Worst Best Picture Snubs in Oscars History
The Academy Awards represent the pinnacle of what a movie can be. Since 1927, they've awarded statuettes to the best moviemaking every year. But in that time, they've made some mistakes.
None of those mistakes are more visible than when there's a big miss on the final award of the night — Best Picture. Whether it's politics or recency bias or whatever excuse you want to make for Academy Award voters, these are the worst Best Picture snubs in the history of the Oscars.
30. All the President's Men (1976)
Warning: Content contains spoilers.
Oscar year: 1977
Best Picture winner: Rocky
Best Picture nominees: All the President's Men, Rocky, Bound for Glory, Network, Taxi Driver
Best Director winner: John G. Avildsen, Rocky
Bottom line: Don't get it twisted. We love "Rocky" and want to acknowledge 1977 (honoring movies released in 1976) as one of the most stacked Best Picture fields of all time.
The problem is, if we're looking at things in a historical context, we have to understand that "Rocky" needs to take a backseat to two other movies that received nominations — Martin Scorsese's brilliant "Taxi Driver" and "All the President's Men" starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.
Out of those two, "President's Men" is still the one you can just hit "play" on today and watch from start to finish and get much of the same experience you had the first time you ever saw it. Thrilling, exhilarating, empowering.
29. Mystic River (2003)
Oscar year: 2004
Best Picture winner: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Best Picture nominees: Mystic River, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Seabiscuit
Best Director winner: Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Bottom line: This may have been a makeup move by the Oscars. They screwed up in 2002 when they honored "Chicago" as best picture over "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," which was the best of Peter Jackson's film trilogy based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Instead, in typical Oscars fashion, they chose to award Jackson the next year, when the obvious Best Picture choice was Clint Eastwood's brilliant "Mystic River" based on the Dennis LeHane novel. Stars Sean Penn and Tim Robbins became the first duo to bring home Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor honors since "Ben-Hur" in 1959.
28. High Noon (1952)
Oscar year: 1953
Best Picture winner: The Greatest Show on Earth
Best Picture nominees: High Noon, The Greatest Show on Earth, Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge, The Quiet Man
Best Director winner: John Ford, The Quiet Man
Bottom line: "High Noon" isn't just one of the best Western films of its era. It is one of the best movies of its era.
While it lost to the sappy "The Greatest Show on Earth," the thrilling Western came away with four Academy Awards out of its seven nominations, including Best Actor for the great Cary Cooper.
We like to think audiences at the time didn't know what to make of "High Noon" as it flipped the tried-and-true plot at the end, with the heroine saving the hero instead of vice versa. Which is just awesome that it came out in 1952.
27. Funny Girl (1968)
Oscar year: 1969
Best Picture winner: Oliver!
Best Picture nominees: Funny Girl, Oliver!, The Lion in Winter, Rachel, Rachel, Romeo and Juliet
Best Director winner: Carol Reed, Oliver!
Bottom line: "Funny Girl" was the movie that made Barbara Streisand a huge star and should have been the Best Picture winner over the incredibly corny "Oliver!" which brought home the statue in 1968.
Streisand was a revelation in reprising her role of Fanny Brice from the hit Broadway musical, and the performance won her the Academy Award for Best Actress in a tie with Katharine Hepburn for "The Lion in Winter," another movie that's better than "Oliver!"
26. Star Wars (1977)
Oscar year: 1978
Best Picture winner: Annie Hall
Best Picture nominees: Star Wars, Annie Hall, The Goodbye Girl, Julia, The Turning Point
Best Director winner: Woody Allen, Annie Hall
Bottom line: An Academy Award for Best Picture has never gone to a sci-fi picture. This is one of the few times where it probably should have.
In this case, "Star Wars" really took audiences by surprise, and it's probably a miracle that it even received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture in the first place.
You might say that "Annie Hall" was probably Woody Allen's best film. We say "Star Wars" is just as popular as it was when it came out in 1977. That's actually saying something.
25. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Oscar year: 1965
Best Picture winner: My Fair Lady
Best Picture nominees: Dr. Strangelove, My Fair Lady, Becket, Mary Poppins, Zorba the Greek
Best Director winner: Mike Nichols, The Graduate
Bottom line: Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece was about 10 years ahead of its time and chronicled the world's fear of nuclear war.
