Surveying This Year’s SAG Ensemble Race

Since we’ve already started talking about our first Oscar predictions of this awards season, it’s never too early to begin examining the races at other awards ceremonies as well, especially with the fall festivals kicking off today with the commencement of the Venice International Film Festival. But, while some might start by surveying the recently resurrected Golden Globes or the BAFTAs, I like to start with the race for the SAG Ensemble award. Why? Well, for two reasons:

  1. In my personal opinion, the Screen Actors Guild Awards is one of the most “fun” awards ceremonies to cover, because this is where more “populist” contenders – that might not stand a shot elsewhere in an awards season – can receive recognition (BridesmaidsThe Best Exotic Marigold HotelCrazy Rich Asians, etc.). It’s always cool to see an unconventional – but still considerably worthy – contender get its due somewhere, even if other groups are more dismissive, and I like the “life” the SAG Awards add to awards season.
  2. Actors run the Academy. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement, but the Actors Branch is the largest of the Academy’s 17 branches (representing actors, casting directors, cinematographers, costume designers, directors, documentary filmmakers, executives, film editors, makeup artists and hairstylists, marketers and public relations professionals, musicians, producers, production designers, short film and feature animators, sound technicians, visual effects artists, and writers, as well as members at large), and they’ve been key to clueing us in on some “shocking” surprises before Oscar night. In recent years, Parasite and CODA first won a major industry award at SAG before besting the frontrunners in their respective seasons, 1917 and The Power of the Dog, so if we see a similar dynamic between a more traditional frontrunner and an indie underdog this year in Best Picture, keep an eye on which film SAG backs.

There are several standout ensembles in contention this year – a few we’ve seen (Everything Everywhere All at Once, Top Gun: Maverick, Cha Cha Real Smooth) and even more we haven’t (BabylonThe FabelmansThe Son, etc.) – but going off the narratives I used to influence my first Oscar predictions of the season (along with my own read of what I assume this race could end up looking like), here are my first predictions for the 2023 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

(NOTE: To receive a SAG nomination as a part of an ensemble cast, an actor has to be billed on their own card in a film’s main titles. For some of these films, we’ve already learned of their billing, but for others, we’ll have to wait until closer to their release.)

Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu in Everything Everywhere All at Once

1. Everything Everywhere All at Once (Jamie Lee Curtis, James Hong, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Harry Shum Jr., Jenny Slate, and Michelle Yeoh)

Everyone knows I’m all-in for Everything Everywhere All at Once at this point (if you want to read my full case for its awards strength, check out my Oscar predictions), and while I think it could face more of an uphill battle at some “stuffier” awards ceremonies (the Critics Choice Awards, the BAFTAs, etc.), I think SAG will go to bat for this film in a big way. Now, my runner-up right now feels like the more “conventional” choice (and I’ll get to that in a moment), but more often than not in recent years, SAG has steered away from “conventional” in favor of something “fresh” and “exciting” – for every The Trial of the Chicago 7, there’s a Black PantherParasite, and CODA (and SAG is also far friendlier to genre films than many other awards bodies, so I don’t foresee EEAAO‘s action or comedic elements hurting it here, either).

When I’ve posed this theory recently, some have told me that they don’t think there’s “enough” of an ensemble in Everything Everywhere All at Once, to which I say… CODA? It doesn’t always matter how many actors are nominated as a part of your ensemble as it does what they do. There’s the core trio (Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu) – who are also all strong contenders in their own individual acting races as well – along with two more supporting standouts (Jamie Lee Curtis and James Hong) and two other comedic scene-stealers who will be listed with everyone else (Harry Shum Jr. and Jenny Slate). I don’t know about you, but that seems like like a pretty solid ensemble to me.

SAG has also enjoyed awarding “underdog” ensembles in recent years (the films that are fun to award because they don’t feature the “biggest names” or come from the “biggest distributors” and thus are counted out by some) and this is especially the case when an ensemble is more diverse and representative of a specific community, too (Parasite for Asians in film, CODA for deaf actors, etc.) – and that’s something that’s been very clearly important to SAG as an awards body for quite a few years now. EEAAO‘s diversity isn’t the focal point of its plot, but it is still a strength of its that has been supported by many in the industry, so on top of the script’s narrative resonance and the actors’ playful and poignant performances, that could give it an added “oomph” to snatch that win, if SAG voters want to make a “statement” simultaneously.

Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt in Babylon

2. Babylon (TBD)

If you’re looking at the history of the SAG Ensemble award, most of the winners look more like Babylon than they do Everything Everywhere All at OnceArgoAmerican HustleBirdman, etc etc etc – the movies that feature the “biggest names” (Ben Affleck! Christian Bale! Michael Keaton!) and come from the “biggest distributors” (Warner Bros.! Sony! Fox!). But as I just said up above, the SAG of the late 2010s/early 2020s is not the same SAG of yesteryear. And in fact, the entire industry has been altering dramatically in recent years when it comes to what they choose to award – and given that I’ve grown up alongside this change ever since I got into this game a few years ago, that is the ideology that shapes the way I see these races.

There’s no question in my mind that Babylon – with a stacked ensemble featuring the likes of Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Tobey Maguire, Jean Smart, Samara Weaving, Katherine Waterston, and countless others – will be a surefire SAG Ensemble nominee and a threat for the win until the very end. But just as I currently believe Everything Everywhere All at Once will still top it at the Oscars despite all it has going for it, I think the same will happen here. It’s not Babylon‘s quality that’s the issue – it’s the fact that there are additional elements that EEAAO has (the timeliness, the “underdog” angle, and the representation) that make it a more compelling choice at the end of the day. A vote for Babylon means more of the same – these people don’t need another award. Meanwhile, a vote for Everything Everywhere All at Once is something special.

Paul Dano and Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans

3. The Fabelmans (TBD)

Yes, my top three contenders for the SAG Ensemble award are also my top three contenders for Best Picture, but sometimes it really does work out that way! (And given that I suspect these three to be the foremost juggernauts of the season as a whole, it makes sense.) Anyway, I’ll carry over a lot of my logic from my Babylon argument over to The Fabelmans as well – this is going to be an exceptional ensemble with some big names involved doing wonderful work (Michelle Williams! Paul Dano! Seth Rogen!), but I’m not sure there’s enough “new” here to warrant a win (a lot like Belfast last year, actually, which many people had pegged as an early SAG Ensemble winner before it began to stumble at the start of the new year). If it’s as big of a contender as we suspect (and it should be), it’ll still be a nominee, but look for this one to be stronger individually in the Best Supporting Actress category for Williams.

Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, and Zen McGrath in The Son

4. The Son (Laura Dern, Anthony Hopkins, Hugh Jackman, Vanessa Kirby, and Zen McGrath)

Funnily enough, the terrific new trailer for The Sonand the billing of its stacked cast – is actually one of the things that inspired me to write this article. How do you look at that line-up of names (and the meaty material they seem to have been given) and not think this is an automatic SAG Ensemble contender? Granted, I’ve read – and am a big fan of – the play, so I’m coming at this with some “additional insight,” but just trust me when I say that everyone is going to be at the top of their game here (there’s a world in which this lands three or four or even five Oscar nominations in the acting categories), and that’s catnip for SAG voters when it comes to nominating an ensemble for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. In fact, should The Son overperform this season, there’s a chance this even leapfrogs a few contenders on this list and becomes a stronger competitor for the win than ever thought.

The cast of Women Talking

5. Women Talking (TBD)

On paper, Women Talking should be a slam dunk SAG Ensemble nom – the logline about “a group of women in an isolated religious colony [struggling] to reconcile their faith with a string of sexual assaults committed by the colony’s men” sounds like the definition of an ensemble showcase. However, as mentioned above, SAG does trend populist from time to time (“artier” fare like this – The Power of the Dog, Marriage Story, The Favourite, etc. – has missed occasionally), and there’s always the chance they could opt for a “starrier” contender (even though Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, and Rooney Mara are certainly stars in their own right, too). I’m keeping it in for now because I believe it will be a big player almost everywhere this awards season (including in Best Picture) and it does make sense, but it’s also easily the most vulnerable of my top five right now, in my opinion.


Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington in Amsterdam

6. Amsterdam (Christian Bale, Robert De Niro, Rami Malek, Mike Myers, Alessandro Nivola, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Margot Robbie, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldaña, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Shannon, Taylor Swift, Anya Taylor-Joy, and John David Washington)

Alright, alright, hear me out. I know that everyone online is against Amsterdam (and how could you not be after reading about the way David O. Russell has treated women on his sets for years and sexually assaulted his trans niece?), but at the same time… look at that cast list. I’m not advocating for the film here, but I know how SAG thinks, and sometimes, a cast that starry is too much to resist. And I’m not saying it’s going to win SAG ensemble or anything, but here we have a list of some of the most well-respected (and awarded) actors in Hollywood who will be wearing silly makeup and period costumes and delivering a plethora of playful performances for viewers (and voters) to eat up. Let’s also not forget that SAG has thrown a bone to films before that don’t become big contenders elsewhere simply because they feature silly, starry casts, such as House of Gucci last year and Bombshell two years prior.

