"And the award goes to..." is a sentence fragment with plenty of heft, especially when it comes to the Oscars' top award, that ultimate crown of Hollywood laurels, the Best Picture winner. Who better than a group of peers to judge which of their own is the superior film that year? Yet time and again Tinseltown's top dogs make odd, inexplicable, and even downright wrong choices. You won't believe that these
57 movies didn't win Best Picture; in fact, seeing them next to the films that beat them might just have you rethinking the value of the industry award entirely.
Snubs to films like
Citizen Kane and It's A Wonderful Life seem obvious in retrospect, but the films they were up against had more class, flair, or the burnish of intellectual respectability going for them. Past winners from a more modern era, especially Crash and American Beauty, have tarnished a little faster, their glow quickly fading and their competition revealed as the true gems sparkling in Hollywood's firmament. Who really wants to sit down with The English Patient's dour romance when you could enjoy its competitor's Minnesota Nice noir by the Coen Brothers?
Sometimes films just have better campaigns that attract more attention, but sometimes, Hollywood insiders just can't see the forest for the trees. Check out these so-called losers and how they stack up today.
anything losing to American Beauty, a smarmy film featuring Kevin Spacey's main character going through a midlife crisis by almost sleeping with his teen daughter's best friend looks pretty bad, but in particular M. Night Shyamalan's atmospheric thriller (which holds up even after you know the main plot twist), seems a special shame.
‘I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang’
A movie about the upper crust and lower class dealing with the effects of a lesser-known war pales in comparison to
Fugitive's dark look at the brutality and cruelty of the justice system, and how it turns even men who want to go straight into criminals by default.
It Happened One Night
Both are filled with witty banter and screwball antics, but
Thin Man's Nick and Nora are winsome beyond compare, plus there's a murder mystery!
The blustering (and historically incorrect) historical epic lost to the year's
real hero: A small pig determined to make it against the odds and actually change the social order for good.
The greatest Christmas movie of all time (yep, I said it) and possibly the best dysfunctional family film ever (take that,
Royal Tenenbaums) lost to a singing, dancing Dickensian moppet.
The Last Emperor
The life story of China's last emperor is
fine and has an excellent soundtrack, but how can it compare to a film featuring Cher and Nicholas Cage's finest performances?!
A movie about a newsroom doing important things lost to a perfect all-out epic action movie about facing trauma.
You Can’t Take It With You
While it's a charming movie, wacky family vs. snooty blue bloods doesn't stack up against a film about The Human Condition.
Another case where anything losing to an awful, Oscar-bait film, in this case
Racism Is Bad: The Movie, would be a shanda, but particularly for Ang Lee's quiet, devastating romance to get shunted? Nah.
The Godfather Part II
Men with money to do whatever they want without fear of consequences is more relevant than ever today, putting it a little ahead of a film examining coiled toxic masculinity across time (that, unfortunately, is lauded as a good thing by many of its fans).
Forrest Gump Gump's shameless feel-good take on history featuring a noble free spirit won Oscar votes, but Tarantino's riff on classic films rebooted several careers and offered a glimpse of films to come.
Not to knock the film again, but
Cavalcade can't hold a candle to Mae West's sassy triple-entendres, featuring a baby-faced Carey Grant.
Hamlet Hamlet, the tale of a 30 year old who can't figure out what he's doing, is always going to be considered Important. The Red Shoes' tale of an artist trapped between two cruel men's egos, is ART.
Going My Way
Gaslight garnered a Best Actress win for an amazing lead performance by Ingrid Bergman as a woman driven to doubt her own sanity by a total cad, and Best Art Direction, Black And White Film, to boot.
Going My Way
Though the noir classic, filled with lines like "I never knew death smelled like honeysuckle," got seven nominations, it didn't win a single Oscar. Was it Barbara Stanwyck's wig?
‘Bonnie And Clyde’/'The Graduate’
In The Heat Of The Night
This is more pleasant surprise that Hollywood wasn’t ready to acknowledge the Boomer generation doing the movie equivalent of table flipping, instead lauding a film dealing with systematic racism, something they've since been happy to ignore. Still, the two films heralded the New Hollywood to come.
Gone With The Wind
OK, well, EVERYTHING was going to lose to
Gone With The Wind, the 3-hour epic about a whiny, selfish woman who wants everything and finagles most of it, only to have the Civil War get in her way.
We've come full circle — from this film's Women Can't Be Friends message (see also:
An Officer And A Gentleman, Pretty Woman), to present-day cries that not supporting women patently doing horrific things is anti-feminist (see: the last and upcoming elections), we're now back to a balance with this film's ultimate message of Bosses Are Terrible.
A timely film about the lesser-known but important civil rights march lost to a film about a male actor dealing with his career. Sigh.
This overblown action drama won Best Picture back in the day, but
Mad Max couldn't make the cut? And the Oscars snubbed one of the finest comedies ever, with all-around outstanding performances and perfect timing.
‘The Shawshank Redemption’
this is the story of perseverance against the odds that should've nabbed Best Picture.
