Which Blockbuster Movie Series Has the Best Acting Talent?

By  · Published on November 18th, 2015

While finally catching up with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 this week in anticipation of the series’ finale out this Friday, I couldn’t help wondering if the movie had the most Oscar-celebrated actors of any blockbuster franchise. It’s unfortunate that none of them have received nor will earn a nomination for their performances in its four installments, as that kind of distinction can really put a franchise ahead of the pack.

It’s actually not a surprise to see so many Oscar winners in the Hunger Games movies, and it will surely be topped in the future with other tentpoles and their sequels. With Hollywood so franchise-focused these days, actors have to sign on to series like these because they’re where the jobs are, and usually the best paying ones at that. It’s only a matter of time before we see even Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis slum for superhero movies.

Below are 13 top movie franchises (including The Hunger Games) in order of how much Academy-recognized talent they have on screen. Any award or nomination for a performance in the series itself gets a lot of extra points. Recognition for acting before they joined the franchises is next best, followed by recognition received as the franchise was still going, with recognition received after appearing in a franchise getting the lowest amount of points. (See a point key down below.)

Observation: Marvel has everyone else beat by a long shot, but they have many more installments. In terms of density, DC has them very much beat, with two series.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Total points: 199
From 14 movies

Obviously there are more movies in this franchise than most, but the MCU also continually hires Oscar-caliber performers. Any of the sub-franchises within, such as Iron Man, Thor and the upcoming Doctor Strange individually are dense with winners and nominees. Some of the great actors in the MCU without Oscar recognition include Sam Rockwell, Tom Hiddleston, Rebecca Hall and Andy Serkis.

Oscar winners: Jeff Bridges (17), William Hurt (15), Anthony Hopkins (15), Ben Kingsley (15), Tommy Lee Jones (13), Natalie Portman (9), Benicio Del Toro (9), Gwyneth Paltrow (6), Michael Douglas (6), Tilda Swinton (6)

Oscar nominees: Glenn Close (18), Bradley Cooper (8), Edward Norton (7), Jeremy Renner (6), Djimon Hounsou (6), Mark Ruffalo (5), Robert Downey Jr. (5), Terrence Howard (3), Samuel L. Jackson (3), Don Cheadle (3), Tim Roth (3), Mickey Rourke (3), Stanley Tucci (3), Robert Redford (3), John C. Reilly (3), Josh Brolin (3), Chiwetel Ejiofor (3), Benedict Cumberbatch (3)

The Dark Knight

Total points: 108
From 3 movies

Marvel may have a lot of Oscar nominees and winners, but not a lot of its main heroes are Academy honorees. And few of its villains, as well. This one has an Oscar winner in the lead and one Oscar-winning performance from the series itself, the only instance of this happening on this list. Expect additional great actors Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to join the below bunch of talents soon enough.

Oscar winner for this series: Heath Ledger (28)

Other Oscar winners: Michael Caine (24), Morgan Freeman (17), Marion Cotillard (10), Anne Hathaway (7), Christian Bale (6)

Oscar nominees: Tom Wilkinson (4), Liam Neeson (3), Ken Watanabe (3), Eric Roberts (3), Gary Oldman (2), Maggie Gyllenhaal (1)

Harry Potter

Total points: 105
From 8 movies

This is the perfect example of a franchise employing veteran Oscar nominees and winners as support. I think it was a goal to hire every British honoree they could, actually. Now, if any of the kids find themselves with a nomination one day, then it’ll be something to talk about. Other great actors in the franchise with surprisingly no Oscar attention include Brendan Gleeson, Michael Gambon, Kelly Macdonald, Timothy Spall, Bill Nighy, David Thewlis and Alan Rickman.

Oscar winners: Maggie Smith (24), Emma Thompson (15), Julie Christie (14), Jim Broadbent (6)

Oscar nominees: Richard Harris (6), John Hurt (6), Julie Walters (6), Ralph Fiennes (6), Miranda Richardson (6), Helena Bonham Carter (5), Kenneth Branagh (4), John Cleese (3), Imelda Staunton (3), Gary Oldman (1)

Star Wars

Total points: 95
From 7 movies

It’s hard to imagine the first Star Wars getting so much prestige today, especially since Guinness doesn’t really do much in the movie. His nomination for playing Obi-Wan Kenobi was just a stepping stone for his Honorary Oscar three years later, received while he was still involved with the series. Other great Star Wars actors who weren’t or haven’t yet been Oscar contenders include Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Julian Glover, Rose Byrne and Joel Edgerton, and new hopeful additions include Oscar Isaacs and Andy Serkis.

Oscar-nominated for this series: Alec Guinness (48)

Other Oscar winners: James Earl Jones (13), Natalie Portman (6), Lupita Nyong’o (6)

Other Oscar nominees: Max von Sydow (6), Liam Neeson (3), Terence Stamp (3), Samuel L. Jackson (3), Keisha Castle-Hughes (3), Keira Knightley (2), Harrison Ford (1), Sally Hawkins (1)

James Bond

Total points: 92
From 24 movies

A lot of the actors represented here played villains, and that number is still surprisingly low. More great actors should strive to ham it up opposite 007. There have been some other great actors who’ve done the gig, like Christopher Lee, Mads Mikkelsen, Jonathan Pryce, Mathieu Amalric and Donald Pleasence. There aren’t many performers over the course of the 24 installments I’d say should be Oscar nominees, though, but Jeffrey Wright is one.

