1981 Academy Awards®
Winners and History
Note: Oscar® and Academy Awards® and Oscar® design mark are the trademarks and service marks and the Oscar© statuette the copyrighted property, of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This site is neither endorsed by nor affiliated with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Academy Awards History (By Decade):
Introduction, 1927/8-39, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s
Academy Awards Summaries
Winners Charts:
"Best Picture" Oscar®, "Best Director" Oscar®, "Best Actor" Oscar®, "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar®,
"Best Actress" Oscar®, "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar®, "Best Screenplay/Writer" Oscar®

The winner is listed first, in CAPITAL letters.
Best Picture


Atlantic City (1981)

On Golden Pond (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Reds (1981)

HENRY FONDA in "On Golden Pond", Warren Beatty in "Reds", Burt Lancaster in "Atlantic City", Dudley Moore in "Arthur", Paul Newman in "Absence of Malice"
KATHARINE HEPBURN in "On Golden Pond", Diane Keaton in "Reds", Marsha Mason in "Only When I Laugh", Susan Sarandon in "Atlantic City", Meryl Streep in "The French Lieutenant's Woman"
Supporting Actor:
JOHN GIELGUD in "Arthur", James Coco in "Only When I Laugh", Ian Holm in "Chariots of Fire", Jack Nicholson in "Reds", Howard E. Rollins, Jr. in "Ragtime"
Supporting Actress:
MAUREEN STAPLETON in "Reds", Melinda Dillon in "Absence of Malice", Jane Fonda in "On Golden Pond", Joan Hackett in "Only When I Laugh", Elizabeth McGovern in "Ragtime"
WARREN BEATTY for "Reds", Hugh Hudson for "Chariots of Fire", Louis Malle for "Atlantic City", Mark Rydell for "On Golden Pond", Steven Spielberg for "Raiders of the Lost Ark"

The Best Picture winner this year was a surprise and major upset win for British producer David Puttnam's low-budget Chariots of Fire, directed by Hugh Hudson, with seven nominations and four wins. It also took top honors for Best Screenplay (Colin Welland), Best Original Score (Vangelis' rich electronic, throbbing score, especially during the iconic opening credits sequence) and Best Costume Design.

The win signaled the start of another mini-British renaissance of film awards for this year and the next - with Gandhi (1982) soon breaking all British film Oscar records. (It had been 13 years since another British-made film had won Best Picture, Oliver! (1968)) Chariots of Fire was also the second sports film to win Best Picture (the first was Rocky (1976)). It also marked the first of four biopics to win the top award during the 80s, joining Gandhi (1982), Amadeus (1984), and The Last Emperor (1987).

Of the top five competitors for Best Picture, two were historical epics, two were about senior-citizens, and one was a throwback to the action/adventure films of the past:

The other Best Picture nominees were:

All five of the directors of Best Picture nominees were likewise nominated in the Best Director category - the third instance in Oscar history. [It also happened in 1957 and 1964 and would not occur again for another 24 years, in 2005.] Warren Beatty won the award as Best Director for Reds. [He was one of the few actors/stars that was also an Oscar-winning director (but without winning an acting Oscar), along with Robert Redford for Ordinary People (1980) the previous year, Kevin Costner for Dances With Wolves (1990) and Clint Eastwood for Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).]

Reds had nominations of its actors in all four categories, but only one of the four performers won - Best Supporting Actress. All four of the acting awards winners were elderly, aging actors - the oldest collection of acting winners ever assembled, averaging 70.75 years old:

Other elderly nominees joined the acting winners:

The sentimental favorites and actual winners for Best Actor and Best Actress were legendary actors, both co-starring in the same film, On Golden Pond. This was only the fifth film in Oscar history to have Oscars wins for Best Actor and Actress in the same film (it also occurred in 1934, 1975, 1976, and 1978). This was the only time that Henry Fonda was teamed with his real-life daughter Jane, and the only time he starred with veteran actress Katharine Hepburn:

The four remaining Best Actor nominees included the following:

The four remaining Best Actress nominees included:

[Coincidentally, Streep lost the Best Actress bid to Hepburn when she won her final Oscar with her 12th nomination. Eighteen years later in 1999, Streep would tie Hepburn with her 12th nomination, and in 2002, Streep would surpass Hepburn with her 13th nomination, and then in 2006 garner her 14th nomination.]

Classical actor Sir John Gielgud won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role (not in Chariots of Fire as Master of Trinity) as drunken Arthur's kindly, no-nonsense, sarcastic, deadpan butler/valet Hobson in the comedy Arthur. [His only other Oscar nomination was in his role as King Louis VII in Becket (1964).] The four other Best Supporting Actor nominees included:

Maureen Stapleton won the Best Supporting Actress award for her portrayal of earthy, disillusioned, and despairing revolutionary-anarchist Emma Goldman in Reds. This was her fourth and final career nomination and only successful one - she had been nominated three times previously for Best Supporting Actress in 1958 (for Lonelyhearts (1958)), 1970 (for Airport (1970)), and in 1978 (for Interiors (1978)). All of her nominations were for films with one word titles! The other Best Supporting Actress nominees included:

Four-time Best Actress Oscar-defeated Barbara Stanwyck (in 1937, 1941, 1944 and 1948) accepted an Honorary statuette from the Academy, "for superlative creativity and unique contribution to the art of screen acting."

Oscar Snubs and Omissions:

Director John Boorman's visionary version of the King Arthur tales - Excalibur, received only one unsuccessful nomination for Best Cinematography. The four nominations for The Rose, featuring Bette Midler's remarkable performance, went unhonored. The endlessly fascinating dinner conversation film, Louis Malle's My Dinner With Andre was completely omitted from honors. There were no special recognitions or nominations for the imaginative Visual Effects in the mythological fantasy Clash of the Titans, the last film from legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen. Ragtime was awarded eight nominations (with no wins) without a Best Picture nomination. And Gallipoli went completely unnominated, including omissions for Best Picture, Best Director (Peter Weir), Best Actor (Mel Gibson), and Best Supporting Actor (Bill Hunter). Director Blake Edwards' semi-autobiographical comedy S.O.B., a satire on the film industry which featured his squeaky-clean wife Julie Andrews exposing her breasts, was devoid of nominations, as was the crime drama True Confessions, starring Robert Duvall and Robert DeNiro as two brothers brought together as a result of a brutal murder in late 1940s Los Angeles.

Many acting nominations were denied to a number of proven actors and actresses in 1981:

Other un-nominated stars/directors included:

Previous Page Next Page