35 Nerdy Oscar-Nominated Movies That Didn’t Win Best Picture

35 Nerdy Oscar-Nominated Movies That Didn’t Win Best Picture

Everyone suspects Everything Everywhere All at Once will be taking home the Oscar for Best Picture this Sunday at the 95th Academy Awards. However, I wouldn’t be too sure. Only a few genre movies have ever managed the achievement; it’s much more common for Hollywood to congratulate itself for recognising them with a nomination, then ignoring them for something more “mature.” Here are 35 Oscar runners-ups from the last 90 years that prove that even if Everything Everywhere loses, it’ll at least be in good company.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1935

This production of William Shakespeare’s most fantastical play was praised for its lavishness back in the day, as well as some of the performances, notable the film debut of Olivia de Haviland (of eventual Gone With the Wind fame) and the child actor Mickey Rooney as Puck. But Shakespeare’s tale of lovers, actors, and faeries couldn’t compete with the historical drama Mutiny on the Bounty.

The Wizard of Oz, 1939

No need to describe this movie, which the U.S. Library of Congress believes is the most-seen movie of all time. The Wizard of Oz was a critical and commercial success upon its release. It was also so expensive to make — at the astronomical price of $US3 ($4) million — it only made a profit when it was rereleased a decade later. Dorothy, Toto, and the rest had the misfortunate to compete against Gone With the Wind, which swept the Oscars like a Kansas tornado.

It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946

This Christmas classic is hard to summarize: “A man loses a great deal of money that could have saved his family’s bank and becomes so suicidal his guardian angel intervenes…. by showing him how much worse the world would be without him.” And yet it’s justly considered one of the heartwarming, beloved holiday films ever. At the time, however, the post-wartime drama The Best Years of Our Lives was the movie of the year.

Dr. Strangelove, 1964

Stanley Kubrick’s dark, darkly funny, and absolutely savage examination of the Cold War and the deeply flawed humans who waged it is an all-time classic, starring Peter Sellers in three roles, a general worried about his “precious bodily fluids,” and a cowboy riding a nuclear bomb. It’s impressive that Dr. Strangelove was nominated at all, as acerbic as it was, so it was likely never in any danger of beating Audrey Hepburn’s beloved musical My Fair Lady.

Mary Poppins, 1964

This Disney classic likely stood a better chance with the Academy, given that it was also a musical starring an effortless charming British actress (in this case Julie Andrews). Perhaps the fact it was a Disney film based on a children’s book, about a governess who brings magic into the lives (literally and figuratively) of a troubled family, was held against it, because Ms. Poppins actually grossed more money than My Fair Lady that year.

Doctor Doolittle, 1967

The Academy loved musical-comedy movies in the ‘60s, which means this adventure starring My Fair Lady’s Rex Harrison as the titular doctor who can communicate with animals, was probably a lock for a nomination. As for the winner, however, the award went to In the Heat of the Night, starring Sidney Poitier as an NYC cop who gets caught up in a murder investigation in small-town Mississippi.

A Clockwork Orange, 1971

Stanley Kubrick’s most controversial movie is unquestionably a cinematic achievement. But its story of a young gang, led by Malcolm McDowell’s Alex, who brutalise their way through London far out-shadowed Kubrick’s mastery of filmmaking. The gritty crime thriller The French Connection, starring Gene Hackman at his finest, was an easy choice for Best Picture instead.

The Exorcist, 1973

Considered by many to be the scariest movie of all time, The Exorcist reportedly gave some viewers heart attacks. Even now, a priest’s attempt to save the soul of young Reagan from demonic possession can be a powerful and powerfully uncomfortable experience, which speaks to the film’s greatness. Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s charming, crowd-pleasing The Sting was its opposite in so many ways, and the Academy chose the movie without demon vomit.

Star Wars, 1977

Why? Would Best Picture go to Woody Allen’s nebbish romantic comedy Annie Hall over Star Wars, the most popular and beloved movie of 1977? A movie that turned the movie industry over on its head by becoming not just a blockbuster, but a pop culture juggernaut that exists to this day? Maybe Star Wars was considered too much of a kids’ movie to deserve the award, but if the Academy were a living entity, it would still be regretting the choice.

