Ranking the Best Actor Oscar Winners of the 2020s

The decade is young and there’s still a lot to come, but let’s get the process started on this ranking anyway. I’ll keep adding winners as they are announced and we’ll see how this list plays out by the end of the decade. If you want more in the meantime, feel free to browse other decades.

Just a quick note on process: I will comment on whether or not an actor deserved their win but whether or not they were worthy of Oscar cannot in and of itself impact their place in the ranking. Also, these lists are fluid for me. I reserve the right to revisit and rethink them over time and make changes. The Academy is stuck with their choices but I am under no such obligation.

1. Anthony Hopkins, The Father (2020)

The biggest shock of the Oscar races for this year was that the category that seemed like the surest bet turned out to be wrong. Everyone assumed Chadwick Boseman was a lock to be the first posthumous acting winner since Heath Ledger thanks to his stellar turn in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (a performance all the more remarkable knowing that Boseman was dying of cancer at the time it was filmed). Instead, after a wildly successful run through the precursors, Boseman lost to Hopkins at the BAFTAs–a loss that was easily explained by the British voting body preferring to award the very British Hopkins. In hindsight, perhaps it was just the first omen that voters were tired of the (seeming) inevitability of the Best Actor race. Maybe they wanted to spread the wealth, maybe voters assumed they could throw their vote elsewhere since Boseman’s win seemed assured–whatever the cause, the result was totally unexpected. So unexpected that the producers of that year’s show announced Best Actor last, likely gambling that Boseman’s posthumous win would be an emotional high to end on. Instead, the show ended utterly without ceremony (due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Anthony Hopkins was safely sequestered in his home in Wales and unable to attend the ceremony).

I have not seen The Father yet but I plan to shortly and will update this description as soon as I do. Since Hopkins is the only winner in this decade so far, though, I don’t have to struggle with where to put him for now. From what I’ve heard, Hopkins’ turn as a man struggling with dementia is some of his best work (and given the career he’s had, that really says something). And at age 83, Hopkins became the oldest Oscar winner in an acting category (James Ivory, who won Best Adapted Screenplay for Call Me By Your Name at age 89, has the title of Oldest Oscar winner ever).

Should have won in 2020: I can’t adequately say until I see The Father. I will say that Boseman’s performance in Ma Rainey is a tough act to beat, but from everything I’ve heard about Hopkins, it’s possible he deserved it.

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