The 10 Best Groups Of Films That Got Oscar Noms But No Wins
By Joey Magidson
Everyone knows the saying “it’s an honor just to be nominated,” right? Well, that’s certainly the case, but there are always times when it just doesn’t seem right for a film to leave Oscar night empty handed. Tons of worthy films aren’t even nominated each year, but there is also no shortage of flicks that receive a solid amount of nominations and wind up winning nothing.
A lot goes into actually winning an Academy Award. Quality, of course, comes into play, but a little less than I’d prefer. Politics has its place, too, both in terms of capturing the zeitgeist and also in campaigning for the win. Oscar voters love to be wooed. One can occasionally win without campaigning, but by and large the Academy wants you to want it.
While it’s not included below, Up in the Air is a great recent example of a film that went from looking like a possible Best Picture frontrunner to hanging its hat on an Adapted Screenplay win to winding up without any wins on Oscar night, despite six nominations overall. It’s a long road from nomination morning to the show itself, so many a high quality film has had its moment ruined by another worthy (or at least usually worthy) contender. This year, at least a few similar movies will have that same empty feeling, but I’ll get to them later on.
For this week’s Top 10 piece I opted to do things a little bit differently. Instead of limiting it to 10 films that had multiple Oscar nominations but won nothing, I’ll be looking at 10 groups of films that have that sad distinction. It allows more work to be discussed, a wider net to be cast for answers and a nice change of pace.
10. Arguably the greatest film noir films ever – The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Double Indemnity (1944)
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t think that The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity are absolute classics? The former wasn’t even as thoroughly nominated as you’d expect. The latter was, but the results wound up just the same.
The Maltese Falcon was zero-for-three, while Double Indemnity went a shocking zero-for-seven. Both came up short in Best Picture to historically inferior works, but sadly that’s going to be a pattern in this piece. History has been kinder to this duo of film noirs than the Academy ever was.
9. Arguably the greatest musicals ever – Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), The Band Wagon (1953), and Funny Face (1957)
I spoke of the complex relationship that musicals have with Oscar a while back, but this is just another example of how tough it is for movies that utilize song to succeed. Just as recent musicals have had better luck getting nominated than they have winning (not that their nomination luck has been so great either), the classics had their moment on nomination morning instead of awards night.
Meet Me in St. Louis went zero-for-four and missed out on Best Picture, Singing’ in the Rain missed as well while only going zero-for-two, The Band Wagon had similarly bad luck in the big category while going zero-for-three, and Funny Face faired no better while going zero-for-four as well. If nothing else, this year Les Miserables can take comfort in knowing it did better than those classics and at least got a Best Picture nod.
8. Arguably the greatest tearjerkers ever – Random Harvest (1942), Brief Encounter (1946), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), An Affair to Remember (1957), and Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Most of the time, making an Oscar voter cry is a recipe for success, but these films are examples of that emotion not being quite enough to get a win. From the ’40s up until the ’90s, I grabbed some of the highest regarded weepies of all time that fell short with Oscar. They made Academy members reach for tissues — but not their ballots.
Random Harvest was nominated for seven statues and lost every one of them, while Brief Encounter did no better with its three noms and didn’t even break into the Best Picture lineup. It’s a Wonderful Life charmed five nominations out of the Academy but didn’t manage a single win. An Affair to Remember was another Best Picture no show while going zero for five, and Sleepless in Seattle was likewise shut out of the big category (and only score a pair of nominations in total). They each got something out of the Academy, but wins were not among them.
7. Arguably the greatest courtroom dramas ever – 12 Angry Men (1957) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Few genres contain more inherent drama and tension than the courtroom film. 12 Angry Men and Witness for the Prosecution are among the zenith points of the genre, but even they weren’t able to convince the jury that is the Academy to award them trophies (Fun fact: Both movies came out in the same year and competed against each other in the Best Picture lineup). There’s a true crime that deserves a trial, but I have a feeling that the voters would wind up being acquitted.
