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Academy Award for Best Actor Winners & History From 2000 to Now – Hollywood Life

Leonardo Dicaprio

Best Actor is one of the highest honors awarded at the Oscars every year. Here’s a list of the talented men who have won the category since 2000.

It’s almost time to celebrate cinema at the 2022 Oscars. The Academy will choose winners from highly-contested categories including Best Actor. Up for Best Actor this year is Will Smith (King Richard), Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick…Boom!), and Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth). HollywoodLife staffers predicted that Will Smith will win over runner-up Andrew Garfield. But anything could happen on Oscars night.

So many talented actors have won big at past Academy Awards. Emil Jannings was the first to win Best Actor at the 1929 Oscars. Since then, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Sean Penn, and more have taken home the gold for their revered performances. Take a walk down memory lane by revisiting the Best Actor winners at the Oscars since 2000 below.

Anthony Hopkins (2021)

Anthony Hopkins
Anthony Hopkins in ‘The Father’ (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics/Everett Collection)

Anthony Hopkins won Best Actor for his role in Florian Zeller‘s drama The Father. He played Anthony, an aging man who struggles with progressing dementia. Olivia Colman plays his caring daughter, Anne. Anthony won the category over Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Gary Oldman (Mank), and Steven Yeun (Minari). Anthony became the oldest recipient for Best Actor at age 83. It was his second Best Actor win after The Silence of the Lambs in 1992.

Joaquin Phoenix (2020)

Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Joker’ (Photo: David Fisher/Shutterstock/Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros./Everett Collection)

Joaquin Phoenix deservedly got his Best Actor Oscar for playing Batman’s most iconic villain in Joker. His performance was universally praised by viewers and critics and help catapult Todd Phillips‘ film to huge box office numbers. He took home the gold over Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory), Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Adam Driver (Marriage Story), and Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes). Joaquin hadn’t won an Oscar before Joker.

Rami Malek (2019)

Rami Malek
Rami Malek in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Photo: John Angelillo/UPI/Shutterstock/Nick Delaney/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. /Everett Collection)

Rami Malek had an unforgettable performance as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. Rami flawless portrayed Freddie from when he formed the iconic band in 1975 to their 1985 Live Aid performance. He also covered Freddie’s AIDS diagnosis and relationship with Mary Austin, played by Rami’s real-life partner Lucy Boynton. The other Best Actor nominees at the 2019 Oscars were Christian Bale (Vice), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate), and Viggo Mortensen (Green Book). Rami became a first-time Oscar winner that night.

Gary Oldman (2018)

Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman in ‘Darkest Hour’ (Photo: Jim Ruymen/UPI/Shutterstock/Focus Features/Everett Collection)

Gary Oldman was victorious over Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), and Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq) for Best Actor at the 2018 Oscars. The Academy rewarded Gary for his epic portrayal of Winston Churchill in the war film Darkest Hour. The film covered Winston’s time as U.K. Prime Minister during World War II. Gary also won at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the BAFTA Awards for Darkest Hour. It was his first Best Actor Oscar.

Casey Affleck (2017)

Casey Affleck
Casey Affleck in ‘Manchester by the Sea’ (Photo: Jim Ruymen/UPI/Shutterstock/Claire Folger/Roadside Attractions/Everett Collection)

Casey Affleck played a depressed man who has to care for his late brother’s son in Manchester by the Sea. The brother of Ben Affleck swept awards season that year and beat Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic), and Denzel Washington (Fences) for the Oscar. Casey was previously nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but Manchester by the Sea was his first win and in the coveted Best Actor category.

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Leonardo DiCaprio (2016)

Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Revenant’ (Photo: David Silpa/UPI/Shutterstock/Kimberley French/20th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection)

Leonardo DiCaprio FINALLY won an Oscar thanks to the survival drama flick The Revenant. He was awarded Best Actor for playing frontiersman Hugh Glass, who seeks revenge after being abandoned during a terrifying bear attack. Leonardo’s Best Actor opponents that year were Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl). He was a four-time actor nominee before The Revenant won him the iconic statue.

Eddie Redmayne (2015)

Eddie Redmayne
Eddie Redmayne in ‘The Theory of Everything’ (Photo: Jim Ruymen/UPI/Shutterstock/Liam Daniel/Focus Features/Everett Collection)

Eddie Redmayne stole the show as Stephen Hawking in the biopic The Theory of Everything. He was joined on the screen by Felicity Jones as Stephen’s wife Jane, and Charlie Cox as Jane’s second husband, Jonathan Jones. It was Eddie’s first nomination and first victory in the Best Actor category. Fellow nominees included Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), and Michael Keaton (Birdman).

