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SAG Best Actor award winners from the last 25 years

  • SAG Best Actor award winners from the last 25 years

    In Los Angeles, New York City, and beyond, countless hopefuls, wannabes, and aspiring stars claim to be actors. Anyone who wants to separate the pretenders from the real thing, however, need only ask to see their SAG card. The Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is the labor union that represents America’s 165,000 true working professional actors and other media professionals, and a SAG card is the most coveted credential in show business—except for a SAG Award, that is.

    One of the most significant events during the annual awards season in the run-up to the Oscars, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards honor outstanding achievements in film and prime-time television from the year prior. Now entering its 26th year, the 2020 SAG Awards will air live on TNT and TBS on Sunday, Jan. 19. Just like every year, those who win the trophy—a bronze statuette of a naked man holding comedy/tragedy masks—in their category are considered front-runners for an Academy Award. Just as with the Oscars, a nomination in the Best Actor category is the highest honor that a male actor can earn for a lead role in a movie. Whoever wins will come away with a major accolade that instantly earns him a place among the Hollywood elite.

    Stacker compiled a list of the past 25 SAG Best Actor award winners in the quarter-century since Tom Hanks famously flashed his SAG card at the very first SAG Awards in 1995. Some wins were expected, others were controversial. Some were awarded to actors who were already global superstars, and others made stars out of relative unknowns. All, however, go down in the annals of history as turning in a performance that was so good, thousands of their peers judged it to be the finest piece of acting of the entire year.

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  • 1994: Tom Hanks

    Tom Hanks presented Alan Alda with the Life Achievement Award at last year’s SAG event, but it was hardly the actor extraordinaire/Presidential Medal of Freedom winner’s first time on the stage. A quarter-century ago at the show’s inaugural in 1995, Hanks became the first-ever winner of the SAG Best Actor Award when he took home the trophy for his role in 1994’s “Forrest Gump.” He beat out a crowded field that included both Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman for their work in “The Shawshank Redemption,” John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction,” and Paul Newman for “Nobody’s Fool.”

  • 1995: Nicolas Cage

    Although Anthony Hopkins, James Earl Jones, Sean Penn, and Massimo Troisi were distant contenders for Best Actor at the second annual SAG Awards, it was no surprise that Nicolas Cage emerged on top for his role in 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas.” His work in the critically acclaimed film also earned him the title of Best Actor at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.

  • 1996: Geoffrey Rush

    In the third year of the SAG Awards, Geoffrey Rush won Best Actor for his lead role in “Shine.” While critics and fans alike praised his performance, some considered it an upset — and it’s easy to understand why given the competition. Billy Bob Thornton was nominated for his role in “Sling Blade,” as was Woody Harrelson for “The People v. Larry Flynt,” Tom Cruise for “Jerry Maguire,” and Ralph Fiennes for “The English Patient.”

  • 1997: Jack Nicholson

    “As Good as it Gets” was a defining role in the long and storied career of Jack Nicholson—and his performance was enough for a Best Actor SAG Award. He played opposite Helen Hunt, who went home with an award of her own that night. Hunt won Best Actress for the same movie.

  • 1998: Roberto Benigni

    1999 was a year of awards season upsets. Although “Saving Private Ryan” was considered a shoo-in, it lost the Academy Award for Best Picture to “Shakespeare in Love,” which also won the top honor at the SAG Awards. Joseph Fiennes was nominated for Best Actor for his role in the period piece, but he lost to Roberto Benigni for his part in “Life is Beautiful,” an international critical and commercial success that earned Benigni an Oscar, as well.

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  • 1999: Kevin Spacey

    Before his fall from grace nearly two decades later, Kevin Spacey was in his heydey as 1999’s “American Beauty” swept the first SAG Awards of the new millennium, winning every major category except Best Supporting Actor (that honor went to Michael Caine for “The Cider House Rules”). The critical and commercial blockbuster won five Oscars, including Best Picture and, again, Best Actor for Spacey.

  • 2000: Benicio del Toro

    At the seventh Annual SAG Awards, “Traffic” earned Benicio del Toro the title of Best Actor, a prize he would also go onto win at the Oscars for the same role. “Traffic” also won the top honor at SAG that year and picked up four Academy Awards. The accolades speak volumes about the movie’s critical reception, considering the competition—“Erin Brockovich” came out that year, as did “Chocolat,” “Almost Famous,” and “Gladiator.”

  • 2001: Russell Crowe

    Although Russell Crowe lost out to Benicio del Toro the year prior, he was back at the SAG Awards with another Best Actor nomination—and this time, he wouldn’t go home empty-handed. The Aussie’s role in “A Beautiful Mind” came out on top of a crowded field that included Denzel Washington for “Training Day” and Sean Penn for “I Am Sam.”

  • 2002: Daniel Day-Lewis

    SAG honored Daniel Day-Lewis with the Best Actor award for 2002's “Gangs of New York,” which wasn’t a surprise given the movie’s reception by both audiences and critics alike. What was a surprise, however, is what happened later during that year’s awards season. In one of the greatest Oscars upsets since “Saving Private Ryan,” the Martin Scorsese period piece won exactly zero Academy Awards on 10 nominations.

  • 2003: Johnny Depp

    As the SAG Awards entered their 10th year, a decade in, big movies like “Seabiscuit,” “Mystic River,” and a “Lord of the Rings” sequel were all in the running. It was a different blockbuster fantasy franchise movie, however, that earned Johnny Depp the award for Best Actor—“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

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