12 Angry Men is probably the greatest courtroom drama of all time and got three major Oscar nominations, but each resulted in a loss. As for Witness for the Prosecution, it actually did better with the nods, scoring six of them. With wins, though, it was a similarly futile effort. Perhaps they canceled each other out in certain categories, but these losses are a bummer no matter what.
6. Alfred Hitchcock’s films – Lifeboat (1944), Notorious (1946), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960)
It’s a real shame that Alfred Hitchcock never saw the Oscar acclaim for his work that he oh so deserved. His decades of brilliance resulted in five nominations for himself, but no wins. Some of his movies were successful with the Academy, most notably Rebecca (which did take home Best Picture), but far too many went home empty handed on Oscar night.
Look at this sad list of his films that didn’t manage a single win despite multiple noms: Lifeboat with three, Notorious with two, Rear Window with four, Vertigo with two, North by Northwest with three, and Psycho with four. That’s 15 nominations right there that resulted in no wins. This is a cinematic crime, and it doesn’t even take into account the nominations that these works missed out on.
5. Stanley Kubrick’s films – Dr. Strangelove (1964) and A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Another filmmaker who never got his due, Stanley Kubrick had a few close calls with Oscar and technically is a winner for his visual effects work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it never wound up happening for him in the major categories. He was always a little too different for the Academy. We loved him for it, but it kept him from really becoming the award winner he should have been.
Both Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange are sometimes fought over as to which is Kubrick’s masterpiece, but both were similarly snubbed by the Academy. They each went zero-for-four at the Oscars, which boggles my mind. It’s hard to imagine them not winning somewhere, but I suppose that has more to do with Oscar voters’ taste than it does with these classic flicks.
4. The biggest losers ever with 11 nominations and no wins – The Turning Point (1977) and The Color Purple (1985)
The Turning Point and The Color Purple share a record they wish they didn’t: Both famously lost all 11 Oscars for which they were nominated, a record that still stands. As bad as it was for Gangs of New York when it went zero-for-10, these two flicks did even worse.
The Turning Point had all the nominations that a film needs in order to win something but wound up coming up short all 11 times. The Color Purple missed in a few key places but still scored 11 nods, which is incredibly interesting. How both didn’t at least win for one of their acting performances puzzles me, but that just adds to the mystery that is the Oscar race.
3. The game-changers that were too ahead of their time – Rebel Without a Cause (1955), The Wild Bunch (1969), Easy Rider (1969), Last Tango in Paris (1972), American Graffiti (1973), and Taxi Driver (1976)
Being on the cutting edge and pushing the medium forward is a great way to get critics to adore your work. With the Academy though, that’s not the case. Despite the more opening-minded times of the ’60s and ’70s (the ’50s … not so much), Oscar never really saw fit to go out on a limb and give wins to some of the more daring films nominated.
Rebel without a Cause went zero-for-three (with no Best Picture citation), The Wild Bunch went zero-for-two (with the same Best Picture omission), Easy Rider had the same zero-for-two record (and no Picture nod either), while the same can be said for Last Tango in Paris. American Graffiti was better liked and went zero-for-five, while Taxi Driver somehow went home empty handed with a zero-for four-record. Especially in that final case, the Academy has no one to blame but themselves.
2. Several classics from the ’80s – Blade Runner (1982), The Big Chill (1983), Broadcast News (1987), Do the Right Thing (1989), and Field of Dreams (1989)
There were a ton of great Academy Award winners to come out of the 1980s, but there were some absolute classics that went home empty handed on Oscar night as well. Many of them didn’t even get the credit they deserved until recently, but in terms of the Academy members … well, it was a sound snubbing all around.