Matthew McConaughey (2014)

Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ (Photo: Phil Mccarten/UPI/Shutterstock/Anne Marie Fox/Focus Features/Everett Collection)

The Academy absolutely loved Matthew McConaughey in the widely-popular Dallas Buyers Club. The Texas native played homophobe Ron Woodrof, who contracts AIDS in the 1980s. Matthew’s Best Actor victory was his first, and so far his only at the Oscars. He faced stiff competition from Christian Bale (American Hustle), Bruce Dean (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave).

Daniel Day-Lewis (2013)

Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Lincoln’ (Photo: Jim Ruymen/UPI/Shutterstock/20th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection)

Daniel Day-Lewis won his third Best Actor Oscar for playing President Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg‘s critically acclaimed film, Lincoln. Daniel’s role covered the final four months of Lincoln’s life, during which he was dedicated to passing the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. Lincoln was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won for Best Actor and Best Production Design. Daniel walked away with the Oscar over Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) and Denzel Washington (Flight).

Jean Dujardin (2012)

Jean Dujardin
Jean Dujardin in ‘The Artist’ (Photo: Phil Mccarten/UPI/Shutterstock/Weinstein Company/Everett Collection)

The black-and-white silent film The Artist got Jean Dujardin his first Oscar. Jean, who became the first French actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, was celebrated for his performance as struggling film star George Valentin. He shared the screen with fellow French actor Berenice Bejo, who played Peppy Miller. Jean’s fellow nominees were Demian Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and Brad Pitt (Moneyball).

Colin Firth (2011)

Colin Firth
Colin Firth in ‘The King’s Speech’ (Photo: Jim Ruymen/UPI/Weinstein Co/Uk Film Council/See Saw/Kobal/Shutterstock)

Colin Firth wowed audiences as King George VI in the British historical drama The King’s Speech. Colin’s royal character forms a close friendship with Australian speech and language therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and they work together to create the first wartime radio broadcast after the U.K. declares war on Germany at the start of WW2. The King’s Speech earned 12 Oscar nominations and won four, including Best Actor and Best Picture. In the Best Actor category, Colin — who was previously nominated for 2010’s A Single Man — beat out Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), and James Franco (127 Hours).

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Jeff Bridges (2010)

Jeff Bridges
Jeff Bridges in ‘Crazy Heart’ (Photo: Phil Mccarten/UPI/Shutterstock/Lorey Sebastian/Fox Searchlight Pictures./Everett Collection)

Jeff Bridges couldn’t be beat at the 2010 Academy Awards thanks to his role in Scott Cooper‘s Crazy Heart. Jeff starred as as country singer-songwriter who is struggling in his career and starts up a relationship with a young journalist played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Jeff was the lucky winner over George Clooney (Up in the Air), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Morgan Freeman (Invictus), and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker). Jeff was nominated for four Oscars before Crazy Heart.

Sean Penn (2009)

Sean Penn
Sean Penn in ‘Milk’ (Photo: Phil Mccarten/UPI/Shutterstock/Focus Features/Everett Collection)

Sean Penn won his second Oscar for playing gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk in the biopic Milk. The groundbreaking movie was a very different role for Sean, and he absolutely nailed it. His performance was good enough to beat Best Actor nominees Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler). Milk was also nominated for Best Picture and won a second Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Daniel Day-Lewis (2008)

Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘There Will Be Blood’ (Photo: Phil Mccarten/UPI/Shutterstock/Paramount Vantage/Everett Collection)

Five years before Daniel Day-Lewis won his Oscar for Lincoln, he took home his second Academy Award in the Best Actor category for the period drama There Will Be Blood. He starred as Daniel Plainview, an oilman hell bent for wealth during Southern California’s oil boom in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Daniel’s performance received widespread acclaim and catapulted to his big win against George Clooney (Michael Clayton), Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd), Tommy Lee Jones (In the Valley of Elah), and Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises). Daniel’s first Oscar was for playing Christy Brown in 1989’s My Left Foot.

