Who Will Win Best Actor at the 2022 Oscars?

Could it be Will Smith? Or Benedict Cumberbatch? Or Denzel Washington?

king richard, will smith, best actor oscars 2022
'King Richard' | Warner Bros.
'King Richard' | Warner Bros.

Now that the nominations are out, the Best Actor race in the 2022 Oscars is a throwdown among some capital-M movie stars. You've got Will Smith hoping to finally get the trophy that has eluded him, while Denzel Washington is back in the mix. But can they hold off an eerie, triumphant Benedict Cumberbatch and the singing voice of Andrew Garfield? Let's dive into the race.

Read our predictions for the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress races, as well as where you can watch all of the Best International Feature and Best Documentary nominees.

The nominees

Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick...Boom!
Will Smith, King Richard
Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Final Prediction

Yeah, this is Will Smith's Oscar.

The front-runner: Will Smith, King Richard

Throughout his career, blockbuster king Will Smith has made a play for awards glory every so often. He received nominations for Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness, while other attempts fell flat. (Collateral Beauty is probably better forgotten.) But he has his best shot at a trophy thus far with King Richard, where he plays Richard Williams, the father of tennis superstars Serena and Venus.

Smith was crowned the presumptive winner after the film, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men), premiered at Telluride, and while no one has really emerged as a major competitor, his buzz has quieted since then. When the movie debuted in theaters and on HBO Max in November, there were internet debates over the focus on Richard instead of his daughters, as well as whether Smith's performance was really all that accurate. Still, at this point it would be foolish to bet on anyone else. He collected the Golden Globe, the SAG Award, the BAFTA, and the Critics Choice. It's his!

benedict cumberbatch, the power of the dog
Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Power of the Dog' | Netflix

The challengers: 
Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos

After the SAG nominations, the acting guild with the most voting overlap with the Academy, Bardem became a likely challenger for his work playing Desi Arnaz in Aaron Sorkin's take on the I Love Lucy couple. Bardem's casting has been controversial given that he, unlike Arnaz, is not actually Cuban, but it's a bombastic turn with lots of Sorkin dialogue to make his case.

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog

If anyone's going to unseat Will Smith, it's Benedict Cumberbatch, who gives the best performance of his career in Jane Campion's thrilling drama The Power of the Dog, which racked up 12 nominations total, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor and Actress nods for Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Kirsten Dunst. Cumberbatch's against-type casting as a viciously macho cowboy is the key to the film's saga of repression. So far, he's been lauded with a win from the New York Film Critics Circle and was the runner-up from the Los Angeles critics group. (Full disclosure: This writer is a member of the NYFCC.)

Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick…Boom!

Andrew Garfield belts his heart out as Rent creator Jonathan Larson in this adaptation of one of Larson's early works, which happens to be about Larson writing his early work. Garfield, who had a great year overall, has energy to match his sky-high hair in this wonderful portrait of an artist trying to figure out whether his dreams are worth pursuing.

Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth

It's Denzel. It's Macbeth. It's hard to deny, and I doubt the Academy will either. Washington, already a two-time winner, gives a terrifying performance as Shakespeare's mad thane in Joel Coen's adaptation. He leans into the character's weariness as his reign of terror grows.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.