19 People Who Won Oscars For Their First Movie


For any aspiring filmmaker—be it an actor, writer, director, or beyond—getting one's first big break is the key to finding success in Hollywood. For a very select few, that first gig has led to critical acclaim, and an Oscar. Here are 19 of the lucky ones.

1. Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong'o wasn't a total film novice when she landed the role of Patsey in Steve McQueen's Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave (2013). In 2009, she produced, directed, edited, and handled all the publicity for the documentary In My Genes. But 12 Years a Slave marked her debut in front of the camera, and what a debut it was. In addition to the Academy Award, Nyong'o won more than 50 awards for the role from critics and film festivals around the world. Unlike other actors who've fallen victim to the "Oscar Curse," Nyong'o has chosen her follow-up roles carefully, with key roles in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mira Nair's upcoming The Queen of Katwe, and Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book.

2. Anna Paquin

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Long before True Blood, nine-year-old Anna Paquin got her first big break in The Piano. She beat 5000 other girls, including her sister, for the role. Her only acting experience: a small role as a skunk in the school play. Paquin was 11 when she won Best Supporting Actress in 1994. Holly Hunter won Best Actress for playing her character's mother.

3. Gale Sondergaard

Gale Sondergaard won Best Supporting Actress in 1937 for the costume drama Anthony Adverse. It was the only Academy Award of her career. Years later, she dropped out of playing the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, reportedly because she didn't want to wear disfiguring makeup. That's how people win Oscars nowadays!

4. Katina Paxinou

Oscars, Youtube

Greek actress Katina Paxinou also peaked early. She honed her acting skills on stage, even when her parents disowned her. When Paxinou finally got in front of a movie camera in the 1943 film For Whom the Bell Tolls, she won Best Supporting Actress.

5. Harold Russell

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In 2014, Barkhad Abdi was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in his first film role. Before playing a Somali pirate leader in Captain Phillips, he worked as a chauffeur. Almost all first-role Oscar winners are women; only two men have accomplished the same feat. The first was Harold Russell, a World War II veteran who lost both hands in the war. He's the only person to win two Academy Awards for the same performance, the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives. The first was Best Supporting Actor; the second was an honorary Oscar for bringing hope and courage to fellow veterans. In 1992, he controversially sold his Best Supporting Actor statuette to pay for his wife's medical expenses. Since 1950, Oscar winners have had to sign an agreement that prohibits selling their awards without first offering to sell it back to the Academy for $1.

6. Mercedes McCambridge

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Orson Welles called her "the world's greatest living radio actress," but Mercedes McCambridge was also impressive enough on camera to win Best Supporting Actress for All the King's Men in 1950. She was nominated for the same award again for Giant in 1957, but didn't take home the golden statuette. One of her strangest later roles: The voice of Pazuzu the demon in The Exorcist.

7. Shirley Booth

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Sometimes a rookie carries an entire film. Shirley Booth's first role in 1952's Come Back, Little Sheba won her an Academy Award for Best Actress. There was a reason Booth was trusted with a big part: She won her second Tony two years earlier playing the same role.

8. Barbra Streisand

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It's hard enough to win an Oscar. But Barbra Streisand is among the few performers to have won at least one Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award. Just four years after being nominated for a Tony for Funny Girl and losing, Streisand won Best Actress for the same role in the 1968 film. Then she was honored with a Special Tony for career achievement in 1970. It was non-competitive, but we're still impressed.

9. Eva Marie Saint

Oscars, Youtube

Before she played the femme fatale in the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, Eva Marie Saint's breakout role was in 1954's On the Waterfront. She won Best Supporting Actress. She had some prior TV and stage experience, but it was still her film debut.

10. Jo Van Fleet


A year after Saint's win, another upstart—stage actress Jo Van Fleet—took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Both actresses won Oscars under the direction of Elia Kazan, but their careers took very different turns: After playing Kate in East of Eden, Fleet was typecast as an old woman, often much older than she actually was. Ouch.

11. Julie Andrews

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Julie Andrews initially turned down the title role in Mary Poppins, because she didn't want to film her first movie while pregnant. So Disney decided to wait until Andrews had the baby—they thought she was that perfect for the role. So did the Academy: Andrews won the Best Actress Oscar in 1965. One year later, she was nominated for The Sound of Music, but didn't win.

12. Tatum O'Neal

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Best Supporting Actress tends to be awarded to up-and-coming stars. At 10 years old, Tatum O'Neal was the youngest winner in history, beating out her 31-year-old co-star Madeline Kahn. She was nine when she starred alongside her father Ryan O'Neal in 1973's Paper Moon.

13. Marlee Matlin

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Marlee Matlin's Best Actress Award for the 1986 film Children of a Lesser God broke even more records. At 21, Matlin is the youngest performer to win Best Actress and still the only deaf performer to win an Academy Award.