Heaven Can Wait, 1978

Warren Beatty’s affable movie is about a pro quarterback who accidentally gets taken to heaven before his time (thanks to an overzealous guardian angel); as consolation, he gets put into the body of a millionaire, allowing him to buy his team and his way back to the quarterback position. It’s a breezy, pleasant watch, but it hardly compares to the harrowing Vietnam war drama The Deer Hunter.

Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981

This Steven Spielberg-George Lucas collaboration is one of the best action movies, one of the best adventure movies, and frequently, one of the best movies of all time. It’s hard to argue against it, and yet the Academy voters did just that by choosing Chariots of Fire, about competing British runners in the 1920s, as Best Picture instead.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, 1982

This beloved family film about a small alien who is abandoned on Earth, befriends a small boy, and enters a secret murder-suicide pact with him, is secretly one of the scariest movies of all time and no one will ever convince me otherwise. It was beaten by Gandhi, a movie about Gandhi.

Fields of Dreams, 1989

A sentimental movie about a man who gets told “If you build it, they will come” — “it” being a baseball field, and “they” being the ghosts of baseball players. Field of Dreams was a bona fide hit upon its release, thanks to a winning combination of Kevin Costner, a story about daddy issues, and America’s pastime. It was beaten by an equally sentimental film, Driving Miss Daisy, which had the added benefit of incredible performances by Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman.

Ghost, 1990

Technically, Ghost is about a, well, ghost, trying to prevent his living girlfriend from being murdered by his former best friend. But all anyone remembers is the incredibly sexy scene where Patrick Swayze wraps his arms around Demi Moore in the most erotic ceramics class ever, right? Alas, a sex-pot (no apologies) was not enough to stop Costner’s winning streak, as Dances With Wolves took home the gold.

Beauty and the Beast, 1991

The Little Mermaid set the stage, but the new age of Disney animation truly kicked off with Beauty and the Beast, a mesmerising combination of songs, voice performance, and animation (including that CG ballroom dance), a combination that Disney hadn’t achieved since Walt was in charge. It was such a welcome accomplishment that Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film to ever have been nominated for Best Picture, an award it lost to the decidedly less family-friendly Silence of the Lambs.

The Sixth Sense, 1999

M. Night Shyamalan’s directorial debut was a force of nature when it premiered — a movie so good that people didn’t spoil the twist ending and deny others the jaw-dropping pleasure of learning… you know. It was a moody crowd-pleaser that earn the 10-year-old Haley Joel Osment a Best Supporting Actor nod. But Best Picture went to American Beauty, which I imagine the Academy also regrets.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000

Ang Lee’s ode to classic wuxia Chinese films is a major accomplishment, elevating the martial arts film to actual art. Starring Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun-Fat, and Zhang Ziyi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a historical fantasy and romance that simply overwhelmed audiences with its beauty and fantastical fight choreography. While it lost Best Picture to Gladiator, it did win Best Foreign Language Film.

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, 2001

The first of Peter Jackson’s adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy wouldn’t have seemed like an Oscar contender, given it was about elves and hobbits and magic and such, things the hoity-toity voters of the Academy feel aren’t serious. But Jackson’s incredible, ambitious, and jaw-dropping film was an undeniable feat of filmmaking that marveled audiences, critics, and filmmakers alike. But that wasn’t quite enough to net Frodo and company a precious statue from A Beautiful Mind.

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2002

The next year, the sequel lost to the film adaptation of the musical Chicago. But in 2003, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King did win Best Picture. Was it really the best movie? Was it even the best Lord of the Rings movie? Was the award given instead as recognition of Peter Jackson’s tremendous achievement in filmmaking by bringing these three books to screens? And if so, would that be the worst thing in the world? Discuss.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2008

Brad Pitt plays a man who ages backward and has an understandably doomed love affair in this strange romance based on the story by The Great Gatsby’s F. Scott Fitzgerald. While the movie won many awards for its make-up and special effects, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire got the Best Picture statuette.

Avatar, 2009

The highest-grossing movie ever, Avatar is of course James Cameron’s stunningly animated movie about a white guy saving blue cat-people on a bioluminescent planet. But that box office gold didn’t turn into Oscar gold, and instead, Best Picture went to the war movie The Hurt Locker, directed by Cameron’s ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow.

