Oscar: Best Actors–Age at Winning the First Oscar

Updated: February 15, 2020 (including Phoenix, Joker, 2019)

Winning the Oscar Award is considered to be the ultimate achievement in the film world, the epitome of professional success. If artist strive to win the Oscar at an early phase of their work, it’s because they know that the award will have a vast impact on their future careers.

Age of Lead Male Winners

In theory, it is possible to win the Oscar at any age, and, indeed, there have been winners in every age group, young and old.

In practice, however, the best chances to win the Oscar are between the ages of thirty and forty‑nine, with two‑thirds of all winners in these age brackets.

The gap in winning age is significant in the lead categories: Over fifty percent of the Best Actresses but only a minority of the Best Actors are younger than 35 at their first win.  As with the first nomination, actors are much older than actresses when they receive their first Oscar.  Most Best Actors have won the Oscar while in their forties.

Within each category, there’s a concentration of winners in one or two age groups.  Among the Best Actresses, the largest group of winners is in their late twenties and early thirties.  By contrast, the dominant group among the Best Actors is winners in their early forties.  There’s no dominant norm in the two supporting categories, in which the age range is wide, from winners in their early teens to those in their late seventies.

The likelihood of winning at a particular age is determined by the range of screen roles allotted to leading men.  Cultural norms have prescribed these roles, and these prescriptions are more rigid and confining for women and lead players.

The impact of gender on the winning age is paramount: the average age at first win is 30-34 for the Best Actresses, but 40-44 for the Best Actors.

Youngest Winner: 1

Only 1 of the 83 men who have the Best Actor Oscar was in his late 20s: Adrien Brody for “The Pianist.”




If my study is valid, then Brando is the third youngest winner, after Brody and Richard Dreyfuss.  He was 30 when winning for “On the Waterfront,” in 1954.  Brando would have been the youngest recipient ever, 27, had he won at his first nomination, in 1951, for “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a film for which all his co-stars won the Oscar; the Best Actor that year was Humphrey Bogart for “The African Queen.”


Oldest Winners

The oldest winner among the Best Actor is Henry Fonda, who was 76 when he won for “On Golden Pond,” in 1981.  He died three months after the Oscar show, which he was unable to attend due to illness; daughter Jane Fonda accepted on his behalf, and after the ceremony was followed by a camera crew to her father’s house.

Next to Fonda, five actors were in their 60s, two of whom major box-office stars: John Wayne was 62 in 1969, when he won the Best Actor for “True Grit” it was his second nomination, the first was in 1949 for “Sands of Iwo Jima.”  Newman was 61, when he finally won the lead Oscar for Scorsese’s “The Color of Money,” in 1986, a sequel to the far superior, “The Hustler,” for which Newman was nominated in 1961. Jeff Bridges was 60 when he won, though, like Newman, he had been nominated multiple times in both the lead and supporting categories.


If we define middle-age as a category of 35 to 49, then two thirds of the men (54 Best Actors) were middle-age when they received peer recognition from the Academy.

Of the 82 winning best actors: only 1 was in his late 20s; 28 (one third) in their 30s; 36 (almost half) in their 40s; 11 in their 50s; and 6 over 60.

Thirtysomething 30 to 34: 10 Actors

Charles Laughton

Clark Gable

Robert Donat

Jimmy Stewart

Marlon Brando

Maximillian Schell

Richard Dreyfuss

Daniel Day-Lewis

Nicolas Cage

Eddie Redmayne


Thirtysomething: 35 to 39: 18 Actors 

Warner Baxter

Fredric March

Spencer Tracy (won two consecutive Oscars)

Broderick Crawford

William Holden

Ernest Borgnine

Charlton Heston

Sidney Poitier

Jack Nicholson

Robert De Niro (won Supporting Oscar at 32)

Ben Kingsley

William Hurt

Tom Hanks (won two consecutive Oscars)

Russell Crowe

Jamie Foxx

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Jean Dujardin

Rami Malek


Early Fortysomething: 40 to 44: 25 Actors 

Emil Jannings

Paul Muni

Gary Cooper

James Cagney

Ray Milland

Laurence Olivier

Jose Ferrer

Yul Brynner

Alec Guinness

Lee Marvin

Paul Scofield

Rod Steiger

Cliff Robertson

George C. Scott

Gene Hackman

Jon Voight

Dustin Hoffman

F. Murray Abraham

Michael Douglas

Jeremy Irons

Kevin Spacy

Sean Penn

Matthew McConaughey

Leonardo DiCaprio

Casey Affleck

Joaquin Phoenix

Fortysomething: 45 to 49: 12 Actors

Wallace Beery

Victor McLaglen

Paul Lukas

David Niven

Burt Lancaster

Gregory Peck (won at fifth nomination)

Jack Lemmon (won Supporting Oscar at 30)

Geoffrey Rush

Roberto Benigni (Italian actor for Italian picture)

Denzel Washington (won Supporting Oscar at 34)

Forest Whitaker

Joaquin Phoenix


Fiftysometing: 11 Actors

Lionel Barrymore

Bing Crosby

Ronald Colman

Humphrey Bogart

Rex Harrison

Art Carney

Robert Duvall

Anthony Hopkins

Al Pacino (won at 8th nomination)

Colin Firth

Gary Oldman


Sixtysomething: 5 Actors

George Arliss

John Wayne

Peter Finch

Paul Newman (won at 7th nomination)

Jeff Bridges


Seventysomething: 1

Henry Fonda