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15 Great Movies Never To Win Best Picture

28 February 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Will Bray

there will be blood opening

As we have seen time and time again, the Academy of Arts and Sciences is not infallible. Made up of human beings (often with somewhat questionable agendas), the Academy has had its fair share of mis-steps and baffling snubs over its 86 year history.  Fortunately, they do recognize talent, even if they generally pass it up for something safer. Proving that sometimes a nomination is more of an honor than a win, here are 15 of the best nominated films never to win Best Picture.


1. The Wizard of Oz


When this adaptation of Frank L. Baum’s novel came out in 1939, it blew people away. The dazzling use of Technicolor, kept hidden until Dorothy finally lands in Oz, creates a lush, iconic world that seems to jump off the screen.

Still instantly recognizable today, the film’s influence on popular culture cannot be overstated.  It has been made into a sequel, a deconstruction-cum-musical, a prequel, an animated series, museums… the list goes on.

There were, however, some areas where it fell short. It was considered a commercial failure on its initial release, barely covering its hefty production costs. It was lauded by critics, but earned only one Oscar nomination, for Best Picture.

It would lose to another epic story filmed in glorious Technicolor you may have heard of: Gone with the Wind, which won a stunning 10 awards that year. Luckily, the awards snubbery has not seemed to mar its reputation. It continues to dazzle children and adults alike to this day.


2. Citizen Kane


It seems shocking that a movie that frequently tops “best film ever” lists should have so few Oscars to its name. Despite being nominated for nine awards including Best Actor (Orson Welles lost to Gary Cooper), Best Director (Orson Welles lost to John Ford) and Best Picture (it lost to How Green was my Valley), it won only one, for Best Original Screenplay.

Most of this can be attributed to William Randolph Hearst, the real life newspaper mogul Kane is rumored to be based on (Welles denies this, claiming Kane is a synthesis of a lot of sources, despite some of Kane’s speeches being taken verbatim from Hearst). Hearst refused his papers to cover any aspect of the film, including the production studio, RKO. He even went so far as to insist that Louis B. Mayer, then head of MGM, buy all copies of the film and destroy them.

Luckily for us, they refused. Far more intelligent people than me have written about why the film is such a classic, but I will simply add that it is impeccably filmed, written, and acted. Its legacy is undeniable.


3. To Kill a Mockingbird


Based on Harper Lee’s one and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird presents the story of Scout Finch as she relates the tale of a particular time in her childhood home of Alabama in the 1930s. Her father Atticus (in one of Gregory Peck’s finest and most remembered roles) is a lawyer, tasked with defending Tom Robinson, a black man charged with raping a white girl.

The film touches on a lot of themes, including racism and poverty, but at its core it is simply about empathy. Characters are presented to us in a specific way, and then revealed to be completely different. The film wants to challenge your own prejudices, and 52 years later that idea still resonates. With so much to say, it would have been far too easy for the film to devolve into moralizing preachiness, but Gregory Peck, as Atticus, keeps that from happening.

Instead he grounds the character in old-fashioned human decency, and becomes one of the most badass film characters of all time. The film was nominated for eight Oscars and won three (Actor, Screenplay, and Art Direction) but lost the big one to Lawrence of Arabia.


4. Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb


A savage satire of the Cold War, Dr. Strangelove is an incredible film. Made in 1964, it contains chameleonic performances by Peter Sellers, meticulous direction by Stanley Kubrick, and a pitch black sense of humor.

There are always stories and legends about the off-screen antics of Kubrick, and this film has its fair share. He insisted on covering the table in the war room in green felt, despite the movie being filmed in black and white. George C. Scott was notoriously hard to work with, but Kubrick found that by playing chess with Scott in between takes the actor would settle down.

The film has inspired quite a legacy, regularly gracing “best films of all time” lists. Even the Academy took notice of the film, and nominated it in four categories. It would take home zero awards by the end of the night, losing Best Picture to My Fair Lady.


5. The Exorcist


There are few horror movies that have received as much universal acclaim as The Exorcist. Adapted from his novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, it is often called one of the scariest movies of all time.

The film’s iconic portrayal of possession inspired a new sub-genre of horror films and led to sequels, prequels, and reboots. It also gave us a way to make jokes about projectile vomiting. Any film will have its detractors, however, and The Exorcist was no exception. It received mixed reviews on its initial release. While some recognized the artistic rendering of horror, others were left cold thanks to grotesque special effects.

Regardless, that year the Academy nominated the film for 10 awards, the first horror movie ever to receive the honor. It wound up winning two, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing, but lost Best Picture to The Sting.


6. Taxi Driver

Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver

Gritty, grimy, and crackling with electricity, Taxi Driver is often considered one of Martin Scorsese’s finest works, which is saying quite a lot.

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a bit of a sociopath. After taking a job driving a cab at night to combat his insomnia, Bickle decides the streets of New York need a cleaning, and he is just the man to do it. Unfortunately for the general populace, he has no morals to speak of, so most of his attempts at justice revolve around horrific violence and split-second judgment calls.