Forest Whitaker (2007)

Forest Whitaker
Forest Whitaker in ‘The Last King of Scotland’ (Photo: Peter Brooker/Shutterstock/Fox Searchlight/Everett Collection)

Forest Whitaker‘s career boomed thanks to his Oscar-winning performance as Ugandan military officer Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. The historical dram film was told through the perspective of a Scottish doctor played by James McAvoy. Forest was named Best Actor by The Academy over Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond), Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson), Peter O’Toole (Venus) and Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness). He hasn’t been recognized at the Oscars since, but he has won awards for other roles at the Emmys, SAGs, and more.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman (2006)

Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Phillip Seymour Hoffman in ‘Capote’ (Photo: Jim Smeal/BEI/Shutterstock/Sony Pictures Classics/Everett Collection)

The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman won for playing American novelist Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s biopic Capote. Phillip covered Truman’s journey writing his 1965 nonfiction book In Cold Blood. The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actress for Catherine Keener. Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), and David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) rounded out Phillip’s fellow nominees. He was nominated for three more Oscars in the Best Supporting Actor category before he passed away on February 2, 2014 at the age of 46 from drug overdose.

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Jamie Foxx (2005)

Jamie Foxx
Jamie Foxx in ‘Ray’ (Photo: Jim Smeal/BEI/Shutterstock/Universal/Everett Collection)

Jamie Foxx had a phenomenal performance as influential musician Ray Charles in the biopic Ray. Jamie shined on the screen alongside his co-stars Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Aunjanue Ellis, and Harry Lennix. It was his first, and so far, his only Oscar win. Fellow nominees Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator), and Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby) also performed great in their respective films. But none were good enough to take the Oscar from Jamie.

Sean Penn (2004)

Sean Penn
Sean Penn in ‘Mystic River’ (Photo: Peter Brooker/Shutterstock/Warner Brothers/Everett Collection)

Sean Penn acted his butt off in the neo-noir psychological film Mystic River. He played Jimmy Markum, a man struggling after his daughter is murdered. Clint Eastwood directed the film and Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney, and Emmy Rossum also star. Mystic River was Sean’s first-ever Oscar win. He bested Best Actor nominees Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean), Ben Kingsley (House of Sand and Frog), Jude Law (Cold Mountain), and Bill Murray (Lost in Translation).

Adrien Brody (2003)

Adrien Brody
Adrien Brody in ‘The Pianist’ (Photo: Bei/Shutterstock/Focus Features/Everett Collection)

Adrien Brody was the youngest Best Actor winner ever at 29 years old. He pulled off a major upset over Nicolas Cage (Adaptation), Michael Caine (The Quiet American), Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York) and Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt) thanks to his work in The Pianist. The war film was based on Polish-Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman’s 1964 Holocaust memoir. Adrien’s performance was far and away one of the best parts of the critically acclaimed project.

Denzel Washington (2002)

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington in ‘Training Day’ (Photo: Jim Smeal/BEI/Shutterstock/Everett Collection)

Denzel Washington won his second Oscar at the 2002 Academy Awards for playing Detective Sgt. Alonzo Harris in Training Day. He and Ethan Hawke‘s characters are LAPD narcotics officers (and corrupt cops) stationed in dangerous neighbors in Los Angeles. Denzel beat Best Actor nominees Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind), Sean Penn (I Am Sam), Will Smith (Ali), and Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom). Meanwhile, Ethan was nominated for Best Supporting Actor but lost to Jim Broadbent (Iris).

Russell Crowe (2001)

Russell Crowe
Russell Crowe in ‘Gladiator’ (Photo: Bei/Shutterstock/DreamWorks/Everett Collection)

Russell Crowe‘s performance in Gladiator was such a crowd pleaser. The Ridley Scott-directed film followed Russell’s Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius becoming a gladiator to avenge the murders of his family and emperor. The classic film earned Russell the Best Actor Oscar over Javier Bardem (Before Night Falls), Tom Hanks (Cast Away), Ed Harris (Pollock), and Geoffrey Rush (Quills). Russell is still a one-time Academy Award winner.

Kevin Spacey (2000)

Kevin Spacey
Kevin Spacey in ‘American Beauty’ (Photo: Stewart Cook/Shutterstock/Everett collection)

Kevin Spacey has won two Oscars, the first for the dark comedy-drama flick American Beauty. He starred as Lester Burnham, an adverting executive who becomes infatuated with his teenage daughter’s BFF, played by Mena Suvari. HIs fellow nominees were Russell Crowe (The Insider), Richard Farnsworth (The Straight Story), Sean Penn (Sweet and Lowdown), and Denzel Washington (The Hurricane). Kevin’s first Oscar was for Best Supporting Actor in 1995’s The Usual Suspects. It’s unlikely he’ll win again following the sexual assault allegations that have kept him from working.