Some Best Picture winners at the Oscars probably wouldn’t earn a nomination had they been made any other year. And then there are some iconic films which miss out on the Best Picture award because they were nominated alongside other iconic films.
Over the years, several Best Picture winners at the Oscars have gone down as controversial decisions where The jury went for underserving winners. The very first name that comes to mind is the movie ‘Crash’, the winner at the 78th Academy Awards in 2004. It wasn’t just a terrible film with a superficial look at racism, but it managed to beat the breakthrough hit on homosexuality ‘Brokeback Mountain’ to the coveted title.
Similarly, ‘How Green Was My Valley’, albeit a good film, gets undue hate, not for winning in 1941 but for defeating Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. While Citizen Kane is regarded by many as the best movie ever made, ‘How Green Was My Valley’ does not even make it to the ‘Top 100 Movies Ever Made’ list. Shakespeare in Love is another such tainted victory, not just because it beat Saving Private Ryan in 1998, but the now-disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was at that time at the height of his powers lobbied to win. Good Fellas losing to Dances with Wolves at the 63rd Academy Awards also enters this list.
But, we are not looking at the list of films that lost unfairly. We are rather looking at films that were just unlucky.
Yes, because films and art, in general, is about perspective. Some winners in the upcoming list are up for debate. But, what is not up for debate is the iconic status of these films. And the films that lost out on the ultimate title.
Iconic films that lost Best Picture Oscar to another Iconic film
49th Academy Awards: 1976
Best Loser: Taxi Driver
For starters, let’s make sure that we’re on the same page. Both Rocky and Taxi Driver are two iconic films that transcend time and age. Critics and audiences alike have argued over the years that though Sylvester Stallone‘s Rocky is inspiring, it’s also cliched. Agreed! But the impact Rocky had as a film cannot be denied.
What also is undeniable is the fact that Taxi Driver deserved a Best Picture Oscar. The journey of the alienated cabbie played by Robert De Niro for whom New York has become a living hell explores the kind of dark places very few films dare to. Some even consider Taxi Driver director Martin Scorsese’s best work. But the harsh reality is that it did not win a single Oscar. Not even De Niro for one of the best acting performances in history. Sigh!
55th Academy Awards: 1982
Best Loser: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
What can be said about E.T the Extra-Terrestrial that hasn’t been before? There are reasons this film still finds imitators (Stranger Things) and admirers even today. ET is still relevant for its emotionally moving tale about a friendly alien who finds refuge with a family still reeling from a divorce.
Gandhi stands pale in comparison simply to the numbers that E.T. generated, staying the highest-grossing movie of all time for years to come. E.T.’s value as a film that can be viewed multiple times with family and friends alike has made it an integral part of pop culture. That doesn’t mean Gandhi didn’t deserve its award.
To be precise, along with Best Picture, Gandhi received a total of 8 Oscars, which includes Best Actor for Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of its titular character. But you’ve got to feel for Steven Spielberg for missing out on an equally deserving victory.
64th Academy Awards: 1991
Winner: The Silence of the Lambs
Best Loser: Beauty and the Beast
The simple fact that Beauty and the Beast was the only animated movie nominated in the Best Film category from the inception of the Academy Awards in 1927 till 2009, says a lot about its impact in paving the way for how animated films would be perceived going further and the recognition they would receive.
In 2009, Up became the second movie to achieve this feat. But there was no scope for the makers and fans of Beauty and the Beast to feel hard done by. Their loss that year came at the hands of The Silence of the Lambs, one of the only three films in the history of the Oscars to win the Big Five, namely Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay (either Original or Adapted), and Best Director.
The Silence of the Lambs to date is the only film after It Happened One Night (1934) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) to achieve this feat.
