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Top 10 Failed Oscar-Bait Movies of 2016

27 December 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Justin Gunterman

The term “Oscar bait” essentially refers to any movie that seems aimed at the Oscar voting audience. Oscar voters love feel-good dramas with talented casts and critically acclaimed directors. Movies like The Danish Girl and The Help are wonderful examples of Oscar bait. In many cases, Oscar bait movies get the critical acclaim they desperately desire. In other cases, they fall short of expectations.

Failed Oscar bait refers to a movie that has its sight on Oscar glory but ultimately fails. Last year, one could consider movies like By the Sea and Concussion failed Oscar bait. This year, there are ten great examples of failed Oscar bait. Movies on this list desire to win at the Oscars, but they don’t do enough to earn Oscar attention.


10. The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation is actually a fairly solid film. Scoring a certified fresh 72% on Rotten Tomatoes, Nate Parker’s buzz-about movie was by no means a critical disaster, but there were numerous setbacks that destroyed the movie’s Oscar chances. Controversies revolving around the director’s personal life came to the attention right before the awards season started to kick in gear, which is perhaps the easiest crutch to spot, but there’s a bit more to it.

The Birth of a Nation has one other issue which is perhaps one that many forget amidst the rape accusations. The fact of the matter is that while Parker’s movie is very well done, it’s simply not as good as the competition. The Birth of a Nation is a well told biopic with lovely cinematography and great performances, but it doesn’t have the lasting impact of movies like Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea. Maybe if this were a weaker year, The Birth of a Nation could have posed some sort of threat.

There’s no place for The Birth of a Nation when this year has given us Hidden Figures and La La Land. Regardless of the accusations against the director, The Birth of a Nation would still fail to earn Oscar recognition. This doesn’t mean that it’s a bad movie but it does mean that there are ten movies that are better.


9. Denial


Denial has actually earned relatively positive reviews from critics, but it feels like a movie that should have been so much more. Revolving around a Holocaust denier who sues a renowned historian for libel, Denial seems like a juicy piece of courtroom drama that Oscar voters could easily fall in love with. Instead, it’s a well-done drama that falls just short of expectations.

Critics found that while the movie is more than capable of holding a viewer’s interest, it fails to live up to the potential of the story it’s based on. It’s an all around good movie, but that’s the extent of it. Denial is frequently engaging, but it never reaches the heights of other more compelling courtroom dramas.

The movie has been completely absent from every single precursor award. At this point, it’s chances at the Oscars are non-existent. Many believe that it’s still a movie worth watching, but they’ve concluded that it’s also not deserving of the awards it was likely aiming to compete for.


8. Allied

Last year, Zemeckis feel short of expectations with The Walk. While the movie earned great reviews, it was a financial disaster domestically. His next effort, the World War II romance flick Allied, unfortunately didn’t fare any better. It not only underperformed at the box office, but it received a significantly worse critical reception than his previous film.

A basic description of Allied paints the film as a serious Oscar threat. Allied is a World War II drama directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by the guy behind Eastern Promises, and starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. It could have been a great year for Zemeckis if the movie didn’t fall short of expectations.

Allied got decent reviews, but at the Oscars, “decent” usually doesn’t cut it. There are cases where a movie like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close can sneak in, but there are so many better movies this year that Allied doesn’t stand a chance. Considering how quiet people have been about the film post-release, it’s safe to say that the movie doesn’t stand a chance.


7. The Girl on the Train

Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train isn’t traditional Oscar bait in that it falls in a genre that the Academy tends to skip over. The difference is that it’s from the director of an Oscar-winning film, it’s based on a critically acclaimed book, and it has serious Gone Girl vibes. It very well could have gotten the Oscar attention that Gone Girl failed to receive two years ago if it were a decent movie. Unfortunately, The Girl on the Train stumbled.

Blunt earned critical acclaim for her performance, but the movie itself did not earn such acclaim. The general consensus was that the script was at fault. Critics found the film’s screenplay to be outlandish and predictable. Though the premise was considered promising, many believed that things only got more ludicrous as time went on. The finale in particular was considered groan-inducing.

