- We rely on the Academy Awards to honour the best in film, but sometimes the best movie of the year doesn’t wind up bringing home Oscar gold.
- From “Brokeback Mountain” to “Get Out,” Insider breaks down the movies that should have won the Oscar.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The Oscars are supposed to determine the best in filmmaking. But do they really?
Often, best picture winners don’t line up with the most beloved or popular movie of the year by fans, or even critics.
Although many of the most iconic movies in American cinema have been nominated for best picture, some didn’t win. But they’re loved so much and held in such high regard that you might assume they won Oscar gold.
To be fair, some years were extremely competitive. That’s why “There Will Be Blood” lost the best picture win to “No Country for Old Men.” More recently, 2018’s winner, “The Shape of Water,” was fine, but it beat a few of the most exceptional films of the year and the decade like “Call Me by Your Name,” “Lady Bird,” and “Get Out.”
Other times, votes made by the Academy don’t make much sense. A best picture winner may have been a movie you’ve never heard of or it was a movie that’s now considered terrible. The biggest example of this may be 2005 when “Crash” was awarded best picture instead of “Brokeback Mountain.”
Here are the most beloved best picture nominees that didn’t actually win:
Carrie Witmer contributed to an earlier version of this post.
“The Wizard of Oz”
Year: 1940, at the 12th Academy Awards
What beat it: “Gone With the Wind”
“Gone With the Wind” is critically loved, but Judy Garland’s role as the Kansas girl trying to get home from Oz not only has better reviews, but is also universally known. You can head to shore points and casinos and see games based off of Dorothy, the Tin Man, and more. Nearly 100 years later, you’re not seeing too many slot machines base games off of Victor Fleming’s classic.
Year: 1942, at the 14th Academy Awards
What beat it: “How Green Was My Valley”
“Citizen Kane,” even to those who have not seen it, is one of the most recognisable films of all time, and it didn’t even win best picture. A film doesn’t have to have “best picture winner” next to its name in order to be iconic, and this movie is a great example.
“To Kill a Mockingbird”
Year: 1963, at the 35th Academy Awards
What beat it: “Lawrence of Arabia”
David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” is critically beloved, but Robert Mulligan’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” has stood the test of time, often becoming a must-watch by school children, for its depiction and handling of racism in a courtroom.
Year: 1968, at the 40th Academy Awards
What beat it: “In the Heat of the Night”
“The Graduate” is one of the most iconic films in American cinema. From the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, to the cinematography, to its performances, it quickly became one of those movies that is studied in film class, and is still quoted today.
“All the President’s Men”
Year: 1977, at the 49th Academy Awards
What beat it: “Rocky”
Sure, “Rocky” is a classic. But “All the President’s Men” is a thrilling inside look at the reporting of the Watergate Scandal that resulted in President Nixon’s resignation, and it came out only a couple years after it happened in real life.
Year: 1978, at the 50th Academy Awards
What beat it: “Annie Hall”
“Star Wars” was unlike any other movie that had come before it. Director George Lucas was so certain the movie would be a disaster that he went on vacation during the film’s opening weekend and tuned out in case everyone hated it. During a Tribeca Film Festival conversation in 2015, Lucas said most of his friends, other than Steven Spielberg, and even Fox thought it would be a bust.
Not only was that false, but it became one of the biggest pop culture phenomenons. Lucas himself said he didn’t know it was a hit until he received a call while vacationing in Hawaii.
Year: 1980, at the 52nd Academy Awards
What beat it: “Kramer vs Kramer”
“Apocalypse Now” is one of the most important films ever made. Instead of glorifying war, it fearlessly depicted its many, many horrors. It hasn’t aged. If you’re rewatching it, or seeing it for the first time, it feels like it could’ve come out today and been just as innovative as it was decades ago.
Year: 1981, at the 53rd Academy Awards
What beat it: “Ordinary People”
“Raging Bull” is director Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. In the film, Scorsese explores the madness of boxer Jake LaMotta, played by Robert De Niro in his best performance ever.
Year: 1983, at the 55th Academy Awards
What beat it: “Ghandi”
Arguably, one of Steven Spielberg’s most influential films, “E.T.” is a classic staple of every childhood. More than 30 years later, how many people can honestly say they have sat down to watch “Ghandi”?
