Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role is one of the Academy Awards of Merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to recognize an actor who has delivered an outstanding performance while working within the film industry. Since its inception, however, the award has commonly been referred to as the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. While actors are nominated for this award by Academy members who are actors and actresses themselves, winners are selected by the Academy membership as a whole. Under the system currently in place, an actor is nominated for a specific performance in a single film, and such nominations are limited to five per year.
Throughout the past 73 years, accounting for ties and repeat winners, AMPAS has presented a total of 73 Best Supporting Actor awards to 66 different actors. Winners of this Academy Award of Merit receive the familiar Oscar statuette, depicting a gold-plated knight holding a crusader's sword and standing on a reel of film. Prior to the 16th Academy Awards ceremony (1943), however, they received a plaque. The first recipient was Walter Brennan, who was honored at the 9th Academy Awards ceremony (1936) for his performance in Come and Get It. The most recent recipient was Heath Ledger, who was honored posthumously at the 81st Academy Awards ceremony (2009) for his performance in The Dark Knight.
Until the 8th Academy Awards ceremony (1935), nominations for the Best Actor award were intended to include all actors, whether the performance was in a leading or supporting role. At the 9th Academy Awards ceremony (1936), however, the Best Supporting Actor category was specifically introduced as a distinct award following complaints that the single Best Actor category necessarily favored leading performers with the most screen time. Nonetheless, Lionel Barrymore had received a Best Actor award (A Free Soul, 1931) and Franchot Tone a Best Actor nomination (Mutiny on the Bounty, 1935) for their performances in clear supporting roles. Currently, Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, and Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role constitute the four Academy Awards of Merit for acting annually presented by AMPAS.
|Superlative||Best Actor||Best Supporting Actor||Overall|
|Actor with Most Awards||Spencer Tracy|
|2||Walter Brennan||3||Walter Brennan|
|Actor with Most Nominations||Spencer Tracy|
|Actor with Most Nominations without ever winning||Peter O'Toole||8||Claude Rains|
|Film with Most Nominations||Mutiny on the Bounty||3||On the Waterfront|
The Godfather Part II
|3||On the Waterfront|
The Godfather Part II
|Oldest Winner||Henry Fonda||76||George Burns||80||George Burns||80|
|Oldest Nominee||Richard Farnsworth||79||Hal Holbrook||82||Hal Holbrook||82|
|Youngest Winner||Adrien Brody||29||Timothy Hutton||20||Timothy Hutton||20|
|Youngest Nominee||Jackie Cooper||9||Justin Henry||8||Justin Henry||8|
Walter Brennan, the winner of the inaugural award in 1936, is the only actor to win the award three times (from four nominations). Six actors have won the award twice: Anthony Quinn, Melvyn Douglas, Michael Caine, Peter Ustinov, and Jason Robards. Robards was the only person to win consecutive Best Supporting Actor awards, for All the President's Men (1976) and Julia (1977).
Claude Rains and Arthur Kennedy share the greatest number of unsuccessful nominations, four each. The only other actors with four nominations were Walter Brennan (won three times) and Jack Nicholson (won once). Charles Bickford, Jeff Bridges, Robert Duvall, Ed Harris, and Al Pacino have all had three unsuccessful nominations (no wins).
Harold Russell was the first (and only) actor to receive two Academy Awards for the same performance when he won the Best Supporting Actor award and was also presented with an Academy Honorary Award for The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Thanks to a quirk of voting, in 1944 Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way became the only actor nominated in both the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories for the same performance, winning the latter. (Today, studios designate in which category they want a performer to compete.)
Robert De Niro's 1974 win as the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II is unique as the only Supporting Oscar won for playing a part previously played by a Best Actor winner (Marlon Brando in The Godfather). De Niro and Benicio del Toro (who won for Traffic) are the only winners for a foreign-language performance in this category.
Although five actresses have been nominated for non-speaking supporting roles, John Mills was the only male actor to be so nominated. Mills was won Best Supporting Actor for his performance as a mute brain-damaged village idiot in Ryan's Daughter (1970). (There were actors nominated for Best Actor for silent movies in the 1920s.)
Heath Ledger is the only person to posthumously win an acting Oscar in a supporting role. He won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight, 2008. He is only the second person to posthumously win any acting Oscar (the other was Peter Finch, who won Best Actor for Network, 1976).
The earliest nominee in this category who is still alive is Karl Malden (1951), followed by Kevin McCarthy (1951). The earliest winner in this category who is still alive is Karl Malden (1951) followed by George Chakiris (1961).
Following the Academy's practice, the films below are listed by year of their Los Angeles qualifying run, which is usually (but not always) the film's year of release. For example, the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor of 1999 was announced during the award ceremony held in 2000. Winners are listed first in bold, followed by the other nominees. For a list sorted by actor names, please see List of Best Supporting Actor nominees. For a list sorted by film titles, please see List of Best Supporting Actor nominees (films).
Beginning with the 1943 awards, winners in the supporting acting categories were awarded Oscar statuettes similar to those awarded to winners in all other categories, including the leading acting categories. Prior to this, however, winners in the supporting acting categories were awarded plaques.
As the Academy Awards are based in the United States and are centered on the Hollywood film industry, the majority of Academy Award winners have been Americans. Nonetheless, there is significant international presence at the awards, as evidenced by the following list of winners of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
At the 37th Academy Awards (1964), for the first time in history, all four of the top acting honors were awarded to non-Americans: Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews, Peter Ustinov, and Lila Kedrova. This occurred for the second time at the 80th Academy Awards (2008), when all four acting categories were similarly represented: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Javier Bardem, and Tilda Swinton.