From 'A Star Is Born' to 'Crazy Rich Asians': Measuring Up the SAG Awards' Ensemble Nominees

7:00 AM 1/23/2019

by Rebecca Ford

Five very different films will vie for this year's top prize, the best ensemble award, at the Jan. 27 ceremony, though winning the Actor does not always lead directly to the best picture Oscar.

Crazy Rich Asians_Blackkklansman_Bohemian Rhapsody_Split - Publicity - H 2019
Sanja Bucko/Warner Bros.; David Lee/Focus Features; Alex Bailey/Twentieth Century Fox

The Jan. 6 Golden Globes, determined by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's 90 or so members, provided a few surprises (Bohemian Rhapsody!) while establishing which films are leading the race toward Oscar's best picture.

Now, it's the actors' turn to give out the Actors.

More than 121,000 voting SAG-AFTRA members are now penciling in their favorites for the SAG Awards (ballots are due Jan. 25). SAG-AFTRA's top prize is the ensemble-focused outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture category, and this year's finalists are five very different films. Winning the SAG Award does not always lead directly to the best picture Oscar (in the past 10 years, five films — Spotlight, Birdman, Argo, The King's Speech and Slumdog Millionaire — have won both), but only two films (1995's Braveheart and 2017's The Shape of Water) have won the Academy Award without getting at least a nomination for the SAG Awards' ensemble.

So who gets to take the stage when a film wins? SAG-AFTRA rules dictate that to be listed as a nominee in the ensemble, an actor must have his or her own title card in the film's credits sequence — which often leads to unexpected omissions and inclusions. (This year, for example, Crazy Rich Asians' Harry Shum Jr., who appears in the film for only 29 seconds, is included.)

Ahead of the Jan. 27 ceremony, THR takes a look at the top race, plus the tight actor competition.

  • 'A Star Is Born'

    The musical drama has the most SAG Award nominations with four, including nods for its leading lady (Lady Gaga) and man (Bradley Cooper, who also directed), plus a supporting nom for Sam Elliott. While many were surprised that the Warner Bros. film didn't land the Golden Globe for best drama, the movie is a crowd-pleaser that has earned Cooper (who was nominated for best actor in 2013 for Silver Linings Playbook) and Gaga plenty of attention. And while it could be viewed as a two-hander, the ensemble is rounded out with Elliot and comedians Dave Chappelle and Andrew Dice Clay, who showed off their more dramatic sides.

  • 'Black Panther'

    Now the No. 3 movie of all time in North America, Black Panther touts a large, star-studded, diverse ensemble (Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright) that has been busy hopping around the awards circuit to promote the film with their signature "Wakanda Forever" salute. While none of the stars earned individual SAG Award actor nominations (the film did earn a second nom for stunts), the Disney and Marvel blockbuster has the backing of some serious industry heavyweights (Oprah hosted a party for the cast Dec. 9 to celebrate its Golden Globe nominations) and has been hailed as one of the crowning achievements in the superhero genre.

  • 'BlacKkKlansman'

    Spike Lee's first movie to earn a SAG Award nomination features a diverse cast of breakouts (lead John David Washington) and familiar faces (Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Harry Belafonte). The film overperformed in nominations, with Washington (best known for his work on HBO's Ballers and for being Denzel's son) beating out more established actors for a lead actor nom and Driver earning a supporting salute, giving the film a total of three noms. Plus, actors respect and admire Lee, who has been collecting accolades this season for his timely based-on-a-true-story tale about a black cop who infiltrated the Colorado KKK.

  • 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

    Fox's Queen biopic continues to surprise and should not be underestimated. When it was announced as one of the nominees for SAG-AFTRA's top prize, it came as a shock to many, especially because star Rami Malek is the only well-known lead in the film (the band's other members are played by Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello and Gwilym Lee). The Golden Globes gave the movie its most recent boost when it (surprisingly) took the best drama trophy, along with Malek winning the actor Globe. So while other contenders have more star power in their ensembles, there's no denying that this project has pulled at the heartstrings of Queen fans, and SAG-AFTRA members could choose to reward Malek and the movie.

  • 'Crazy Rich Asians'

    All season, the box office smash ($238 million worldwide) and barrier-breaking romantic comedy has been honored for its very ensemble-y ensemble (the cast collected the Hollywood Film Awards ensemble prize Nov. 4, the National Board of Review's best ensemble prize Jan. 8, and was nominated for best ensemble at the Critics' Choice Awards (and won best comedy Jan. 13). With a mix of newcomers (Henry Golding), TV stars (Constance Wu), breakouts (Awkwafina) and Asian icons (Michelle Yeoh, Lisa Lu), the Warner Bros. feature could be rewarded for its cultural accomplishment and cast.

  • Inside the Film Acting Races

    This story first appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.