Some films are happy just to get nominated for Best Picture. But these classics didn’t even make the final cut of contenders.
At the 90th edition of the Academy Awards on March 4, nine films will vie for the coveted Best Picture trophy. No matter which of those fêted contenders eventually emerges victorious, all of them have now joined an illustrious group — especially given that, over the course of the academy’s nine decades, quite a few all-time greats have failed to receive recognition in that category. How these classics could have been denied a shot at the awards’ top prize is, in hindsight, more than a bit baffling, no matter the stiff competition they might have faced in the year of their release. Whether it’s proof that the passage of time is required to determine true greatness or evidence that the organization’s tastemakers aren’t as astute as they’d like the public to believe, the academy’s track record in this regard is less than flawless (to say the least). With a wealth of candidates from which to choose, these are our picks for the 15 worst Best Picture nomination snubs in Oscar history.
City Lights (1931)
The American Film Institute ranked Charlie Chaplin’s 1931 masterpiece as the 11th greatest U.S. film ever made, but back in 1931, the academy thought it was inferior to (sarcasm alert!) such well-known and admired movies as Skippy, East Lynne, and Trader Horn. Oof.
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Despite being a commercial smash and earning six other nominations, William Powell and Carole Lombard’s enduringly great screwball comedy was denied entry into the 1936 Best Picture race, proving — not for the last time — the academy’s bias against comedy.
His Girl Friday (1940)
The first adaptation of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play The Front Page, made in 1931, earned a Best Picture nom. Yet when it was redone, in superior fashion, by director Howard Hawks with stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, it didn’t make the cut — no doubt because Grant’s other screwball effort that year, The Philadelphia Story, was chosen to compete for the award.
The Third Man (1949)
Starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, Carol Reed’s film noir (based on Graham Greene’s novel) is widely regarded as one of cinema’s crowning 20th-century achievements — although not by the academy, which instead preferred the Deborah Kerr-headlined King Solomon’s Mines.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Gene Kelly’s An American in Paris had won six Oscars (including Best Picture) at the prior year’s show, so in 1952, the academy decided to leave the star’s legendary follow-up out of the night’s biggest race — a mistake of mind-boggling proportions.
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Likely too revolutionary for voters at the time of its release, Nicholas Ray’s unforgettable portrait of tumultuous teenager-dom — highlighted by James Dean’s iconic performance — was an academy omission that, 63 years later, is difficult to excuse.
The Searchers (1956)
Though the academy wasn’t particularly apt to nominate Westerns in its major category, John Ford’s 1956 The Searchers now occupies a (if not the) peak position in the genre’s storied history, so its failure to secure a Best Picture nomination — when William Wyler’s Friendly Persuasion did — is a gaffe for the record books.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
There are few comedies as beloved and critically acclaimed as Billy Wilder’s gem starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe. In 1959, though, the academy wrongly thought it unworthy of inclusion.
The list of stellar Alfred Hitchcock films to not earn a Best Picture nomination is long and includes Notorious, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and The Birds. Nonetheless, at the top of that embarrassing-to-the-academy rundown stands 1960’s Psycho, the Master of Suspense’s peerless tale of scary showers and scarier mothers.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
As with Rebel Without a Cause, Stanley Kubrick’s unconventional classic was presumably just too much for the old-fashioned academy to properly process, although that hardly lets them off the hook for failing to honor one of cinema’s genuine all-timers.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
With Star Wars already in the Best Picture running, it’s no enormous surprise that the academy left out Steven Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi drama. Regardless, that doesn’t make the group’s fondness for The Turning Point (11 noms, no wins) over Close Encounters any more defensible from a historical standpoint.
sex, lies, and videotape (1989)
Steven Soderbergh subsequently earned two Best Picture nominations in 2000 for Erin Brockovich and Traffic, but he couldn’t get similar recognition for his breakthrough 1989 feature debut, which — aside from winning the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or — helped create the modern American independent film movement.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
Ridley Scott’s 1991 cross-country saga may have earned six nominations, but when it came time to hand out the evening’s final statuette, it had no shot — because its deserved Best Picture nomination had instead been given to (take your pick) Bugsy or Beauty and the Beast.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Even though 1997 was a tremendous year for American movies, the academy went conservative with its Best Picture nominations — leaving Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (a modern classic by a visionary director) on the sidelines while the likes of the slight As Good as It Gets and The Full Monty got the chance to lose to Titanic.
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
David Lynch’s nightmarish tale of showbiz ambition and murderous intrigue topped numerous critics’ polls as the best film of the aughts. In the eyes of the 2001 academy, however, it wasn’t even as good as In the Bedroom, which was — to put it mildly — an opinion of head-smacking craziness.
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