Oscar Nominations for Actors Playing Priests

Updated on June 16, 2020
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Brian has been a big movie fan since the 1960s when he discovered the French New Wave. He's been seeing as many movies as he can ever since.

Karl Malden with Marlon Brando in the 1954 Film On the Waterfront
Karl Malden with Marlon Brando in the 1954 Film On the Waterfront | Source

Eleven Oscar Nominations, with Three Wins, for Actors in Roles of Priests

Eight different actors have been nominated for Academy Awards for their performances as Roman Catholic priests. Three of them won the Oscar.

Three of the actors were nominated twice, resulting in eleven nominations: Spencer Tracy for two different roles in two films, Bing Crosby for two performances as the same character in two films, and — uniquely in Oscar history — Barry Fitzgerald for one performance in one film.

Spencer Tracy was nominated for San Francisco (1936) and won for Boys Town (1938). Bing Crosby played the same priest, Father O’Malley, in two films. He won the Oscar for Going My Way (1944) and was nominated the following year for The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945).

Going My Way garnered the most Academy Award nominations for priestly roles. Not only did Crosby win the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role, but his co-star Barry Fitzgerald received two nominations: he was nominated along with Crosby for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and he won the award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

The mid-1940s saw a string of award nominations for actors playing priests. In addition to Crosby and Fitzgerald, Charles Bickford was nominated for 1943’s The Song of Bernadette, and Gregory Peck was nominated for The Keys of the Kingdom (1944).

Here is the complete list to date of the actors who have been nominated for Best Actor Oscars for their performances in the role of a priest. Read on for profiles of the actors, summaries of the movies for which they were nominated, and some clips from the films.

Academy Award Recognition for Actors Playing Priests

Spencer Tracy
San Francisco (1936)
Leading Role
Spencer Tracy
Boys Town (1938)
Leading Role
Charles Bickford
The Song of Bernadette (1943)
Supporting Role
Bing Crosby
Going My Way (1944)
Leading Role
Barry Fitzgerald
Going My Way (1944)
Leading Role
Barry Fitzgerald
Going My Way (1944)
Supporting Role
Gregory Peck
The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)
Leading Role
Bing Crosby
The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)
Leading Role
Karl Malden
On the Waterfront (1954)
Supporting Role
Jason Miller
The Exorcist (1973)
Supporting Role
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Doubt (2008)
Supporting Role
Complete list to date of actors nominated for Academy Awards for their portrayal of priests. (The years refer to the release dates of the films, not the Academy Awards years.)

Spencer Tracy, 1937 Best Actor Nominee for San Francisco and 1939 Winner for Boys Town

Spencer Tracy (1900–1967) was a major star in the Golden Age of Hollywood. In a movie career of 37 years, he appeared in 75 films.

Tracy was widely admired both by critics and by his peers in Hollywood. He received nine nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, tying him for first place in that category with Laurence Olivier. He was the first Actor to win two consecutive Oscars for Best Actor, winning for Captains Courageous in 1938 before winning for Boys Town the following year.

Tracy teamed with Katharine Hepburn in nine movies, beginning with Woman of the Year (1942) and ending with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), which was completed shortly before his death. Tracy and Hepburn also had a long-term romantic relationship off-screen.

In 1999 the American Film Institute named Tracy one of the top ten male screen legends in Hollywood history. He was also voted among the top 20 movie stars of all time by both Premiere magazine and Entertainment Weekly.

Spencer Tracy as Father Tim Mullen in San Francisco
Spencer Tracy as Father Tim Mullen in San Francisco | Source

San Francisco (1936)

San Francisco, released in June 1936, was the highest grossing movie of the year and a huge hit for MGM. The film is a lavish romantic drama and musical set at the time of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Clark Gable, the “King of Hollywood,” stars as Blackie Norton, the owner of the rowdy Paradise Club in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. Blackie is in love with singer Mary Blake (Jeannette MacDonald), the star attraction at the club. But there are complications: wealthy Jack Burley (Jack Holt) also wants to marry Mary, and he offers Mary the opportunity to sing with the San Francisco Opera.

Spencer Tracy stars as Blackie’s childhood friend, Father Tim Mullin. Father Tim disapproves of what he sees as Blackie’s exploitation of Mary. But after the earthquake devastates the city, it is Father Tim who reunites Blackie with Mary, leading Blackie to get down on his knees and thank God for sparing Mary.

