Six Greeks Who Have Won An Oscar Award

The 96th Oscars Ceremony is just around the corner! Let’s recall all the Greek people who have won the precious statuette.

And the Oscar goes to…

With the 96th Academy Awards ceremony coming up in Los Angeles on March 10th, Greece is on the edge – and there’s good reason for it!

This year, two Greeks are vying for the Golden Statue:

  • Yorgos Lanthimos, nominated for Best Director and Best Picture for “Poor Things”
  • Yorgos Mavropsaridis, nominated for Best Film Editing, again for “Poor Things”.

Also, a Greek-American, Nikos Karamigios, is competing in the Best Picture category, for “American Fiction”. 

There is no better time to remember the six Greek people who have ever been awarded an Oscar. Let’s see how many of them you’ve heard of!

Katina Paxinou: Best Supporting Actress (1943)

Ernest Hemingway’s groundbreaking work “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, focusing on the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, was adapted into a film just three years after its publication. The leading actors were Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.

The Greek actress Katina Paxinou won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She played the role of Pilar, the companion of the leader of a group of Spanish guerrillas.

This was the first time this Oscar was awarded to a non-American actress, and also the first time in history that an Academy Award was received by a Greek artist. The film had been nominated for nine Oscars, but it was only Katina Paxinou who walked away with the coveted statuette.

Greeks who won the Oscar

During the ceremony on March 2, 1944, Paxinou dedicated the award to her colleagues in Athens, which was still under German occupation. “I would like to dedicate this award to my colleagues at the National Theatre of war-torn Athens,” she said. “I hope they are all well.”

During WWII, Katina Paxinou had settled permanently in the USA, where she performed on Broadway in New York City. She returned to Greece in 1952.

You can watch “For Whom The Bell Tolls” on You Tube: Part 1 and Part 2

For the record, the Oscar for Best Picture on that year went to “Casablanca”. 

Manos Hadjidakis: Best Original Song (1960)

Have you heard of Manos Hadjidakis? He was one of the most influential Greek composers. It is fair to say that, along with his colleague Mikis Theodorakis, they shaped Greek music of the second half of the 20th century, and are still influencing Greek musicians.

Manos Hadjidakis famously detested the idea of awards, and the Oscar Awards were no exception. This is why, when he won the Oscar for Best Original Song for the film “Never on Sunday,” he wasn’t in the Auditorium. He never went to collect his award.

It has been claimed that his statue was sent to him by mail, but was lost in the post. Later, the Academy sent him a replica, which he reportedly kept in his bathroom to hold the door open. 

For the record, the film was nominated for five Oscar Awards, including Best Actress for Melina Mercouri. She lost it to Elizabeth Taylor, who won for her performance in “Butterfield 8”.

Here is one of Hadjidakis’ most famous recordings, named “Gioconda’s Smile“. It was recorded in New York City in 1965, and was produced by the one and only Quincy Jones. 

Vassilis Fotopoulos: Best Art Direction for a B&W Film (1964)

You’ve probably heard of “Zorba the Greek”, one of the best known movies about Greece, based on a book by the famous Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis. It’s one of my favourite books, and explores the essence of “Greekness”. You can find it on Amazon.

The film was directed by Michael Cacoyannis, and Anthony Quinn was starring in one of his most iconic roles. However, none of them won an Oscar for this movie, as the competition was harsh – both went to “My Fair Lady”.

Yet, Zorba the Greek won three Academy Awards: Lila Kedrova, for Best Supporting Actress, Walter Lassally, for Best Cinematography (B&W), and Vassilis Fotopoulos, For Best Art Direction (B&W).

Between 1965 and 1974, the esteemed Greek set designer resided in the USA, where he contributed to numerous theatrical productions. In 1965, he returned to cinema, collaborating with Francis Ford Coppola on the film “You’re a Big Boy Now.”

His Oscar Statue was donated to the Benaki Museum in Athens, where you can see it on display.