District 9, 2009

Neil Blomkamp’s debut film was an unlikely Oscar contender. Set in South Africa, where bug-like aliens live in an impoverished slum called District 9, it’s a not-at-all-veiled metaphor for apartheid, with the twist being that a relocation officer plated by Sharlto Copley has the misfortune to start transforming into an alien who begins experiencing the prejudice they face.

Up, 2009

Pixar’s somewhat heartwarming yet thoroughly depressing tale of an elderly widower who turns his house into a balloon-assisted dirigible is one of the animation studio’s most lauded and beloved films. It unsurprisingly won the Best Animated Feature Film award in consolation.

Inception, 2010

Chris Nolan’s twisty sci-fi film was a hit with critics and audiences, and starred Leonardo di Caprio as the leader of a group of thieves specializing in stealing knowledge from people’s subconsciouses. It’s a challenging blockbuster, but a blockbuster nonetheless, earning more than $US800 ($1,111) million worldwide. It might have been too much for Academy voters, who chose The King’s Speech instead.

Toy Story 3, 2010

The final instalment of the Toy Story trilogy (until, you know, it wasn’t) is still acclaimed as one of Pixar’s best films. But it couldn’t beat The King’s Speech, either.

Hugo, 2011

A love letter to the earliest days of cinema and the magic of movies, Hugo was Martin Scorsese’s first film in 3D. As Hollywood loves films about how wonderful films are, it was a lock to be nominated as Best Picture, despite it largely bombing at the box office. The award, however, went to The Artist… a silent film about the slightly less early days of cinema and the magic of movies.

Gravity, 2013

The science fiction thriller about two astronauts stranded in space after their shuttle is damaged by debris is a deceptively simple film, loaded with special effects, and anchored by two immensely likable performances from Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. It scored Alfonso Cuaron the Best Director award but lost Best Picture to the harrowing historical biography 12 Years a Slave.

Her, 2013

A movie about a man who falls in love with his AI-controlled voice assistant might sound weird, but Her was directed by Spike Jonze, who does weird exceptionally well. Her is a beautifully melancholy film with a terrific performance from Joaquin Phoenix that won Jonze the Best Original Screenplay award.

Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015

The Academy doesn’t traditionally care about action blockbusters, but director George Miller’s most recent instalment in his post-apocalyptic Mad Max series was so stunningly written, shot, and crafted voters had no choice but to recognise it as a Best Picture contender. It lost to Spotlight, about a journalist’s attempt to expose a sex abuse cover-up by the Catholic church, which was more up the Academy’s proverbial alley.

The Martian, 2015

Based on Andy Weir’s best-selling sci-fi-novel, Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the story of an astronaut mistakenly left behind on Mars and his attempt to survive is a compelling story made only more so by star Matt Damon’s charm. In another year with less competition, it could have won Best Picture.

Arrival, 2016

When aliens arrive on Earth, a linguist (Amy Adams) is recruited to figure out how to communicate with them before increasingly paranoid nations declare war. Denis Villeneuve’s somber, beautifully directed sci-fi film turns linguistics into high drama, which is an impressive feat. Moonlight, which has already been called one of the best films of the century, understandably received the Oscar instead.

Black Panther, 2018

Hollywood stalwarts love to blast superhero movies, but even they had to admit that Black Panther was a damn fine movie. Led by the late Chadwick Boseman and the titular hero, Black Panther remains Marvel Studios’ finest film. It lost to Green Book, a movie that most people now agree is worse than every other of that year’s contenders.

Joker, 2019

A mash-up of Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy slathered in clown make-up, this reimagining of Batman’s archenemy the Joker lacked Batman, but invited plenty of controversy for its nihilism and seeming celebration of violence. However, you can’t argue its success, having earned over a billion dollars. Perhaps thankfully, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite became the first foreign language film to ever win Best Picture instead — but it did get Best Actor and Best Original Score nods for Joaquin Phoenix and Hildur Guðnadóttir.

Don’t Look Up, 2021

Netflix’s political and apocalyptical comedy stars Leonardo di Caprio and Jennifer Lawrence as two nerdy astronomers who discover an asteroid a mere six months away from hitting Earth. Reviews were mixed, which is presumably why Coda won instead.

Dune, 2021

Deni Villeneuve’s Dune is destined to go down as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, even though it is distinctly half a story. Although it lost, it’s so acclaimed that the Academy may gift Best Picture to Dune: Part Two, much as it did for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, for the overall achievement.

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