Raised as a Catholic, Tracy reportedly felt a great responsibility to represent the Church well as Father Tim. His Best Actor nomination attests to his success in the role.

Boys Town (1938)

Spencer Tracy won the Academy Award for Best Actor for the second consecutive year for his role as real-life Father Edward J. Flanagan in Boys Town. Tracy was the first actor to win the award for the portrayal of a person who was still living when the award was announced.

The movie follows the struggles of Father Flanagan to build Boys Town, a refuge for orphaned and delinquent boys near Omaha, Nebraska. Mickey Rooney co-stars as Whitey Marsh, a young hoodlum whose older brother is in prison for murder. Father Flanagan takes a special interest in Whitey. When Whitey runs away from Boys Town and is wrongfully accused of bank robbery and murder, it is up to Father Flanagan to rescue him.

Boys Town was a major hit for MGM. When Tracy won the Academy Award, he devoted his acceptance speech to praising Father Flanagan and his work.

Tracy and Rooney reprised their roles as Father Flanagan and Whitey Marsh, respectively, in a sequel, Men of Boys Town (1941).

Charles Bickford, 1944 Best Supporting Actor Nominee for The Song of Bernadette

Charles Bickford (1891–1967) was a versatile and successful character actor in many films and television projects. His career began with performances in burlesque and road shows. He then moved to Broadway, where he starred in the hit show Outside Looking In.

Film director Cecil B. DeMille was impressed with Bickford on the stage and offered him a leading role in his first sound picture, Dynamite (1929). He had success playing Greta Garbo’s lover in Anna Christie (1930), but it did not lead to him becoming a leading man in many films.

Instead, Bickford took on a variety of character roles, which he came to prefer. His performances earned him three nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He received his first nomination for The Song of Bernadette, then received two consecutive nominations for The Farmer’s Daughter (1947) and Johnny Belinda (1948).

Much of his work in the 1950s and 1960s was in television, including a long-running role in the TV series The Virginian.

Charles Bickford, shown in a screenshot from the trailer for the 1948 film Johnny Belinda
Charles Bickford, shown in a screenshot from the trailer for the 1948 film Johnny Belinda | Source

The Song of Bernadette (1943)

Charles Bickford was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance as Abbé Dominique Peyramale in The Song of Bernadette.

The movie is a fictionalized version of the life story of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, who in 1858 saw visions of a “beautiful lady” thought by many to be the Virgin Mary, in Lourdes, France. The movie was adapted from a New York Times best-selling novel of the same name by Franz Werfel.

Jennifer Jones, in an Oscar-winning performance, plays the 14-year-old Bernadette. The girl’s visions cause great controversy among the townspeople. Some believe her story and many others are skeptical. Even the Emperor and his family become involved.

Bickford’s character, Father Peyramale, at first is among the skeptics, but ultimately he becomes Bernadette’s staunch ally, and the one to whom she turns when she is dying of tuberculosis.

The Song of Bernadette was a critical success and a popular hit. It was nominated for twelve Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won four Oscars. The film also won the first Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Bing Crosby, 1945 Best Actor Winner for Going My Way and 1946 Nominee for The Bells of St. Mary's

Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby, Jr. (1903-1977) was one of the most popular and versatile entertainers of the 20th century, making his mark in musical recording, radio, films, and television.

He made his professional singing debut with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1926, and by the early 1930s he was the most popular singer in America. According to Billboard Magazine, he had 41 No. 1 hits in his career.

Crosby made his feature film debut in The Big Broadcast (1932) and went on to appear in 79 films, receiving top billing in 55 of them. His most popular films include White Christmas (1954) and a series of seven “Road” musical comedies beginning with Road to Singapore (1940), with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour. According to the official Bing Crosby website, films in which he starred are estimated to have sold over one billion tickets.

Crosby won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Going My Way (1944) and earned two more nominations for the award: for The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) and The Country Girl (1954). In 1960 he received the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award for "outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.” He has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, honoring him for his work in radio, audio recording, and motion pictures.

