The Youngest Oscar Contenders in History

It seemed shocking that an actress as young as 15-year-old Elsie Fisher could rack up so many acting nominations during the 2019 award season. Despite not happening, many pegged the young star, who shot to fame for her role in Eighth Grade, to find herself one of the youngest Oscar award nominees of all time.

Even though 15 seems extraordinarily young to be nominated for an Oscar, there are a number of other young performers who have been nominated. And several that have even won.

Shirley Temple – 6 Years, 310 Days

One of the most famous child performers in history is Shirley Temple. She won a special honorary Oscar called the Academy Juvenile Award, which was created in 1935 specifically to honor child performers. The award was created because it was believed that young performers were at a disadvantage when their skills were compared to their adult counterparts. However, there were several young performers who were nominated for regular acting awards during the span of time that this award was in use.

Shirley Temple was only six years old when she won the 1935 Academy Juvenile Award for her work over the previous three years. This included films like Stand Up and Cheer!, Baby Take a Bow, and Bright Eyes.

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Justin Henry – 8 Years, 276 Days

Justin Henry rose to fame in 1979 when he played young Billy Kramer in the movie Kramer vs. Kramer.


At eight years old, Henry was the youngest person nominated for a regular Oscar. He was up against heavy hitters like Robert Duvall and Mickey Rooney for 1979 Best Supporting Actor award. Henry lost to Melvyn Douglas, who won for his role in the movie Being There.

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Jackie Cooper – 9 Years, 20 Days

At the 1931 Oscars, nine-year-old Jackie Cooper was nominated for Best Actor for his work in the movie Skippy. However, he ultimately lost to Lionel Barrymore for his work in A Free Soul. Despite losing, the fact that Cooper was even a contender led the Academy to creation the honorary Academy Juvenile Award.

Cooper went on to have an illustrious career in entertainment before he died in 2011 at the age of 88.

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Quvenzhané Wallis – 9 Years, 135 Days

Quvenzhané Wallis broke into the entertainment business with her starring role in the 2012 film Beasts of the Southern Wild. At the time, she was the youngest person ever nominated for Best Actress.

Wallis got her role in the movie after her parents lied to the casting department about her age. They were only taking auditions from children six and up, and she was five at the time. Since then, Wallis has been in other movies, including the newest remake of Annie. Plus, as of 2017, she’s a published author.

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Tatum O’Neal – 10 Years, 106 Days

When she won Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars in 1974, Tatum O’Neal was the youngest person ever to win a non-honorary award. She maintains that record to this day. O’Neal was 10 years old when she won for Paper Moon, a movie that she starred in opposite her father, Ryan O’Neal.

Since her award-winning role in 1973, O’Neal has successfully transitioned to life as a regular actor. However, she fell out with her father, which led to a 25-year estrangement that was only reconciled in 2011.

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Mary Badham – 10 Years, 141 Days

Before Tatum O’Neal, a young actress named Mary Badham held the honor of being the youngest person nominated for Best Supporting Actress. She was 10 years and 141 days old — just over a month older than O’Neal — when she was nominated for her role in To Kill a Mockingbird. Badham lost to another young performer, Patty Duke, who was nominated for her role as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker.

Since 1962, Badham has only been in a few other films. She currently works as an art restorer.

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Anna Paquin – 11 Years, 240 Days

New Zealand-Canadian actress Anna Paquin had almost no experience as an actor when she was cast in the 1993 movie The Piano opposite Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel. At 11 years and 240 days old, Paquin was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, which she won.

Unlike many other child stars who faded into obscurity after a big award, Paquin continued to attract critical attention, winning accolades for her roles in Fly Away Home and A Walk on the Moon. Although she didn’t intend to go into acting after filming The Piano, Paquin has continued to appear in film and TV since her debut in 1993.

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Abigail Breslin – 10 Years, 284 Days

Abigail Breslin was 10 years and 284 days old when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for the 2006 movie Little Miss Sunshine. Although the movie starred heavy-hitters like Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, and Steve Carell, Breslin was undoubtedly the most charming and relatable actor in this character-driven family comedy. She ultimately lost the Oscar to Jennifer Hudson for her role in Dreamgirls.

Since 2006, Breslin has continued to appear in movies like August: Osage County, Zombieland, and My Sister’s Keeper.

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Haley Joel Osment – 11 Years, 311 Days

Haley Joel Osment was in several high-profile movies before he reached his 12th birthday. His very first role was in Forrest Gump as the titular character’s son, also named Forrest Gump. From there, he appeared in several TV shows and movies before he got his big break in the 1999 movie The Sixth Sense. Osment starred alongside Bruce Willis in M. Night Shyamalan’s breakout hit, which freaked out audiences across America and raked in more money than any other horror movie in history until 2017’s It.

Although the film was nominated for six Oscars including Osment’s Best Supporting Actor nod, it didn’t win any. Osment lost to Michael Caine for his role in The Cider House Rules.

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Brandon deWilde – 11 Years, 312 Days

Another supporting actor who was nominated for an Oscar at an extremely young age was Brandon deWilde. deWilde was 11 years and 312 days old when he was nominated. However, he had already begun a successful Broadway career. In fact, he completed a record-breaking 492 performances of the play The Member of the Wedding, which he started acting in when he was only seven years old.

deWilde had several more film roles but died in a car crash at the age of 30 in 1972.

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Saoirse Ronan – 13 Years, 285 Days

Saoirse Ronan is one of the most critically acclaimed young actors of all time. She’s received major association nominations for her roles in Atonement, The Lovely Bones, Brooklyn, and Lady Bird — and she’s not even 26 years old yet.

Ronan’s first major nomination came as Best Supporting Actress at the 2007 Oscars for Atonement. Since then, she’s been nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars twice more.

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Keisha Castle-Hughes – 13 Years, 309 Days

In 2002, New Zealand actress Keisha Castle-Hughes was the youngest person ever nominated for Best Actress for her role in Whale Rider. She held on to the honor for another nine years, until Quvenzhané Wallis’s nomination in 2012.

Castle-Hughes was cast from a pool of a few hundred children after the casting directors for Whale Rider came to her elementary school. When she was cast, she had never acted before and didn’t know how to swim.

Since Whale Rider, Castle-Hughes has appeared in several films and even took a supporting role on the hit TV show Game of Thrones.

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