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Films that have never won an Oscar

March 9, 2019

It’s been a few weeks since “Green Book” walked away with a best picture nod, and much ink is still being spilled over how deserving it was as the stories of its origins emerge. I think now is as good a time as any to compile a little list of beloved, time-tested films that have received little to no love from the Academy Awards, but still managed to amass loyal followings and accolades alike through the years. 

It’s also a good time to provide a small list of those that now can be introduced as “The Oscar-winning … .” They include the following:

  • Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (Visual Effects)
  • Suicide Squad (Makeup and Hairstyling); Alice in Wonderland (Art Direction)
  • The Blind Side (Best Actress); Pearl Harbor (Best Sound Editing)
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Makeup); Thank God It’s Friday (Best Song)
  • Song of the South (Best Song); Butterfield 8 (Best Actress)
  • The Greatest Show on Earth (Best Picture, Best Story)

Here is a list of films that never took home an award, including some that were never even recognized with a nomination, but have managed to influence the filmmaking world for years after their releases.

“Frankenstein” (1931) The closest this film came to an award was Ian McKellan’s portrayal of director James Whale in the 1998 film “Gods and Monsters.” Though the film has been remade countless times, the original is still the go-to for the material. Adding insult to injury, Whale’s sequel, “Bride of Frankenstein,” received (and lost) a single sound nomination four years later. 

“M” (1931) The influential Fritz Lang never received an Oscar nomination, despite having shaped cinema into what it is today. This noir, anti-Fascist classic is still studied in film classes today, and its oversight in awards can perhaps be blamed on the Academy Awards being in their earliest years. 

“King Kong” (1933) There is hardly a montage showcasing classic cinematic scenes that does not include a shot of the big ape atop the Empire State Building fending off planes or cupping a young Fay Wray in his mitts. Yet he still came up with empty paws, earning not a single nomination. 

“Duck Soup” (1933) Sure, comedy is subjective, but it’s hard to not find something to smile about in this Marx Brothers comedic masterpiece that still holds up today. Oscar has never had much love for comedy, but the academy did ultimately give Groucho Marx an honorary award in 1974.

“Bringing Up Baby” (1938) And speaking of comedy, this definitive screwball comedy from director Howard Hawks flopped when it first opened, which may have caused Oscar to turn his head away. But the push-and-pull between Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant provided chemistry that would make scientists proud. Hawks was also ignored for his equally engaging “His Girl Friday” just two years later.

“Rear Window” (1956) and “Psycho” (1961) Alfred Hitchcock was indeed nominated for both “Window” and “Psycho,” but lost both years, to Delbert Mann in ‘56 and to Billy Wilder in ‘61. These were the director’s fourth and fifth (and final) nominations, until Academy members perhaps realized their oversight and bestowed upon Hitchcock the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968.  

“Touch of Evil” (1958) Despite being named One of the Greatest Films of All Time by Sight and Sound (a collective of directors, citics, cinematographers and such), and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, this Orson Welles classic was winless at the Oscars. 

“Mean Streets” (1973) For years, Martin Scorsese himself was snubbed, even though his films would earn nods and wins (“Raging Bull” won for Editing and Actor, “Goodfellas” won a measly Supporting Actor), eventually winning for 2007’s “The Departed.” But it was “Mean Streets” that really put him on the map and ushered in a brave new voice in filmmaking. 

“The Shining” (1980) One of the most enduring films of Stanley Kubrick’s legacy, it was also the one from this director that never received a single nomination in any category whatsoever. 

“Blade Runner” (1982) Ridley Scott’s visionary sci-fi epic performed rather poorly in its initial release, even though it endures as perhaps one of the most single influential films of its genre decades later. It was nominated for only two visual design and effects Oscars, and lost (ironically, to another Harrison Ford vehicle, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”). 

“The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) “Shawshank” has a little bit of a different story in that it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, but walked away with nada, zilch, zero. 

There are countless other tales of snubs, omissions and also-rans that we look back on with faces planted firmly in our collective palms. But these films all endure on their quality alone and don’t need a shiny statuette to assure audiences of their greatness … like, say, the Oscar-winning “Suicide Squad.”

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and is lead entertainment writer for Influx Magazine. Email him at filmrob@gmail.com.