One of the internal debates surrounding movies is over the films that won the Academy Award for Best Picture—and the ones that didn’t. Often times, the passage of time makes the decisions of Academy voters look foolish. Did they really vote for Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas? How is it that Forrest Gump won Best Picture over Pulp Fiction? Many movies that are now considered classics did not win the Oscar for Best Picture. And as the debate rages on, we here at Goliath take a look at the most egregious errors in Academy Awards voting. So here are 10 movies that should have won the Best Picture Oscar, but didn’t.
10. Star Wars (1977)
It’s hard to quantify the impact that Star Wars has had since it was first released. The film was a cultural phenomenon when it hit theatres in May 1977. It helped cement the prevalence of summer blockbusters, ushered in the age of sequels and changed the way movies are marketed and how merchandise from films is sold. It was also at the top of the box office and still stands as one of the most successful movies of all time. Star Wars was nominated for a total of 11 Academy Awards in 1977, including Best Picture. And most people forget that Star Wars actually won seven Oscars, including a special achievement award for the many alien creatures featured in the movie. However, Star Wars lost the Best Picture race at the 50th Academy Awards to Woody Allen’s intellectual comedy Annie Hall. Many people blame the genre for Star Wars losing Best Picture, as Academy voters have never been too kind to science fiction films.
9. Vertigo (1958)
Alfred Hitchcock is universally viewed as one of the best directors of all time. Yet he never had much luck with the Academy Awards. He was nominated for the Best Director Oscar five times, but never won. Very few of his movies won Oscars either. And of all his classic films, Vertigo is considered the best. The 1958 thriller is a master class of directing and acting and is listed by the American Film Institute as the ninth best movie ever made. And yet, Vertigo got no love from Oscar when it was released. The film was only nominated for two technical Academy Awards—Art Direction and Sound, and it won neither. There was no love for Hitch or the stars of the film about a man obsessed with a woman from his past—James Stewart and Kim Novak. And yet the movie only seems to grow in esteem from both critics and audiences.
8. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Academy voters are said to be a squeamish lot, and prone to shy away from films that make them feel uncomfortable. This may explain why the 2005 movie Brokeback Mountain, about two gay cowboys who carry on a clandestine affair, lost the Best Picture race to the more palatable film Crash about intersecting lives in Los Angeles. To be sure, Brokeback Mountain won Oscars for writing and directing, but the public and entertainment commentators felt that the movie was snubbed by Academy voters for the top prize because of its sensitive subject matter. Some media outlets went so far as to call Academy Award voters “homophobic” when Brokeback Mountain lost Best Picture. Seen today, Brokeback Mountain still resonates and seems timely with its message about love and equality no matter what people’s sexual preference.
7. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
As with other movies on this list, 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde broke taboos and blazed new ground. Most film critics give credit to this movie for ushering in the era of modern films. At a time when period musicals such as Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady were all the rage in Hollywood, Bonnie and Clyde came out with guns blazing—showing violence and blood in a way that people had never seen before. Legend has it that Warner Brothers, which produced the movie, was so disgusted with the finished product that they tried to dump it in a string of drive-in movie theaters in southern Texas. Warren Beatty, the movie’s producer and star, fought back and succeeded in getting the film a wide distribution. Critics and audiences loved the movie and it was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. However, Bonnie and Clyde lost that year to In the Heat of the Night, another groundbreaking film about racial tensions in the American south.
6. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Is there anyone who hasn’t seen The Wizard of Oz? Made in 1939, this film is still a technical marvel and thoroughly enjoyable for adults and children. When first released, people had never seen anything like it before. Over the years, The Wizard of Oz has wormed its way into the fabric of pop culture—whether the cowardly lion or the song “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” And the Academy Awards responded by honoring the movie with six nominations. However, all the nominations were in technical categories. The Wizard of Oz wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. And the two Academy Awards the film did win were for music—original score and the song for “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” Hard to imagine that such a classic film wasn’t given more love at the Oscars. Of course, it did lose out to Gone with the Wind for Best Picture, which is another epic.