Bing Crosby as Father Chuck O'Malley in the 1945 Film The Bells of St. Mary's
Bing Crosby as Father Chuck O'Malley in the 1945 Film The Bells of St. Mary's | Source

Barry Fitzgerald, 1945 Best Supporting Actor Winner for Going My Way (and Nominee for Best Actor)

Born in Dublin, Ireland, as William Joseph Shields, Barry Fitzgerald (1888-1961) began his acting career on the stage at Dublin’s famed Abbey Theatre.

His first film role was a small part in Alfred Hitchcock’s British film Juno and the Paycock (1930). The movie was based on a successful play by Irish playwright Sean O’Casey, who had briefly been Fitzgerald’s roommate. Fitzgerald’s first Hollywood film role was also in an O’Casey adaptation, The Plough and the Stars (1936), directed by John Ford and starring Barbara Stanwyck.

Fitzgerald had a successful Hollywood career as an accomplished character actor who achieved star billing. His films include How Green Was My Valley (1941), which was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture, and The Quiet Man (1952), which was nominated for seven Oscars®. John Ford directed both pictures and won the Academy Award for Best Director for each.

Fitzgerald has the distinction of being the only actor to be nominated for two Oscars in the same year for the same role. For Going My Way, he was nominated both for Best Actor in a Leading Role and for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He won the latter. The Academy changed its rules afterward so this type of double nomination could not recur.

Fitzgerald’s Academy Award for Going My Way was his only Oscar®. For his performance as Father Fitzgibbon, he also won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor and the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Barry Fitzgerald in a publicity still for the 1945 movie And Then There Were None
Barry Fitzgerald in a publicity still for the 1945 movie And Then There Were None | Source

Going My Way (1944)

Going My Way is the warm, sentimental, and humorous story of two Roman Catholic priests at St. Dominic’s church in New York City. St. Dominic’s is run down, like the neighborhood around it, and heavily in debt.

Father Fitzgibbon, played by Barry Fitzgerald, is the veteran priest who has spent more than 40 years in the parish. Father Fitzgibbon is a traditionalist. He’s been doing things his way at the church for a long time and sees no reason to change.

Bing Crosby plays the young Father Chuck O’Malley, a new priest who has been sent by the Bishop to take over the parish — although Father Fitzgibbon at first thinks O’Malley has just come to assist him.

Father O’Malley has a different, more modern idea of how a priest should behave and interact with his parishioners. He plays golf and enjoys sports. Instead of benevolently looking the other way when some of the boys in the parish get into trouble, he actively tries to connect with them on their own turf. He convinces them to form a church choir and help raise money for St. Dominic’s.

As parish life and church finances improve under Father O’Malley’s leadership, the two priests are drawn closer together. Father Fitzgibbon retires on Christmas Eve in a very emotional service highlighted by a special gift from Father O’Malley.

Going My Way won seven Academy Awards and received three other Oscar nominations, as well as numerous other awards. In addition to the Oscar wins for Crosby and Fitzgerald, the film won the awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing (Screenplay), and Best Writing (Original Story). Crosby sings five songs in the movie, including “Swinging on a Star,” which captured the Oscar for Best Music, Original Song.

The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

Bing Crosby returns as Father Chuck O’Malley in The Bells of St. Mary’s, a delightful follow-up to Going My Way. O’Malley has been transferred to St. Mary’s parish, where he must decide whether to close the parish’s school, St. Mary’s Academy, which is financially strapped and threatened with condemnation.

Sister Mary Benedict, played by Ingrid Bergman, is the dedicated Sister Superior at St. Mary’s. She and the other nuns are confident that God will provide for the school and are praying for a miracle. Specifically, they are praying that businessman Horace P. Bogardus (played by Henry Travers, Clarence the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life) will donate a new building for the school.

Like Sister Mary Benedict, Father O’Malley wants to save the school, but he does not always see eye to eye with Mary Benedict about what’s best for the kids and for the school. Their struggles provide both drama and humor, as Father O'Malley takes a more practical approach to achieving the miracle.

The Bells of St. Mary’s was released in December 1945 and includes a Christmas pageant at the school, so it is often considered a Christmas movie. The film was a major hit at the box office and was nominated for Best Picture and seven other Oscars. Both Crosby and Bergman received Oscar nominations. Neither won, but Bergman did win the Best Actress awards from the Golden Globes and the New York Film Critics Circle.

