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10 Actors Who Won Oscars For The Wrong Film

29 February 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Nicholas Brady

actors oscar wrong movie

With the Oscar rush finally dying down, many are left relieved at the recent best actor winner, whilst some appalled at the best picture. Despite the right winner the right year this time around, there have been numerous occasions audiences’ up-cry has been heard at other Oscar ‘snubs’.

Although many actors that should have won have never won (Fassbender’s incredibly performance in ‘Shame’ being the most recent of these), there have been many times where an actor’s win seems underwhelming, acting more like an apology for not receiving the acclaim for another film years before or after. This is a list of these performances.


10. Robin Williams for “Good Will Hunting”

Should have won for “The Fisher King”

Good Will Hunting (1997)

Robin Williams is unquestioningly as great a performer as he is a comedian. Although his praise was sung for “Good Will Hunting”, it was Terry Gilliam’s depressing turned hilarious comedy-drama “The Fisher King” which shocked audiences with just how good a drama performer Robin Williams was.

Jeff Bridges is a self-indulgent radio host turned manic depressant after incidentally incurring a mass murder suicide. When he comes across a homeless man searching for the Holy Grail, he is roped into aiding the man after discovering the mass-murderer he incited killed the homeless man’s wife.

Robin Williams blends a masterful performance of drama and comedy as the homeless Parry on a search for the Holy Grail, the fisher king and later companionship.

Although not a performance as powerfully chilling as Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector which took the Oscar that year, Robin had far more screen time and was the powerhouse performer of another great film somewhat forgotten in the storm that was “Silence of the Lambs” that same year.


9. Jack Lemmon for “Save the Tiger”

Should have won for “The Apartment”

Save the Tiger

An accomplished actor throughout the ages, Jack Lemmon was a prominent face through the continual development of cinema and certainly has not been forgotten for the masses. Now both performances listed were good performances, but “The Apartment” argues one of the best actor character synergies in cinema.

In “The Apartment”, Lemmon is an ambitious insurance company worker desperate to get up higher in his company, so he lends his apartment out to his employers for ‘private affairs’. When things become messy, he becomes desperate and his ambition is brought head to head with his own passion.

Lemmon gives an incredible turn and his performance is outstanding, as if the character was written for him. Lemmon embodies his character’s entirety without ever dropping a line or character on screen, this is a true performance for the decade.

The film’s impact on modern audiences is limited, with Lemmon dealing with the destruction of his dreams, he becomes bitter and searches for an escape. Not to be mistaken as a weak performance, Lemmon is never a weak performer, but the film itself is often lacking and one noted, dragging Lemmon down with it.


8. Henry Fonda for “On Golden Pond”

Should have won for “Grapes of Wrath”

On Golden Pond (1981)

Henry Fonda’s career is one of the longest and most successful of the golden age actors. With a film like “12 Angry Men” being just the tip of the iceberg for the brilliance that lays beneath and having a career that carried him from the 40’s all the way to his death in 1982, no one could argue Henry Fonda will ever be forgotten.

As Norman Thayer, Henry’s final role was the husband to Ethel Thayer (Katherine Hepburn in her fourth academy award winning role) whose dementia slowly sends him into senility, it was an incredibly moving performance however, felt to many as compensation for his first nomination exactly 40 years before.

“Grapes of Wrath” is a staple film of the golden age of cinema and one of the first 25 films ever chosen for preservation details a depression-era family out of work, struggling to find employment as wanderers.

As far as performances of the time go, Henry Fonda as Tom Joad rivals the best of Brando and Dean, with “Grapes of Wrath” acting as a cornerstone for realism in cinema and novel adaptations, the idea that Henry was robbed of the award when the winner that year’s performance has all but faded into distant memory seems shocking in the modern eye.


7. Sean Penn for “Milk”

Should have won for “Dead Man Walking”


Although receiving well deserved Oscar glory for “Mystic River”, Sean Penn nabbed his second academy award for a performance, although deserving, which was not the greatest performance of its year.

As Harvey Milk, the first openly gay official ever elected, Sean Penn was both humorous and compelling, but it was Mickey Rourke as Randy ‘the Ram’ in Darren Aranovsky’s “The Wrestler” which caused audiences to become equally moved, horrified, entertained and shocked. Winning both the BAFTA and the Golden Globe, Mickey Rourke was thought to almost have guaranteed the win, even Sean Penn was surprised when he stood up on stage.

In “Dead Man Walking”, Sean Penn played a man on death row whose sudden realisation that he is going to die brings him to seek the compassion and forgiveness of a nun (Susan Sarandon).

People didn’t see Sean Penn’s dead eyes and cold face staring at them from behind the silver screen, they saw Matthew Poncelet in a brilliant character drama between two brilliant actors.

Although losing to one of Nicolas Cage’s performance in “Leaving Las Vegas”, his performance was incomparable to the chilling yet saddening performance of a bad man destined to die, trying desperately to receive absolution before he goes.


6. Jeff Bridges for “Crazy Heart”

Should have won for “Starman”

Crazy Heart (2009)

Whether you know him as the loveable stoner or not, everyone recognises Jeff Bridges from somewhere or another. With one of his first nominations for “Starman”, Bridges has had many more nominations since, although arguably his least deserving nod was his first and only win. In “Crazy Heart” Bridges plays a washed up alcoholic singer (the cliché troubled folk singer) who establishes a relationship with a reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) which transforms him into a better man.

