But it took a seven-month, sub-zero shoot, and a role in which he barely speaks to give him his best shot at finally winning an Oscar.
DiCaprio, 41, has received his fifth Oscar nod, this time for his lead role in The Revenant. The pioneer-era revenge drama led all contenders with 12 nominations.
DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a taciturn, greasy-haired 1820s fur trapper left for dead in the wilderness by his own hunting team after being mauled by a bear that rips his throat.
In a fight for survival, Glass treks through snow-covered forests, gets swept away in a waterfall, sleeps inside the carcass of a disemboweled horse and hungrily eats raw bison liver before making it back to his camp.
DiCaprio has already won a Golden Globe for the role, and he tops pundits’ forecasts to take home the best actor Oscar at the February 28 Academy Awards ceremony.
The Revenant led the Oscar nominations with 12 nods, including best picture, while gritty action movie Mad Max: Fury Road landed 10.
The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road will vie with The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, The Martian, Room, and Spotlight for best picture, the top Oscar award.
The Oscars, voted on by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, can have up to 10 best picture nominees, but voters selected eight this year. Star Wars: The Force Awakens and hip-hop movie Straight Outta Compton were among those not making the cut.
The Revenant also landed a best director nomination for Alejandro Inarritu and best supporting actor nod for Tom Hardy. Best director nominations also went to Adam McKay (The Big Short), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), and Lenny Abrahamson (Room).
DiCaprio will compete with Bryan Cranston in Hollywood blacklist tale Trumbo, Matt Damon in space adventure The Martian, Michael Fassbender as technology visionary Steve Jobs, and Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl.
In the best actress category, previous Oscar winners Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence return to the race this year.
Blanchett was nominated for her role in lesbian romance Carol, and Lawrence for playing the Miracle Mop inventor in Joy. They will compete against Brie Larson for psychological thriller Room, Charlotte Rampling for British drama 45 Years and Saoirse Ronan for immigrant tale Brooklyn.
Best actor in a supporting role nominations went to Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies), and Sylvester Stallone (Creed).
And best actress in a supporting role nominations were awarded to Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Rooney Mara (Carol), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), and Kate Winslet ().
No actors of colour were nominated in the best acting or supporting acting categories this year, despite a backlash last year over a lack of diversity in the 2015 awards.