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Actors Who Received Oscars For Their First Movie Roles

Awards institutions like the Academy Awards and Golden Globes tend to favor established actors. It's difficult enough to make it in Hollywood, and rarely does an actor get showered with acclaim for their first role. Sure, there are often breakthrough actors who will receive the stray Oscar nomination, but a win for a debut screen performance is almost unheard of. Many actors slog it out in small supporting parts — or sometimes starring roles in little-seen pictures — before landing that one job that elevates them not just with the public, but with their fellow thespians and the filmmaking industry in general. Others toil on the stage for years before making the jump to celluloid. 

Yet a win for a first appearance can and does happen, as we can see below. This highly prestigious group of actors from over the decades includes both young record-breakers and stage veterans making their grand entrance to the world of film. What they all share is that these actors and actresses all received Oscars for their very first movie roles. 

Julie Andrews won Best Actress for Mary Poppins in 1965

By the time Julie Andrews became a screen legend in her debut performance as the magical nanny in Disney's "Mary Poppins," she was already a Broadway star. Her rise to prominence in the 1950s is well chronicled and after the CBS airing of "Cinderella" in 1957, Julie Andrews was a household name destined for an incredible career. She was only 29 when she won the Best Actress Oscar for her iconic role — a part she almost lost because she was pregnant, until Walt Disney agreed to wait until her daughter was born to start filming.

"Mary Poppins" is still a defining film and role in Andrews' career. The character also represented a long-gone generation of Disney films and has touched the hearts of generations of children ever since its release in 1964. Mary has a special place in Hollywood history, mostly due to the charisma and tenderness that Andrews brought to the role — which is to say nothing of how remarkably her singing and acting talents translated from stage to screen.

Barbra Streisand won her first Oscar for Funny Girl in 1969

Barbra Streisand came out swinging. If you can use that phrase to describe anyone's career, Streisand is at the top of that list, winning two Grammys for her debut album in 1963 at the age of 21. Of course, we all know now those awards were just the start. The following year Streisand starred in the hit Broadway show "Funny Girl." Four years later she won the Best Actress Oscar for her debut role in the film adaptation.

The classic musical stars Streisand as Fanny Brice and is loosely based on the life and career of the Broadway star and comedian of the same name. "Funny Girl" received eight Academy Award nominations but Streisand's was the only one that snagged a trophy. The film was a smash hit and the highest grossing movie of 1968. And it launched Barbra Streisand's career into another stratosphere, setting the stage for a career full of acting, writing, and directing.

Timothy Hutton won Best Supporting Actor for Ordinary People at age 20

A younger crowd probably knows Timothy Hutton for his years on TV dramas like "Leverage," "Jack Ryan," or "How to Get Away With Murder." But well before his decades of steady TV roles, Hutton was the youngest actor to ever win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor at the age of 20 for the family drama "Ordinary People." Speaking of first-time winners, the movie just happened to also be Robert Redford's directorial debut, for which he won Best Director, while the film itself won Best Picture.

The dour drama is based on a Judith Guest novel about a couple who loses one of their two sons to a tragic accident, while dealing with the mental repercussions this has on their other son. Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore starred as the grieving parents, but it was Hutton who gave the Oscar-winning performance as teenage son Conrad Jarrett. Moore and Judd Hirsch were also nominated for Oscars for their work in the film.

Jennifer Hudson went from American Idol finalist to Oscar winner with Dreamgirls

After being a fan favorite and a finalist on the third season of "American Idol," actress and R&B singer Jennifer Hudson seemed set on a path to stardom. Less than two years after breaking out on the show, Hudson made her acting debut in the 2006 musical "Dreamgirls." Based on the 1981 Broadway musical of the same name, the adaptation was a critical and commercial success and launched Hudson's career.

