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10 Actors Who Won Oscars For Their Debut Performance

December 26, 2018
8 min read

Oscars, the name that has a rather Deja Vu effect on us and every time we hear the word, we imagine a female voice giving a rousing welcome and saying, “Welcome to the Oscars”. That’s been the legacy Academy Awards have been carrying for decades now and probably will always do. The golden statuette which has been symbolic of the countless performances and roles – be it an actor, an actress, a debutante, a director, a musician or a screenwriter, has been the reason for joy and tears alike for many. As far as debut performances of actors and actresses are concerned, so far, out of sixteen odd people who have won the Oscars in their debuts, almost none of them were, I would say, undeserving. While predominantly female, these debutante artists have plundered many records and won many hearts.

Not just because of their performances, but also because of their humility and grace, as they have grown through years. Here’s a list of Actors who have won Oscars in their debut performances. Arguably, these are the ones who won our appreciations as well, apart from the ageless honour.

10. Jennifer Hudson – Dreamgirls (2006)

Not every day does one win an Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actress in their debut movie along with a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for the same very role. After traversing through a long non-film career, Jennifer plays Effie in ‘Dreamgirls’, who is the lead performer of a group called ‘The Dreamettes’. After Effie’s failed reunion with Curtis (Jamie Foxx) and a career which is slipping from between her fingers, ‘Dreamgirls’ is the story of Effie’s struggle to be, what she once was. It is the rediscovery of a hero that is Effie, who has lost it all in the ill-gotten fame and wealth of others.

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9. Mercedes McCambridge – All the King’s Men (1949)

For a movie that’s more than twice of our age (well, mostly), Sadie Burke, the character played by Mercedes McCambridge is a woman in love with a corrupt politician, who in turn sinks in a quicksand created on his own. A story involving revenge, sub-plots and swindles, ‘All the King’s Men’ is loosely based on a real story of a corroded Louisiana Governor in the 1930s. See it for yourself.

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8. Barbra Streisand – Funny Girl (1968)

A two-times Oscar winner Barbra has come a long way from her debut performance as Fanny Brice in ‘Funny Girl’ to ‘The Way We Were’. A story of a teenager who rises to stardom, amidst a romantic plot and a failed-at-career lover and husband, ‘Funny Girl’ probably is a story we’ve seen across many-a-movies in different forms. The story of coming together and then agreeing to part ways with her other half, Barbra nails in her effort throughout. Probably she is also one of the few artists who has been bestowed with a Grammy, Emmy award and also a Tony award, along with the Academy Award of course. She is the artist the world rightfully deserves.

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7. Julie Andrews – Mary Poppins (1964)

The famous ‘Mary Poppins’ that landed Julie Andrews the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, is a fairy tale of the likes of ‘Cinderella’ or ‘Alice in Wonderland’.  Mary descends from above and beyond the clouds with an umbrella, to work as a nanny and charms everyone with her wit. She truly is an inspiration on living our lives to the fullest in ‘Mary Poppins’. With gems like ‘The Sound of Music’ in her kitty, Julie is the actress made for a role of her lifetime in a timeless musical comedy.

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6. Harold Russell – The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Being one of the few to sell his Oscar award, Harold is probably one of the handful few persons who never took acting as their profession before. Then came ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’ that bestowed two Academy Awards upon Harold, probably the only distinction of its kind for an actor. ‘TBYOL’ is probably one of the first stories ever told about war veterans and the way they cope up with the civilian day-to-day life, by the means of a motion picture. A story of three war veterans and the supposedly inferior professions they would take to get on with their lives is definitely worth your time. Harold Russell lives up to the expectations, given his real-life experience as a war veteran who had lost both his hands versus his character in this movie, which was also about the same.

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5. Shirley Booth – Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)

A seasoned Broadway actress and performer for years before her first motion picture, Shirley’s Academy Award win for Best Actress in a Leading Role came as no surprise. Though not one of the youngest to win an Oscar, Shirley as Lola in ‘Come Back, Little Sheba’ is a humble wife to a recovering and withdrawn drunkard. Their world changes completely as they take a young girl as their tenant, who reminds Lola of her teenage and embodies the image of her non-existent daughter. Shirley Booth is brilliantly poised as Lola, the lonely and stressed wife made from twenty years of marriage, the pain of losing her prenuptial unborn child and a cherished dog Sheba.

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4. Tatum O’Neal – Paper Moon (1973)

Probably one of the most famous actresses, because of having the distinction of being the youngest to win an Oscar, Tatum O’Neal won the prestigious award when she was only 10 years old. ‘Paper Moon’ is a story of two weird acquaintances who have left their pasts behind, Addie, a girl who has lost her mother and Moses, a con man, who owes money to Addie. Their journey from pole to post, fooling people and cops alike, along with Moses’ intent to fulfill a promise to deliver a young Addie at her aunt’s house is awe-inspiring. Tatum’s Addie is as mature and brave as far it gets from a naive 10-year-old girl.

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3. Anna Paquin – The Piano (1993)

We can seldom forget the famous 11-year-old child actor Anna Paquin in ‘The Piano’, the one that had set new benchmarks in the history of all mother-daughter relationships. Set primarily in New Zealand and revolving around the only possession that is a piano, Anna Paquin’s Flora is the lone interpreter and daughter of a mute Scotswoman and pianist Ada. Ada’s story of falling in love and failing miserably later is trapped by lust and a hope for betterment. ‘The Piano’ wins all hearts and so does Anna Paquin’s perfection and innocence, something that we’ve been raring to see from her hence.

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2. Timothy Hutton – Ordinary People (1980)

The youngest male actor to receive The Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and also a Golden Globe Award, Timothy Hutton has come a long way since ‘Ordinary People’. A PTSD-clad suicide survivor Conrad struggles to cope with his new-found life and love as he had lost his brother in a sailing accident. That, combined with an unwanting and unrelenting mother forms one helluva story that is ‘Ordinary People’. Timothy is one of the only three male actors who has won Oscars in his debut.

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1. Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave (2013)

To play the face of oppression and brutality with sheer brilliance is purely a symbol of giftedness, which Lupita Nyong’o has proven in ’12 Years a Slave’. She became the first African-Kenyan-Mexican actress to bag the prestigious award, apart from being a handful few of the actresses who had won an Academy in their debut performances. A slave who’s the favourite of her master, Patsey meets many others who are just like her – divided and ruled over.

Patsey is the primal surviving figure amongst rapes, abuses, atrocious and neglects and has portrayed the grim reality of slave pens that were once omnipresent. The utter savagery she faces with courage is worth crying for. Lupita’s debut Oscar win, despite very less experience of formal acting on a big screen before, proves her dedication and devotion towards the cinematic art. Her follow-through movies like ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ are undying examples of that.

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