From Jennifer Lawrence to Walt Disney – Oscar's Biggest, Craziest Streaks

From Jennifer Lawrence to Walt Disney – Oscar's Biggest, Craziest Streaks


Consecutive acting wins don't happen very often, but they pale next to other streaks in Academy Awards history

If Jennifer Lawrence wins the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role in “American Hustle,” she'll become only the fifth actor or actress to win Oscars in two consecutive years. The feat will be an impressive one, considering that less than two percent of the 280-plus Oscar-winning actors and actresses have accomplished the feat.

But back-to-back acting wins are far from the most impressive Oscar streak. Here's a survey of a dozen records set by those who've booked themselves return trips to the big show:

1. Win-Win Situations
As we said, a win for Lawrence would make her the sixth actor to win the Oscar in consecutive years – but a Best Supporting Actress win this year on top of her Best Actress win for “Silver Linings Playbook” last year would also make her the first to do so in two different categories.

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Actress Luise Rainer was the first to go back-to-back, winning Best Actress for “The Great Ziegfeld” in 1936 and “The Good Earth” in 1937. The same night Rainer won her second award, Spencer Tracy won the first of his two consecutive  Best Actor trophies; it came for “Captains Courageous” and would be followed a year later by one for “Boy's town.”

forrest_gumpIt'd be almost 30 years before anybody did it again – and when Katharine Hepburn did, going back-to-back with “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner” in 1967 and “The Lion in Winter” in 1968, her second award came in a tie with Barbra Streisand (“Funny Girl”).

Jason Robards did it in the Supporting Actor category a decade later, following an “All the President's Men” win in 1976 with another for “Julia” in 1977. And most recently, Tom Hanks won repeat best Actor victories for “Philadelphia” in 1993 and “Forrest Gump” (right) in '94.

2. Can't Stay Away
But what about consecutive acting nominations? Both Bette Davis and Greer Garson were nominated for five consecutive years, Davis between 1938 and 1942 and Garson between 1941 and 1942. Marlon Brando has the record for consecutive male acting nominations, with four from 1951 to 1954.

All three won once during their streaks: Davis for “Jezebel,” Garson for “Mrs. Miniver” and Brando for “On the Waterfront.” And unlike his Oscar for “The Godfather” in 1972, Brando accepted the one he got for “On the Waterfront.”

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3. Always a Bridesmaid
On the other hand, poor Thelma Ritter was nominated four years in a row between 1950 and 1953, for “All About Eve,” “The Mating Season,” “With a Song in My Heart” and “Pickup on South Street” – but she lost every year, setting a record for consecutive futility.

She went on to receive additional nominations in 1959 and 1962, giving her more nominations in the category than any other actress. But she didn't win for those, either.

Mrs_Miniver4. The Gang's All Here … and they're all nominated
Before we leave the subject of actors and actresses, it's worth noting another record-holder in this year's crop. Director David O. Russell‘s casts scored four acting nominations for “Silver Linings Playbook” last year and another four for “American Hustle” this year, which ties Russell with William Wyler as the director whose casts received the most nominations in consecutive years.

(Wyler didn't divide his eight quite as evenly as Russell did: His film “The Little Foxes” landed three nominations in 1941, and the following year's “Mrs. Miniver” got five.)

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5. The other David O.
A streak of two may not seem like a big deal, but it's pretty impressive when the category is Best Picture. Only one producer has ever been responsible for back-to-back Best Picture winners – and not surprisingly, it was mega-mogul David O. Selznick, who produced 1939's “Gone With the Wind” and 1940's “Rebecca.”

DavidOSelznickStill, you might want to read the fine print on Selznick's streak, because in those days the Best Picture Oscar went to the film's studio, not its producer. So if you look up Selznick in the Oscars database, you won't see either of the best-pic wins credited to him; instead, you'll just see that he won the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in '39 and was nominated for it in '38, the one and only year that Thalberg nominations were announced.

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6. Studio System
Here's another Best Picture streak that won't show up in the Oscar record books: United Artists is the only studio to win the top award three years running, which did it from 1975-77 with “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,” “Rocky” and “Annie Hall.”

But in the reverse of Selznick's situation, Best Picture awards went to the producer, not the studio, when those films won.

Several other studios have released back-to-back Best Pictures, including MGM and Paramount twice each, Columbia, 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks/Universal. Most recently, the Weinstein Co. did it with 2010's “The King's Speech” and 2011's “The Artist.”

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WALL-E7. Toon Time
Also on the studio side, Pixar won four consecutive Best Animated Feature awards, beginning with “Ratatouille” in 2007 and continuing with “WALL-E,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3.” It also won two consecutive awards just before that streak began and one more after it ended, giving it seven in nine years.

No other studio has won more than one animated-feature Oscar, though if the category had existed prior to 2002, Disney would no doubt have won a truckload, including a likely “Pinocchio”/”Dumbo”/”Bambi” streak.

