The 15 Greatest Hollywood Directors Who Never Won an Oscar

8. Sam Peckinpah

Though it’s hardly surprising that the Academy never handed the Best Director award to Peckinpah as his films tended to push the boundaries of the depiction of violence in cinema and subverted traditional genres, most notable the western.

As well as this Peckinpah’s films generally dealt with the conflict between values and ideals, and the corruption of violence within human society. He was given the nickname “Bloody Sam” owing to the violence in his films. His characters are often outsiders who attempt to remain admirable and principled, but are forced to compromise in order to survive in a world of nihilism and brutality. These are hardly themes that the Academy is known for honouring.

But Peckinpah’s films are masterpieces in their own right. Many will point to The Wild Bunch as being one of, if not the greatest western of all time. It is notable for its rapid editing, multiple levels of staging and use of slow motion that were revolutionary at the time. But despite the masterful direction Peckinpah was only nominated in the best screenplay category and that was to be his only nomination from the Academy in his entire career.

That snub alone would be enough to get frustrated but Peckinpah was far from a one trick pony. He would also bring forth amazing films like Straw Dogs, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Pat Garret and Billy the Kid. But once again they were all just too controversial and boundary pushing for the academy to recognise, as is the case with numerous films depicting violence. Though he was never honoured by the Oscars, Peckinpah’s legacy lives on.

Nominated For: Nothing

Should Have Won For: The Wild Bunch (1969)


7. Cecil B DeMille

“Alright Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up”. The iconic final line from Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard is just one of the reasons why DeMille will forever be remembered as an icon of cinema. He is acknowledged as a founding father of the Hollywood film industry (if you think that is an exaggeration then know that his first film The Squaw Man was the first feature film to ever be shot in Hollywood), and the most commercially successful producer-director in cinema history.

He was honoured by the Academy twice for his work with the honorary Irving G. Thalberg award for his producing and later received an award when The Greatest Show on Earth won Best Picture. The Greatest Show on Earth is regularly regarded as the worst film to win the award, which is a shame as there are many other worthier films for which DeMille should have been recognised for his role as director.

DeMille was criticised for valuing spectacle over genuine storytelling, so many do not see his deprival of a Best Director Award as a major travesty, but he is such a significant and important figure in Hollywood that it does seem like a notable absence. His career ended with the spectacular biblical epic The Ten Commandments that is undoubtedly worthy of recognition for its stunning visual spectacle and sheer scale alone.

Nominated For: The Greatest Show on Earth (1953)

Should Have Won For: The Ten Commandments (1956)


6. Sidney Lumet

Few filmmakers have a career as versatile and robust as Sidley Lumet. His directing did not necessarily lend itself to awards recognition as it was what many would refer to as ‘invisible directing’, it was not built upon any established or rigid technique, he simply found the best method from which to tell the story and present it to the audience.

He was considered to be Hollywood’s most prolific director, on average directing one movie a year from his directorial debut 12 Angry Men in 1957 to his final film in 2007 Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.

As well as his nomination for 12 Angry Men, Lumet also got nods for his other courtroom drama The Verdict as well as the crime drama Dog Day Afternoon and the satirical masterpiece Network. Not winning for network stands out as a missed opportunity, as good as Rocky is when was the last time you heard someone say the directing was their favourite aspect of it.

Lumet was a rare director who never stopped to ask whether the events depicted in his films were right or wrong, but whether they felt genuine. Actors such as Sean Connery, Faye Dunaway Paul Newman, Katherine Hepburn, Al Pacino and Henry Fonda all described him as an actor’s director who knew how to work up close with his performers and found the best possible way to capture the humanity of his movies and actors have consistently turned in some of their most outstanding performances under his direction.

It’s not just actors that praise him either, commenting upon Lumet’s lack of an Oscar Spike Lee said “his great work lives on with us forever. Much more important than Oscar.”

Nominated For: 12 Angry Men (1957), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), The Verdict (1982)

Should Have Won For: Network (1976)


5. Orson Welles

The obvious snub here is of course Citizen Kane, frequently cited as the greatest film of all time, Welles’ first feature film is also regarded as hi undisputed masterpiece. Yet is lost both Best Picture and Best Director to John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley even though it is fair to say that no other film advanced cinema more than Citizen Kane, with its deep focus cinematography, multiple levels of staging, dramatic lighting, varied camera heights and non-linear structure.

It is hard to offer an argument for a film that is more worthy of being honoured with a Best Director Oscar and it’s difficult to pick one from Welles’ filmography. Despite Citizen Kane only growing in influence as time passed the director never achieved the same level of freedom again, as he struggled for creative control from the major film studios, and his films were either heavily edited or remained unreleased.

However a few masterpieces still emerged from his career, such as Touch of Evil (which frankly, deserves an Oscar for that opening shot alone) and The Magnificent Ambersons. But both films were changed and edited by the studio to such an extent that it’s a safe bet to say that Welles would probably decline such an award.

The Lady form Shanghai and Chimes at Midnight are also excellent films but ultimately it comes down to Citizen Kane, one only need look at the films made before and after the masterpiece to understand its influence.