14. Haing S. Ngor

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The only other actor to win an Oscar for his first role was Haing S. Ngor for the 1984 film The Killing Fields about the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia. The Cambodian-American physician-turned-actor is still the only Asian actor to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Eleven years after his Oscar win, Ngor was tragically murdered during a robbery outside his home in Los Angeles. 

15. Michael Arndt

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Winning debuts aren't limited to actors. It only took three days for Michael Arndt to write Little Miss Sunshine. (Well, three days and then a year of revisions.) The screenplay sold in 2001 and then spent a few more years in pre-production. The completed film was a surprise hit, winning Best Original Screenplay in 2007 (it also won a Best Supporting Actor statuette for Alan Arkin, and nods for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Abigail Breslin). Arndt's second script, for Toy Story 3, was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2011. Most recently, he co-wrote the script for Star Wars: The Force Awakens with J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan.

16. Diablo Cody

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Screenwriter Diablo Cody wrote her first film in just a few months at a Minnesota Starbucks. (And not just any Starbucks—a Starbucks inside a Target.) Juno won Best Original Screenplay in 2008.

17. Jennifer Hudson

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When singers get voted off American Idol, we don't usually hear much from them again. But when Hudson got the boot in 2004, she was just getting started. She was cast as Effie White in the film adaptation of Dreamgirls even before she had a record deal. Hudson had big shoes to fill—Jennifer Holliday won a Tony and Grammy for the role in 1982 and 1983, respectively. Hudson stole the show from Beyoncé and sent a message to everyone when she sang "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." The singer won Best Supporting Actress in 2007, the third African American woman to ever do so. A year later, she took home her first Grammy.

18. Geoffrey Fletcher

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Most screenwriters start their careers with an original screenplay. Geoffrey Fletcher made his name with a heart-wrenching adaptation of the Sapphire novel Push. Precious won Best Adapted Screenplay in 2010, making Fletcher the first African American to win an Academy Award for writing. In 2014, John Ridley won the same award for 12 Years a Slave.

19. Mark Boal

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Before turning to film, Mark Boal honed his writing and research skills as a journalist. That came in handy as he wrote and produced The Hurt Locker, which won both Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture in 2010. That year, the film's director Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win Best Director. They teamed up again for Boal's second film, Zero Dark Thirty, in 2012. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture again, but didn't win either award.

An earlier version of this post appeared in 2014.

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11 Incredible Stephen Hawking Quotes
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When Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at age 21, doctors thought he'd only survive a few more years. But the theoretical physicist defied the odds: Hawking, who passed away yesterday, lived to be 76. Here are 11 quotes from the director of research and founder of the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge and author of A Brief History of Time


"At school, I was never more than about halfway up the class. It was a very bright class. My classwork was very untidy, and my handwriting was the despair of my teachers. But my classmates gave me the nickname Einstein, so presumably they saw signs of something better. When I was twelve, one of my friends bet another friend a bag of sweets that I would never come to anything. I don't know if this bet was ever settled, and if so, which way it was decided."

— From the lecture "My Brief History," 2010


"If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans. We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet."

— From Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, 2010


“I wouldn’t compare it to sex, but it lasts longer.”

— From a lecture at Arizona State University, April 2011


"If you are disabled, it is probably not your fault, but it is no good blaming the world or expecting it to take pity on you. One has to have a positive attitude and must make the best of the situation that one finds oneself in; if one is physically disabled, one cannot afford to be psychologically disabled as well. In my opinion, one should concentrate on activities in which one's physical disability will not present a serious handicap. I am afraid that Olympic Games for the disabled do not appeal to me, but it is easy for me to say that because I never liked athletics anyway. On the other hand, science is a very good area for disabled people because it goes on mainly in the mind. Of course, most kinds of experimental work are probably ruled out for most such people, but theoretical work is almost ideal. My disabilities have not been a significant handicap in my field, which is theoretical physics. Indeed, they have helped me in a way by shielding me from lecturing and administrative work that I would otherwise have been involved in. I have managed, however, only because of the large amount of help I have received from my wife, children, colleagues and students. I find that people in general are very ready to help, but you should encourage them to feel that their efforts to aid you are worthwhile by doing as well as you possibly can."

— From "Handicapped People and Science," Science Digest 92, No. 9, September 1984


"I would go back to 1967, and the birth of my first child, Robert. My three children have brought me great joy."

— To The New York Times, May 2011


"I have noticed that even people who claim everything is predetermined and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road."

— From Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays


"There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win, because it works."

— To Diane Sawyer/ABC News, June 2010


"Next time someone complains that you have made a mistake, tell him that may be a good thing. Because without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist."

— From Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, 2010

9. On HIS I.Q.

"I have no idea. People who boast about their I.Q. are losers."

— To The New York Times, December 2004


“They are a complete mystery.”