Oscar winners: Judi Dench (17), Javier Bardem (12), Christoph Waltz (12), Christopher Walken (7), Benicio Del Toro (5), Sean Connery (4)

Oscar nominees: Albert Finney (15), Ralph Fiennes (6), Lotte Lenya (3), Telly Savalas (3), John Cleese (3), Giancarlo Giannini (3), Robert Shaw (1), Rosamund Pike (1)

DC Extended Universe

Total points: 81
From 3 movies

We’ve actually only seen one of these movies so far, but it had to be noted how densely populated with Oscar-caliber actors the DC movies continue to be (following in the footsteps of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series). Perhaps they’ll eventually give Marvel a run for their money. One notably absent name below is Ben Affleck, who has two Oscars but neither is for acting. He probably will never get one of those.

Oscar winners: Holly Hunter (15), Russell Crowe (12), Jeremy Irons (6), Jared Leto (6)

Oscar nominees: Amy Adams (15), Will Smith (6), Viola Davis (6), Michael Shannon (3), Diane Lane (3), Kevin Costner (3), Laurence Fishburne (3), Jesse Eisenberg (3)

Mission: Impossible

Total points: 84
From 5 movies

This franchise is doing just fine without a lot of Academy-recognized actors as regulars, mostly thanks to that one appearance by Vanessa Redgrave, and some might argue that Anthony Hopkins shouldn’t even be on the list since he’s only an uncredited voice in one movie. Some actors in the series who should be honored, though, include Brendan Gleeson and Eddie Marsan.

Oscar winners: Vanessa Redgrave (21), Anthony Hopkins (15), Jon Voight (13), Philip Seymour Hoffman (9)

Oscar nominees: Tom Cruise (7), Jeremy Renner (6), Tom Wilkinson (6), Laurence Fishburne (3), Alec Baldwin (3), Kristin Scott Thomas (1)

Pirates of the Caribbean

Total points: 65
From 5 movies

Never forget that Johnny Depp earned his first Oscar nomination for this franchise. Some of the series’ great actors who are in many of these franchises and haven’t been recognized include Bill Nighy, Stellan Skarsgard and Jonathan Pryce.

Oscar-nominated for this series: Johnny Depp (24)

Oscar winners: Geoffrey Rush (14), Penelope Cruz (12), Javier Bardem (12)

Other Oscar nominees: Keira Knightley (3)

The Hunger Games

Total points: 51
From 4 movies

At first, The Hunger Games was really lucky, or smart, to cast Jennifer Lawrence after her first Oscar nod. It probably wasn’t anticipated, though, that she’d be such and Academy darling during her time with the franchise as it went on. It’s likely thanks to Lawrence’s prestige that they then wooed Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman to the final act. This series does have a lot of other incredible actors who’ve surprisingly not been recognized, most notably Donald Sutherland but also Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer.

Oscar winners: Julianne Moore (17), Philip Seymour Hoffman (15), Jennifer Lawrence (10)

Oscar nominees: Woody Harrelson (6), Stanley Tucci (3)


Total points: 46
From 5 movies

It’s the fact that Sigourney Weaver received an Oscar nod for playing Ellen Ripley that makes me think Charlize Theron (who is the sole Oscar winner in this franchise) deserves one for Mad Max: Fury Road. Other great actors who haven’t been recognized include Harry Dean Stanton, Charles Dance, Guy Pearce and Idris Elba.

Oscar-nominated for this series: Sigourney Weaver (24)

Oscar winners: Charlize Theron (9)

Other Oscar nominees: John Hurt (5), Winona Ryder (4), Ian Holm (1), Pete Postlethwaite (1), Brad Dourif (1), Michael Fassbender (1)

The Lord of the Rings

Total points: 46
From 6 movies

Aren’t you surprised this one doesn’t have more points? And half of them are thanks to Ian McKellen, who was nominated for his first appearance as Gandalf. There are a number of other great actors in these movies who’ve never been honored by the Academy, notably Andy Serkis, Christopher Lee and Stephen Fry.

Oscar-nominated for this series: Ian McKellen (23)

Oscar winners: Cate Blanchett (15)

Oscar nominees: Ian Holm (3), Brad Dourif (3), Viggo Mortensen (1), Benedict Cumberbatch (1)


Total points: 38
From 7 movies

This franchise started out with very little Oscar power, but a few of the actors have gone on to greater things. We’ll see if the next generation of X-Men are just as worthy. Meanwhile, great actors without ever being recognized include Patrick Stewart, Rose Byrne, Alan Cumming, Ben Foster, Brian Cox, Liev Schreiber and Kevin Bacon.

Oscar winners: Jennifer Lawrence (10), Anna Paquin (6), Halle Berry (5)

Oscar nominees: Ian McKellen (5), Bruce Davison (3), Michael Lerner (3), Hugh Jackman (2), Ellen Page (2), Michael Fassbender (2)

Jurassic Park

Total points: 19
From 4 movies

One thing Jurassic World didn’t copy from its predecessors was having at least one Academy-recognized actor in its cast. Maybe Chris Pratt will get a nomination one day. Or Vincent D’Onofrio. Or Jimmy Buffet.

Oscar winners: Julianne Moore (8)

Oscar nominees: Laura Dern (4), Pete Postlethwaite (3), William H. Macy (3), Samuel L. Jackson (1)

Point Key:

Winner for this series: 25

Nominee for this series: 20

Honorary Oscar during: 15

Honorar Oscar after: 10

Winner before: 6

Winner during: 5

Winner after: 4

Nominee before: 3

Nominee during: 2

Nominee after: 1

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.