Gregory Peck, 1946 Best Actor Nominee for The Keys of the Kingdom

Gregory Peck was one of the most admired and popular actors of the 20th century. He earned five Oscar nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role and won once, for his performance as Atticus Finch in 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Born in 1916, Peck made his film debut in 1944’s Days of Glory after spending several years working on the stage. His first Oscar-nominated performance, as Father Francis Chisholm in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), came in only his second film role.

Among Peck’s many acclaimed performances are the roles of John Ballantyne in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), Penny Baxter in The Yearling (1947), Philip Schuyler Green in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), General Frank Savage in Twelve O’Clock High (1949), King David in David and Bathsheba (1951), Tom Rath in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), and Mallory in The Guns of Navarone (1961).

Peck’s authoritative yet warm persona was well suited to many heroic roles. Atticus Finch, the noble lawyer whom he played in To Kill a Mockingbird, was named the top film hero of the previous century by the American Film Institute in 2003.

Peck received many lifetime achievement awards for his acting career. He was also recognized for his work in humanitarian causes. In 1969, President Lyndon Johnson honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

Studio portrait of Gregory Peck (1948)
Studio portrait of Gregory Peck (1948) | Source

The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)

In The Keys of the Kingdom, Gregory Peck stars as Father Francis Chisholm, a Scottish priest who spends his life as a missionary in China. The film opens with the elderly Father Chisholm back in Scotland and facing an unwanted retirement. The Monsignor (Cedric Hardwicke) who has been sent to evaluate him finds his journal. As he reads it, Chisholm’s life story unfolds on the screen.

Francis Chisholm is orphaned as a boy. After his sweetheart dies while he is away at school, he enters the priesthood. His first two curacies are not successful, but his life changes when he is sent as a missionary to the interior of China.

When he arrives, he finds that the mission he is taking over has been destroyed, and its congregation has dispersed. One day Father Chisholm is asked to minister to the desperately ill son of Mr. Chia (Leonard Strong), a wealthy mandarin. Chisholm heals Mr. Chia’s son, and in gratitude Mr. Chia gives him land for a new mission and materials and workers to build it.

The mission thrives when the Reverend Mother Maria Veronica (Rosa Stradner) and two other nuns arrive to help. Soon, however, the mission is caught up in the violence of the Chinese Civil War. But despite numerous challenges and setbacks, Father Chisholm perseveres and builds a community of Chinese Christians.

Based on a best-selling novel by A.J. Cronin, The Keys of the Kingdom was nominated for four Academy Awards. Peck’s performance as Father Chisholm earned him a nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role and proved he could carry a movie.

Karl Malden, 1955 Best Supporting Actor Nominee for On the Waterfront

Karl Malden (1912–2009) was an Oscar-winning actor who appeared in some 60 films over the course of five decades. Despite his successful movie career, however, he found his greatest fame in television, starring for five seasons in the popular crime drama “The Streets of San Francisco.”

Malden was born Mladen Sekulovich in Chicago and worked for several years in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana. He took up acting in 1934 and changed his name (which he always regretted). He made his Broadway debut in 1937 and continued acting on the stage through the 1940s, with an interruption for service in the Air Force during World War II.

In 1952 Malden won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Mitch in the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire. He received his second nomination for playing Father Barry in On the Waterfront (1954). He starred with Marlon Brando in both films, and both were directed by Elia Kazan.

Malden also received recognition for his performances in Baby Doll (1956), Gypsy (1962), and Patton (1970), among others. He received four Primetime Emmy nominations for his work starring in “The Streets of San Francisco” in the 1970s. In 1984, he won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor for the TV movie Fatal Vision (1984).

Malden served as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Acts and Sciences from 1989 to 1992. In 2003, the Screen Actors Guild honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Karl Malden with Eva Marie Saint in the 1954 film On the Waterfront
Karl Malden with Eva Marie Saint in the 1954 film On the Waterfront | Source

On the Waterfront (1954)

On the Waterfront is the dramatic story of a dockworker’s struggle to find the courage to stand up against the corrupt power of the mob-connected boss of the longshoremen’s union.

The film stars Marlon Brando as dockworker Terry Malloy. Terry had been a promising boxer until his brother Charley (Rod Steiger) had him take a dive in a fight because Johnny Friendly, the union boss (Lee J. Cobb), had bet against him. Now, instead of being a contender, Terry is “a nobody” working on the docks and running errands for Friendly.

