Who Will Win Best Actress at the 2022 Oscars?

Nicole Kidman leads a race that also includes Kristen Stewart, Lady Gaga, and Penélope Cruz.

Amazon Studios

With the 2022 Oscar forecast coming into focus, the Best Actress race finally has some clarity. But just some. This is a field heavy on biopic performances, and while there’s no definitive front-runner just yet, one person does seem to have an edge on the crowded competition. Let’s break down the top contenders as they currently stand before the Oscars nominations are announced on February 8.

Read our Best PictureBest Actor, and Best Director predictions here.

The front-runner: Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos

After a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination—the acting categories' most crucial precursor—and a Golden Globe win, Nicole Kidman gets a major boost in this race. Hollywood’s favorite topic is Hollywood, one of multiple reasons Being the Ricardos could make a big showing when the Oscars roll around. It’s also a crowd-pleaser directed by four-time nominee Aaron Sorkin and features a Kidman performance whose verisimilitude (or lack thereof, according to some) has sparked internet debate. Kidman doesn’t try to look or sound exactly like Lucille Ball, which gives her performance breathing room that some biopics lack. It’s been almost two decades since she won for The Hours, and this accolade could double as an acknowledgement of the unimpeachable career she has built for herself.

Sony Pictures Classics

Likely challengers:
Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Jessica Chastain does a decadent Tammy Faye Bakker, the wealthy Christian televangelist whose husband went to federal prison for fraud. The Eyes of Tammy Faye suffered sleepy box-office returns and tepid reviews from critics, but her high-pitched, mildly manic performance is the indisputable highlight.

Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter

Can Olivia Colman win Best Actress twice in only three years? It would be a rare feat but not an impossible one. Widely considered one of the greatest actors working today, Colman simmers and stews in The Lost Daughter, giving a far more internalized performance than the ones we saw in The Favourite and Fleabag. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut is an arty Elena Ferrante adaptation that may or may not align with the Academy’s tastes, but Colman seems poised to earn the film's sole acting nod.

Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers

Penélope Cruz’s first Oscar nomination was for 2006’s Volver, another of her seven (and counting) collaborations with beloved Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. In Parallel Mothers, she plays a photographer who unexpectedly becomes pregnant at age 40, only for the hospital to mix up her baby with that of another woman. Mothers hews to the conventions of melodrama—an Almodóvarian signature—but Cruz embodies a master class in understatement. Hers is one of the few performances in this race that isn't based on previous source material, so her nomination will depend on whether she can break through the clutter of more familiar movies. It worked at the Venice Film Festival, where she won the prestigious Volpi Cup for Best Actress.

Lady Gaga, House of Gucci

House of Gucci may lack the luster expected from a decadent crime saga about one of the world’s biggest fashion brands, but no one would dare call Lady Gaga, aka Italian American Stefani Germanotta, bland. As headstrong upstart Patrizia Reggiani, Gaga dons a chewy Italian-ish accent in a performance that’s worlds away from her Oscar-nominated A Star Is Born breakthrough. She won the New York Film Critics Circle’s best-actress citation, which could be the first award of many to come.

Jennifer Hudson, Respect

Respect drowns in pop-biopic clichés, but it gives Jennifer Hudson her strongest shot at awards recognition since she won the Oscar for Dreamgirls in 2007. Remember: Voters love when famous people portray famous people, and Hudson’s Aretha Franklin is an effective ode to the OG diva.

Frances McDormand, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Joel Coen’s sparse black-and-white Macbeth adaptation feels at once theatrical and cinematic, a hybrid that will invigorate some people and alienate others. Because Frances McDormand just won for her Nomadland performance, it’s hard to see her prevailing again. But she’s playing Lady Macbeth, one of the all-time great roles, so don’t discount her.

NEON

Kristen Stewart, Spencer

For Oscar voters, biopics are an easy shortcut. The acting is tangible; they can judge it against what they know about the real person being portrayed. Indeed, almost half of the lead-acting prizes in the last 30 years have gone to biopic performances. That alone boosts Kristen Stewart’s odds, despite the fact that Spencer isn’t your typical biopic. Playing a psychologically wounded Princess Diana during the British royal family’s 1991 Christmas celebrations, Stewart submits career-defining work, proving once and for all that she has graduated from Twilight superstar to indie empress. Even folks who don’t care for director Pablo Larraín’s arty freakout of a movie can’t deny the depth of Stewart’s transformation. She was the presumed front-runner in this category, but a snub from the SAG Awards put a damper on that momentum.

Rachel Zegler, West Side Story

West Side Story was one of the final movies to screen for press this year, and the rapturous responses signal that it could bulldoze presumed Best Picture front-runners like Belfast, King Richard, and The Power of the Dog. Rachel Zegler’s star-making turn as Maria recently nabbed her the National Board of Review’s actress citation, so maybe she’ll score the nomination that eluded Natalie Wood when she originated the role on-screen in 1961.

Netflix

Long shots

Several other women could sneak up in the coming months. Halle Berry, who hasn’t been nominated since her win for Monster’s Ball, plays a disgraced MMA fighter in Bruised, her directorial debut. First-time actor Alana Haim, best known as one-third of the sister rock trio Haim, lights up the screen as an aimless Los Angeles 20-something in Paul Thomas Anderson’s coming-of-age romp Licorice Pizza. Emilia Jones also gives a great coming-of-age performance as the hearing child of deaf parents in Apple TV+’s charming tearjerker CODA. Jennifer Lawrence makes a comeback of sorts in the Adam McKay misinformation satire Don’t Look Up, though it’s Leonardo DiCaprio who steals the show. Norwegian actress Renate Reinsve gives one of the year’s most ravishing performances in the romantic dramedy The Worst Person in the World. And in Passing, an elegant Tessa Thompson helps to anchor a complex period piece about racial identity.

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Matthew Jacobs is an entertainment editor at Thrillist. Follow him on Twitter @tarantallegra.