Here’s a sampling of the ’80s flicks that managed nominations but no wins: Blade Runner was zero-for-two, The Big Chill was zero-for-three, Broadcast News was zero-for-seven, Do the Right Thing was zero-for-two, and Field of Dreams was zero-for-three. These were almost all under-nominated to begin with, but that doesn’t even take into account the many worthy films that only scored a single nod, or worse, were shut out entirely.
1. Several of the best films of the ’90s – The Player (1992), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Quiz Show (1994), Being John Malkovich (1999), The Insider (1999), and The Truman Show (1998)
By the same token as the last category, the 1990s had some amazing works that won Oscars, but plenty of films that were just as good didn’t fare the same. It’s also a similar situation in that they’ve only recently begun to get their due in terms of prestige, but that doesn’t make up for the misses they had with the Academy.
Are you ready to see where Oscar missed their chances here? The Player went zero-for-three, The Shawshank Redemption went zero-for-seven, Quiz Show went zero-for-four, Being John Malkovich went zero-for-three, The Insider went zero-for-seven, and The Truman Show they went zero-for-three. A lot of these losses sting, but just keep in mind all the modern classics they gave less citations to or ignored completely.
As you can see above, it’s insane that certain flicks were passed over for Oscar wins, especially considered how well liked they were by the Academy. As we all know, though, like isn’t the same as love, and you really need love in order to succeed at this awards show. Otherwise, you end up the bridesmaid instead of the bride.
This year, there are plenty of candidates for such a dubious honor. Prior to Argo becoming the frontrunner, Ben Affleck’s flick seemed like it was on the way to that sort of ending. And it’s hardly the only flick that had that on its mind. At one point, Silver Linings Playbook seemed like a film doomed to win nothing, though that’s not quite the case anymore. They’ve both set themselves up with very solid chances for at least one win, if not more.
That said, there are films that seem very likely to go home empty handed. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained and The Master will almost certainly have to settle for the nominations being their reward. Things can change, especially in terms of Django Unchained, but those other two seem rather set in stone for losses.
An interesting possibility is Life of Pi. Depending on whom you ask, the film is either about to pick up a nice cache of wins, or it’s about to join a few of the titles mentioned in the list above as an all-time loser. It has 11 nominations and would be tied for the biggest futile effort ever if it goes home empty handed. I don’t think that it will, but it clearly can, so keep an eye on it.
This year’s poster child for this sort of snub is Zero Dark Thirty. It had a moment where it could have been looked at as a top-tier Best Picture contender, but now it’s really a lost cause. Between a smear campaign and just not holding on to the banner of being “THE Film of 2012,” it’s the closest cousin to the aforementioned Up in the Air that we have in the race.
In the end, you just have to expect that many a worthy film will struggle for Academy Award nominations, only to see their campaigns wind up failing on Oscar night. It takes nothing away from the stature of the work, but it does add to a growing historical footnote. Perhaps one day the Academy will spread the love more than they currently do, but until then, we’ll just be here keeping the torch going for these lovable losers.
Tags: 12 Angry Men, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Alfred Hitchcock, American Graffiti, An Affair to Remember, and Field of Dreams, and Taxi Driver, and The Truman Show, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Being John Malkovich, Ben Affleck, Blade Runner, Brief Encounter, Broadcast News, Django Unchained, Do the Right Thing, Double Indemnity, Dr. Strangelove, Easy Rider, Funny Face, Gangs of New York, It's A Wonderful Life, Last Tango in Paris, Life of Pi, Lifeboat, Meet Me in St. Louis, North by Northwest, Notorious, Psycho, Quiz Show, Random Harvest, Rear Window, Rebecca, Rebel Without a Cause, Silver Linings Playbook, Singin' in the Rain, Sleepless in Seattle, Stanley Kubrick, The Band Wagon, The Big Chill, The Color Purple, The Insider, The Maltese Falcon, The Master, The Player, The Shawshank Redemption, The Turning Point, The Wild Bunch, Up in the Air, Vertigo, Witness for the Prosecution, Zero Dark Thirty