Often, time will serve as the best indicator of greatness. Sure, there are award ceremonies, big box office, and rave reviews to indicate whether a film is worthy of praise or not. But the true test is to judge a movie ten, twenty, thirty, forty years down the line. Are people talking about the film in terms of being a classic? Does the story hold up? How about the direction, cinematography, acting? Sometimes, the most deserving films don’t win awards. Heck, sometimes the best films aren’t even nominated. This is a list of 28 great movies that didn’t win a single Academy Award.
Oscar snubs happen every year, but it’s still hard to believe that masterpieces like The Shining, Singin’ in the Rain, and Do the Right Thing did not win a single Academy Award. The Shining is often cited as the greatest horror film ever made. Singin’ in the Rain is #1 on the American Film Institute’s list of the Greatest Movie Musicals of All Time. And Spike Lee’s joint Do the Right Thing is considered one of the most seminal films on race relations in the history of cinema.
We can now see the greatness and power of those films. However, The Shining did not receive a single Academy Award nomination, Singin’ in the Rain did not receive a nod for Best Picture in 1953, and neither did Do the Right Thing in 1989.
This list is not about who should have won at the Oscars. Whether or not we think that The Shawshank Redemption should have beat Forrest Gump in the Best Picture category in 1995 is irrelevant. This list is simply pointing out that these (mostly) time-tested movies that people still discuss and put on “best of” lists did not earn a single Academy Award in any category.
Maybe they got robbed, maybe they really were just second best that year. Either way, some of the films that made this list will shock you. Be sure to make your voice heard by voting up the best films that deserved to win at least one Oscar.
The Shawshank Redemption
The year was 1994 and a story about a simple-minded man by the name of Forrest Gump won six Academy Awards. The Shawshank Redemption went home empty-handed that evening, despite its seven nominations. However, time has proven that the prison drama received the Oscar shaft. The film currently ranks #1 on IMDb’s Top 250 films ever made and is cited as a favorite by just about everyone with a heart and basic cable.
Sidney Lumet’s 1957 classic manages to create incredible conflict and drama without ever leaving the jury room. The film is often cited as one of the best-acted and best-written films in cinema history. The movie was nominated for three Oscars but unfortunately came out the same year as The Bridge on the River Kwai
, which won seven Academy Awards. 12 Angry Men
has aged like fine wine, however, and currently ranks #7 on IMDb’s Top 250 Films.
Stand by Me
Is there a more perfect coming of age film? Rob Reiner’s 1986 adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Body
did receive a writing nod, and any screenwriter worth their salt will tell you that it’s among the most revered screenplays ever written. Also, one could easily make a case that all four of the young actors
should have been nominated, especially River Phoenix’s heartbreaking performance as Chris Chambers.
“You talking me?” Martin Scorsese’s character study about a delusional, alienated cab driver in New York City received four Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. Scorsese arguably should have won the Oscar for Best Director, but the fact that he wasn’t even nominated is a bit of a joke. The film did win the Palme d’Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, and is cited by the American Film Institute
as the 52nd greatest American film ever made.
It’s a Wonderful Life
The famously sappy Frank Capra gets sentimental in It’s a Wonderful Life
. Even though the film was made in 1946, it remains one of the most-watched holiday films today. It is currently #20 on AFI’s list
of The Greatest American Films of All Time. Not a commercial success at the time, the movie did round up five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. It could have won any or all of those five awards, but it was probably James Stewart going home empty-handed that hurt the most.
Singin’ in the Rain
Gene Kelly made a lot of musicals. Singin’ in the Rain
may have been his finest. The 1952 musical within a musical was nominated for Best Score and Best Supporting Actress
. Kelly got shut out completely, and even though the film is cited by AFI
as the greatest musical ever made, it failed to garner a Best Picture nod. At the very least, the film probably should have won the award for Best Score, which went to With a Song in My Heart
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Sergio Leone has a history of getting snubbed by the Academy. Things were no different in 1966 when the Italian director’s third installment of his Dollars Trilogy failed to garner a single nomination. Many critics consider The Good, the Bad and the Ugly the finest Western ever made. It certainly could have earned the auteur an Oscar, and the fact that Leone has never even been nominated for any of his epic films is a cinematic crime.
American History X
The controversial 1998 film makes this list mostly because Ed Norton did not walk away with Oscar gold for his transformative performance as a neo-Nazi leader looking for redemption. Norton was nominated for Best Actor
but lost to Roberto Benigni ( Life Is Beautiful
). Time has been kind to American History X
, but when it first came out in theaters, it was largely ignored by audiences. And the audiences who did see the film, walked away from the experience feeling more than just a little disturbed. However, the movie is currently ranked #32 on IMDb’s Top 250 Films
Perhaps the most disturbing neo-noir from the ’90s, David Fincher’s atmospheric film did earn a Best Editing nomination, but was otherwise shut out of the 1996 Oscar competition. The filmmakers used an innovative silver-retention process to set the dark, dank, grimy mood of a city where it never stops raining. Fincher should have at least received a nod for his direction, and Darius Khondji should probably have a gold statue on his shelf for Best Cinematography. The film, which influenced every subsequent serial killer movie, currently ranks #22 on IMBb’s Top 250 Films
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Stanley Kubrick explores his bleakly comedic side by satirizing nuclear war in Dr. Strangelove
. The film did receive four nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, but the Academy decided to award the musical My Fair Lady
with eight Oscars in 1965. We can’t argue too much with the results; it is a great movie musical. However, it is painful to know that Kubrick left the ceremony empty-handed when he probably should have a gold statue for directing the movie that AFI
considers to be #39 on its list of The Greatest American Films of All Time.