The Waterfront Crime Commission is investigating Friendly and the union, and Friendly is applying pressure to prevent union members from testifying. After Terry is unwittingly used to lure prospective witness Joey Doyle to his death, he is tormented by guilt.

Joey’s sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) persuades the local priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden) to speak up against the corruption and the escalating violence. Edie and Father Berry urge Terry to testify before the crime commission. After Terry does testify, he is blackballed from working on the docks and viciously beaten, but he emerges as a hero.

Shot in black and white on location in Hoboken, New Jersey, On the Waterfront is a thrilling drama based on a compilation of true stories. Karl Malden’s character, Father Barry, was based on the Jesuit “waterfront priest” Father John M. Corridan.

The film was a commercial and critical success. It received twelve Academy Award nominations and won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director (Elia Kazan), and Best Writing (Budd Schulberg).

The quality of the acting is uniformly excellent. Marlon Brando won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Eva Marie Saint, appearing in her first feature film, won the award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Meanwhile, three of the actors — Cobb, Steiger, and Malden — were nominated for the award as Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Jason Miller, 1974 Best Supporting Actor Nominee for The Exorcist

Jason Miller (1939–2001) was a prize-winning playwright as well as an Oscar-nominated actor.

He achieved prominence first as a playwright, winning the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for his play, That Championship Season. The play had an off-Broadway run of 144 performances in 1972. The production was transferred to Broadway, where it ran for 700 performances. The Broadway production won the 1973 Tony Award, New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, and Drama Desk Award for Best Play. Miller wrote and directed a film adaptation of the play in 1982 and wrote another adaptation for television in 1999.

The same year in which he won the Pulitzer Prize, Miller starred as Father Damian Karras in The Exorcist. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the troubled priest.

Miller continued acting in films occasionally. He again played Father Karras (identified as “Patient X”) in the 1990 film The Exorcist III.

He spent more of his time, however, working in regional theater. He was co-founder and artistic director of the Scranton Public Theatre in Pennsylvania, and he directed and starred in numerous productions there and in other venues throughout the United States.

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist is a 1973 film, directed by William Friedkin, that set new standards for movie horror. William Peter Blatty wrote the screenplay, adapting his novel of the same name. Blatty’s novel was based on an exorcism case from 1949.

In the film, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) is a 12-year-old girl who begins exhibiting bizarre and violent behavior. Her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn), an actress living in Washington D.C.’s Georgetown, has Regan tested by psychiatrists and neurosurgeons, but they are unable to explain her behavior.

One night, Chris’s friend is murdered in the house, and Regan is suspected. In desperation, Chris, despite being an atheist, turns for help to Father Damien Karras, a Jesuit priest, played by Jason Miller.

Father Karras is in the midst of a crisis of faith after the death of his mother. He refuses at first to believe that Regan is possessed by a demon, but Regan’s increasingly bizarre appearance and belligerent behavior convince him otherwise. He brings in Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), an experienced exorcist, and together the two priests suffer through numerous horrors as they attempt to exorcise the demon.

The Exorcist was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including nominations for Best Picture (the first horror film to be nominated) and Best Director and acting nominations for Burstyn, Blair, and Miller. The film won Oscars for Best Writing for Blatty’s screenplay and for Best Sound. It was nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards, winning four, including the award for Best Motion Picture - Drama.

The Exorcist was named the scariest movie of all time by Entertainment Weekly and in several movie polls. It is one of the highest grossing movies in Hollywood history.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, 2009 Best Supporting Actor Nominee for Doubt

Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967 – 2014) earned a B.F.A. degree in drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1989. His film career began in 1991 with performances in four movies, including Scent of a Woman, which was nominated for Best Picture and for which Al Pacino won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Throughout the 1990s, Hoffman appeared in supporting roles in numerous films. He gave a breakthrough performance in 1997’s Boogie Nights, which was nominated for three Academy Awards. Substantial parts in successful films followed, including roles in The Big Lebowski (1998), Magnolia (1999), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), and many others.

