Actors and Actresses Who Won Oscars in Their Film Debuts

Check out some of our favorite actors and actresses from Oscar's past who hit gold right from the start.
Publish date:
Lupita Nyong'o and Barkhad Abdi both made separate film debuts this past year and are up for Oscars in the Best Supporting Actress/Actor category. (Getty)

Lupita Nyong'o and Barkhad Abdi both made separate film debuts this past year and are up for Oscars in the Best Supporting Actress/Actor category. (Getty)

There's a certain level of predictability that goes along with the Oscars year after year: an amazing (or amazingly bad) master of ceremony, mind-blowing red carpet accoutrements, awkward acceptance speeches...and having Meryl Streep on the ballot.

And while many fans will be hoping for some of their favorite Oscar-contending actors like Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock to win gold this year, thankfully, we've got a couple wildcards on the ballot to keep the competition interesting. Making their film debuts, newbie actors Lupita Nyong'o and Barkhad Abdi are up for Best Supporting Actress and Actor for 12 Years a Slave and Captain Phillips, respectively.

If either Nyong'o or Abdi wins in their category, they'll fall into an elite group of actors who've won Oscars in their film debuts. Not a small feat to accomplish.

As a celebration to the star-studded ceremony this Sunday, check out some of our favorite actors and actresses from Oscar's past who hit gold right from the start.


Julie Andrews - 'Mary Poppins'

Image Title2

"Just a spoonful of rejection makes the medicine go down! In the most delightful way!"

Walt Disney had two obstacles keeping him from getting Julie Andrews to play Mary Poppins on screen. The first? Warner Bros.'s film adaptation of My Fair Lady. Longing to play the film's heroine, Eliza Doolittle, on the big screen—just as she had done on Broadway—Andrews was holding out for the part. But to her disappointment, film exec Jack Warner decided to give the role to Audrey Hepburn.


That leads us to the second obstacle: Andrews had been pregnant at the time when Disney began setting the film's wheels in motion. Although she initially declined to take the role of what would soon be the world's most famous nanny, Disney told Andrews he'd wait for her. And his patience paid off for the both of them. In 1963 Mary Poppins became the highest grossing box office hit in Disney's history, and Andrews won an Oscar for her lead role the following year. Oh, and if you were wondering, she did indeed thank Jack Warner for his help in her victory.

Barbra Streisand - 'Funny Girl'

Image Title3

Although the snazzy character of Fanny Brice in Broadway's Funny Girl was compelling enough to adapt onto film, it was Barbra Streisand's charismatic performance of Fanny on stage that convinced director William Wyler to run with the project.

"I hadn’t decided to do the picture until I saw Barbra,” Wyler said. “She had a lot to do with my decision. I wouldn’t have made the picture without her.”


But Wyler needn't have worried: Streisand wasn't going to let him make it without her. Signing a four-picture deal in 1965 to secure her cinematic debut as Fanny, Streisand wowed film critics and moviegoers with her perfect timing, acting chops—and letting her Jewish face, name, and mannerisms all hang out.

And just like the first words she uttered in Wyler's flick, Babs took one look at her golden statuette in 1969 and exclaimed, "Hello, gorgeous!"


Haing S. Ngor - 'The Killing Fields'

Image Title4

Male actors in this group are a small lot compared to their female counterparts. Besides Timothy Hutton, who won Best Supporting Actor for his role as suicidal teen Conrad Jarrett in Ordinary People (1980), there's only one other man who shares this honor: Haing S. Ngor.

Playing photojournalist and Cambodian refugee Dith Pran in The Killing Fields (1984), Ngor turned out to be a triple threat: He not only won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but he is also one of the only nonprofessional actors and the first Asian actor ever to do so.

But like the real-life Dith Pran whom he had portrayed on screen, Ngor had his own similar tragedies. He, too, experienced life under the murderous and oppressive reign of the Khmer Rouge and was imprisoned in a concentration camp where his wife died while trying to give birth.

After the fall of the regime in 1979, Ngor escaped to the United States and wrote a book about his harrowing experiences, founded an eponymous nonprofit to raise funds for Cambodia's poor, and pursued a successful acting career. Unfortunately, tragedy struck one last time: On February 25, 1996, Ngor was shot to death near his home in downtown Los Angeles. Some say his murder was orchestrated by Khmer Rouge sympathizers, but the theories were never proven.


Jennifer Hudson - 'Dreamgirls'

Image Title5

Who doesn't like seeing an underdog triumph in one of the biggest ways possible? And better yet: Who can say they lived to outshine Beyoncé?! Let's just say Jennifer Hudson's got major bragging rights.

In 2004 Hudson competed on the third season of American Idol and ended up coming in seventh place. While it's pretty difficult to remember an AI contestant ever finding substantial success past the top three finalists, Hudson did just that. The next year she went on to beat Raven-Symoné and her co-AI contestant Fantasia Barrino for the coveted role of Effie White in Dreamgirls, co-starring Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Beyoncé Knowles.


Her powerful performance and mega vocal chords won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2006, and both her singing and acting career has been golden ever since.

Anna Paquin - 'The Piano'

Image Title6

Canadian-born New Zealand actress Anna Paquin was a sight to see when she won the Oscar for Best Supporting for her role as Holly Hunter's daughter in The Piano (1993): There she stood at 11 years old: wide-eyed, giggling out of incredulity, gasping for air, and utterly speechless. (Hunter would win Best Leading Actress for her role in the film, too.)

Paquin was the second youngest Oscar winner, the first being Tatum O'Neal for Paper Moon (1973). But unlike O'Neal, Paquin didn't come from an acting family; in fact her getting the role of little Flora McGrath in The Piano was completely happenstance.

Of the 5000 girls who came out to the casting call in New Zealand, Paquin's older sister was one of them—Paquin had just tagged along with her sis out of sheer boredom. Thankfully for the now-famous actress, she caught the eye of director Jane Campion who asked for her to do a reading as well. And the rest is Oscar history.