n 1987, Olympia Dukakis and Cher (Moonstruck) made history as the first actresses to score Oscar wins for portraying a mother and daughter in the same picture. Since then, only one other team, Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin (for The Piano in 1993), has achieved this remarkable feat.
This year, the latest mother-daughter pairings in Oscar contention are Hillbilly Elegy’s Glenn Close & Amy Adams and Pieces of a Woman’s Ellen Burstyn & Vanessa Kirby. Should these brilliant teams make the cut, they will mark the 34th and 35th mother-daughter duos to score Oscar nominations.
In honor of their bids, let’s take a look back at the past 33 pairs who earned recognition.
Prior to 1987, 23 teams received Oscar nominations for portraying a mother and daughter. Remarkably, on none of these occasions did both actresses emerge triumphant. In fact, the first four times around, both contenders lost.
The first mother-daughter Oscar nominees were honored at the 9th Academy Awards ceremony, with Alice Brady and Carole Lombard earning nominations for My Man Godfrey (1936). They were followed by Barbara Stanwyck and Anne Shirley for Stella Dallas (1937), Bette Davis and Teresa Wright for The Little Foxes (1941) and Gladys Cooper and Bette Davis for Now, Voyager (1942).
At last, in 1943, there was a winner, as Jennifer Jones took home the Best Actress prize for The Song of Bernadette. Anne Revere, portraying her mom, ultimately fell short in Best Supporting Actress. The following year, Claudette Colbert and Jennifer Jones both came up short for Since You Went Away (1944) but, the year after that, one of the all-time most iconic screen mothers, Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce (1945), scored the Best Actress prize. Ann Blyth, portraying Mildred’s insufferable daughter, had to settle for the nomination.
At the close of the 1940s, Irene Dunne and Barbara Bel Geddes scored nominations but no wins for I Remember Mama (1949). In the new decade, however, Anna Magnani emerged triumphant in Best Actress for her stirring turn in The Rose Tattoo (1955). Like Blyth before her, Marisa Pavan, in the daughter role, did not emerge victorious. Closing out the decade were Nancy Kelly and Patty McCormack of The Bad Seed (1956), Lana Turner and Diane Varsi of Peyton Place (1957) and Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner of Imitation of Life (1959), all memorable turns but none an Oscar-winning one. Moore and Kohner marked the first and thus far only occasion in which a mother-daughter duo has contended together in Best Supporting Actress.
Toward the start of the new decade, Una Merkel and Geraldine Page were nominees but not winners for their mother-daughter turns in Summer and Smoke (1961). In 1965, one of the all-time great monster mamas did score the win, as Shelley Winters triumphed for her chilling turn as the abusive mother to Elizabeth Hartman’s blind Selina D’Arcey in A Patch of Blue. Hartman, while nominated, did not score the win – nor did Anne Bancroft or Katharine Ross two years later with their iconic turns in The Graduate (1967). The following year, however, Barbra Streisand did take home the Best Actress prize, tying Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter) for her showstopping portrayal of entertainer Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (1968). Kay Medford, portraying Fanny’s mother Rose, did not score the Best Supporting Actress win.
The 1970s proved fruitful for mother-daughter teams in scoring nominations. There was Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair in The Exorcist (1973), Sylvia Sidney and Joanne Woodward in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (also 1973), Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek in Carrie (1976), Marsha Mason and Quinn Cummings in The Goodbye Girl (1977) and Shirley MacLaine and Leslie Browne in The Turning Point (also 1977) – all marvelous turns but none an Oscar-winning one.
Early in the new decade, Kim Stanley and Jessica Lange were nominees but not winners for their explosive performances in Frances (1982). The following year, however, MacLaine at last scored her Best Actress Oscar with an iconic turn in Terms of Endearment (1983). With co-star Debra Winger contending in the same category, this marked the first and thus far only occasion in which a mother-daughter team has competed in Best Actress. Three years later, Marlee Matlin scored the Best Actress prize for Children of a Lesser God (1986), with Piper Laurie earning a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her mother turn. This was followed by Dukakis & Cher and Hunter & Paquin, all emerging triumphant for their acclaimed turns.
The rest of the 1990s saw two pairs of mother-daughter nominees – Rosemary Harris and Miranda Richardson in Tom & Viv (1994) and Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste in Secrets & Lies (1996), all terrific turns but none taking home the Oscar. This decade also saw Diane Ladd and Laura Dern make Oscar history for their honored performances in Rambling Rose (1991). While not portraying a mother and daughter in the picture, Ladd and Dern marked the first real-life mother-daughter team to score nominations in the same year. Ladd would be there right beside Dern when her daughter picked up the Best Supporting Actress prize nearly two decades later for Marriage Story (2019).
Remarkably, there was only one mother-daughter team up for recognition in the 2000s – Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe, both devastating in Precious (2009), with the former deservedly scoring the Best Supporting Actress prize.
The past decade, on the other hand, saw a plethora of mother-daughter nominees. There was Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in August: Osage County (2013), Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon in Wild (2014), Allison Janney and Margot Robbie in I, Tonya (2017) and Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird (also 2017). Among these turns, only Janney emerged triumphant.
With all that said, what are the odds the Hillbilly Elegy and Pieces of a Woman contenders indeed make the cut? Let’s start with the Hillbilly Elegy team.
In Close’s case, her chances for an eighth career nomination are looking stronger every day. While Hillbilly Elegy itself wasn’t warmly embraced by critics, Close’s moving portrayal of Bonnie “Mamaw” Vance earned strong notices. With Golden Globe, SAG and Critics Choice Award nominations under her belt, Close is well-positioned for a return to the Oscars – and will, more likely than not, be a contender for that elusive win.
Adams, portraying Bonnie’s daughter Beverly, is less sure a bet. She missed at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice but made the cut with SAG and is among the contenders on BAFTA’s Best Actress longlist. While Adams may be in for a steep climb to compete with the likes of Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Frances McDormand (Nomadland) and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) for the win, she is, as a six-time nominee, very much in contention for a nomination.
A safer bet for the Best Actress nomination is Pieces of a Woman’s Kirby who, unlike Adams, has surfaced with all the major precursor awards thus far. While not necessarily a complete shoo-in for recognition, it would be a surprise at this point for Kirby not to surface on Oscar nominations morning.
Finally, there is Burstyn, who was long thought to be a sure nominee for her heartbreaking turn as Elizabeth, mother to Kirby’s Martha – that is, until she surprisingly missed out on nominations with both the Golden Globes and SAG. Burstyn, however, can hardly be counted out. She rebounded with a Critics Choice nomination and is among those on BAFTA’s Best Supporting Actress longlist. Moreover, with six nominations under her belt, including a Best Actress win for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), Burstyn is a beloved Oscars mainstay who tends to make the cut when in awards season contention. That her nomination would come 20 years after her last Oscars appearance, for Requiem for a Dream (2000) – which, in turn, arrived exactly 20 years following her prior recognition to that (for Resurrection in 1980) – would make a seventh career bid all the sweeter.
Hillbilly Elegy image credit: Lacey Terrell/Netflix; Pieces of a Woman image credit: Benjamin Loeb/Netflix