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Oscar Travesties: The 10 Best Nominees that Became Oscars Upsets

The Oscars are fast approaching this weekend, and it appears that the Best Picture race will be a tight one. Will the award go to indie hit Lady Bird? Could it go to Jordan Peele’s directorial debut in thriller Get Out? Could the Master of Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro take home the award for The Shape of Water? Regardless of who wins, there will be an additional seven films that will leave as they entered the Academy Awards — as nominees. An Oscars upset will surely ensure for several nominees. It may seem like a tighter race than usual, but the Academy Awards have a long history of winning upsets. Let’s take a look at the 10 Best Nominations across all categories to leave the Oscars empty-handed.

Oscars Upset

Image via LA Film School

#10: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) for Best Picture

Steven Spielberg has a whopping 17 Academy Award nominations, so it’s no surprise that he’s left a few of those ceremonies empty-handed. In fact, this won’t even be the first time that he makes this list for an Oscars upset. But, Raiders of the Lost Ark deserves a space on the snub sheet, nonetheless. The year was 1982, and Steven Spielberg had finally gotten the chance to direct a James Bond film of his own design. It was a game changing film that established Spielberg as a box office giant. It was an action movie that cemented Harrison Ford as an action star. And it forever changed the standard for special effects.

Raiders entered the Academy Awards with an astounding eight nominations, of which it won four. What proved most surprising was that it lost the nomination for Best Picture to Chariots of Fire. Chariots of Fire is a great movie by the way, but it is definitely not Raiders of the Lost Ark great. Indiana Jones’ recognizability as an action hero is second only to James Bond. The film itself has influenced dozens of other films in its wake, and has made a much greater impact than Chariots of Fire in the long run.

Oscars Upset

Image via Mashable

#9: Star Wars (1977) for Best Picture

Speaking of game changing films, Star Wars is perhaps the Oscars upset on this list that I’m most irked about. I love Star Wars, some of my earliest memories revolve around Star Wars. Getting to go see Star Wars (even if it was the prequels) as a kid still resonates with me today. So yeah, I do think that Star Wars was snubbed at the 50th Academy Awards in 1978. No movie in the history of movies has had an impact on the entire industry and with as many generations of fans as Star Wars has. My dad grew up watching the originals, I grew up with the prequels, and I’m assuming they’ll still be making sequels when I have kids to take.

Star Wars (1977) redefined world building in film, and stretched the limits of the special effects needed to make it happen. Star Wars (1977) has influenced almost every action and adventure story that has followed it. It was a tremendous Oscars upset when the groundbreaking Star Wars (1977) lost Best Picture to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Annie Hall is again, a great film, but it doesn’t come close to having the same cultural and industry wide impact that Star Wars (1977) does. As Weird Al Yankovic once put it, “they’ll be makin these movie till the end of time” ,  I can’t say that anyone has ever claimed that about Annie Hall.

Oscars Upset

Image via The New Yorker

#8: La La Land (2016) for Best Picture

How can two films both lose and win the same award? Why via the magic of an Oscars upset of course. At the 89th Academy Awards, La La Land entered with a record tying 14 nominations and walked away with an impressive 6 wins. However, the film temporarily held 7 wins, due to a gaffe by the Academy. It was then dramatically revealed that there was a mix up, and that Moonlight had in fact won the award for Best Picture.

Like most Oscars upsets, this isn’t because Moonlight is a lesser film in terms of quality. This mix up is an Oscars upset because La La Land had already won the award for Best Director, along with several others. Every indication pointed towards the commercially and critically successful La La Land. However, it did not win, and the snub will go down as one of the most public of Academy Award gaffes in history.

Oscars Upset

Image via Yahoo

Image via Yahoo

#7: Brokeback Mountain (2004) for Best Picture

Brokeback Mountain‘s loss for Best Picture is an Oscars upset similar to La La Land, although far more controversial. Released in 2004, this tale of love between to male cowboys has been at the heart of controversy ever since it’s release. It faced major backlash from the media and conservative groups across the U.S. and was an underdog going into the 78th Academy Awards. However, it managed to win the awards for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score. The Best Picture award seemed to be in its grasp, however it was then a surprise to many when it lost to Crash.

Oscars Upset

Image via Vanity Fair

#6: Francis Ford Coppola for Best Director (1973)

The only Oscars upset on this list that doesn’t revolve around the Best Picture nominees. The Godfather took 1973 and the subsequent 45th Academy Awards by storm. Francis Ford Coppola not only delivered one of the best crime films of all-time, but one of the greatest films period. It was no surprise that The Godfather would walk out of the Academy Awards with a handful of wins, but it was a great surprise that Coppola lost the award for Best Director to Ben Fosse with Cabaret.  Coppola was redeemed at the 47th Academy Awards however, when he won Best Director for The Godfather Part II.

