Gay — lesbian, bi, and trans — is gold! At least if you're talking about those statues handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences every spring. Of course, this rule also does not apply to out actors, who, as Sam Smith and Ian McKellen recently noted, have never taken home acting's top prize. Regardless, here are 50 hetero actors and actresses who received Oscar nominations for playing LGBT characters.
In 1940, Alfred Hitchcock directed Rebecca, a story of a self conscious bride who is tormented by the memory of her new husband’s first wife. Judith Anderson earned an Oscar nod for playing Mrs. Danvers, the chilling and obsessive caretaker who may or may not have been in love with the deceased wife.
Star! (1968) tells the real life story of the rise of broadway/movie star Gertrude Lawrence who at the beginning of the film, gets cast in London’s Calling, a new play penned by Noel Coward, who was brought to life for the film by Daniel Massey. Massey's portrayal of Coward, a gay actor/writer/composer/etc. known for his wit and flamboyance, garnered him his first and only Oscar nomination.
Peter Finch was nominated for his first Oscar in 1971 for his performance in Sunday Bloody Sunday in which he played Daniel Hirsh. The story revolves around A Jewish doctor, Hirsh, and a middle-aged woman, Alex Greville, who are both having affairs with the same male artist, Bob Elkin.
Lenny Bruce is brought to life in the Bob Fosse directed Lenny (1974). While the story centers on the Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar nominated portrayal of the groundbreaking comic, Valerie Perrine — who plays Lenny’s wife whom he forces into a couple lesbian encounters — also received an Oscar nod.
In 1975 Al Pacino is nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon. The character of Sonny is based on a real life bank robber who attempted to hold up a bank in Brooklyn in order to pay for his partner’s gender-affirming surgery.
Only When I Laugh (1981) tells the story of Georgia Hines, a divorced Broadway actress, who upon release from rehab for alcohol abuse, tries to put her life together. James Coco earned himself an Oscar nod, playing Jimmy Perino, a fabulous gay actor and one of Georgia’s best friends.
Robert Preston was nominated for his first and only Oscar playing gay cabaret singer Carole “Toddy” Todd in the gender swapping comedy Victor/Victoria (1982).
In 1984, John Lithgow earned his first Oscar nomination playing Roberta Muldoon, a transgender ex-football player, in the adaptation of John Irving’s The World According to Garp.
Silkwood (1983) tells the story of a brave woman who was poisoned and tortured by her bosses at a plutonium processing plant for trying to expose workplace safety violations. It was also the vehicle that earned Cher her first Oscar nod, playing Karen Silkwood’s lesbian roommate, Dolly Pelliker.
Tom Courtenay was nominated for an Oscar for his turn as Norman, an effeminate set dresser trying to get an aging veteran theater actor through a very difficult performance of King Lear in The Dresser (1983).
In 1984’s The Bostonians, a staunch feminist (Vanessa Redgrave) and a conservative Southern lawyer (Christopher Reeve) go head to head for the heart of a beautiful young girl. We aren't gonna tell you who walks away with the young woman, but Redgrave did walk away with an Oscar nod.
The Color Purple (1985) introduced the world to Whoopi Goldberg, who was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Celie Johnson, a woman who struggles to find her identity after suffering years of abuse at the hands of men in her life. Celie enters a relationship with his husband’s estranged mistress, a slinky blues singer named Shug.
Shug Avery, played by Margaret Avery, who was also nominated for Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Alice Walker's The Color Purple.
William Hurt’s portrayal of a gay man imprisoned for “immoral behavior” in Kiss of the Spider Woman earned him the 1986 Oscar for best actor in a lead role.
Longtime Companion (1989) told the story of a group of gay friends from 1981-1988, as the AIDS crisis brought panic and terror. The film was the first movie about AIDS to get a wide release and earned Bruce Davison an Oscar nod for his role.
You wouldn't think that a film about a U.S. president would have a gay orgy in it, but alas, we have Oliver Stone’s JFK (1990). In it we have Clay Shaw, played by Tommy Lee Jones who was nominated for an Oscar for the role, engaging in a drug- filled sexcapade with several other men.
Tom Hanks won his first Academy Award for his portrayal of Andrew Beckett — a man wrongfully dismissed from his job because he has AIDS — in 1994's Philadelphia.
In 1997, Greg Kinnear was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role of Simon Bishop in As Good As It Gets. After being beaten up in an attempted burglary, Simon is left unable to take care of himself and calls upon his incredibly selfish, OCD neighbor — played by a cranky Jack Nicholson — for help.
Primary Colors follows a Clinton-esque president on the campaign trail. Along the way we meet one of his trusted advisors, a gun toting, potentially unstable, lesbian, who’s depiction by Kathy Bates earned the actress an Oscar nomination in 1998.
A transgender man trying to find himself and navigate love in a small Nebraska town is the premise of Boys Don’t Cry (1999). The powerful film earned Hilary Swank her first Academy Award.
Javier Bardem received an Oscar nomination in 2000's Before Night Falls, which tells the story of gay Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas.
Iris Murdoch, one of England’s most prolific writers and secret lover of philosopher Phillipa Foot, is the subject of the 2001 film Iris which earned Academy Award nominations for both actresses playing Murdoch; Kate Winslet and Dame Judi Dench.