Another film that regularly ranks as one of the best of all time, the movie stills feels fresh and original today, nearly 40 years later. It received four Oscar nominations that year, but lost all of them, losing Best Picture to Rocky.


7. Star Wars


It is not hyperbolic to say that Star Wars changed cinema forever. It is one of the most successful film franchises in history, spawning two sequels, three prequels, whatever JJ Abrams is working on now, television specials, animated series, videogames, and a metric butt-ton of toys.

The original film, released in 1977, introduced audiences to this universe, and they couldn’t get enough. Neither could the academy, so they nominated the film for 11 awards, including the series’ only Best Picture nomination. It would go on to win every technical award, but lost the big one to Annie Hall.



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  • José Rafael Solis Corps

    Excellent list. However, I think you saying that no one has watched The English Patient in 17 years is not very intelligent. I know of lots of people who love that movie, and I myself like it more than Fargo. As far as unforgettable movies in this category, whether you consider it a masterpiece or not, there’s also E.T. which lost to Gandhi.

  • Lee Canestrini

    i don’t think it’s “shocking” or any kind of word that these movies never won Oscars. They are a big piece of wank. Who actually takes them seriously?

  • Mattias Dahlgren

    Great list! I would add Alien to it as well. And Texas chainsaw massacre.

    • Max Conoley

      This is a list for films that were nominated for Best Picture but didn’t win.

  • RazorShines

    Pulp Fiction was great but Forrest Gump more than deserved to win. Directing was better, Acting was just as good and the special effects were ground breaking. Also, Raging Bull, JFK, Psycho, LA Confidential and Shawshank Redemption could have been mentioned

    • Max Conoley

      Psycho wasn’t nominated. Pulp Fiction had much better directing, and discounting Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump doesn’t hold a candle to Pulp Fiction’s cast.

      • Javiera

        Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction are great, but The Shawshank Redemption was better and deserved to win that year, i think that’s the real discussion

  • Mike Kolodziej

    Raging Bull, Shawshank Redemption (Forrest Gump, this, and Pulp Fiction yeesh give it to all 3), Saving Private Ryan, Chinatown, A Clockwork Orange (though French Connection is awesome), The Graduate + Bonnie & Clyde (same year), How the West was Won, 12 Angry Men (Bridge on the River Kwai is one of the best ever though as well), A Streetcar Named Desire, Sunset Boulevard, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Maltese Falcon (same year as Citizen Kane), & the Philadelphia Story.

    Seriously, you missed at least 10 movies considered masterpieces.

  • Shubhendu Singh many great films!
    If someone puts a gun on my head and asks me to choose my absolute favourite among them i’d said “Shoot Me!”.

  • Chris keller

    How about Inception, I know it was not a typical Oscarish movie (sad & depressing) but it was so refreshing.

  • Susan F

    The Exorcist, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Black Swan are not great films. Ridiculous.

    • Harris K Telemacher

      Kinda with you on Star Wars. Annie Hall was amazing.

  • Clay King


  • Fabrizzio Andres Zevallos Ruiz


    • Abhishek

      I totaly agree. Whiplash and Predestination were 2014’s best

  • Brandon Thompson

    Black Swan is a great movie but The Social Network was better (they are they top 2 movies of 2010 for me)

    As for previous years here are some examples I would’ve done (based off the nominees, if I went off other movies it would be different)

    2014 – Boyhood
    2005 – Brokeback Mountain
    2002 – The Pianist
    2001 – Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
    1998 – Saving Private Ryan
    1989 – Dead Poets Society
    1982 – ET
    1973 – Cries and Whispers
    1967 – The Graduate

  • Pranay Ray

    The Social Network….it is one the finest and most cinematic films ever….in every shows human behavior dealing with success and failure like very few films have…certainly fincher’s best….it will rank in the top 5 greatest films of the 21st century if i ever made a list….Brokeback mountain should also be in the list….

  • Brett Lovejoy

    How can you talk about ‘snubs’ and manage to omit ‘Saving Private Ryan’?

  • Patrick Hill

    Every time I see a Kubrick mention, I can’t help but wonder how he, of all, never received an Oscar. You don’t even need insight to realize how wrong that is. (I’m not counting his win for effects or whatever it was)

  • Harris K Telemacher

    LA Confidential

  • Monde

    The most recent are ‘There Will be Blood (2007)’ & ‘The Tree of Life (2011)’

  • John W. Thackery

    The Wizard of Oz received additional nominations aside from Best Picture. It won 2 Oscars (Best Score and Best Song for “Over the Rainbow”). And was nominated for cinematography, art direction and visual effects. Do these authors actually research before they write these articles?

  • Mike Potter

    Over here in the UK we all sneered at Forrest Gump and Dances with Wolves at the time. Lots of learned articles about America congratulating itself on what a wonderful country it is, instead of rewarding the best films and all that. (By the way, remember Gary Larson’s cartoon of a few losers in an otherwise empty room hosting the International Didn’t Like Dances With Wolves Club?)

  • Saul

    “One of the few movies to focus on the military without actual military involvement”

    Pretty sure the CIA helping to write it should count as “military involvement”.

  • Relf

    Pulp Fiction is extremely overrated and just a mindless mediocre action flick