8. Fashionable Designer
Getting into bigger numbers, art director Thomas Little had an impressive streak in 1941 through 1947, landing 13 nominations and six wins in seven years. His winning designs included “How Green Was My Valley,” “The Song of Bernadette” and “Anna and the King of Siam.” (In those days, the Academy had two Art Direction categories, one for black-and-white films and one for color films; in all but one of the years, Little was nominated in both.)

Oddly, the year after his streak ended, Little began another, four-year streak – but while he received eight more nominations in those four years, he didn't win once.

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9. Chorus Line
In addition to his record as the most nominations for any living person, 49, composer John Williams also holds the record for the most consecutive years any living person has been nominated. His streak was eight, a record he set between his scores for “Nixon” and “Sabrina” in 1995 and “Catch Me if You Can” in 2002.

In that stretch, Williams never won – but he did have five previous Oscars to ease the pain.

edith_head10. Oscar Royalty
As impressive as Williams’ eight-year streak might be, it's not even halfway to the marks set by his fellow composer Alfred Newman, and by costume designer Edith Head. Newman was nominated every single year between 1938 and 1956, while Head started her own streak exactly a decade after Newman, and ended it exactly a decade after he did.

Both of them were nominated in 19 consecutive years, with Newman winning eight times in that stretch and Head winning seven.

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11. The Tiebreaker
In a way, though, linking the two isn't fair to Newman – because his streak really lasted for 20 years if you consider that two scores he wrote, “The Hurricane” and “The Prisoner of Zenda,” were nominated in 1937. The problem is that in '37, the scoring Oscar went to the studio music department, not the composer, so technically they don't count as nominations for Newman.

Walt_Disney12. Disney Land
But you don't need to worry about Oscar fine print when you come to the biggest streak-holder in Oscar history, Walt Disney. The animation mogul was nominated in the Short Subject (Cartoon) category for the first time at the 5th Academy Awards, which covered films released in 1931 and 1932. He won that year for “Flowers and Trees,” and he won every year for the next eight years before finally missing a nomination in 1940.

But Disney was back in '41, and '42, and '43, and every single year through 1962, when his cartoon “Symposium on Popular Songs” became the 42nd nomination he'd received during a record-breaking 22-year streak. He won 13 competitive awards and another two honorary awards during that stretch, including a record four Oscars at the 1953 ceremony alone.

Tom Hanks might have been snubbed for his performance as Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks” this year, but Walt hardly needed any more love from the Academy.

  • hupto

    Technically, Walter Mirisch also produced back-to-back Best Pictures winners (THE APARTMENT and WEST SIDE STORY), but because he modestly took no screen credit–as he functioned more as an executive producer–his name is absent from the record books. (He DID take credit for his third, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT in 1967.)

  • Larry Blake

    Mr. Pond:

    Thanks for an excellent article. I do want to note
    that you missed the “real number two” (behind Walt Disney): the great
    scoring and re-recording mixer, Murray Spivack.

    Murray was the re-recording mixer of 12 films that
    won the Best Sound Oscar: Wilson (1944), The Snake
    Pit (1948), Twelve O'Clock High (1949), All
    About Eve (1950), Oklahoma! (1955), South
    Pacific (1958), The Alamo (1960), West Side
    Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), The Sound
    of Music (1965), Hello, Dolly! (1969), and Patton (1970).
    (On almost all of them he also recorded the music.) The reason why Murray
    didn't have 12 statuettes on his mantlepiece is that for the first 40 years of
    Oscars, the Best Sound award was given to the sound department head of the
    producing studio and, if different, that of the studio(s) where the film was
    mixed. Thus, Murray's name, while prominent in the credits of West Side
    Story, was not carved on the statuettes, and Murray did not go on the
    stage, in spite of the fact that he was creatively in charge of the sound.

    In 1966, Robert Wise wrote a letter to the Academy
    complaining about this situation, as Murray had missed out on Oscars for his
    films West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Had
    Murray won that year for The Sand Pebbles, Wise insisted that
    Murray was going up on the stage.

    The rule was finally corrected in 1969, when Murray
    mixed the winning film, Hello, Dolly!, thus getting his one and
    only Oscar statuette. He would have won for Patton the
    next year had the current rule been in effect, wherein the Best Sound Mixing
    award goes to the production sound mixer and to (up to) three re-recording
    mixers; he was not the lead mixer on Patton and during his
    tenure at Fox the lead mixer was Roger Heman.

    By the way, early in his career, Murray began his
    career in charge of the RKO sound effects department, and he did the sound
    editing for King Kong (1933), a feat which is somewhat akin to
    Babe Ruth's being a great pitcher before becoming known as a great slugger. He
    also had a separate career as a musician, first in orchestras in New York in
    the twenties, and later as a renowned percussion teacher. Many generations of
    percussionists for the L.A. Philharmonic were taught by Murray, in addition to
    jazz drummers such as Louis Bellson, and Murray taught percussion continuously
    for 67 years until he passed away in 1994.

    I was fortunate to get to know Murray in his later
    years, and worked with him on three drafts of his autobiography, which I will
    be publishing later this year.

    Larry Blake