— To New Scientist, January 2012


"One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don't throw it away."

— To Diane Sawyer/ABC News, June 2010

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9 Bizarre Facts About Nicolas Cage
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Sascha Steinbach, Getty Images

It is perhaps unfair to characterize actor Nicolas Cage as an eccentric solely based on his frenzied performances on film. Yes, he once ingested a live cockroach for 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss. It is also true that he improvised smashing a pool table with a sledgehammer while singing “The Hokey Pokey” for 2018’s Mom and Dad, and that his uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, threatened to fire him because he insisted on speaking in a bizarrely high-pitched voice for 1986’s Peggy Sue Got Married.

None of these things indicate anything other than a devotion to his craft. It’s the other facts of the 54-year-old Cage’s eventful life that make some wonder if he’s somewhere south of normal. Consider these selections culled from his past and decide for yourself.


Nicolas Cage appears at a film premiere in 2010
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Discussing his home invasion thriller Trespass in 2011, Cage shared with reporters that he was once victimized by someone who had broken into his Orange County home. “I opened my eyes and there was a naked man wearing my leather jacket eating a Fudgsicle in front of my bed,” he said. “I know it sounds funny ... but it was horrifying.” Cage said he talked to the man until police arrived.


A selection of rare comics at a comic book convention
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In 1997, comic book fan Cage purchased a copy of Action Comics #1, the highly sought-after 1939 issue that introduced Superman and ushered in the 20th century superhero genre. That comic book, along with several other rare titles, were stolen from Cage’s home in January 2000 in a case that went cold for 11 years before the book showed up in a San Fernando Valley storage locker. (The locker’s owner said he purchased the unit without knowing what was inside.) After a police investigation, the comic was returned to Cage, who sold it for a then-record $2.1 million later that same year. Cage called the retrieval of the comic after a decade “divine providence.”


Actor Nicolas Cage's pyramid gravestone in New Orleans
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Standing in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans is a nine-foot pyramid tomb that carries a Latin maxim, “Omni Ab Uno” (Everything From One). The grave underneath is currently unoccupied, but some have speculated that it may eventually house Cage, who purchased the twin plots in 2010 and built the pyramid over them. The actor has never publicly commented on the sale.


An image of Bran Castle in Romania
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While promoting Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance in 2011, actor Idris Elba recalled an incident on location in Romania that exemplifies Cage’s professional commitment. Noticing Cage appeared tired one day, Elba asked if he had gotten any rest. “Yeah man, I went up to Dracula's castle ... the ruins up in the mountains, and I stayed the night,” Cage said. “'I just had to channel the energy, and it was pretty spooky up there.”  Cage was probably referring to Bran Castle near Transylvania, which may have been the inspiration for Dracula’s residence in the original Bram Stoker novel.


A Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton in Ulan Bator
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Cage’s extravagant spending habits have been well documented, though few purchases have matched his grandiose gesture of spending $276,000 for a Tyrannosaurus bataar skull at a 2007 auction. What Cage did not know was that the skull had been stolen from Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. Contacted by the Department of Homeland Security in 2014, the actor agreed to hand it over so it could be returned.


The LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans
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What better atmosphere to compose a scary bunch of prose than a haunted house? This was Cage’s motivation for purchasing the LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans in 2007, which once belonged to serial killer Madame Delphine LaLaurie. He lost it to foreclosure in 2009. “I didn’t get too far with the novel,” he told Vanity Fair.


Nicolas Cage appears in Tokyo, Japan in 2004
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Appearing as a guest on David Letterman’s Late Show in 2010, Cage was armed with a valuable talk show anecdote. Earlier in his career, he said, he owned a cat named Lewis who enjoyed partaking in Cage’s stash of magic mushrooms. Finally, Cage decided he should have some, too. “I remember lying in my bed for hours,” he said, “and Lewis was on the desk across from the bed for hours, staring at each other … not moving. But he would stare at me, and I had no doubt that he was my brother.”


Nicolas Cage appears in New York for a film premiere in 2013
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For the past several years, Cage fans in Austin have gathered at the Alamo Drafthouse for a screening of popular Cage titles like Face/Off and National Treasure. Organizers make a point to invite Cage every time, though the actor’s schedule typically prevents him from attending. In January 2017, the actor finally made it, surprising an audience of Cagephiles and sitting for several of his own films. Afterward, he took questions and delivered a live reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.


In October 2017, Cage aficionados in Japan were delighted to see the actor’s face emblazoned on packages of a crunchy corn snack called Deluxe Umaibou Nicolastick. While it would be nice to think Cage was compensated for his apparent endorsement of the food item, a representative for the actor told Kotaku that he had not given his permission for his face to appear on the wrapper—the item was intended to promote his film, Army of One, in a handful of theaters, but no one had asked Cage for his consent. The film’s international distributor, FilmNation, apologized for the error.


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