By Gil Mansergh


For over fifty years, the roles that most frequently earn a Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination are those of prostitute, adulterer or rape victim. I discovered this while picking movies for the presentation “A Movie Watcher’s Guide to Visual Literacy,” I’m giving at the Women’s Power Strategy Conference in Marin on March 24th.

I arbitrarily chose the year 1958 to begin my list because I’m starting off my talk with a clip from “The Vikings,” the culturally significant* film from that year, directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Ernest Borgnine.

By only looking back fifty-three years, I have excluded some of the juiciest Oscar-winning roles, including Vivien Leigh as the adulterer and rape victim Blanche Dubois in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) and Donna Reed as the prostitute/dance hostess Lorene in “From Here to Eternity” (1953).

I was admittedly generous with my categories. For example, before becoming a lounge singer in The Fabulous Baker Boys, , Michelle Pfeiffer’s character worked as a “paid escort,” which I reclassified as a prostitute. And in the middle of the confirmation process to become the Vice President of the United States in “The Contender,” Joan Allen’s character is only accused of being paid for sex. I was equally broad with the rape victim category, including spousal rape in “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and statutory rape in “Coal Miner’s Daughter” because Loretta Lynn (Sissy Spacek) got married when she was only 13-years-old.

in summary, over half of the golden statuettes awarded for Best Actress or Best Actress in a Supporting Role garnered over the past fifty-three years were for playing either a prostitute, adulterer or rape victim.

Here are the surprising results:


Roles as Prostitutes, Adulterers and Rape Victims

Earn Actresses Dozens of Oscar Nominations

Compiled by

Gil Mansergh

Codes:  Oscar=Best Actress, BSA Oscar=Best Supporting Actress

               PRO=Prostitute, ADU=Adulterer, RV=Rape Victim


PRO          Susan Hayward Oscar for I Want to Live! (1958)

ADU         Wendy Hiller BSA Oscar for Separate Tables (1958)

ADU         Elizabeth Taylor in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

ADU         Simone Signoret Oscar for Room at the Top (1959)

PRO          Shirley Jones BSA Oscar for Elmer Gantry (1960)

PRO           Elizabeth Taylor Oscar for BUtterfield 8 (1960)

PRO            Melina Mercuri in Never on Sunday (1960)

ADU         Shirley MacLaine for The Apartment (1960)

RV            Sophia Loren Oscar for Two Women (1961)

PRO         Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

 ADU         Geraldine Page in Summer and Smoke (1961)

 RV            Piper Laurie in The Hustler (1961)

 ADU         Geraldine Page in Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)

 RV            Patricia Neal Oscar for Hud (1963)

 ADU         Leslie Caron in The L-Shaped Room (1963)

 ADU         Rachel Roberts in This Sporting Life (1963)

 ADU         Natalie Wood in Love With a Proper Stranger (1963)

 PRO          Shirley MacLaine Oscar for Irma La Douce (1963)

ADU         Anne Bancroft in The Pumpkin Eater (1964)

ADU         Sophia Loren in Marriage Italian Style (1964)

ADU         Julie Christie Oscar for Darling (1965)

PRO          Shelley Winters BSA Oscar for A Patch of Blue (1965)

RV            Samantha Eggar in The Collector (1966)

ADU         Lynn Redgrave in Georgy Girl (1966)

 ADU         Vanessa Redgrave in Morgan (1966)

 ADU         Vivienne Merchant in Alfie (1966)

 ADU         Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)

 ADU         Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

 RV            Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark (1967)      

 ADU         Joanne Woodward in Rachel, Rachel (1968)

 ADU         Lynne Carlin in Faces (1968)

 ADU         Goldy Hawn BSA Oscar for Cactus Flower (1968)

 ADU         Maggie Smith Oscar for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

 ADU         Liza Minelli in The Sterile Cuckoo (1969)

 ADU         Glenda Jackson Oscar for Women In Love (1970)

 ADU         Jane Alexander in The Great White Hope (1970)

 ADU         Sarah Miles in Ryan’s Daughter (1970)

 ADU         Carrie Snodgrass in Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970)

 ADU         Karen Black in Five Easy Pieces (1970)

 ADU         Sally Kellerman in MASH (1970

 PRO          Jane Fonda Oscar for Klute (1971)

PRO           Julie Christie in McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)

 ADU         Cloris Leachman BSA Oscar for The Last Picture Show (1971)

 ADU         Glenda Jackson in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

 ADU         Ann Margret in Carnal Knowledge (1971)

 PRO          Liza Minelli Oscar for Cabaret (1972)

 PRO          Susan Tyrell in Fat City (1972)