The film follows the evolution of R&B and the Motown era in the 1960s and '70s in middle America. A fictional group of young black women singers called The Dreams — based on The Supremes and other contemporary acts — struggle with corruption and racism as they climb the ranks of the recorded music industry. Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx, and Eddie Murphy all starred in the film alongside Hudson — with Murphy nabbing a nomination for Best Supporting Actor — but Hudson was the only one to bring home the W. 

Anna Paquin won Best Supporting Actress for The Piano when she was only 11

One of the youngest wins in Oscar history — in fact the second youngest to Tatum O'Neal, who you will read about later — Anna Paquin was 11 when she won for Best Supporting Actress. The New Zealand-Canadian actress had never acted professionally before "The Piano," but when director Jane Campion was holding auditions in her native New Zealand, Paquin showed up to the audition and blew everyone away.

"The Piano" is a period drama about a selectively mute Scottish woman and her daughter starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, and of course the young Paquin. It received much critical praise at the time and has gone on to be one of Campion's highest rated films. Hunter received an Academy Award for her lead performance, as did Campion for her writing in the category of Best Original Screenplay. "The Piano" gathered a total of eight Oscar nominations on top of numerous awards at various competitions and award shows from Cannes to the Golden Globes.

Haing S. Ngor had never acted before his Oscar-winning work in The Killing Fields

"The Killing Fields" is an award-winning British film directed by Roland Joffe about the end of the Cambodian civil war and, later, the Cambodian genocide. The story is based on the works of journalists Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg, who is played by Sam Waterston. Cambodian doctor Haing S. Ngor had never acted before, but he was cast to play Pran. It was a bold risk that paid off in a Best Supporting Actor win and a film career in the '80s and '90s for Ngor.

Before winning the Oscar for "The Killing Fields," Ngor had a difficult life under the Khmer Rouge regime. In the late '70s, Ngor lived in prison camps, where his wife and unborn child died during childbirth. After the regime's fall in 1979, Ngor took up a job as a doctor in a refugee camp in Thailand before he was picked for the role years later. 

Ngor was the second Asian actor to ever win an Oscar. "The Killing Fields" also won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Editing.

Lupita Nyong'o kickstarted her career with her 12 Years a Slave win

Not even a decade out from her Oscar-winning debut in "12 Years a Slave" in 2013, Lupita Nyong'o has burst into full-fledged stardom. The Kenyan-born actress has gone on to play major supporting roles in the "Star Wars" franchise and the MCU. Nyong'o is best known to general audiences as Nakia in "Black Panther," or the lead of Jordan Peele's horror smash hit "Us," but her most critically acclaimed performance is still her very first as Patsey in Steve McQueen's historical drama. Before "12 Years a Slave," Nyong'o had worked in TV and on film shorts, but never on a Hollywood feature.

Nyong'o's performance stood toe to toe with Michael Fasssbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor in McQueen's affecting slave drama. All three were nominated for Academy Awards, but Nyong'o was the only one to bring home the statue for her Best Supporting Actress performance. "12 Years a Slave" was extremely successful at the 2014 Oscars and also walked away with wins for Best Adapted Screenplay and, most memorably, Best Picture.

Eva Marie Saint took old Hollywood by storm with her win for On the Waterfront

In the late 1940s and early '50s, Eva Marie Saint was a working television actress for NBC, appearing on a variety of their programs, as well as an up-and-coming theater and radio star. The successful young actress didn't move to film until she was 30 years old. That role as Edie Doyle in the 1954 Marlon Brando classic "On the Waterfront" earned her an Academy Award win and launched her career as one of the leading ladies of the Golden Age of Hollywood, a title that starring in Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" five years later would cement.

Elia Kazan's '50s drama is about mob-run unions, but frankly everyone remembers it for Brando and the iconic "I coulda been a contender" speech. Across the board the acting in the film is top notch, racking up five Oscar noms just for the performances. Aside from Brando, Saint was the only one to win. "On the Waterfront" also won Best Picture and Best Director at the 1955 Academy Awards.

