylulu Smackdowns and remember our group couldn't deny Hope Emerson's spectacular turn in "Caged". It's still inexplicable to me that the Academy chose Josephine Hull for "Harvey". Thelma's '51 nomination (for "The Mating Season" was arguably category fraud. She carried the picture and was certainly in it more than top-billed Gene
Tierney. But Oscar chose to slot her in supporting. Oddly enough, she was also the lead (though again second-billed {this time to Jeanne Crain} - and quite spectacular - in "The Model and the Marriage Broker" the same year. Both of these Ritter performances were nomination worthy. But - in either Actress or Supporting Actress, she'd have come up against one of the actressing juggernaut ladies (Vivien Leigh and Kim Hunter) from "Streetcar". So a Ritter win would've been unlikely. I'd say her best shot at victory probably came with '52's "With a Song in My Heart". Thelma's reliably good - though the picture - a soap opera biopic with songs - is no great shakes. But it was immensely popular in its day. Gloria Grahame's win for a nothing role in "The Bad and the Beautiful" remains a puzzler. Especially since the Academy ignored superior work from Grahame that same year in the Joan Crawford hit "Sudden Fear". Ritter had another good shot at a win in '53's "Pickup on South Street". She's got a magnificent final scene, though I don't count the performance up to that point as top-tier Ritter. Still, she was probably more deserving than winner Donna Reed (just above okay in "From Here to Eternity"). I was part of Stinkylulu's '53 Smackdown and remember backing Grace Kelly. "Mogambo" 's nothing to write home about - but Kelly's sublime in it, stealing the picture just as Mary Astor did playing the same role in the 30's version, "Red Dust". Don't quite understand how Oscar overlooked her crowd-pleasing contribution the very popular "Rear Window" in '54. But Ritter's next nomination didn't come till '59 ("Pillow Talk"). The part's unworthy of her but the picture's status as a mega hit (plus Ritter's own by then beloved status) got her into the running. As it happens, she did turn in a thoroughly nomination worthy performance that same year in the Frank Sinatra flick "A Hole in the Head" . She and Edward G. Robinson do some extra-fine comic sparring. And she's better in it than any of the other nominees that year (Shelley Winters won for "The Diary of Anne Frank" - and there's another actress who was robbed of numerous nominations). Ritter's final nod came for 62's "The Birdman of Alcatraz". I see it as kind of a good will nomination. And she never had a chance against powerhouses like Patty Duke's Helen Keller or Angela Lansbury's "Manchurian Candidate"monster mother. In my mind, though, the Academy performed one of their biggest slights when they failed to nominate Ritter the year before in "The Misfits". To me, this remains the lady's greatest work. A marvelous,moving, thoroughly lived-in performance in an exceptional film. Competition in the supporting category was extra-stiff in '61 (Moreno, Lenya, Bainter were all magnificent). But that's the year I would have given Ritter the statue. If she'd only left us that one role, it would have been enough to immortalize her. The lady started her movie career late (in her mid-40's) but boy, did she make up for lost time, leaving us with a whole raft of terrific performances and a persona that will - no doubt about it - continue to be treasured.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKen

So if Amy Adams gets nommed for Backseat, she jumps up to #2, right?

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commentershawshank

Pam-I adore You Must Remember This, and you're right, this season has been particularly good (Dead Blondes might still be my favorite, but this is getting up there).

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

McDormand has a great chance. That Oscar afterglow will likely net at least a couple more nominations, and given Hollywood has room for only one actress in leading roles over 60, her meatiest roles are likely to come in supporting.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

Even when nominated for category fraud, Thelma does it in a film with three leads. Supporting icon <3

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Are there any of these women who never really got leading roles? What about Thelma Ritter or Agnes Moorehead? I think that lends some weight to their careers as well, not only did the Academy see/honor them as Supporting Actresses, but all of Hollywood did as well.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

I love the idea of a list of good celeb bios. I recently read autobiographical books by Farley Granger and Joan Fontaine, respectively, and they were pretty interesting. Granger had had affairs with men like Arthur Laurents and women like Barbara Stanwyck (and dishes on a bunch of folks from his pal Shelley Winters to costars like Anne Blyth), while Fontaine talks in detail about her relationship w/ her sister and dishes on Loretta Young, Vivian Leigh, and others. I love all the gossip and the film history in each and would love to be directed to other good books.

I agree: You Must Remember This is an amazing podcast.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Anne Revere and Celeste Holm both had 3 noms-1 win each.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

I like to add Frances McDormand, Nicole Kidman, Saoirse Ronan and Julia Roberts on my list.

My dream was to add Gong Li, Marion Cotillard, Angela Bassett, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Pfeiffer on the list but I am realist.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJon

Which actors and actresses do you all think that will be Oscar Darlings till the end of next decade? For Oscar darlings unterstand: nominated a lot!


Denzel Washington
Mahershala Ali
Lucas Hedges
Timothèe Chalamet
Michael Stuhlbarg
Bradley Cooper 😷 (Vomit!)
Tom Hardy
Benedict Cumberbatch


Meryl Streep 😷 (Vomit again)
Julia Roberts
Elisabeth Moss
Kate Winslet
Care Blanchett
Saoirse Ronan
Emma Stone
Viola Davis
Octavia Spencer
Jessica Chastain
Glenn Close
Judi Dench
Lupita Nyong'o
Marion Cotillard
Felicity Jones

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJon

Ken: I enjoyed your assessment of Thelma Ritter's Oscar chances over the years - thanks.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Condragulations Ken, you are the winner of this week’s challenge.

August 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKirk

Does anybody else envision a new take on Long Day's Journey In To Night with Meryl Streep as Mary and Daniel Day-Lewis as her husband? Would be incredible.

August 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

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