Once Upon a Time in America
Sergio Leone filmed the sprawling cinematic masterpiece Once Upon a Time in America
in 1984. Then the director’s post-production nightmare began as his epic gangster film was slashed and cut to ribbons in the editing room. Even so, the picture was worthy of accolades and praise, but it received neither from the Academy in 1985. It could have won a slew of Oscars, including one for Best Picture and Best Director, but it wasn’t even nominated. The film currently ranks #76 on IMDb’s Top 250 Films
. Once Upon a Time in America
may in fact be the best unseen classic in the history of cinema.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Of all the times that Leonardo DiCaprio
has missed out on winning an Academy Award ( The Aviator
, The Wolf of Wall Street
), his performance as a mentally challenged teenager in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
may hurt the most. He did receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the 1993 role, but lost to Tommy Lee Jones ( The Fugitive
), setting the stage for decades of DiCaprio not winning Academy Awards.
David Fincher’s postmodern rant on consumerism and the feminization of the American male shocked audiences with its overuse of violence (to make a satirical point) and jaw-dropping twist ending. The film was nominated for Best Effects, but failed to receive obvious nominations for Best Director (Fincher), Best Actor (Edward Norton), Best Adapted Screenplay (Jim Uhls), and Best Cinematography (Jeff Cronenweth). Additionally, both Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter should have received nods in the supporting categories. Fight Club
is currently #10 on IMDb’s Top 250 films
, and is a bona-fide cult classic.
Of course, now everyone has heard of Quentin Tarantino’s directing debut Reservoir Dogs. At the time, however, it was an independent film before anyone knew about independent films. The movie managed to win several critic and film festival awards in 1993, but failed to receive a single Oscar nomination. Considering that the heist film is still quoted by movie fans and audiences had never heard Tarantino’s conversational dialogue before, it could have won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Additionally, Tim Roth’s performance as an undercover cop caught up in a jewelry heist gone horribly wrong should have at least been recognized by the Academy.
The Color Purple
Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple has the unfortunate distinction of being the film with the most nominations (eleven), without taking home a single gold statue. Sure the movie had its sentimental moments, some may argue that it was too sentimental, but the film managed to achieve several cinematic masterpiece-like moments. Out of Africa was the big winner at the 1986 Academy Awards, winning seven Oscars, while Spielberg was not even nominated for Best Director.
The Coen Brothers’ take on the Western was good enough to earn ten Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. Unfortunately for True Grit
, 2011 was a stellar year in film. The movie was up against standouts like The Social Network
, Black Swan
, The King’s Speech
, and The Fighter
. Hailee Steinfeld
was outstanding as the stubborn teenager who will stop at nothing to avenge her father’s murder. However, it was Melissa Leo’s ( The Fighter
) year to take home Oscar gold and it was True Grit’
s year to receive not a single statue.
Léon: The Professional
The story of a 12-year-old girl (Natalie Portman in her film debut) who must train to become an assassin following the death of her parents, did not receive a single Oscar nod. French auteur Luc Besson could have at least been nominated for his directing efforts, and Gary Oldman plays the villain in Léon
better than almost anyone else on the silver screen. The film ranks #27 on IMDb’s Top 250 Films
and stands as an example of the Academy’s genre bias.
The long-awaited onscreen pairing of Robert De Niro
and Al Pacino
finally took place in Michael Mann’s 1995 neo-noir Heat
. The three-hour epic was not nominated for a single Academy Award, despite its brilliant screenplay and stunning cinematography. It was especially shocking that Val Kilmer did not at least receive a Best Supporting Actor nod that year. Heat
is always in the discussion when critics and movie fans talk about the best heist movies in cinema history.
There has never been a more structurally innovative film than the non-linear masterpiece Memento. The indie darling did receive nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Film Editing, but it won neither. It probably should have bested Gosford Park in the writing category on account of its perfectly confounding backwards storytelling style about a man with short term memory loss who is trying to find out who killed his wife.
is a classic example of genre bias at the Oscars. Comedies typically don’t win Academy Awards, not even really smart ones with spectacular special effects. There aren’t too many movies that have a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes
. The film was nominated for Best Effects/Visual Effects and Best Music/Original Song.
Being John Malkovich
Want to see what it looks like when a visionary director and innovative screenwriter team up to make a truly unique film? A puppeteer (John Cusack) finds a portal into the mind of John Malkovich behind a filing cabinet in his office, and the result is one of the most original films ever made. The movie received three nominations, including one for its director Spike Jonze and another writer Charlie Kaufman. Unfortunately for those two filmmakers, it was the year that American Beauty won five Oscars, dominating the major categories.