30 Academy Award Winners You Never Saw Coming

15. Best Supporting Actor 1991

Jack Palance City Slickers

Winner: Jack Palance – City Slickers

The Sure Thing: Tommy Lee Jones – JFK

Jack Palance was one of the greats of movie history. And with this win for a little comedy role he got his. But everyone knew this was a political move, and everything JFK that year was feeling the sure thing.


14. Best Actor 2000


Winner: Russell Crowe – Gladiator

The Sure Thing: Ed Harris – Pollock

Just like “Braveheart”, “Gladiator” turned out to be the surprise action winner of the year. But it was Harris’s turn as the brilliant but troubled artist that everyone felt was the deserved performance of the year.


13. Best Screenplay 1995

The Usual Suspects

Winner: Christopher McQuarrie – The Usual Suspects

The Sure Thing: Woody Allen – Mighty Aphrodite

Fan favorites are rarely winners. Woody Allen’s hit comedy was believed to be the sure winner for screenplay. But Christopher McQuarrie and his thriller accomplished more than anyone expected; beat the great Woody Allen film even when it’s one of his best outputs in years.


12. Best Supporting Actor 1995


Winner: Kevin Spacey – The Usual Suspects

The Sure Thing: Brad Pitt – 12 Monkeys, James Cromwell – Babe

The sleeper hit of the year, “The Usual Suspects”, did a fabulous job with two for two. But two veterans were there at the same time with both performances able to qualify for the award of merit. Brad Pitt, finally with a nomination for his much-praised off-the-wall performance for “12 Monkeys”, or veteran James Cromwell for his Farmer Hoggett role in the surprise beauty “Babe”, the talking pig movie.


11. Best Director 2009

Kathryn Bigelow

Winner: Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker

The Sure Thing: James Cameron – Avatar, Lee Daniels – Precious

Kathryn Bigelow came back strong with “The Hurt Locker”, which wasn’t the most highly regarded film of the year, but packed enough punch to get her on the list. But with that and the fact that no female director had ever won the statue, it was looking a little dark next to James Cameron’s newest epic “Avatar” or even the dark but brilliant urban story of “Precious”. But her years of being in the trenches paid off and she made history.


10. Best Picture 2009

The Hurt Locker

Winner: The Hurt Locker

The Sure Thing: Up in the Air

“The Hurt Locker” startled everyone by beating George Clooney’s drama about a flying efficiency expert.


9. Best Director 1995


Winner: Mel Gibson – Braveheart

The Sure Thing: Tim Robbins – Dead Man Walking

“Dead Man Walking” was the movie to beat this year. The devastating drama of death row inmate looking for salvation was an engrossing and beautiful film with “awards” written all over it. The Mel Gibson win blindsided everyone, very similar to a previous Oscar upset (see below) with another actor turned director win.