Oscar Myth Busting: Will going nude get you a Best Actress Oscar?

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Image Credit: Everett Collection

Put down those Pop Rocks and Diet Cokes. We’ve got some A-list myths to examine! Ahead of this Sunday’s Oscars, we’ll be taking a look at some of the most famous myths to rise out of the annual awards ceremony. Want to know if being nude will get you a Best Actress statue? Or if the Best Supporting Actress trophy is indeed a curse? You’re in luck – we’ll be investigating one Oscars-related urban legend each day this week. Today, we investigate one of the most common myths: Going nude will get you a Best Actress Oscar. In the past 25 years, has it come true? Read on to find out. (And click here for more of EW’s Oscars Myth Busting.)

Oscar Myth: Will showing breast assets win a performer Best Actress?

What Is It?: The award for Best Actress will most often go to the actress who appears nude in her film.

Origin of the Myth: It may have begun all the way back in 1939, when Vivien Leigh won the Best Actress prize for Gone With the Wind, a film which celebrity nudity watchdog Mr. Skin charges with one count of “Sexy” – the least risqué of offenses in the index of movie nakedness. But the first real instance of the myth came in 1965, when Julie Christie bared chest and chassis in Darling, leading to the debated belief that if you disrobe on screen, you shall be rewarded with Oscar. Although this myth has manifested itself a number of times since then, we’ve decided to focus our research efforts on investigating this myth only during the last 25 years – that is, from 1987 to 2011.

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When It’s Come True: 9/25. These nine actresses left nothing to the imagination in their Academy Award-nominated performances, and proceeded to take home the prize: In 2008, Kate Winslet won for The Reader, which was the first time in five years an actress who went nude won since two monster-related performances: Charlize Theron for Monster in 2003 and Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball in 2001. Flashback two more years to a string of consecutive naked wins: Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry (1999), Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love (1998), and Helen Hunt for As Good as It Gets (1997). We get two more consecutive winners in 1994 and 1993: Jessica Lange in Blue Sky, preceded by Holly Hunter in The Piano, respectively. Finally, we reach Jodie Foster, who dramatically stripped down in The Accused in 1988.

When It Hasn’t Come True: 11/25. There were 11 years when the myth didn’t pan out, according to Mr. Skin: That is to say, nude performances were nominated, but lost to a non-nude winner. Michelle Williams disrobed in Blue Valentine, but lost to Natalie Portman for Black Swan in 2010. Cate Blanchett’s nudity in Elizabeth: The Golden Age couldn’t compete with Marion Cotillard’s La Vie en Rose in 2007. Kate Winslet, a nudity lover, lost for Little Children to Helen Mirren’s decidedly non-nude The Queen in 2006. Felicity Huffman’s bare skin in Transamerica lost to Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line in 2005. Diane Lane was unconcealed in Unfaithful and Salma Hayek wore nothing more than a unibrow in Frida, but both lost to Nicole Kidman in The Hours in 2002. Emily Watson and Kristin Scott Thomas in Breaking the Waves and The English Patient, respectively, lost to Frances McDormand’s bundled-up cop in Fargo in 1996.
Sharon Stone in Casino and Elisabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas both lost the jackpot to Susan Sarandon in Dead Man Walking in 1995. Three exposed performances – Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise and Laura Dern in Rambling Rose – all lost to Jodie Foster’s fully-clothed performance in The Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Julia Roberts’s Pretty Woman apparently wasn’t as pretty as Kathy Bates in Misery in 1990. Pauline Collins in Shirley Valentine lost to 80-year-old non-nude Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy in 1989. Glenn Close’s birthday suit in Fatal Attraction and Sally Kirkland’s in Anna didn’t beat out Cher in Moonstruck in 1987. Similarly, there were four years – 1992, 2000, 2004, and 2009 – when there was no nudity among nominees.

So, Is It True?: From our sample, only 20 ceremonies had nude nominees – and of those, an unclothed actress only won 9 times. That’s less than 50 percent — so consider this myth officially debunked. Turns out that women don’t necessarily have to go au naturel to be honored by the Academy… right?

But here’s a fun fact: In the last 24 years, there were 22 women who won the Best Actress prize, and of those 22, 21 had been nude at one time or another on screen! The sole straggler? Cher, whose fully-dressed win for Moonstruck in 1987 makes her the only Best Actress from the past 25 years to have never appeared nude without a body double on film.

That means 95 percent of Best Actress winners have appeared nude at some point in a movie. (At least, according to Mr. Skin.) Is this another myth altogether, or does it prove that, with the exception of Cher and Kathy Bates (who only got naked after her 1990 win), you must have been in the buff at some point in your career in order to win the trophy?

Which Brings Us to This Year: Rooney Mara and Glenn Close are the only nominees in this year’s pool of actresses to have appeared nude in their nominated films. Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams, meanwhile, have appeared nude on screen at some point before. That leaves Viola Davis – and if she takes home the trophy on Sunday, she’ll be the first Best Actress winner in 25 years to have won without baring any skin on screen.

Tomorrow, Aly Semigran takes a look at the Best Director category: Does the winner usually also win Best Picture?

Read more:
EW Special Coverage: Oscars 2012

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