When you’ve got your Meryl Streeps, your Judi Denches, your Leonardo DiCaprios, and even your Jennifer Lawrences, it’s hard to remember a time when a handful of A-list actors didn’t dominate the Oscar nomination pools every year. And yes, this year we have some first-time nominees like June Squibb, Lupita Nyong’o, and Barkhad Abdi — all of whom received well-deserved accolades and are nominated alongside more established performers. While the jury’s still out on whether they’ll have long shelf lives as Hollywood stars (hey, Nyong’o does have a shot at beating Jennifer Lawrence!), they wouldn’t be in bad company. There are, after all, over 80 years’ worth of actors who nabbed nominations and then slowly faded into cinematic oblivion. Here are a few from the last half-century that you may have forgotten.
Conti nabbed a Best Actor nomination for the 1983 comedy-drama Reuben, Reuben. (Never heard of it? I’ll forgive you, because neither had I.) Conti didn’t have much of a film career after that; he was featured in a few forgettable titles and then later turned up in The Dark Knight Rises.
Courtenay came to prominence in films like The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner and Doctor Zhivago, but it wasn’t until the 1983 drama The Dresser that he received a Best Actor nomination for his titular role. Since then? Well, he was in Leonard Part 6…
William Wyler turned down The Sound of Music to direct The Collector, a psychological thriller starring Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar, who got a Best Actress nomination for her role. What has she been up to since? Well, a few bit parts on TV, mostly.
Hartman made her film debut in A Patch of Blue opposite Sidney Poitier; other than a role in The Group and providing the voice of Mrs. Brisby in The Secret of NIMH, her film career never lived up to that early success.
Edith Evans had an illustrious stage career, and her film career hit a nice stride in the ’60s when she was nominated for three Oscars — for Tom Jones, The Chalk Garden, and The Whisperers. Those nods were the peak of her career, really; she was already well into her 70s.
Suzman made her film debut in 1971’s Nicholas and Alexandra, for which she nabbed a Best Actress nomination. She mostly worked in TV afterward, primarily in England.
The onetime Las Vegas showgirl and Playboy model Valerie Perrine got a nomination for Bob Fosse’s Lenny, playing Lenny Bruce’s wife. She also played the notable role of Eve Teschmacher in Superman and Superman II, but her career suffered after her appearance in the 1980 bomb Can’t Stop the Music.
Kirkland had a promising film career in the ’70s and ’80s, appearing in Blazing Saddles, The Sting, The Way We Were, and Private Benjamin. But it was the 1987 film Anna, in which Kirkland played the titular Czech actress, that earned her an Oscar nomination.
This French actress holds the record for the most César Awards for Best Actress, but over here in the states she has received just one Oscar nomination for Best Actress for The Story of Adele H. Later American films include flops like Ishtar and Diabolique.
Hey, if you actually saw 1998’s Central Station, good for you! I doubt you saw Montenegro in much else, though.
Australian actress Keisha Castle-Hughes was just 14 years old when she was nominated for 2003’s Whale Rider. She followed that up with a brief part in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, The Nativity Story, and a bunch of Australian movies that didn’t make it stateside.
Mako has the coolest name of any Oscar nominee (sorry, Topol). He earned his Best Supporting Actor nomination for his second role, in 1966’s The Sand Pebbles. He followed that with many small roles in action films, from Conan the Barbarian to Pearl Harbor.
Oliver!‘s Jack Wild, who played The Artful Dodger, might be most recognizable for his role on the cult favorite H.R. Pufnstuf.
Leonard Frey got his Oscar nod for playing Motel the tailor in 1971’s Fiddler on the Roof. Known primarily as a stage performer, Frey’s other memorable film role was as Harold in William Friedkin’s The Boys in the Band.
Better known as the little Kramer in Kramer vs. Kramer, Henry’s most memorable role after his Oscar-nominated debut was as Molly Ringwald’s younger brother in Sixteen Candles.
He’s better known as Danny Noonan in Caddyshack, but the year before O’Keefe received an Oscar nomination for The Great Santini. He’s had a few character roles since, and was once married to Bonnie Raitt.
This ’70s character actor got legitimate praise for his role in Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino’s underrated follow-up to Pulp Fiction. Since then, Forster has appeared in bit parts in various films and TV shows, most notably Mulholland Drive and The Descendants.
Jackie Earle Haley
Haley seems like a success story: the former child actor returned to film and got an Oscar nomination for his creepy turn as a sex offender in Little Children. Despite major roles in Watchmen and the reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street, he’s usually typecast as a villain or covered in makeup, leaving him unrecognizable.
These days, tough broad Tyrrell is known less for her Oscar-nominated turn in John Huston’s Fat City than for her association with cult favorites Cry Baby and Forbidden Zone.
Straight actually won her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Network; it is the shortest performance to win an Academy Award. It’s pretty apt, then, that she didn’t turn up in many memorable roles afterward — her most notable being the part of paranoia expert Dr. Lesh in Poltergeist.