Big Ten Dominates SEC in Acting

Deshaun's picture
August 16, 2013 at 7:42a

This map was included in yesterday’s Skull Session, which tipped off a debate over the most famous actors from Ohio. What I immediately noticed was the level of acting talent produced in Big Ten states. From Clark Gable to Will Smith, Big Ten country appeared to be producing a wealth of blue chip actors. Due to unfathomable boredom, I tallied the Academy Award nominations of the actors listed.  Once that was done, the only logical thing to do was compare them to those of the actors from SEC states. The results are in the table, below:

Academy Award Data by State Actors
Actor State Nominations Won
Clark Gable OH 3 1
Will Smith PA 2 0
David Hasselhoff MD 0 0
Harrison Ford IL 1 0
John Travolta NJ 2 0
Burt Reynolds MI 1 0
James Dean IN 2 0
John Wayne IA 2 1
Chris Farley WI 0 0
Sean William Scott MN 0 0
Marlon Brando NE 8 2
Total   21 4
Johnny Depp FL 3 0
Jamie Foxx TX 2 1
Laurence Fishburne GA 1 0
Tyler Perry LA 0 0
Channing Tatum AL 0 0
James Earl Jones MS 1 0
Aziz Ansari SC 0 0
Justin Timberlake TN 0 0
Billy Bob Thornton AR 2 0
George Clooney KY 4 0
Jon Hamm MO 0 0
Total   13 1


Clearly, the Big Ten states produced better acting talent than the SEC states. However, researching academy award nominations revealed a few discrepancies in where the actors are truly “from.” For example, Johnny Depp represented Florida on the map although he was born in Owensboro, Kentucky. Another issue was the intangible justification for who was “most popular.” Surely the states of Maryland, Tennessee, and Missouri have produced better talent than David Hasselhoff, Justin Timberlake, and Jon Hamm, right? I enjoyed Chris Farley’s attempt to save Callahan Auto (and by extension, Sandusky, Ohio) as much as anybody. But when a dynamic game changer like Spencer Tracy is an option, you sign him.

It turns out the states in the Big Ten footprint produce an incredible depth of talent in the field of acting. Sure, actors such as Paul Newman, Jimmy Stewart, and Marlon Brando are among the most dominant performers in the history of the big screen. But when a producer has to start calling such names as Clark Gable, James Dean, Samuel L Jackson, Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, and Dayton’s own Martin Sheen off the bench, you have a dazzling display of the acting superiority to be found in Big Ten states. Not to mention Big Ten-footprint-produced directors at the top of their profession like Steven Spielberg (Ohio, 7 Best Director nominations, 2 wins), Francis Ford Coppola (Michigan, 4 Best Director nominations, 1 win), and Orson Welles (Wisconsin, 1 Best Director nomination). A producer looking to create a championship caliber film, fueled by a roster of elite acting talent and a tactically brilliant director to bring all the pieces together would certainly look first to recruiting the Big Ten footprint. Their SEC counterparts, Tommy Lee Jones and Billy Bob Thornton simply do not have the speed of delivery to keep up on the screen. The data for the top actor from each state is listed below:

Best Actors Each State has Produced
Actor State Nominations Won
Paul Newman OH 10 1
Will Smith PA 2 0
Barry Levinson MD 0 0
Robin Williams IL 4 1
Ed Harris NJ 4 0
Tom Selleck MI 0 0
James "Jimmy" Stewart IN 5 1
William Hurt DC 4 1
John Wayne IA 2 1
Spencer Tracy WI 9 2
John Hawkes MN 1 0
Marlon Brando NE 8 2
Total   49 9
Wesley Snipes FL 0 0
Tommy Lee Jones TX 4 1
Burt Reynolds GA 1 0
Tyler Perry LA 0 0
Channing Tatum AL 0 0
James Earl Jones MS 1 0
Chris Rock SC 0 0
Morgan Freeman TN 5 1
Billy Bob Thornton AR 2 0
George Clooney KY 4 0
Kevin Kline MO 1 0
Total   18 2


The Big Ten footprint is clearly the superior hotbed of acting talent. Paul Newman and Spencer Tracy alone have more Academy Award nominations (19 to 18) and wins (3 to 2) than the entire SEC footprint combined. This doesn’t even take into account the 20 man bench listed below with their combined 33 nominations and 8 wins.

And coming off the Bench for the Big Ten
Actor State Nominations Won
Montgomery Clift NE 4 0
Clark Gable OH 3 1
Nick Nolte NE 3 0
Michael Douglas NJ 2 2
Kevin Spacey NJ 2 2
Henry Fonda NE 2 1
Joe Pesci NJ 2 1
John Malkovich IL 2 0
James Dean IN 2 0
John Travolta NJ 2 0
Willem Dafoe WI 2 0
Don Ameche WI 1 1
Samuel L Jackson DC 1 0
Charlton Heston IL 1 0
Harrison Ford IL 1 0
Bill Murray IL 1 0
Fred Astaire NE 1 0
Orson Welles WI 1 0
Martin Sheen OH 0 0
Richard Gere PA 0 0
Totals   33 8

Out of curiosity, data for the women of the Big Ten was collected as well. Bottom line, the Big Ten demonstrates further dominance with a large assist from New Jersey’s Meryl Streep and her ridiculous 17 (!) nominations.  (And isn’t that what the Big Ten expansion via Rutgers was all about?)

Top Actress From Each Big Ten State
Actress State Nominations Won
Halle Berry OH 1 1
Grace Kelly PA 2 1
Linda Hamilton MD 0 0
Melissa McCarthy IL 1 0
Meryl Streep NJ 17 1
Ellen Burstyn MI 6 1
Anne Baxter IN 2 1
Goldie Hawn DC 2 1
Cloris Leachman IA 1 1
Gena Rowlands WI 2 0
Judy Garland MN 2 0
Hilary Swank NE 2 2
Total   38 9


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