15 Celebs Who Won Oscar On Their First Attempt

POSTED BY Tayyab Khalil, UPDATED ON November 14th, 2023
Celebs Who Won Oscar on Their First Attempt

Hollywood has seen legends such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Peter O’Toole giving everything they have in their movies for the sake of entertainment for millions of people yet they have never won the most coveted prize of their careers: the Academy Award. On the other hand, Hollywood has also witnessed many celebrities who won an Oscar when they worked in a specific field for the very first time. The following list chronicles those valiant and talented celebs who won Oscar on their first attempt:


15. Delbert Mann

Delbert Mann oscar

Before stepping foot in the film-making business, Delbert Martin Mann was a television director behind the 1953 teleplay Marty. After the well-received reception of the teleplay, Mann considered the idea of a film adaption and eventually turned the idea into a reality.

Starring Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair, the film adaption was Mann’s very first motion picture project, and much to the surprise of the film industry, Marty amazingly garnered eight Academy Award nominations; winning four for Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Motion Picture, and of course Best Director for Mann.


14. Mercedes McCambridge

Mercedes McCambridge

Died a decade ago, Mercedes McCambridge is best known among the current generation as the voice of none other than the demon Pazuzu in perhaps the most beloved horror movie of all time The Exorcist. Apart from being a Hollywood starlet, McCambridge made quite a name for herself as a radio and stage actress.

Once she set the goal of entering the glamorous world of Hollywood, she starred as Sadie Burke in Robert Rossen’s 1949 drama film All the King’s Men.

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, the movie won three including the award for Best Supporting Actress for McCambridge – a great start for her nearly four-decade movie career.


13. Diablo Cody

Diablo Cody

Having the distinction of being one of the very few celebrities who won an Academy Award on their very first attempt, there is one controversial back story of Diablo Cody which separates her from every other entry on this list: an early career as a stripper in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

As strange as it may sound, she shared a passion for writing as well and wrote for a few blogs, magazines, and newspapers as well in her free time.

Impressed with one of her blogs about stripping, Los Angeles-based talent manager Mason Novick persuaded her to write a screenplay for the comedy-drama film Juno.

Despite being a comedy movie, Juno was nominated for four Academy Awards and won just one: Best Original Screenplay for the stripper-turned-writer.


12. Haing S. Ngor

Haing S. Ngor

Among the Asians who have won the Academy Awards, the Cambodian American actor was the very first one from his nationality who won the prestigious award for Best Supporting Actor in his debut performance as the Cambodian refugee Dith Pran in The Killing Fields. Similar to his character, Ngor was an actual survivor of Khmer Rogue’s labor camps.

Having never acted before in his entire life, his casting was a mere stroke of luck as the movie’s casting director Pat Golden noticed him at a wedding and chose him as one of the most vital characters.

Proud of his unexpected win, Ngor exclaimed to People magazine:

“I wanted to show the world how deep starvation is in Cambodia, how many people die under Communist regime. My heart is satisfied. I have done something perfect.”


11. Harold Russell

Harold Russell

Apart from Haing S. Ngor, Harold John Russel is the only non-professional actor who has won an Academy Award. A Canadian-American World War II veteran who lost both of his hands, director William Wyler saw him as a perfect choice for the role of sailor Homer Parrish in his drama film The Best Years of Our Lives.

The casting resulted in an Honourary Academy Award at the beginning of the ceremony for:

“bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans”.

That was just the beginning of his stardom as later in the night, Russell won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor; the only time an actor has won two Academy Awards for the same role so far.

Realizing that there:

“weren’t many roles for actors without hands”,

Russell went back to Boston University and successfully graduated with a business degree.


10. Timothy Hutton

Timothy Hutton

Young, down on his luck, and tired of having minor roles in ordinary television films and plays, Timothy Hutton attempted to break into the Hollywood business as he was cast as a supporting character in Robert Redford’s American drama film Ordinary People.

It takes sheer talent to pull off the role of a post-traumatic stress disorder patient yet Hutton gave an incredible performance.

Winning four Academy Awards including one for Best Picture, it was Hutton who was the man of the hour as he not only won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor but established himself as the youngest winner of the category at the tender age of 20.

However, fate was never much kind to the promising star after the big win as Hutton returned to television roles; most notably being the TNT drama series Leverage.


9. Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner

If there is one word that best describes the magnitude of Kevin Costner, it is “multi-talented”.

While the present generation may only be familiar with him for his role as Johnathan Kent – the adoptive father of Super-Man from Man of Steel – they would be surprised to know that there is much more than acting as far as the man’s occupations are concerned as Costner is also a director, philanthropist, businessman, and a country musician.

Stepping his foot in the entertainment world in the year 1974, Costner has more than fifty movies under his name and is pretty much a decent actor at best. Having never won the big one, Costner decided to pursue other ventures in his field and decided to be a director.

Casting himself as the lead in his first film Dances with Wolves, Costner was finally convinced that the art of direction is the right path for him as the movie not only won the Academy Award for Best Picture but also for Best Director.


8. Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson

Heartbroken after being eliminated from the third season of American Idol, Jennifer Hudson thought that her life was over. Little did she know that the elimination was a blessing in disguise as several new doors of opportunities opened for her. The girl was filled with enthusiasm and talent; leading her to be cast as Effie White for the musical drama film Dreamgirls.