While "My Fair Lady" took home the Best Picture Oscar that year, it's worth giving the Academy props for even nominating "Dr. Strangelove" for Best Picture.
For plenty of years, we were left without a cutting-edge movie like this in the nominees.
24. Double Indemnity (1944)
Oscar year: 1945
Best Picture winner: Going My Way
Best Picture nominees: Double Indemnity, Going My Way, Gaslight, Since You Went Away, Wilson
Best Director winner: Leo McCarey, Going My Way
Bottom line: In 1944, "Going My Way" was the movie that brought home seven out of 10 Academy Award nominations and made Bing Crosby one of the biggest stars in the world.
It's very much a testament to the time — a musical about two battling priests at a parish in New York City. It's unwatchable today. What's not unwatchable? Director Billy Wilder's bravura psychological thriller "Double Indemnity" starring Fred McMurray, Edward G. Robinson and Barabara Stanwyck.
"Double Indemnity" was nominated for seven Academy Awards and came away from the big night with zero wins.
23. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Oscar year: 1995
Best Picture winner: Forrest Gump
Best Picture nominees: Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption
Best Director winner: Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump
Bottom line: It's not every year you get three of the most beloved films of all time in a single Best Picture category, but that's what we got in 1994, with "Forrest Gump" winning Best Actor (Tom Hanks), Best Director (Robert Zemeckis) and Best Picture.
No offense to "Gump" fans. It was the third-best movie on the list of classics behind "The Shawshank Redemption" and Quentin Tarantino's breakthrough film "Pulp Fiction" for which he won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar.
22. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Oscar year: 1951
Best Picture winner: An American in Paris
Best Picture nominees: A Streetcar Named Desire, An American in Paris, Decision Before Dawn, A Place in the Sun, Quo Vadis
Best Director winner: George Stevens, A Place in the Sun
Bottom line: What's amazing about "A Streetcar Named Desire" boils down to one of the greatest movie stars of all time — Marlon Brando as the evil Stanley Kowaski.
It's Brando's simmering rage that pushes this tragedy toward its conclusion and his begging in the street for his wife to take him back — "Stella! Stella!" — has become one of the more famous movie scenes of all time.
Want to see if we're right? Go ahead and watch Best Picture winner "An American in Paris" and see if it holds up compared to "Streetcar." It won't.
21. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Oscar year: 2010
Best Picture winner: The Hurt Locker
Best Picture nominees: Inglourious Basterds, The Hurt Locker, Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air
Best Director winner: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Bottom line: One day, we'll look back and realize we should have appreciated Quentin Tarantino's genius a lot more than we did. His films should have won more Best Picture and Best Director Oscars.
You can make a good argument that Tarantino's World War II epic "Inglourious Basterds" is his greatest film in terms of scope and magnitude. That it lost to a modern war film, "The Hurt Locker," makes it sting a little bit more, although "The Hurt Locker" director Kathryn Bigelow's Best Director Oscar was well deserved.
20. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Oscar year: 1983
Best Picture winner: Gandhi
Best Picture nominees: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Gandhi, Missing, Tootsie, The Verdict
Best Director winner: Richard Attenborough, Gandhi
Bottom line: There are a lot of problems with Best Picture winner "Gandhi." It starts with British actor Ben Kingsley portraying an Indian man, Mahatma Gandhi.
There aren't a lot of problems with "E.T the Extra-Terrestrial," and that's why it became, at the time, the highest-grossing film of all time.
It also is one of several sci-fi/horror films that in retrospect should have brought home Best Picture honors.
19. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Oscar year: 1980
Best Picture winner: Kramer vs. Kramer
Best Picture nominees: Apocalypse Now, Kramer vs. Kramer, All That Jazz, Breaking Away, Norma Rae
Best Director winner: Robert Benton, Kramer vs. Kramer
Bottom line: "Kramer vs. Kramer" was the anthem for divorced kids everywhere, maybe for all time. But you can't make an argument that it should have won the Best Picture Oscar over Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam epic "Apocalypse Now." You just can't. No, don't even try.
We're even sort of willing to give the Academy Award some slack for this miss. But denying Coppola another Academy Award for Best Director to go with the one he won for "The Godfather Part II" is probably even a worse sin.
