Oscar Best Actor winner from the year you were born
In Hollywood, few honors are more coveted than those of Best Actor and Best Actress at the Academy Awards. To be nominated for a performance—let alone win the golden statue—is a stunning testament to an actor's amazing work ethic and significant impact on audiences and critics.
Over the years, the winners of the Best Actor award have been symbols of the times—with each recipient marking that particular era of moviemaking. Maximilian Schell’s win in 1961 for “Judgement at Nuremberg” served as a reminder of the profound wound left on the world in the aftermath of World War II, and Sean Penn’s win for “Milk” in 2008 highlighted the continuing struggle for civil rights in the LGBTQ+ community.
Other victories have signified history for the winner himself: For his lead role in 1963’s “Lilies of the Field,” Sidney Poitier broke racial barriers, becoming the first black actor to take home Oscars top honors.
More common are the plethora of Best Actor Oscars representing personal milestones. In 1981, for example, legend Robert De Niro took home his first—and yet his only—win for playing boxer Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull.” And two times in three years we saw a pair of acting greats go from among the “best to never win” group to capping off heralded resumes with Best Actor Oscars: Matthew McConaughey in 2014 for AIDS patient Ron Woodroof in “Dallas Buyers Club” and Leonardo DiCaprio for frontiersman Hugh Glass in “The Revenant.”
Gary Oldman followed suit in 2017 for his turn as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” the culmination of the 61-year-old Englishman’s four decades on the silver screen. Though 38-year-old Rami Malek broke that trend for “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the most recent show, winning Best Actor for Freddie Mercury over the likes of veterans Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Willem Dafoe, and Viggo Mortensen.
To commemorate actors who have gained this accolade while readying for 2020's winner, Stacker found the Best Actor winner from every year since 1928. See which actor won the Oscar in your birth year.
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1928: Emil Jannings
- Movie: "The Last Command"
The first to receive an Academy Award at the first ceremony in 1929, German actor Emil Jannings was lauded for his performance in Josef von Sternberg’s "The Last Command." According to Susan Orlean, however, a dog was originally voted best actor in Rin Tin Tin, but the Academy gave the trophy to the runner-up to avoid embarrassment. Jannings’ career ended soon after the advent of talkies, as many Americans couldn’t parse his speech through his thick accent. The actor later participated in Nazi propaganda films during the rise of the Third Reich.
1929: Warner Baxter
- Movie: "In Old Arizona"
Warner Baxter, a film actor whose career spanned from the 1910s through the ‘40s, won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of The Cisco Kid in the film "In Old Arizona." This film was one of his first talkies, after doing many silent films (including "The Great Gatsby"). He was known to play many womanizer-like characters until his 10-film stint as Dr. Robert Ordway in the "Crime Doctor" series.
1930: George Arliss
- Movie: "Desraeli"
George Arliss was the first British actor to win an Oscar, as well as the oldest (61). A play actor originally, Arliss first starred in the 1911 Louis Napoleon Parker play "Desraeli," which was later turned first into a silent film, then a talkie (for which he won the award).
1931: Lionel Barrymore
- Movie: "A Free Soul"
Though Lionel Barrymore (of the famous Barrymore family) won his Best Actor award for "A Free Soul" (1931), Barrymore is perhaps better known for his role as villain Mr. Potter in Frank Capra's classic, "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946).
1932: Wallace Beery
- Movie: "The Champ"
Over Wallace Beery’s 36-year career, the actor appeared in about 250 films, one of which, "The Champ" (1932), earned him an Oscar for his portrayal of the title role. During this era of the awards ceremony, nominated actors within one vote of each other were deemed “tied,” so Beery shared his Best Actor award with Fredric March (1932’s "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde").
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1933: Charles Laughton
- Movie: "The Private Life of Henry VIII"
Charles Laughton’s impact is still felt to this day, as Daniel Day-Lewis (a fellow Best Actor winner) cited him as a source of inspiration. “He was probably the greatest film actor who came from that period of time,” Day-Lewis said. “He had something quite remarkable. His generosity as an actor, he fed himself into that work. As an actor, you cannot take your eyes off him.” The British actor won the award for his portrayal of King Henry VIII himself in "The Private Life of Henry VIII."
1934: Clark Gable
- Movie: "It Happened One Night"
The notable “King of Hollywood” Clark Gable starred as the leading man in over 60 films in his career. He won the Oscar for Best Actor for the 1934 film "It Happened One Night," and was later nominated for the same award for his work in "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935) and for what is likely his most notable role as Rhett Butler in the classic blockbuster "Gone with the Wind" (1939).
1935: Victor McLaglen
- Movie: "The Informer"
Victor McLaglen, the British American mainly known for his work as a character actor in Westerns, won Best Actor at the 1935 Oscars for his role in "The Informer," based on Liam O'Flaherty’s novel of the same name.
1936: Paul Muni
- Movie: "The Story of Louis Pasteur"
This character actor was a five-time Oscar nominee, but eventually won in 1936 for his role in "The Story of Louis Pasteur." He also won Tony awards for his theater work on Broadway. Muni was well known for his ability to truly get into character and practice method acting, as well as his prowess with makeup. When he was 12, he played the role of an 80-year-old man on stage, and he played seven different characters in the movie "Seven Faces" (1929).
1937: Spencer Tracy
- Movie: "Captains Courageous"
Spencer Tracy was nominated nine times for the Best Actor Oscar over his illustrious film career and won two consecutive times—the first for his role in "Captains Courageous." The adventure film, based on a novel by Rudyard Kipling, featured Tracy as a Portuguese fisherman (Tracy had to feign an accent).
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