The 2002 film Frida, a biopic on acclaimed artist Frida Kahlo, produced an Oscar nomination for Salma Hayek in the titular role, and does not shy away from the artist's bisexuality.
The Hours (2002) connects three women over multiple generations looking for meaning in their lives. The film earned several Oscar nominations, including Nicole Kidman, who played not-straight novelist Virginia Woolf.
Another Hours nominee was Julianne Moore, playing disappointed housewife Laura Brown who shares an intimate kiss with her neighbor before leaving her family behind.
Ed Harris was also nominated for his role in The Hours as Richard Brown, a gay man dying of AIDS who wants to end his life on his own terms.
Charlize Theron won an Oscar in 2004 playing bisexual Florida prostitute-turned-serial killer Aileen Wournos.
Brokeback Mountain (2004) is the beautiful story of two cowboys, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), who find love one summer while working together as sheep herders and then try and navigate this new relationship over the years. Both actors were nominated for Academy Awards.
Felicity Huffman was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Bree in 2004's Transamerica, a transgender woman who learns she fathered a son who is now a hustler.
In Capote (2005), Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the titular character, the lauded In Cold Blood author who was openly gay when the subject was completely taboo.
Dame Judi Dench played the obsessive Barbara Covett in 2006’s Notes on a Scandal. Covett, a veteran school teacher befriends a new colleague, who engages in an affair with a student. It soon becomes clear though that Covett may have more than just platonic interests in mind.
Harvey Milk was a pioneer of the gay rights movement who became one of the nation's first openly gay elected officials. In 2008, Sean Penn won a best actor Oscar for playing him in the critically acclaimed Milk.
Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man tells the story of an English professor who a year after the sudden death of his boyfriend is still reeling from the loss. Colin Firth was nominated for an Oscar for playing the beleaguered professor, George Falconer.
In 2009, Penelope Cruz was nominated for her second (and won her first) Academy Award playing Maria Elena, the fiery and tempestuous ex-wife of an artist who enters into a new relationship with the artist and his new girlfriend in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
At 82, Christopher Plummer became the oldest winner of a competitive Oscar for his turn as Hal in Beginners (2010). The movie tells the story of a young man who’s world is rocked when his aging father makes two announcements; he has terminal cancer and a young male lover.
A young dancer gets the lead role in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake but soon struggles to maintain her sanity in Black Swan (2010). Natalie Portman won a best lead actress Oscar for playing the dancer, Nina Sayers, who while maybe not gay definitely shows some bisexual tendencies in one particularly steamy scene.
Annette Bening was nominated for a best actress Academy Award for her role as Nic, who with her partner Jules had two children via artificial insemination, but when the kids want to meet their biological father, everything gets very complicated in The Kids Are All Right (2010).
In The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011), Rooney Mara plays Lisbeth Salander, a bisexual, pierced, and tattooed computer hacker helping a disgraced journalist find a wealthy man’s niece who disappeared 40 years earlier. Mara was nominated for best supporting actress for the performance.
In 2012, Glenn Close was nominated for a best actress Oscar for playing the titular role in Albert Nobbs. In the film, Close plays a woman who in order to make a better life for herself, poses as a man so she can work as a butler in one of Dublin’s most posh hotels.
Also nominated from Albert Nobbs was Janet McTeer, who played another woman posing as a man, a painter named Hubert Page. Page shows Nobbs another possibility besides the solitary life he was living; one with love and a family.
Jared Leto had his first Oscar nomination and win in 2013 playing Rayon, an enigmatic and troubled HIV-positive transgender woman who teams up with a straight man to get expensive medications in Dallas Buyer’s Club.
Alan Turing and his team of brilliant code breakers must race against time to turn the tide of of World War II in The Imitation Game (2014). Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who was nominated for a best actor Oscar, was gay and treated reprehensibly by the British government.
In 1950s New York City, a young photographer finds herself in a love affair with an older woman in Carol (2015). Cate Blanchett was nominated for a best actress in a lead role Oscar for her portrayal of Carol Aird, the older woman escaping a loveless marriage.
Also nominated from Carol is Rooney Mara, who plays the aspiring photographer who meets Aird while working in a department store, dreaming of a better life.
The Danish Girl tells the story of an artist who becomes a transgender pioneer. Eddie Redmayne’s beautiful portrayal of Einer Wegener/Lili Elbe earned him a best actor Oscar nomination.
George Sanders won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his turn as dandy theater critic Addison Dewitt in the classic All About Eve. Though never outright gay in the script, to many film scholars it’s the otherness of being gay that he recognizes in Eve Harrington that causes the two to team up.
Also nominated from All About Eve was Anne Baxter as the obsessive Eve Harrington. Whether the obsession Eve has for Margo Channing comes from a place of lust or insatiable ambition is up for debate.
There’s always been speculation about whether or not Katharine Hepburn was indeed LGBT, but Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the iconic actress, which garnered her a best supporting actress Oscar for The Aviator (2004), left out any hint of homosexual tendencies.
In A Beautiful Mind (2001) Russell Crowe plays John Nash, a real-life mathematician, who becomes unable to differentiate the real world from fantasy. In the biography of the same name, John Nash was described as bisexual, a fact that was left out of the biopic.