Oscar statue in Athens Greece

Odd Trivia / Urban Legend: Fotopoulos was on track to win the Oscar Award in 1963, for his work on Elia Kazan’s film “America America.” However, Kazan decided to omit Fotopoulos’ name from the film’s credits, leaving only that of the American Gene Callahan, who was responsible for the stage props.

As a result, the Oscar was solely awarded to Callahan. Upon complaining to Kazan about this unjust treatment, Fotopoulos received the response: “But who would believe that these sets were created by a Greek?”

Theoni Vachlioti-Aldredge: Costume Design (1974)

Theoni Vachlioti-Aldredge, possibly the most underrated figure on this list, was a prominent Greek costume designer with a notable international career.

Her achievements reached their pinnacle when she won the Oscar for Costume Design for her work on the film “The Great Gatsby,” featuring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Other nomination in the same category included “The Godfather Part II” and “Chinatown.”

Vachlioti was born in Thessaloniki in 1922. After graduating from the American School in Athens, she pursued studies at the Goodman School of Theatre in Chicago, spurred on by her father’s progressive mindset.

Throughout her illustrious career, Vachlioti created costumes for over 300 films and theatrical productions. In addition to the Academy Award, she was honored with three Tony Awards for the costumes she designed for the plays “Annie” (1977), “Barnum” (1980), and “La Cage aux Folles” (1984).

Vangelis Papathanassiou: Original Music Score (1982)

Released in 1981, “Chariots of Fire” was a British film depicting the true story of two British runners who honored their country at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. Vangelis Papathanassiou, the Greek electronic composer best known internationally by his first name, won the Academy Award for composing the film’s Original Score.

Vangelis’ music conjures images of someone running in slow motion. It was a huge success in its own right, and climbed to number one on the Billboard 200, displacing Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”. The album reached number five on the UK Albums Chart, and remained on the list for 107 weeks. 

Vangelis did not attend the ceremony. Kathleen Turner and William Hurt accepted the Oscar on his behalf, having announced the winner moments earlier. Later, Vangelis claimed he was asleep that night, and only found out about his award the next morning.

The film won a total of four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Screenplay, Costume Design, and Original Score. 

Fun fact: The director, Hugh Hudson, had asked the Greek composer to write music for his film “Midnight Express”, a few years earlier. Vangelis had declined, citing time constraints. The music for that film was ultimately composed by Giorgio Moroder, who went on to win the Oscar.

Later, Hudson told Vangelis he should do “Chariots of Fire” now that he’d missed out on the Oscar the previous time. The composer replied that “such opportunities don’t come around every day”.

You can listen to the full version of Chariots of Fire on You Tube.

Costa-Gavras: Adapted Screenplay (1983)

In 1983, the Greek director Costa-Gavras, along with Donald Stewart, received the Academy Award for Adapted Screenplay for their film “Missing”. The film was based on Thomas Hauser’s book “Missing,” recounting the real-life story of American journalist Charlie Hormann, who went missing in Pinochet’s Chile.

In 1970, the movie “Z”, also by Costa-Gavras, had won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (French language). 

The soundtrack was written by Vangelis Papathanassiou. To quote Gavras: “It was astonishing; Vangelis possessed extraordinary talent. Upon hearing the screenplay I described, he promptly sat down and crafted the music. It emanated from his heart and his mind.”

Yorgos Lanthimos: Best Picture / Directing (2024) ???

In Greece, over 400,000 people have been to the cinema to watch “Poor Things”, which is a huge number.

The film has been nominated for a total of 11 Academy Awards! What do you think will happen? Will Lanthimos win one of them, and join the handful of Greeks that have won an Oscar? Let me know in the comments! 

Vanessa from Real Greek Experiences

Hi! I’m Vanessa from Athens, and I share news about Athens and Greece on this blog and my FB page. Follow along!





Leave a Comment