Oscars Upset

Image via Bustle

#5: Apollo 13 (1995) for Best Picture

The 68th Academy Awards were bound to have an Oscars upset for Best Picture regardless of who won. Two very distinct, memorable, and well made films fought at the forefront for the title. Mel Gibson’s first major passion project, Braveheart entered with 10 nominations, and Apollo 13 with 9. It was bound to be a close race in several categories. However, it was still a surprise when Braveheart walked away with the Best Picture win instead of Apollo 13. Ron Howard’s historical drama was praised heavily for its special effects and illusion of weightlessness, and that nudge was expected to give it the edge over Braveheart. However, Braveheart‘s message resounded stronger with Academy members and it walked away the victor, unlike how William Wallace did in the film.

Oscars Upset

Image via Amazon

#4: Saving Private Ryan (1998) for Best Picture

Steven Spielberg may be king of the box office, but he isn’t always kind of the Academy Awards, and that’s why he makes this list again. The 1990’s continued Spielberg’s track record of groundbreaking films and box office success. With the commercial records set by Jurassic Park, and the critical acclaim of Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan appeared to be the contender for Best Picture. Coupled with Tom Hanks’ Best Actor nomination and Spielberg’s second Best Director win, the film was all but set to be Best Picture. It was a huge surprise and Oscars upset when the award instead went to John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love.

P.S. Not The John Madden of Madden football, although I would pay ludicrous amounts of money to watch him direct a Best Picture winner.

Oscars Upset

Image via the Daily Beast

#3: Citizen Kane (1941) for Best Picture

This film often tops lists of the best movies of all-time. This is surprising since it lost the award for Best Picture back in 1942. This is equally surprising when considering the talent behind the film as well, most notably Orson Welles. While the film did take home the award for Best Original Screenplay, it was lauded by audiences at the time. However, it has gone on to gain great critical and commercial acclaim, further cementing it’s importance despite the Best Picture snub.

Oscars Upset

Image via Miramax

#2: Pulp Fiction (1994) for Best Picture

Pulp Fiction made Quentin Tarantino a household name. Even now, 24 years later, Tarantino is still best known for this film. It pushed the envelope of how brutal, realistically bloody and violent, and profane an Academy Award nominated picture could be. It slapped the standards of what a good film could be right in the face. Pulp Fiction also stands out as having been locked in a tough race for Best Picture with the likes of Forrest Gump, which would go on to win, and the Shawshank Redemption. Perhaps it was too edgy for the Academy at that time. Perhaps Forrest Gump has some unknown merit that Academy members fell for. The world may never know.

Oscars Upset

Image via IFC

#1: The Shawshank Redemption (1994) for Best Picture

Speaking of the 67th Academy Awards, the Shawshank Redemption tops this list for biggest Oscars upset of all-time. This film appears on greatest films of all time lists as much as Citizen Kane. Personally I believe it to be the best thing ever put to film. The film underwhelmed at both the box office and at the Academy Awards. Like Pulp Fiction, it too lost to Forrest Gump. And unlike the other two front-runners, Shawshank was not an initial commercial success. It has since become a cult film in its own regard. It even has a lasting impact similar to that of Jaws or Star Wars.


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8 Responses

  1. Mine that I always thought a shame was Charlie Chaplin with Robert Downey junior losing out to veteran Clint Eastwoods film.

  2. @lynnsbooks says:

    Great list. Some excellent films on here. The only one that I just didn’t really like, and it surprised me because I do so like Orson Welles – is Citizen Kane. Don’t break out the pitchforks and torches. I did try. It just didn’t work for me. Perhaps I’ll watch it again at some point.
    Lynn 😀

  3. Great choices! I’d include Saving Mr. Banks on my list as everyone assumed it would get multiple nominations including Best Actress for Emma Thompson, but it only got one nomination and many people (myself included) blame this on Meryl Streep’s anti-Walt Disney speech made a couple days before the nominations were finalized!

  4. Regarding numbers 9 and 10, I feel like certain genres get snubbed quite often (sci-fi, fantasy, etc.). It’s getting better, especially in the tv landscape, but sometimes I get the feeling that those genres aren’t considered art (or something) when they really shouldn’t be overlooked (in my opinion).

  5. flash7film says:

    I agree with the fact Shawshank Redemption or Pulp Fiction should have won over Forrest Gump. The movie was good, but wasn’t as amazing as those two. However, the one that makes me the most upset is the winning of Crash over Brokeback Mountain; I watched both, and BB is so much more groundbreaking and memorable than Crash was. Let’s hope for a deserved win this year!

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