Thanks to the movies, actors no longer need to act for the theater's back row, but that doesn't stop Jennifer Lawrence's extreme histrionics when faced with a smoldering microwave in American Hustle. Here are 11 other actors from the past few decades who acted for their lives for a shot at gold. -- By Robert B. DeSalvo
Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables
If the character you are playing sells her teeth, hair and body to support her illegitimate daughter, there is little chance of that performance being described by anyone as "understated." Add bombastic musical numbers to the mix and you've got 2012's Les Miserables.
Al Pacino in Dick Tracy
With a garish palette, Madonna, and actors buried under pounds of putty, there is nothing subtle about 1990's Dick Tracy. This includes crime boss Alphonse "Big Boy" Caprese, played by Pacino to such cartoonish extremes that you almost forget that this is the same man who played Michael Corleone.
Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys
Bruce Willis' character first meets Brad Pitt's Jeffrey Goines in a mental institution in 12 Monkeys, where Pitt plays a rant-prone, googly-eyed patient who is fanatical about animal rights. This scenery-chewing performance that got him nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
Charlize Theron in Monster
If you're a beautiful actress who goes ugly for a role like Charlize Theron did as serial killer Aileen Wuornos, you're an Oscar shoo-in. Theron packed on the pounds, sported some nasty prosthetic teeth and also dialed up the affectations to 11. And won an Oscar for Best Actress.
Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man
Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic savant in Rain Man. When the brother he never knew he had, Tom Cruise, shows up at the mental institution, this gives Hoffman all the fuel he needs to launch his otherwise withdrawn character into the stratosphere. Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor.
Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men
"You can't handle the truth!" barks Jack Nicholson's Marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessupwhen he is caught in a lie during a trial and continuing to flip out in court. His over-the-top court performance earned him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean
Johnny Depp's boozy, crazy-eyed Captain Jack Sparrow is the primary reason the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has become such a cash cow, but most forget that Depp was nominated for Best Actor for playing the swishy swashbuckler in The Curse of the Black Pearl.
Kathy Bates in Misery
If you're a writer who wrecks his car in a remote area, Kathy Bates' Anne Wilkes is the last person you want to find out is your "number one fan." Her crazy, "cock-a-doodie" performance went off the charts… and earned her an "oogie" Oscar for Best Actress.
Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny
Marisa Tomei is Mona Lisa Vito, a VERY Italian New Yorker with an exaggerated accent who knows a thing or two about cars. This comes in handy during a trial when she rattles off detailed classic-automobile details like they were a grocery list. The Academy shouted, "that's amore!" and served Tomei an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Mo'Nique in Precious
The only thing not dialed to 11 in Precious is Gabourey Sidibe, but Mo'Nique—as Precious' verbally and physically abusive mother—makes up for it. Mo'Nique hurls insults—and cookware—at her daughter, then adjusts her wig and hams it up for visiting social workers. Instead of a frying pan, the Academy threw her an Oscar.
Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam
In the 1987 film Good Morning Vietnam, Robin Williams plays a radio DJ who angers his superiors but proves popular with the troops. Williams said "good morrrrrrrrning" to an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his unrestrained, red-faced, vein-popping performance.