This one's tough, because it's not like a great film about an underdog earning what he needed from life
winning is anything bad — just that Scorsese's searing look inside Bickle's mind is so singular and outstanding.
'The Grand Budapest Hotel'
Anderson's attempt at looking slightly beyond wealthy white families to the broader world is less naval-gazing than
Lost To: The Artist
Viola Davis herself told
The New York Times she regretted her role in The Help for perpetuating the "white savior" narrative, and indeed the white women's stories trump the people they're supposedly talking to, but even this Davis performance trumps the treacly Hollywood sap of The Artist.
Shape Of Water
Paul Thomas Anderson's breakdown of relationship dynamics between supposed auteurs and the women who "deal" with them has more nuance than the straightforward love story of a woman and fish-man.
Scorsese should've won, but not like
this, and not at the expense of a sweet, oddball family movie.
Mel Brooks produced David Lynch's lone period-piece about a Victorian sideshow attraction's life, though it lost to a perfectly decent movie about a family coping (or not) with loss.
'It’s A Wonderful Life'
The Best Years Of Our Lives
Well, no one knew back then how much of an enduring classic the film would be.
How Green Was My Valley
One of the best noirs of all time lost to a film about... Welsh mining.
'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon '
The wrong period piece featuring vengeance and major set-pieces won, especially when, on one hand you have two manly-to-the-point-of-parodic leads (Russell Crowe, Oliver Reed), and on the other, two champions of their art (Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun-fat).
My Fair Lady
Kubrick's dark look at the Cold War didn't stack up to a singing, Cockney-accented
‘Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf’
A Man For All Seasons
It doesn't matter
what the winner was, nothing was going to top this all-out psychological battle between husband and wife (heck, put it up against Phantom Thread and the latter would pale in comparison).
Liza deserved better.
How Green Was My Valley
The film that makes the top three of nearly every Best Film list (though considering everything you've read so far that's taken Best Picture, rethink the gatekeeping) lost to... Welsh mining.
The English Patient
endless "love" story vs. the Coens' sharp noir, starring a Frances McDormand as a severely pregnant gumshoe.
Gone With The Wind
As mentioned earlier,
everything was doomed to lose to the 3-hour epic, but it's a shame this story of strangers banding together as they ride across the West didn't get its due.
Shape Of Water
No offense to Guillermo del Toro's fantastical romance, which itself was a win, as the Oscars usually don't acknowledge horror or fantasy, but
Get Out was the film people didn't realize they wanted or needed when it hit.
Kramer Vs. Kramer
The film where Divorced Dad Learns To Dad trumped Bob Fosse's impeccable overview of his own life and career.
These Films Weren’t Even Nominated!
C'mon, Academy - do better.
Nominated in EVERY ACTING CATEGORY and still didn’t win a dang thing.
'The Public Enemy' (1931)
Ok, it got Best Original Story but not a single acting nomination for one of cinema's indelible performances.
It also lost Best Director to
American Beauty's parody of an Academy "prestige" movie. Remember how beautiful that plastic bag was? Exactly.
David Lynch's devastating film about aging, loneliness, and death only got one Best Actor nod and lost to, you guessed it, Kevin Spacey in
It garnered two nominations for Best Screenplay (lost to
Dead Poets Society) and Best Supporting Actor (lost to Denzel Washington in Glory), starting Spike Lee's history of being nominated but not winning.
Terry Gilliam's dystopian masterpiece lost Best Screenplay to
Witness and best Art Direction to Out of Africa (which...didn't they shoot on location?)
Of course, it took away the award for Best Special Effects, but this all-time great horror film still leaves viewers tense and unnerved over three decades later.
Nominated for four awards but only winning Best Supporting Actress, this tale of all sorts of doomed loves should've at least gotten the Best Picture nod.
'What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?'
Only winning for Best Costume, it was the non-win that supposedly re-sparked the feud between its lead actresses, with Bette Davis convinced that Joan Crawford asked others not to vote for her, and Crawford offering to pick up the award for any other nominee unable to make it — meaning that she walked onstage at the ceremonies, and Davis didn't.
Oddly nominated for Best Screenplay, but not Best Foreign Film, it didn't win either.
With only two nods for Art and Sound Direction, Hitchcock’s creepiest and best film didn’t win a thing.
'A Star Is Born' (1954)
Of all six nominations the film received and didn’t win, the one that stung most was Judy Garland losing to Grace Kelly in
The Country Girl.
Featuring Ginger Rogers, singing, dancing, pre-code debauchery, plus a hard-hitting look at the Great Depression’s effect on war veterans… and all it got was a Best Sound Recording nod.
This film got an ultra-rare write-in nomination for Best Director, and still lost.
'Bride Of Frankenstein'
Despite being a horror classic, the film that invented camp sensibility for the wider world was only nominated for Best Sound Design and nothing more.
This madcap mixed-up identity romance across class lines got six nominations, none of which were for Best Picture.
Luckily, not winning Best Picture doesn't mean these films have faded — many of them are available to stream. You can judge for yourself whether they were truly robbed of their rightful laudations.