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20 Recent Movies That Clearly Hoped For Oscars But Failed

04 July 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Jason Turer

oscar aiming movies

You know their type. Mockingly referred to as “Oscar bait,” these are the films that, from the first trailer (and sometimes even earlier), look like they were made for one reason and one reason only: to win golden, naked man-shaped statues. Featuring inspirational orchestral music, A-list talent, and the promise of tackling important hot-button issues, these are the kinds of films that are usually saved for end of year release and seem poised to dominate the national conversation come awards season… the operative word being “seem.” For without fail, every year there are projects that, despite promising appearances and growing anticipation, fail to live up to expectations, sometimes staggeringly so. For every The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave, there are, well, these movies.

The following are not all bad films, of course (though some certainly are), but, either due to their disappointing quality, stiff competition, or a combination of both, all failed to win a single Oscar (though as we will see, some garnered at least a nomination or two). The history of the Academy Awards is spotty at best when it comes to rewarding deserving films and performances, but sometimes, arguably, the Academy’s reluctance to go for the “bait” is more than appropriate.


1. The Majestic (2001)

The Majestic (2001)

The Bait:
• Directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile).
• Starred Jim Carrey, but in the same uncharacteristically serious mode he displayed in the critically-acclaimed The Truman Show.
• Period piece that dealt with the weighty issues of McCarthyism and blacklisting.

The Reaction: Too long and too sappy were the most common complaints, though few found fault with Carrey’s earnest performance. Though it was a movie that celebrates movies – something Hollywood and the Academy typically love – it simply lacked the power of Darabont’s two Stephen King adaptations and was more than heavy-handed in its treatment of the big issues central to its story.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 42%
Oscar nominations: Zero


2. Alexander (2004)


The Bait:
• Directed by Oscar-winner Oliver Stone.
• Period piece about one of the most famous historical figures of all time.
• Had a budget of $155 million (about $50 million more than Gladiator, as a point of comparison), implying a truly epic scale.

The Reaction: There are no less than FOUR VERSIONS of this film, and not even the freedom to take extra time to edit them all could salvage the product as a whole. Critics and historians were similarly merciless, taking issue with the film’s length, slow pacing, and uneven performances. Despite having all the hallmarks of the sword-and-sandal epic, Alexander ultimately fell short in virtually every way possible.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 16%
Oscar nominations: Zero


3. All the King’s Men (2006)

All the King’s Men (2006)

The Bait:
• Adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel whose 1949 film adaptation won Best Picture.
• The impressive cast (Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, etc.)
• Directed and co-written by multiple Oscar-nominee Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Awakenings)

The Reaction: Now this one had to hurt. In spite of all the talent involved, the film was a critical and commercial disaster. Derided as simultaneously over the top and dull, it failed to gross even $10 million… worldwide. To say that it wound up disappointing would be one of the biggest understatements of the year.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 11%
Oscar nominations: Zero


4. Bobby (2006)


The Bait:
• Premise focusing on a tragic and well-known recent historic event.
• Ensemble cast including Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Martin Sheen, William H. Macy, and more.

The Reaction: Despite featuring an all-star cast and the structure of great Robert Altman films like Nashville and Short Cuts, director Emilio Estevez’s final product turned out to be mediocre at best, and exploitative at worst. The presence of so many big name actors came off as distracting to many, rather than warranted by the thin script. Given the limited focus on RFK himself, one also could not be faulted for finding the title just a tad bit misleading.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 46%
Oscar nominations: Zero


5. The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)


The Bait:
• Period piece about an infamous historical figure.
• Starred Brad Pitt and the less famous (but still highly talented) Affleck brother.

The Reaction: It barely registered at the box office and is one of Brad Pitt’s lowest-grossing films to date, but critics were impressed, with many naming it one of the ten best films of the year. Its lengthy running time and similarly unconventional title likely put off potential viewers, and though it did end up getting a few well-deserved Oscar nominations, it was undoubtedly overshadowed by two films with similar settings released the same year: There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Oscar nominations: Two (Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography)


6. Lions for Lambs (2007)

Lions for Lambs (2007)

The Bait:
• Academy darling and previous winner Robert Redford at the directing helm.
• Serious premise about a real-life war still being waged at the time of the film’s release (and as of the writing of this list, sadly).
• Two words: Meryl. Streep.