18. The Color Purple (1985)
Oscar year: 1986
Best Picture winner: Out of Africa
Best Picture nominees: The Color Purple, Out of Africa, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Prizzi's Honor, Witness
Best Director winner: Sydney Pollack, Out of Africa
Bottom line: What in the world happened with the adaptation of Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" getting beat by "Out of Africa" in 1985? We don't really know other than Sydney Pollack's sentimental tale of a white savior/love triangle story drew in Academy voters with starring roles from Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.
The fact that Pollack won Best Director for "Out of Africa" is just, whatever, fine. But the fact that a movie of such cultural significance like "The Color Purple" was denied its rightful spot as a Best Picture Academy Award winner still stings.
17. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Oscar year: 1968
Best Picture winner: The Heat of the Night
Best Picture nominees: Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night, Doctor Dolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Best Director winner: George Cukor, My Fair Lady
Bottom line: Best Picture winner "In the Heat of the Night" is a very good film. Best Picture loser "The Graduate" is a great film. Best Picture loser "Bonnie and Clyde" is a great film that changed Hollywood and the film industry forever.
"Bonnie and Clyde" was a combination of a visionary talent (Warren Beatty) working with a decent director (Arthur Penn) to make a film that was groundbreaking in its approach to violence and story.
This was the film that set up the greatest era of film of all time in the 1970s.
16. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Oscar year: 1947
Best Picture winner: The Best Years of Our Lives
Best Picture nominees: It's a Wonderful Life, The Best Years of Our Lives, Henry V, The Razor's Edge, The Yearling
Best Director winner: William Wyler, The Best Years of Our Lives
Bottom line: "The Best Years of Our Lives" won seven Academy Awards for its dramatic portrayal of men returning home from World War II, but in retrospect, it falls flat in comparison to other World War II dramas that came out over the ensuing decade.
What we do know is that "It's a Wonderful Life" has reached some type of film immortality over the years, thanks to its masterful direction by Frank Capra, a genuine movie star in Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, and an untold number of Christmas screenings on Turner Classic Movies.
That's a long-winded way of saying that it's obviously a better movie than what actually won.
15. The Exorcist (1973)
Oscar year: 1974
Best Picture winner: The Sting
Best Picture nominees: The Exorcist, The Sting, American Graffiti, Cries and Whispers, A Touch of Class
Best Director winner: George Roy Hill, The Sting
Bottom line: Moviegoers had never seen anything like "The Exorcist" when it premiered in 1973, and the sheer terror it evoked from audiences only added to its legend.
"The Exorcist" is one of two horror films that should have won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Just a few generations later, the brilliant "Get Out" was also left holding the bag. Just like director Jordan Peele that year, "Exorcist" director Wiliam Friedkin definitely should have earned a statue.
"The Exorcist" was groundbreaking in that it was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture — one of 10 Academy Award nominations for the film.
14. Moneyball (2011)
Oscar year: 2012
Best Picture winner: The Artist
Best Picture nominees: Moneyball, The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life, War Horse
Best Director winner: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Bottom line: This was a brutal year for Best Picture nominees, but even at that, somehow, the Academy Awards decided that French film "The Artist" was the one to win Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Jean Dujardin. It's easy to point to 2011 as one of the years that began the "Oscars So White" movement in protest of the Academy's lack of diversity in its nominees.
Waiting in the wings was a brilliant movie with the backdrop of baseball — "Moneyball" — directed by Bennett Miller and starring Brad Pitt as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and Jonah Hill in a supporting role.
And if it's not "Moneyball" that should have won, we can point to George Clooney's "The Descendants" as another nominee more worthy of the award than what actually won.
13. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Oscar year: 1990
Best Picture winner: Driving Miss Daisy
Best Picture nominees: Born on the Fourth of July, Driving Miss Daisy, Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams, My Left Foot
Best Director winner: Oliver Stone, Born on the Fourth of July
Bottom line: Of the five nominees for Best Picture on this list, the weakest of those films won when "Driving Miss Daisy" brought home the Academy Award. The real winner should have been the powerhouse "Born on the Fourth of July" starring Tom Cruise as paralyzed Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic and based on his bestselling memoir.
The Academy managed to salvage some credibility when "Born on the Fourth of July" brought home the Best Director Academy Award for Oliver Stone.