5. Network (1976)
Few films have been further ahead of their time or proven to be more prophetic than 1976’s Network, which is about television news. Deftly written by Paddy Chayefsky, Network foretold the rise of media conglomerates as well as society’s obsession with celebrities and the blurring of news, entertainment and reality. In today’s 24 hour news cycle, Network seems more relevant than ever before. And yet this exceptional movie did not win the Best Picture Oscar. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, it won in three acting categories and for writing. Yet it lost out on Best Picture to Rocky. It also faced stiff competition that year from other heavyweight films such as Taxi Driver and All The President’s Men. Perhaps this movie was just too far ahead of its time to get the respect that time has provided to it.
4. Do The Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee burst onto the scene and shocked the powers that be with his 1989 movie Do The Right Thing, which is about escalating racial tensions in New York City on a hot summer day. Innovative, relatable and explosive, Do The Right Thing was on every film critics’ top 10 list at the end of 1989. The movie was nominated for Best Picture at The Golden Globe Awards and has since been added to The National Film Registry and the American Film Institute’s list of Top 100 Movies. Yet the Academy Awards only nominated the film for two Oscars—Best Writing for Spike Lee and Best Supporting Actor for Danny Aiello. Yet today, most film critics see Do The Right Thing as one of the most important movies made at the end of the 20th Century. And most feel it is a much stronger film than Driving Miss Daisy, which won Best Picture in 1989. Some folks, including Spike Lee himself, insinuated that racism was behind the Best Picture snub for Do The Right Thing.
3. Chinatown (1974)
It is widely regarded as the best screenplay ever written, and that is the only Academy Award that the film Chinatown won. Robert Towne won Best Original Screenplay for his script about shady municipal water dealings in California during the 1930s. And while this classic film was nominated for 11 Oscars, it was shut out of every other category, including the Best Picture award that went to the Godfather Part II. Still, Chinatown has endured and is now considered a seminal movie from the 1970s and one of the best starring actor Jack Nicholson. The story, direction, cinematography and acting are all first rate, and the movie holds up more than 40 years after it was first released. Today, the screenplay is reviewed and taught in film study classes around the world—lauded for its complexity and narrative heft. Chinatown seems to only get better with age.
2. Raging Bull (1980)
In 1980, the Robert Redford-directed Ordinary People won the Oscar for Best Picture, beating out Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. But, as Roger Ebert put it in his book Scorsese “…time has rendered a different verdict.” Indeed, Raging Bull is superior to any film released in 1980 or in the ensuing years for that matter. The American Film Institute lists Raging Bull as the fourth greatest movie of all time, and the film continues to dominate “best of…” lists around the world. The biographical film about boxer Jake LaMotta is perfectly crafted by director Martin Scorsese and perfectly acted by Robert De Niro, who plays the troubled fighter. And while the movie was nominated for a total of eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, it won only two trophies—Best Actor for Robert De Niro and Best Film Editing for Thelma Schoonmaker. But despite this lack of recognition, Raging Bull’s power seems to have only grown with time. This film is a knockout.
1. Citizen Kane (1941)
Believe it or not, the greatest movie ever made did not win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Citizen Kane, which has been named the best film ever by the American Film Institute and Sight and Sound magazine, was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. But it only won for Best Original Screenplay and was shut out of every other category. The melodrama How Green Was My Valley won the Oscar for Best Picture that year. But today, you would be hard pressed to find How Green Was My Valley on any best picture lists. Citizen Kane, in contrast, continues to reign supreme among film critics and historians. The rise to power story of a newspaper magnate was totally innovative for its time and helped to shape the way subsequent movies were filmed and edited. Star, director, writer and producer Orson Welles was at the top of his game with this motion picture. Yet Citizen Kane was extremely controversial when first released because it was based on then-real life newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. Historians feel that this controversy doomed the film at the Oscars. But nothing could prevent Citizen Kane from taking its rightful place atop the film pantheon.