The Reaction: Common complaints were that the film was preachy, dull, and had content better suited for the stage than the screen. Audiences seemed to concur, with this talky political drama earning only $15 million domestically.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27%
Oscar nominations: Zero



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  • xXGrizZ

    All very good entries. It’s disappointing that it feels like 90% of movies are either massive budget super hero films or shameless Oscar bait that are so obviously trying their ass off that it distracts from the film. If they really wanted it bad enough they would make a movie about a mentally challenged black homosexual jewish person who is dying from AIDS in war-time Germany during WWII.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      “You’re hired! Here’s $12 million to write the script!”

      – Every studio executive reading this

    • Airmanzim

      You forgot that he has to play a musical instrument or a sport shockingly well.

      • xXGrizZ

        Perfect, lets explore that further; Lets make it so that because of his mental handicap he has always been unsuccessful of fulfilling his dream to becoming a world renowned Cellist but due to a side effect of the AIDS and his determination to evade the NAZI’s, his mind and abilities start to undergo a miraculous transformation of their cello playing skills.

        Lets keep this up guys, we will have an Oscar in no time.

        • Eric Rodman

          Except it would have be Syphilis or another STD if it were set during WWII.

          • xXGrizZ

            lol this is Hollywood, facts are irrelevant. Show me 1 ‘based on a true story’ Oscar bait movie that has ever been factual? It has to be AIDS or it will loose a major component. Vapid Hollywood actors can’t pat themselves on the back if the disease is something they have never heard of before. That reminds me, we are adding ‘Based on a true story’ to this brainchild.

          • joey buttafucco

            I think we’re onto a winner here. But most of all we need to heed multiple Academy Award winning actor Kirk Lazarus’ sage advice:

            “Dustin Hoffman, ‘Rain Man,’ look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho’. Not retarded. … You know Tom Hanks, ‘Forrest Gump.’ Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain’t retarded. … Peter Sellers, “Being There.” Infantile, yes. Retarded, no. … You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don’t buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, “I Am Sam.” Remember? Went full retard, went home empty handed.”

          • xXGrizZ

            Well if we learned anything from Tropic Thunder, it’s to NEVER go full retard. Our character will be retarded but the actor portraying him will only insinuate that he is, in fact, retarded.

    • LordDarque

      Close. 95% of movies are made for the money which is all Hollywood really cares about. The Oscars exist so they can pretend that Art matters. But this is not exactly new.

      • xXGrizZ

        Well duh… Our movie, however, is that movie that occupies the 5%. This is the movie that allows Hollywood to pat each other on the back and pretend that they are important. One that allows them to operate under the delusion that if the world to end, being an actor would qualify them for being a vital and necessary component and therefore, will not be diced up for food.

    • Jeremy J Szal

      Yep, that sound about right.

    • Abhishek

      You can also make him blind.

    • Abhishek

      HAHAHA. Nailed it!

  • Pingback: Bobby’s Buzz | Little Apple Post()

  • SloppyFrenchKisser

    Saving Mr. Banks was a wonderful film.

  • I really am the only one who saw Out Of The Furnace? What a crime.

    • Sheffield

      No, you’re not.

      • michael1968

        I have roamed the planet looking for others like me, jettle and sheffield.

    • Brett Lovejoy

      It’s okay, I’m here now.

  • Ted Wolf

    This is a great topic and a list that could be expanded ad infinitum.

  • Tobi

    Telling that a high number of films on here were from 2009, the first year of when the Academy changed the rules. What a forgettable year overall.

  • Sombit Mondal

    The good sheperd?

  • Bernardo Rapazote Flores

    The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? That’s exactly the same shit as saying that Days of Heaven or any other Malick’s flick hoped for oscars since the revenue is the same.

  • Miguel Valdez-Lopez

    Great list. Nice.

  • “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is so underrated and forgotten. It’s a masterpiece, in my opinion. And “The Road!” is amazing as well. People seem to have been uncomfortable with it because of it’s realism hitting too hard with the truth of what an apocalyptic scenario would probably be like.

  • Nancy Hall

    The Assassination of Jesse James… was far too odd to be Oscar bait. It was better than many of the films nominated for Oscars.

  • Bobby Calloway

    Joy seems like this year’s most blatant case. Technically a period piece (the 90s) and biopic, it also throws in the female empowerment flavour. But the only nomination it got was for Jennifer Lawrence.

  • Boris Georgiev

    Im kind of mad seeing the assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford in this list..

  • Bobby Calloway

    I remember Country Strong seemed like it was trying for Oscars. Troubled country singers usually make for good bait, not to mention a mentally ill female as the protagonist.


    I can’t believe I almost forgot the existence of that movie, what a forgetable film.