In 2006, Hoffman won the Oscar® for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his masterful performance as the idiosyncratic writer Truman Capote in the 2005 film Capote. Capote was nominated for Best Picture and three other Oscars® and received many other awards and nominations. Hoffman’s performance in Capote earned him the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, the BAFTA Award, the Screen Actors Guild Award, and numerous others in addition to the Oscar.

Hoffman received three additional Oscar nominations. He was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performances in Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), Doubt (2008), and The Master (2012).

Hoffman also earned praise for his work in theater, where he worked both as a director and as an actor. He received three Tony Award nominations, for his performances in True West (2000), Long Day’s Journey into Night (2003), and Death of a Salesman (2012).

The prolific and hard-working Hoffman was considered one of the best actors of his generation. The film and theater worlds were deprived of a major talent by his untimely death in 2014.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, 2011
Philip Seymour Hoffman, 2011 | Source

Doubt (2008)

Doubt, released in 2008, is a fictional drama that examines the nature of doubt and the consequences of adopting a position of certainty where it may not be warranted.

The film was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley. It is adapted from his Pulitzer Prize winning stage play, Doubt: A Parable.

The story is set in 1964 in an urban Catholic parish in The Bronx. The film opens with Father Brendan Flynn, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, delivering a homily on the nature of doubt. Afterward, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), the strict principal of the parish school, discusses the sermon with her fellow nuns and questions what may have inspired Father Flynn to preach about doubt. She instructs them to look for signs of suspicious behavior by Flynn.

Young Sister James (Amy Adams) observes Father Flynn’s closeness to one of the young altar boys, Donald Miller, the only black student at the school, and reports it to Sister Aloysius. This leads Sister Aloysius to confront Father Flynn. Although he denies any wrongdoing and says he is trying to protect the boy, Sister Aloysius’s persistence forces him to provide an explanation that threatens the boy’s future at the school.

When Sister Aloysius goes to Donald’s mother (Viola Davis) with her suspicions about Father Flynn, Mrs. Miller expresses support for the priest. Nonetheless, and without any evidence, Sister Aloysius continues her campaign against Flynn and ultimately forces him to resign.

Doubt received numerous awards and award nominations. Shanley’s screenplay was nominated for the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Likewise, all four of the principal actors — Streep, Adams, Davis, and Hoffman — were nominated for Oscars® and Golden Globe Awards.

The Best Priests on Screen

These eleven Oscar nominations for eight different actors represent the Academy's judgment about which performances as priests ranked among the best acting achievements of their respective years.

Of course, the Academy does not always get it right. Sometimes an outstanding movie or performance is overlooked, or it's a casualty of the numbers. Occasionally a nomination or an Oscar win goes to someone out of sentiment, or the Academy's choice may not reflect popular opinion.

Since I am not familiar with every movie released during the years represented here, I can't say with certainty that there was not some other performance that could have ranked ahead of one of these. But each of these performances is excellent and clearly deserves to be honored.

Although the priests are all men of the cloth, they are not all cut from the same cloth. Some are more formal, some are more folksy. Some are forceful, some are more quietly authoritative. Some are even musical — well, one is, anyway.

Do you have a favorite from among these priests? Do you prefer Gregory Peck's noble Father Chisholm, or Jason Miller's conflicted Father Karras? Which priest more arouses your sympathy, Philip Seymour Hoffman's Father Flynn or Barry Fitzgerald's Father Fitzgibbon?

If you had to vote, could you choose "the best of the best"? Who would it be?

Short Quiz: Do You Know Your Movie Priests?

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© 2013 Brian Lokker


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    • brianlokker profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Lokker 

      2 years ago from Bethesda, Maryland

      Good point, Jim Doherty. I was focusing on "ordinary" priests, not those higher up in the hierarchy. But I may consider revising the article to include those two. Thanks.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      You forgot John Huston for THE CARDINAL and Richard Burton for the title role in BECKET.

    • brianlokker profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Lokker 

      6 years ago from Bethesda, Maryland

      Thief12, yes, that is a great speech. Everyone of course remembers the "I coulda been a contender" scene with Brando and Steiger. But Malden has some great scenes too, especially his speech on the docks and the scene in the park when he convinces Terry to tell Edie what he did. Definitely worthy of his nomination!

    • Thief12 profile image

      Carlo Giovannetti 

      6 years ago from Puerto Rico

      I love Karl Malden's speech at the docks in On The Waterfront. Great moment.


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