Year: 1988, at the 60th Academy Awards
What beat it: “The Last Emperor”
“Moonstruck” is the best romantic comedy ever made, and has incredible performances from Cher and Nicolas Cage. It being a comedy (and a romantic one) was its downfall at the Oscars, since comedies are taken way less seriously than dramas.
Year: 1991, at the 63rd Academy Awards
What beat it: “Dances With Wolves”
Another Scorsese masterpiece that is addictively rewatchable, and is arguably the best mafia movie ever made, lost to Kevin Costner hanging out with wolves.
Year: 1995, at the 67th Academy Awards
What beat it: “Forrest Gump”
“Forrest Gump” is a fine movie, but it epitomizes Oscar bait, and wasn’t particularly unique. “Pulp Fiction” was like nothing anyone had ever seen before, and opened up a whole new way of filmmaking that paved the way for many filmmakers.
Year: 1997, at the 69th Academy Awards
What beat it: “The English Patient”
Masterfully made by the Coen Brothers with the help of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, “Fargo” is a hilarious and violent story about people in the Midwest, who are often not represented in film or television. The film is so iconic that it inspired FX’s anthology series based on its world. “The English Patient,” which is about a dramatic love affair, hasn’t been made into an anthology series.
“Saving Private Ryan”
Year: 1999, at the 71st Academy Awards
What beat it: “Shakespeare in Love”
Steven Spielberg’s riveting look at the horrors of World War II will go down in history as one of the greatest war movies ever made. Even if you haven’t seen it in years, you probably still think about it, and can think of images from the movie, one of Spielberg’s best. You definitely can’t say the same for “Shakespeare in Love.”
“The Sixth Sense”
Year: 2000, at the 72nd Academy Awards
What beat it: “American Beauty”
M. Night Shyamalan’s most memorable movie had a twist ending that caught everyone off guard and made audiences fall in love with Haley Joel Osment. Honestly, Kevin Spacey’s “American Beauty” is kind of a snooze and doesn’t age very well.
“Gangs of New York”
Year: 2003, at the 75th Academy Awards
What beat it: “Chicago”
The performances and songs in “Chicago” are catchy, but Daniel Day-Lewis delivers another Oscar-worthy performance in Martin Scorsese’s movie about two warring gangs. The movie was nominated for 10 Oscars.
Year: 2006, at the 78th Academy Awards
What beat it: “Crash”
Many speculate that the subject matter in “Brokeback Mountain” (men falling in love) made Academy voters, who were mostly older men at the time, uncomfortable. So the great movie lost the best picture win to “Crash,” an emotionally manipulative ensemble drama that examines racism and sexism among residents of Los Angeles.
“There Will Be Blood”
Year: 2008, at the 80th Academy Awards
What beat it: “No Country for Old Men”
OK. “No Country for Old Men” is just as good as “There Will Be Blood.” Both of these movies are masterpieces, and it was an impossible choice. But this is and probably always will be director Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film ever, so it’s a little disappointing that it came out in such a competitive year that its loss makes sense.
“The Social Network”
Year: 2011, at the 83rd Academy Awards
What beat it: “The King’s Speech”
A lot of people rolled their eyes when they found out there was a Facebook movie. But David Fincher turned the story about the founding of Facebook into a dramatic thriller that is Fincher’s best movie to date. “The King’s Speech” was good, but it didn’t really bring anything new to the table, besides Colin Firth’s excellent performance.
“The Tree of Life”
Year: 2012, at the 84th Academy Awards
What beat it: “The Artist”
Who talks about “The Artist” these days? While “The Artist” was an homage to silent films and not much more, “The Tree of Life” completely reinvented what a movie can be. It’s visually stunning, and is one of director Terrence Malick’s best films to date.
“Call Me by Your Name”
Year: 2018, at the 90th Academy Awards
What beat it: “The Shape of Water”
“The Shape of Water” isn’t a bad movie. It tells a sweet story, and expertly weaves a fairy tale into its 60s setting. But of all the movies in the best picture lineup, it wasn’t the most deserving for the highest honour. “Call Me by Your Name” had the two best performances in recent memory with Timothée Chalamet’s leading performance and Michael Stuhlbarg’s stunning supporting one.
Year: 2018, at the 90th Academy Awards
What beat it: “The Shape of Water”
“Get Out” created its own genre by satirizing horror while providing social commentary. Its subject matter fit into the cultural narrative, and made a lot of people think about how they treat people of colour. Its box office success proved that ambition and diversity actually works.
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