"Dead Poets Society" also was a worthy movie contender ahead of what actually won.
12. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Oscar year: 2003
Best Picture winner: Chicago
Best Picture nominees: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Pianist
Best Director winner: Roman Polanski, The Pianist
Bottom line: This was a brutal two-year stretch for the Academy Awards that started with denying Peter Jackson's best film of his "Hobbit" trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,'' its rightful Best Picture Oscar. Instead, the Oscar went to the schmatlzy musical "Chicago," the first musical to win Best Picture since "Oliver!" in 1968.
"Chicago" hasn't had much staying power since it was released. It's not a movie that's rewatchable or even really that much fun on the first watch. It's probably not even the third-best movie out of the nominees if you bring "Gangs of New York" into the conversation.
11. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Oscar year: 1967
Best Picture winner: A Man For All Seasons
Best Picture nominees: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Man For All Seasons, Alfie, The Russians Are Coming, The Sand Pebbles
Best Director winner: Fred Zinnemann, A Man For All Seasons
Bottom line: The British biographical drama "A Man For All Seasons" is one of the harder movies on this list to make your way through. It's infinitely boring, and it just doesn't do much for the imagination.
What's not boring? "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" starring Elizabeth Taylor, who won her second Best Actress Academy Award.
The film was directed by a young and on his way up the ladder Mike Nichols, who would win an Academy Award for Best Director the next year for "The Graduate" starring Dustin Hoffman.
10. A Star is Born (2018)
Oscar year: 2019
Best Picture winner: Green Book
Best Picture nominees: Green Book, A Star is Born, Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Roma, A Star is Born, Vice
Best Director winner: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
Bottom line: There was no more clear Best Picture favorite in the months leading up to the 2019 Academy Awards than "A Star is Born" starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.
The film also was directed by Cooper, and Cooper's utter reluctance to campaign for the award pretty much killed the film's chances at Oscar glory and his chances at a Best Director nomination.
In stepped the milquetoast "Green Book" to win Best Picture, even with the groundbreaking "Black Panther" and Spike Lee's "BlackkKlansman" waiting in the wings.
9. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Oscar year: 1982
Best Picture winner: On Golden Pond
Best Picture nominees: Raiders of the Lost Ark, On Golden Pond, Chariots of Fire, Atlantic City, Reds
Best Director winner: Warren Beatty, Reds
Bottom line: You can snooze your way through "On Golden Pond" again — remember when you watched it at your grandmother's house that one time? Or you can watch "Raiders of the Lost Ark" for the umpteenth time and get that same thrill you got the first time you ever watched the Steven Spielberg classic.
"On Golden Pond" is a classic example of the Academy Awards wanting to award some drama-fueled drivel over what's actually the best movie that came out that year. If we're ranking the Best Picture nominees for 1982, you can probably slate "Reds" in at No. 2, leaving the actual winner a distant third.
Sorry to all you Pond-heads out there.
8. Fargo (1996)
Oscar year: 1997
Best Picture winner: The English Patient
Best Picture nominees: Fargo, The English Patient, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine
Best Director winner: Anthony Minghella, The English Patient
Bottom line: If you've ever slogged your way through a viewing of "The English Patient," you are a true movie fan/auteur. It's not easily consumable.
Had the Academy wanted to truly honor the brilliance of "Patient" director Anthony Minghella, they could have done it with "The Talented Mr. Ripley" a few years later and not at the expense of "Fargo" — one of the best films of the 1990s and the vehicle that brought Frances McDormand the first of three Academy Awards for Best Actress.
You can make an argument that "Jerry Maguire" was even more deserving of the Best Picture Oscar than "The English Patient."
7. Raging Bull (1980)
Oscar year: 1981
Best Picture winner: Ordinary People
Best Picture nominees: Raging Bull, Ordinary People, Coal Miner's Daughter, The Elephant Man, Raging Bull, Tess
Best Director winner: Robert Redford, Ordinary People
Bottom line: Cinephiles everywhere understand what a slap in the face it was to legendary director Martin Scorsese that he didn't win for "Raging Bull." He had to watch Robert Redford bring home both Best Director and Best Picture awards for "Ordinary People" and its Rich White People Are Really Sad tropes.