Shirley Booth won for her film debut in Come Back, Little Sheba at age 54

Shirley Booth never did much film work. The actress primarily stayed in the theater and moved later to TV, where she played her most recognizable role as the title character on the '60s sitcom "Hazel." Even after her Oscar win in 1953, she still mostly stuck to other forms of media for the remainder of her career. Booth's Oscar win for "Come Back, Little Sheba" was a bit of an anomaly, mostly because at age 54 she had never been in a feature film in any capacity.

In 1950, Booth won the Tony award for Best Actress in a Play for the stage version of "Come Back, Little Sheba." The script was turned into a film on the back of the play's theatrical success. Booth starred opposite Burt Lancaster and impressed critics enough to win the Best Actress Academy Award. She is also the actor on this list who was oldest at the time they received their Oscar. 

Marlee Matlin became the youngest Best Actress winner for Children of a Lesser God

Marlee Matlin is one of the most prominent deaf actresses and activists in Hollywood. She was discovered by actor Henry Winkler as a teenager when she was acting on stage at the International Center on Deafness and the Arts. This relationship eventually led to her becoming the youngest woman to ever win Best Actress at the Academy Awards and the only deaf person to ever win an Oscar. That win was for "Children of a Lesser God," a romantic drama set at a school for the deaf where she starred opposite William Hurt.

Matlin played a deaf woman working as a custodian at a deaf school where a new teacher (Hurt) begins to develop a relationship with her. The film and the lead performances were praised by critics. "Children of a Lesser God" was nominated for Best Picture as well, but Matlin brought home its only Oscar win.

Jo Van Fleet outshined James Dean in 1955's East of Eden

Adapted from the John Steinbeck novel of the same name, "East of Eden" has gone down in history as one of the only three movies James Dean ever starred in. The film earned Dean the first of his two posthumous nominations for Best Actor following his death in 1955 — the same year that "East of Eden" was released. The movie was directed by "On the Waterfront" writer/director Elia Kazan, who also got an Oscar nod for "East of Eden." But it was Jo Van Fleet who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for playing Cathy Ames, the mother of Dean's character. 

While "East of Eden" was Van Fleet's movie and Academy Award debut, she was coming hot off a Tony win for her performance in "The Trip to Bountiful." Making the transition from stage to screen look ever so easy, Van Fleet won her first Oscar for her first movie just like that.

Tatum O'Neal remains the youngest Oscar winner for 1973's Paper Moon

In 1974, Tatum O'Neal won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the film "Paper Moon." She was 10 years old at the time. This makes her the youngest Oscar winner in the history of the ceremony.

Tatum O'Neal was born to father Ryan O'Neal, a boxer who found his way to acting in Hollywood through the 1960s soap opera "Peyton Place," transitioning into movies in the '70s. He had worked with "Paper Moon" director Peter Bogdanovich on the auteur's previous movie, "What's Up, Doc?" Father and daughter have a chemistry in this Depression-era crime caper, but it was the younger O'Neal who ultimately ended up with the Academy Award. Her father didn't even get a nomination. 

O'Neal later opened up about her father's alleged abuse and how the filming drove an even greater wedge between them in her book "A Paper Life." 

Radio star Mercedes McCambridge won an Oscar for All the King's Men in 1950

You might know her best as the voice of the demon spirit Pazuzu in "The Exorcist," without even knowing that the voice belongs to Golden Age radio star Mercedes McCambridge. The woman "Citizen Kane" director Orson Welles called "the world's greatest living radio actress" went on to a long career in the movies, winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her first role in "All The King's Men" in 1950.

The movie is a film noir based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren, the events of which are said to be about Louisiana politician Huey Long. McCambridge starred alongside Broderick Crawford — who won the Oscar for Best Actor — and John Ireland. "All the King's Men" also won the Academy Award for Best Picture, winning a total of three of the seven Oscars it was up for.