Lupita Nyong'o, Letitia Wright, and Angela Bassett in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

7. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Angela Bassett, Michaela Coel, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman, Danai Gurira, Tenoch Huerta, Florence Kasumba, Lupita Nyong’o, Dominique Thorne, and Letitia Wright)

Just as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever‘s tremendous teaser trailer made us realize it had the potential to repeat its predecessor’s Oscar glory, it also demonstrated that the superhero sequel could follow in the first film’s footsteps at the SAG Awards as well. Yes, let’s not forget that the original Black Panther wasn’t just nominated for Best Ensemble, but outright won the award, too. I’m waiting to see how Wakanda Forever fares critically and commercially to decide whether or not Black Panther really does have what it takes to dominate the awards circuit all over again, which is why I have it out of my top five for now, but when you look at that incredible cast and consider the mightily dramatic narrative found in the film (which grapples with the dual loss of T’Challa and Chadwick Boseman), you start to see how this series could contend again.

The cast of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

8. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Dave Bautista, Madelyn Cline, Daniel Craig, Kathryn Hahn, Jessica Henwick, Kate Hudson, Janelle Monáe, Edward Norton, and Leslie Odom Jr.)

Can Knives Out get a SAG Ensemble nod on Round 2? Yes, the first Knives Out was inexplicably snubbed in 2019 (though to be fair, quite a few major contenders missed out that year, from Marriage Story to Little Women), but it’s back with a vengeance three years later, and if early world is to be believed, writer-director Rian Johnson has delivered once again – and with a cast this captivating, how could he not? You may miss some of the star power that Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans brought to the table, but these stars are still no slouches (Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Dave Bautista, WandaVision‘s Kathryn Hahn, multi-hyphenate Janelle Monáe, etc.), and Knives Out is such an ensemble-friendly franchise that gives everyone the time to shine that it may be too tantalizing for SAG to resist this time around.

Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan in She Said

9. She Said (TBD)

You might think that, with a cast that includes Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, and Samantha Morton, She Said should be a lot higher on this list. But I’m still not sold on the strength of the film as an awards contender (as I said recently in my first Oscar predictions piece of the season), and while the potential is there, I also think it could be one of those contenders that has everything going for it on paper, but still falls through the cracks when all is said and done due to a lack of passion (if the response to the that teaser is any indication). Still, purely from a quality standpoint, She Said does seem to be very well-made – and above all else, incredibly well-acted – and given how the subject matter is something that primarily affected actors specifically (and actresses, most of all), there could be more urgency amongst this group to honor it than anywhere else.

The cast of Triangle of Sadness

10. Triangle of Sadness (Vicki Berlin, Zlatko Burić, Dolly De Leon, Charlbi Dean, Harris Dickinson, Henrik Dorsin, and Woody Harrelson)

I contemplated putting a number of movies in my tenth spot here, but Triangle of Sadness takes the cake, as, I’ve heard from pretty much everyone who’s seen it (I myself have not yet) that it’s a true-blue ensemble piece through and through, and even though some actors manage to stand out from the crowd (Dolly de Leon’s name has been continually cited), everyone gets the opportunity to be the MVP – from the late Charlbi Dean to Harris Dickinson to, of course, Woody Harrelson – and if Triangle becomes as “big” as I’m expecting it to be elsewhere (I do currently have it in my Best Picture predictions), it could certainly make a splash at SAG, too. This is another film I have to wait on more reception for before being fully sure of its awards chances anywhere really (its divisiveness could hurt it here, as SAG tends to stray from more “provocative” pictures), but it’s undoubtedly a dark horse in this race, and could continue to rise in the ranks as the weeks go on.

Written by
Though Zoë Rose Bryant has only worked in film criticism for a little under three years - turning a collegiate passion into a full-time career by writing for outlets such as Next Best Picture and Awards Watch - her captivation with cinema has been a lifelong fascination, appreciating film in all its varying forms, from horror movies to heartfelt romantic comedies and everything in between. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2021 after graduating college and now spends her days keeping tabs on all things pop culture and attempting to attend every screening under the sun. As a trans critic, she also seeks to champion underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ community in film criticism and offer original insight on how gender and sexuality are explored in modern entertainment. You can find Zoë on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @ZoeRoseBryant.

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