"Raging Bull" didn't get entirely shut out. Robert De Niro brought home the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of boxer Jake LaMotta, which included De Niro gaining a staggering 60 pounds to portray LaMotta later in his life.
6. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Oscar year: 2006
Best Picture winner: Crash
Best Picture nominees: Brokeback Mountain, Crash, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich
Best Director winner: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Bottom line: It's been stated many times before that the Best Picture win by "Crash" on Oscar night represented one of the weaker film winners in the history of the Academy Awards, even without the greatest field of nominees to compete with.
While the field wasn't packed, there was one classic film that should have walked away with a Best Picture win — Ang Lee's beautiful and heartbreaking "Brokeback Mountain" starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.
At least Lee didn't walk away empty-handed. He won the Oscar for Best Director.
5. Get Out (2017)
Oscar year: 2018
Best Picture winner: The Shape of Water
Best Picture nominees: Get Out, The Shape of Water, Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Director winner: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Bottom line: In a stacked field of Best Picture nominees in 2017, the Academy Awards didn't even get close to making the right choice when it tabbed "The Shape of Water" as that year's winner.
The Academy Awards must be scared of horror movies. "Get Out" is one of two that should undoubtedly been Best Picture winners alongside "The Exorcist" in 1973. And that's not even taking into account that "Lady Bird," "Dunkirk," "Call Me by Your Name" and "Lady Bird" were all better movies than "The Shape of Water," which also brought home Best Director honors for Guillermo del Toro.
But it's "Get Out" that should have won Best Picture, and Jordan Poole should have won Best Director. He settled for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
4. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Oscar year: 1999
Best Picture winner: Shakespeare in Love
Best Picture nominees: Saving Private Ryan, Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, The Thin Red Line
Best Director winner: Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan
Bottom line: "Shakespeare in Love" winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards seems now, in retrospect, to speak more to the campaigning skills of disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein than the movie's worth.
Today, it's easy to look back and see the combination of Steven Spielberg, who won Best Director, along with stars Tom Hanks and Matt Damon as valid reasons why "Saving Private Ryan" should have cruised to the Best Picture win.
It was another shameful day for the Academy Awards. Gwyneth Paltrow winning Best Actress for "Shakespeare" should have been where it ended for this flick.
3. The Social Network (2010)
Oscar year: 2011
Best Picture winner: The King's Speech
Best Picture nominees: The Social Network, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter's Bone
Best Director winner: Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Bottom line: Few Best Picture snubs have been as egregious or heartbreaking as when "The King's Speech" took home the 2011 honors over David Fincher's brilliant "The Social Network" — perhaps the best movie of the 2010s.
Do you hear many people still talk about "The King's Speech" or do you know many people that rewatch it? Us either.
The Academy Awards decided to double down on its mistakes that year by awarding the Oscar to "The King's Speech" director Tom Hooper over Fincher in the Best Director category. Brutal.
2. Citizen Kane (1941)
Oscar year: 1942
Best Picture winner: How Green Was My Valley
Best Picture nominees: Blossoms in the Dust, How Green Was My Valley, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Hold Back the Dawn, The Little Foxes, The Maltese Falcon, One Foot in Heaven, Sergeant York, Suspicion, Citizen Kane
Best Director winner: John Ford, How Green Was My Valley
Bottom line: "Citizen Kane" is considered by many to be the greatest film ever made. Academy Award voters in 1941 didn't even consider it the best movie that came out that year.
Instead, they heaped praise and Academy Awards on "How Green Was My Valley" and its put-'em-to-sleep plot about a Welsh farming family.
At least "Citizen Kane" and director Orson Welles had good company. "The Maltese Falcon" was alongside them on the list of also-rans that year.
1. Goodfellas (1990)
Oscar year: 1991
Best Picture winner: Dances with Wolves
Best Picture nominees: Goodfellas, Dances with Wolves, Awakenings, Ghost, The Godfather Part III
Best Director winner: Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves
Bottom line: No Best Picture race has staggered movie lovers throughout the decades more than when "Goodfellas" lost to "Dances with Wolves" in 1990, and "Wolves" director Kevin Costner beat out Martin Scorsese for Best Director.
While "Wolves" is a fine film in its own right, the fact that it beat out "Goodfellas" in anything, anywhere, at any time is a slap in the face.
It's possibly the greatest American film ever made.