67th Academy Awards: 1994
Winner: Forrest Gump
Best Loser: Pulp Fiction/The Shawshank Redemption
Let’s settle on the fact that 1994 was an outstanding year for the movies. And many argue that though ‘Forrest Gump’ is a solid entertainer and one of Tom Hanks‘s most beloved performances, there were two other movies that deserved to be considered for the coveted award – Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption.
If we simply had to decide this based on IMDB ratings then The Shawshank Redemption would be the clear winner. With a 9.3/10 rating, Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins starrer is the highest-rated film on the website. Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump, rated 8.9 and 8.8 respectively come in at 6th and 12th position on the list of the Top 1000 Rated Films Ever.
But, our argument isn’t about Forrest Gump not deserving of an award. After all, it’s still 12th on the list, way ahead of some of the Best Picture Oscar winners. But if you had to give away the Oscar to one of the other two, who would you give it to, Pulp Fiction or Shawshank Redemption? Now you feel sorry for the jury of the 67th Academy Awards who had to make this tough choice, don’t you?
80th Academy Awards: 2007
Winner: No Country for Old Men
Best Loser: There Will Be Blood
Do you sometimes find it difficult remembering whether it was No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood that won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2007? If so, you’re not alone. Both are tough, violent films anchored by frightening, larger-than-life performances from great actors.
And both narrate horrors at the core of different chapters of American history. The award went to No Country for Old Men, a great choice. But we can all agree that there would be no hard feelings if the award went to Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood instead. Probably because we’d be still guessing who the award actually went to.
87th Academy Awards: 2014
Best Loser: Boyhood
Alright, the movie Birdman was created in a way to give an illusion of being shot in a single take. But Richard Linklater that year with Boyhood presented a story which was far from an illusion, a film made with painstaking effort, the effort of shooting a film over the course of 12 years.
A coming-of-age film that literally comes of age, where it’s fascinating to watch Linklater attempt to tell a story in a way that had never really been attempted before. Birdman is a masterclass in filmmaking, especially camera work, but many might rightly argue that Boyhood deserved its place at the top of the podium.
It’s been 6 years since the 87th Academy Awards, and that’s a long time. But it will take another 6 years for another Boyhood if it started in 2014. There is no denying that Birdman is a special film and deserved its award, but in the next 12 years, there will be 11 more like Birdman made if not more. We just hope in the 12th a Boyhood conquers all.
89th Academy Awards: 2016
Best Loser: Arrival
Yes, this is the same year when the infamous incident took place where the announcers called La La Land the Best Picture winner by mistake before the actual winner Moonlight was confirmed. We all remember the chaos and controversy, and memes that followed.
But, if we could go back and change the outcome a third time. This time for the makers of Moonlight to come forward and say, “There has been a mistake” after the producers of La La Land have done their bit? Well, then we would want them to announce only one name – Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival.
It’s to the Academy’s credit that the Jury went with Moonlight, an unconventional coming-of-age story from an emerging filmmaker shining a light on corners of the world rarely represented in movies. But Arrival for being one of the best sci-fi films of recent times, if not ever, would also have been equally deserving of the accolade.
90th Academy Awards: 2017
Winner: The Shape of Water
Best Loser: Lady Bird/Get Out/Call Me By Your Name
If there is one year that can compare to the dilemma of 1994, then it has to be 2017. This was the year of breakthrough cinema and breakthrough talent in the Direction and Acting categories. Amongst all the big names mentioned, The Shape Of Water managed to inch its way to the top of the podium.
Probably, the Academy wanted to pay its due for not giving the award years earlier to Beauty and the Beast. Yes, if you look closely you’ll find the stark similarities between the animated film and the 2017 winner.
If only we could have a four-way tie between movies – Lady Bird, Get Out, and Call Me By Your Name would also be given a Best Picture Academy award to take home. Truth be told, these films would definitely be winners at any other Academy Awards. Probably not the one from 1994.
2017 also had one of the Best Films of that year not nominated in the Best Picture category, The Florida Project. But the list of greatest films never to be nominated is probably for another time.