The part was no easy pickle for Hudson as she beat seasoned singers and actresses such as Raven-Symoné and Fantasia Barrino for her debut role.

Sharing the spotlight with A-list names Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Beyoncé Knowles, Dreamgirls was nominated for six Academy Awards; winning two including one for Best Supporting Actress for the excited Hudson.


7. Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes

The man behind the highest-grossing James Bond movie of all time Skyfall, Sam Mendes is one of the most hardworking and respected individuals in Hollywood.

Starting as a stage director, Mendes decided to test his credibility by directing a mainstream comedy-drama film American Beauty. Written by Alan Ball and starring Kevin Spacey, the movie rocked the 72nd Academy Awards ceremony.

Nominated for a total of eight Academy Awards, all eyes were on the team behind the masterpiece of a film, and for a good reason too as apart from five wins including Ball and Spacey for their respective categories, Mendes could not have been happier as he won the Oscar for his directional debut; the sixth movie director to do so.


6. Julie Andrews

Nearing the age of eighty but still young at heart, Julie Andrews is one of the greatest and most talented Hollywood actresses of all time. Debuting as a fledgling yet eager stage starlet in 1945, Andrews never looked back as her grace took her to unachievable heights.

Having won several awards throughout her career including two Academy Awards and the title of Dame by Queen Elizabeth II, it was her debut film that stands out as the most remarkable one.

Her debut film lives in the memories of millions of people as it was none other than Mary Poppins. It is hard to find an adult who has not seen the marvelous musical fantasy film as a kid as the movie stands out as pride for Walt Disney Studios.

Nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and winning five, it was a dream come true for Andrews as she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.


5. Mark Boal

Competition has become super stiff in recent years in Hollywood and if one does not have the passion and credibility in their field, it is better to never even try. That is where Mark Boal comes in. Formerly a journalist for top magazines such as Rolling Stone, Playboy, and The Village Voice, one of his articles was adapted for the 2007 film In the Valley of Elah.

Intrigued by the degree of his writing skills, Boal wrote the screenplay for Kathryn Bigelow’s 2008 war film The Hurt Locker and that catapulted his status from just another journalist to a big-time screenplay writer as among the six Academy Awards wins from nine nominations, he won one for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) and another for Best Picture as one of the producers.


4. Anna Paquin

Anna Paquin

Best known as the beautiful mutant Rogue from the X-Men franchise, actress Anna Paquin was just eleven years old when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Flora McGrath in the 1993 romantic drama film The Piano; establishing herself as the second-youngest recipient of the coveted prize in the history of the Academy.

With auditions for the role of Flora being opened for girls aged from 9 to 13, Paquin beat an estimated amount of five thousand girls. Delivering a promising performance, a star was born as apart from the Academy Award win, Paquin also bagged the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress and a Golden Globe nomination.


3. Marlee Martin

Marlee Martin

Deaf but determined, it was Marlee Martin’s intensity that helped her overcome her defect and break into the world of acting. Starred in the 1986 romantic drama film Children of a Lesser God, Martin was destined for greatness as she not only won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role but also became the only deaf and the youngest recipient of the category at the age of 21.

With sporadic appearances in several television shows and nearly two dozen movies under her belt after the very first film that established her as an Academy Award icon, Martin is still active in her career and has been a source of inspiration and motivation for all the unfortunate souls who ever thought about living in the limelight.


2. Ben Affleck & Matt Damon

matt damon and ben affleck

Image Courtesy: Reuters

For a moment, it felt like time stopped still.  The 70th Academy Awards ceremony is remembered for three things: James Cameron’s Titanic winning eleven Oscars, the beloved Robin Williams winning his very first Oscar and, of course, the team of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Beating the likes of Woody Allen, Simon Beaufoy, James L. Brooks, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Mark Andrus in the process, their victory can be best described as the most shocking outcome in the history of the Academy.

While they have shared pretty impressive careers as actors and made quite a reputation for themselves in Hollywood, the two decided to team up and write the screenplay for Good Will Hunting along with starring in it along with Robin Williams.

The story no doubt was magnificent but because both of them never had any writing experience before, the chances of the team winning were highly unlikely. As the ceremony concluded, Affleck and Damon were announced as the winners and it proved once and for all that the actors’ writing ability was not at all a fluke.


1. Tatum O’Neal

Tatum O’Neal

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Forgotten and overshadowed by her issues concerning failed marriage, arrest for buying cocaine, and alleging her very own father of physical abuse, let’s take a trip down memory lane when Tatum O’Neal had happier days when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress at the tender age of 10.

While winning the Academy Award is itself a big deal, O’Neal made history by being the youngest recipient of the biggest prize in Hollywood.

Sadly, the event turned out to be the pinnacle of her career as none of her future movies were worthy of recognition. The only “achievement” apart from the Academy Award is the fact that the King of Pop Michael Jackson was one of her first boyfriends.

Reduced to minor roles in television shows such as Sex and the City, 8 Simple Rules, and Law and Order: Criminal Intent, it is sad to see her career going down the drain instead of being skyrocketed.

Did we miss any worth mentioning celebs who won Oscars on their first attempt? Let us know in the comments!

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