 ADU         Maggie Smith in Travels With My Aunt (1972)

 RV            Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

 PRO          Marsha Mason Oscar for Cinderella Liberty (1973)

 PRO          Madeline Kahn in Paper Moon (1973)

 ADU         Glenda Jackson Oscar for A Touch of Class (1973)

 PRO          Madeline Kahn Oscar for Blazing Saddles (1974)

 ADU         Ellen Burstyn Oscar for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

 ADU         Lee Grant BSA Oscar for Shampoo (1975)

 ADU         Ann Margret in Tommy (1975)

 PRO          Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver (1976)

 ADU         Marie-Christine Barrault in Cousin, Cousine (1976)

 ADU         Marsh Mason in The Goodbye Girl (1977)

 ADU         Jane Fonda Oscar for Coming Home (1978)

 ADU         Marsha  Mason in Same Time Next Year (1978)

 ADU         Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman (1978)

 ADU         Jill Clayburgh in Starting Over (1979)

 ADU         Candice Bergen in Starting Over (1979)

 ADU         Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan (1979)

 RV            Sissy Spacek Oscar for Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

 ADU         Diane Keaton in Reds (1981)

 ADU         Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)

 ADU         Melinda Dillon in Absence of Malice (1981)

 ADU         Elizabeth McGovern in Ragtime (1981)

 ADU         Meryl Streep Oscar for Sophie’s Choice (1982)

 ADU         Julie Andrews in Victor, Victoria (1982)

 RV            Jessica Lange in Frances (1982)

 ADU         Shirley MacLaine Oscar for Terms of Endearment (1983)

 RV            Judy Davis in A Passage to India (1983)

 ADU         Meryl Streep in Out of Africa (1985)

 ADU         Margaret Avery in The Color Purple (1985)

 RV            Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple (1985)

 ADU         Jane Fonda in The Morning After (1986)

 ADU         Sissy Spacek in Crimes of the Heart (1986)

 ADU         Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Color of Money (1986)

 ADU         Cher Oscar for Moonstruck (1987)

 ADU         Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (1987)

 ADU         Meryl Streep in Ironweed (1987)

 RV            Jodie Foster Oscar for The Accused (1988)

 ADU         Glenn Close in Dangerous Laisons (1988)

 ADU         Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Laisons (1988)

 PRO                  Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)

 ADU         Isabelle Adjani in Camille Claudel (1989)

 ADU         Pauline Collins in Shirley Valentine (1989)

 PRO          Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman  (1990)

 RV            Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas (1990)

 PRO       Lura Dern in Ramblin’ Rose (1991)

 RV            Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise (1991)

 RV            Susan Sarandon in Thelma and Louise (1991)

 ADU         Holly Hunter in The Piano (1993)

 RV            Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got to Do With It? (1993)

 ADU         Jessica Lange in Blue Sky (1994)

 PRO         Mira Sorvino Oscar for Mighty Aphrodite (1995)

 PRO          Elizabeth Shue Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

 ADU         Meryl Steep Oscar for The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

 ADU         Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves (1996)

 ADU         Kristen Scott Thomas in The English Patient (1996)

 ADU         Brenda Blethyn in Secrets and Lies (1996)

 PRO          Kim Basinger Oscar for L.A. Confidential (1997)

 ADU         Julie Christie Oscar for Afterglow (1997)

 ADU         Emily Watson in Hilary and Jackie (1999)

 ADU         Annette Benning in American Beauty (1999)

 ADU         Julianne Moore in The End of the Affair  (1999)

 PRO          Joan Allen in The Contender (2000)

 ADU         Juliette Binoch in Chocolat (2000)

 ADU         Halle Berry Oscar for Monster’s Ball (2001)

 PRO          Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge! (2001)

 ADU         Salma Hayak in Frida (2002)

 ADU         Diane Lane in Unfaithful (2002)

 ADU         Renee Zelweger in Chicago   (2002)

 ADU         Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give (2002)

 PRO          Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights (2003)

 PRO          Charlize Theron Oscar for Monster (2003)

 ADU         Natalie Portman in Closer (2004)

 ADU         Lura Linney in Kinsey (2004)

 RV            Catalina Sandino Moreno in Maria Full of Grace (2004)

 RV            Charlize Theron in North Country (2005)

 RV            Penelope Cruz in Volver (2006)

 PRO                  Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (2007)

 ADU         Julie Christie in Away From Her (2007)

 RV            Ellen Page in Juno (2007)

 RV            Gabourey Sidibe in Precious (2009)

 ADU         Carey Mulligan in An Education (2009)

 RV            Rooney Mara in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)