Does winning an Oscar doom your chances of winning another Oscar?

The perception can arise that winning an Oscar is a surefire way to keep yourself out of the Oscar race in the future. To some, that may not be such a big deal. Others likely cry themselves sick on the bathroom floor over it.

But what’s the reality? Does taking an Oscar home mean you’re unlikely to get lucky again? Looking at Best Actor and Best Actress winners since 1990 produces a mixed picture.

On the Best Actress side, there has been only one repeat Oscar winner since 1990. Hilary Swank’s only two Oscar nominations reaped her the prize twice (Boys Don’t Cry in 2000 and Million Dollar Baby in 2005). During that time, six Best Actress winners (Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry, Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore) have never been nominated again after winning. And Moore really merits an asterisk next to her name. She won only a year ago and the movies she released in 2015 were mostly genre entries that don’t make Oscar feel all tingly.

Most of the other Best Actress winners since 1990 have earned only one subsequent Oscar nomination (either Best or Supporting Actress). Many waited several years between nods. Helen Hunt probably endured the longest drought. After winning for As Good As It Gets in 1998, 15 years went by before she snagged a Supporting Actress nomination for The Sessions in 2013. And in some cases, there should be a grain of salt with “only one additional nomination.” 1990 winner Jessica Tandy, for example, appeared in only a handful of films between her 1990 Best Actress victory for Driving Miss Daisy and her 1994 death. She earned a Supporting Actress nod for Fried Green Tomatoes in 1992. Cate Blanchett didn’t have to wait long to get back into the race. She took off only one year after winning for Blue Jasmine in 2014 and receiving a nomination this year for Carol.

Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence probably are the Best Actress winners on the hottest streaks. Streep picked up her third Oscar for The Iron Lady in 2012. She’s since picked up two additional nods (one for Best Actress, one for Supporting), which continues to pad her lead as the most nominated actress in Oscar history. Since Lawrence’s 2013 win for Silver Linings Playbook, she’s also picked up two more nods (one Best Actress, one Supporting). The other Best Actress winners who picked up multiple nominations after winning are Emma Thompson, Frances McDormand and Kathy Bates.

On the Best Actor side, three actors have won multiple times since 1990. Tom Hanks took back-to-back wins for Philadelphia in 1994 and Forest Gump in 1995. He’s earned two additional Best Actor nominations since. Sean Penn also won twice, for Mystic River in 2004 and Milk in 2009, his only recent nominations. Daniel Day-Lewis has won an impressive three times, for My Left Foot (1990), There Will Be Blood (2008) and Lincoln (2013). He’s earned two additional Best Actor nominations.

Ten actors (Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, Roberto Benigni, Kevin Spacey, Adrien Brody, Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker, Colin Firth, Jean Dujardin and Matthew McConaughey) have experienced an Oscar drought since winning Best Actor. McConaughey probably merits an asterisk; he won for Dallas Buyers Club in 2014 and his most prominent role since was an Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated TV performance in True Detective. Six other actors have earned only one additional Oscar nomination after winning Best Actor. Denzel Washington had the longest wait, earning a Best Actor nod for Flight in 2013, eleven years after winning for Training Day in 2002. Recent winners Jeff Bridges and Eddie Redmayne were nominated in the years following their respective wins. The other actors who have managed multiple subsequent Oscar nods (Best or Supporting Actor) after winning are Anthony Hopkins, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Geoffrey Rush.

There appears to be no one reason why Oscar winners lose traction after taking a victory lap. Part of it could be that Academy members like to spread the wealth. So that once a performer has taken Best Actor or Best Actress, there’s an attitude of “they’re taken care of” and there’s less impetus to support them in the future. Many past winners have appeared in Oscar-nominated films subsequent to their victories without getting nominations for those films themselves.

In other cases, the performers’ subsequent bodies of work might have something to do with it. Many appeared in movies that looked engineered to be “prestige” pictures. Something that calculated to be “awards bait” often doesn’t pan out. And even some that did still failed to catch on with Oscar voters. In other cases, many Best Actor and Actress winners got a big visibility boost from their victories. That often opened up greater commercial opportunities and their filmographies are packed with commercial and genre films that don’t typically attract award attention. In a couple cases, foreign actors who don’t often work outside their home countries haven’t appeared in English language films often enough to remain on voters’ radars.

There are some “real life” factors involved, too. Jessica Tandy and Philip Seymour Hoffman both died within a few years of their wins. Hoffman, especially, continued to attract Oscar attention after winning for Capote, with three Supporting Actor nominations. Had he lived, additional nods would have been likely. Some other actors have simply chosen to work less. For example, Jack Nicholson’s been semi-retired for years, not releasing a lot of movies. And of those, only a couple fell into the “award-worthy” category. Other actors have difficult reputations that have failed to endear them to their peers come voting time, even when they deliver award-worthy work.

Some combination of these factors likely explains the frequent dearth of follow-up nods for Oscar winners. That a handful continue to rack up nominations indicates that at least some performers can break through the politics that surround the process to get recognition.

But even for those who can’t, they still have an Oscar.

Originally published at on February 11, 2016.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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