Nominated For: Citizen Kane (1941)

Should Have Won For: Citizen Kane (1941)


4. Stanley Kramer

Kramer is responsible for making many of the centuries most famous message movies, as an independent director and producer, he brought attention to topical social issues that most studios avoided at the time.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s in particular, Kramer touched on many sensitive subject such as fascism, nuclear war, greed, racism and even creationism vs evolution. His films received a staggering 80 Academy Award nominations and won 16, with Kramer himself being nominated nine times, three of which were for best director.

The same year that he was nominated for Judgement at Nuremberg he also received the Irving G. Thalberg honorary Oscar for his work as a producer. That only makes it more remarkable that he never received another Oscar as he spent the subsequent decades crafting films that challenged social convention and tackled relevant cultural issues. His nominations also include The Defiant Ones and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner which are both frequently acknowledged as classics.

But Kramer extended his talents into various genres and was never afraid to be ground breaking with the issue he undertook and addressed as seen with On the Beach and Inherit the Wind.

What could have been a simple comedic farce Kramer turned into a subtle allegory for all consuming greed with It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. His influence was so great that Steven Spielberg would describe him as “one of our great filmmakers, not just for the art and passion he put on screen, but for the impact he has made on the conscience of the world.”

Nominated For: The Defiant Ones (1958), Judgement at Nuremburg (1961), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1968)

Should Have Won For: The Defiant Ones (1958)


3. Robert AltmanFrom one perspective it is surprising that Altman was never awarded an Oscar as he is one of few directors whose films have won the Golden Bear at Berlin, the Golden Lion at Venice, and the Golden Palm at Cannes yet none of his films even one Best Picture, let alone earned an award for the director himself. But on the other hand, Altman’s exclusion can hardly be considered shocking, as Altman developed a reputation for being “anti-Hollywood” and non-conformist in both his themes and directing style.

Altman’s style of filmmaking was unique among directors, in that his subjects covered most genres, but with a “subversive” twist that typically relies on satire and humour to express his personal vision and would often be presented in a highly naturalistic way but also retained a sense of sense of stylisation within their perspective. Though he was given an honorary Oscar in 2006 he died just months after receiving the award.

There are countless movies for which he could have won the award and was nominated for numerous projects, from the epic scale of Nashville to the dry and satirical nature of MASH. He was also nominated for the biting satire of Hollywood The Player, as well as Short Cuts and Gosford Park. Films of Altman’s that weren’t nominated include the likes of 3 Women, McCabe and Mrs Miller and A Wedding, yet still no Oscar.

Nominated For: MASH (1970), Nashville (1975), The Player (1992), Short Cuts (1993), Gosford Park (2001)

Should Have Won For: Nashville (1975)


2. Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick was another visionary, a director whose films are held as the work of a meticulous perfectionist who valued the depth and meaning behind the image more than anything else. He crafted his films down to the tiniest detail and displayed such a versatility with his work that transcended almost every genre as he experimented in science fiction, comedy, epics, horror, crime and war.

Though Kubrick directed just 13 feature films nearly all of them are worthy of recognition and the impeccable direction of Kubrick shines through in every one of them.

Kubrick was nominated on numerous occasions for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon but lost to the likes of George Cukor for My Fair Lady and Carol Reid for Oliver, neither of which comes anywhere near to the craftsmanship of Kubrick’s movies. Kubrick did take home one Oscar for the special effects of 2001 but as effects supervisor Douglas Trupbell said “Kubrick did not create the visual effects, he directed them”.

The movies that Kubrick directed are said to be some of the most significant contributions to world cinema, a demanding perfectionist, he assumed control over most aspects of the filmmaking process, from direction and writing to editing, and took painstaking care with studying his films and staging scenes, working in close coordination with his performers and other collaborators.

He often asked for several dozen retakes of the same scene in a movie, which resulted in many conflicts with his casts. But despite this extensive effort, the Academy never sought to honour him in the field of directing.

Nominated For: Dr Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975)

Should have Won For: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)


1. Alfred Hitchcock

It is hard to imagine that what many people would call the most influential director of all time was never honoured by the Academy for directing. It’s almost inconceivable to imagine him never receiving the award, having been praised by so many publications as the greatest auteur in cinema history.

Hitchcock’s earned his title as the Master of Suspense purely through the brilliance of his directing, the visceral tension he raised and constant human connection made his films a unique experience that have only gown in stature and appreciation as time has passed.

Only one Hitchcock film won Best Picture, but the Best Director award of that year went to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath. While that itself is hardly what people would call a huge miscarriage of justice, the fact that he went on to be nominated for Lifeboat, Spellbound, Rear Window, Psycho and still not win is indeed a travesty as they were all impeccably crafted and highly experimental thrillers.

That isn’t even taking into account the notion of how he wasn’t even nominated for classics such as North by Northwest, Vertigo, The Birds or Notorious all of which were equally brilliant.

It seemed that by 1968, with Hitch nearing the end of his lengthy career the Academy seemed desperate to give him some kind of recognition now that the opportunity to hand the director an actual Oscar had passed. He received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award but even that was officially in recognition of his work as a producer rather than a director.

Nominated For: Rebecca (1940), Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), Rear Window (1954), Psycho (1960)

Should Have Won For: Psycho (1960)