Yes, the film is campy although strong performances are all around (even from Colin Farrell), it felt more like an acknowledgement of Bridges career-long stream of great performances rather than a gift for his latest academy nod.

In Starman (a far more unique film), Bridges plays the alien who sought communication with the earth after being shot down, he is forced to enter society. The film raises many themes, xenophobia and multi-culturalism primarily, but it is the interesting and strange relationship established between the ‘Starman’ and Jenny (Karen Allen) that drives this brilliantly original piece.

Although he didn’t take home the award, Bridges garnered dozens of nominations following this, although none really hit the same mark, all of which were still worthy of the award, except perhaps the win he got it for.



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  • Allister Cooper

    I agree with Denzel’s win on Training Day, he should have won for Malcolm X or something else… As for Russell, he’s better off playing leaders and villains instead of victims, so my vote goes for his performance in – if it counts – Romper Stomper or even Master and Commander.

  • Ron Harris

    Jeremy Irons wins for Reversal of Fortune, should have won for Dead Ringers.

    • Allister Cooper

      Dead Ringers was a creepy film :). Jeremy Irons is good in just about any of his movies.

  • Rohit Nath

    Bogart actually should’ve won for The Treasure of Sierra Madre!

  • sailor monsoon

    Colin firth won for the king’s speech.
    He should’ve won for a single man.

    • Elke Damm

      I fully agree.

  • docksidelee

    One could argue that Pacino and De Niro could have swept all major awards in the ’70’s and it would been well justified. Having said that, I agree, Jeremy Irons in “Dead Ringers”. Unfortunately, horror and sci-fi seem to have no standing amongst Academy voters…

  • docksidelee

    Apologies…”would HAVE been well justified”.

  • William

    Haha. Hilarious. Right after the oscars in which Leonardo finally grabs one, totally for the wrong movie. And the revenant doesn’t get included. Big miss.

    • Cesáreo

      Totally agree! Although The Revenant is a great movie, Leo’s performance in it wasn’t among his best.

    • Maximo

      Agree. Should have won for Blood Diamond or The wolf of Wall Street

  • eneru

    Bridges should have won for his ICONIC performance in the big lebowski and crowe’s performance in Gladiator is a timeless one. Get real dude.

    • Donald MacMelville

      Or Fearless

  • Klaus Dannick

    I guess this is just about male actors. Whoopi Goldberg winning for Ghost (and not The Color Purple) has always puzzled me. Otherwise, solid choices on this list.

  • Brandon Thompson

    Alicia Vikander for Ex Machina over The Danish Girl. If she had have won for Ex Machina it would actually be a supporting performance.

    • Iván Solorio (SanS)

      couldn’t agree more.

  • Guajolotestyle

    Crowe won for Gladiator because they wanted to make up for not awarding him for The Insider. A Beautiful Mind is as overrated as American Beauty. Typical sentimental crap from Ron Howard that ignores the real man John Nash was.

  • Unkle Amon

    Denzel nailed it in Training Day, as he did in The Flight. Both better than in Malcolm X imo.

  • Elke Damm

    Alicia Vikander in “Ex Machina” over “The Danish Girl”. Her performance in “The Danish Girl” was good, but really not excellent, as the movie was very unexceptional.

  • fantail31

    The biggest token Oscar win was Paul Newman for Colour Of Money. He should have won it for either: Cool Hand Luke, The Verdict or The Hustler.

  • Susan Sarandon for “Lorenzo’s Oil”; Kate Winslet for anything but “The Reader”; Leonardo DiCaprio for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”.

  • Ozhan

    Malcolm X is a brilliant film can’t say anything about it. But Training Day? Man, that was a simple role on the script but Denzel took it another level -god level actually- and gave us a brilliant show on the screen. His Training Day performance definitely deserved an oscar.

  • FilippoMB

    Kate Winslet for “Revolutionary Road”, instead of “The Reader”.

    • Maximo

      Good. But she was fantastic in The Reader too. Maybe she deserves both.

      • She should have been nominated for Supporting Actress in THE READER…it was one of those performances that could have fit into either category. I also feel like she only won that year because she had been nominated so many previous times and the Academy thought she was overdue. She gave a neater performance in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD & I’m unsure why they decided to nominate her for THE READER instead…

  • Ted Wolf

    The oscars are notorious for dispensing lifetime achievements to deserving folks under the guise of a single performance. There are far more examples of this, John Wayne, Jack Lemmon, David Niven, and more.

  • Reinerr Nuestro

    Dame Judi Dench for Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown. Not Shakespeare in Love.

  • Susan Sarandon should have won for Lorenzo’s Oil instead of for Dead Man Walking which I loved too…

  • Allister Cooper

    Russell Crowe, IMHO, should have won for either Master and Commander, or even American Gangster, as he is far more suited to playing a leader than a victim.

  • Alan Michael Scott

    Should have won for The Departed, Shutter Island, Django Unchained or The Wolf of Wall Street

    • Maximo

      Blood Diamond is his best performance…it’s only my opinion.

  • feast for

    Was expecting Leo DiCaprio for Revenant and I am dissapointed is not here.

  • DyanSwan

    Al Pacino was also excellent in Sea of Love.