The Girl on the Train is not the enchanting thriller it wants to be. It’s a mediocre movie that thinks it’s much smarter than it actually is. Prior to release, people pinned it as a possibly dark horse, but after reviews started popping up, the buzz immediately ceased.


6. Rules Don’t Apply

Everybody knows that the Oscars love movies about show business. Birdman, The Artist, and Argo all managed to win Best Picture in a span of four years. Only 12 Years a Slave was able to break up the monotony during that period. While this year’s big show business movie appears to be La La Land, there was another possible contender – Rules Don’t Apply. Along with the premise focusing on an aspiring actress and a flashy period setting, the movie had another ace up its sleeve.

The Academy loves a good comeback, and after a lengthy hiatus, Warren Beatty could have been the comeback kid this year. His performance received acclaim, but his work as a director and screenwriter didn’t earn the same kind of recognition. Critics seemed to point out that the movie had an identity crisis.

Basically, it didn’t quite work as a comedy but it also didn’t necessarily work as a drama. It was tonally inconsistent, and as a result, audiences left the movie feeling confused.

It also doesn’t help that the movie was forgotten immediately after release. It stayed in theaters for a pathetic 4 weeks and nobody has spoken of it since. It’s nowhere to be found in any of the precursor awards and critics have avoided speaking of it entirely shortly after its release. Not even Beatty has been able to make a name for himself as a Best Actor contender. In other words, Rules Don’t Apply is a lost cause.



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  • Bad Movie Drinking Game

    Peter Landesman didn’t directed Collateral Beauty, David Frankel did. Landesman directed Concussion.

  • Mortimer

    Unfortunately, sometimes Oscar bait wins some major awards – ‘The Revenant’ last year. Probably the baitiest movie in this decade. Alas.

    • Thomas d’Auteuil

      True, The Revenant was covered in blind praise for the hindrances the crew faced to make it happened. This can tell us a lot about the power of brainwashing.

      • tommyturner

        the Revenant was a great film. Cinematography was incredible and acting (especially Tom Hardy) was awesome.

        • Thomas d’Auteuil

          The Revenant was a good film, but far from being the masterpiece it could have been. I bet I could have made the story more gripping and the cinematography more evocative (although it’s very beautiful as it is). But that’s obviously gonna sound pretentious since I’m just a 19 yo nobody who doesn’t have an IMDB page yet lol. The fact it is put on such a pedestal rubs me the wrong way.

          • GriffKS

            It was just a remake of an old 70’s film, “Man In The Wilderness”.

      • I agree. After watching other Best Picture nominees, I actually grew to dislike The Revenant more. My chief problems with it were:

        1) Iñárritu’s direction is borderline self-indulgent. it’s grandiose to the point of grandstanding. Certain sequences veer dangerously close to ‘pretentious’. It’s a very straightforward survival/revenge flick at heart with amazing production values and highbrow pretensions, but the script wasn’t strong enough to really tackle all the themes that it wanted to, and thus its attempts at being ‘profound’ are frankly painful.

        2) More importantly, I just couldn’t get emotionally invested in anything happening. The characters were paper-thin and I could not get invest in them. People called Rey in Star Wars a Mary Sue but Hugh Glass is most certainly the male equivalent. Tom Hardy is essentially a one dimensional moustache-twirling villain, though he is elevated a lot by Hardy’s performance. Leo and the actor playing his son had no chemistry, so I couldn’t really get emotionally invested in Leo’s quest for revenge. Admittedly this is very subjective, but I’m still not sure what I was supposed to get out of it. It felt empty. Empty of emotional or thematic weight.

        • Thomas d’Auteuil

          I’m glad I finally found someone who understands how underwhleming this movie was despite the great imagery (beauty wise, but not meaning wise). What made the movie was the context in which it was made, the production hardships. If only they added another character who questioned this goddamn linear story and the ethical decisions that had no subtlety in the final movie…
          Plus, this movie had nothing going for it theme wise. To me, it feels like the greatest missed opportunity of the 21st century in cinema. The movie ended, so did my thoughts about it. I didn’t wrestle with it at all.

    • Rudi

      Great movie. Real adrenaline rush and magnificent cinematography.

      Birdman was real Oscar bait crap in my book though. So fake.

  • Abhishek

    IMHO, even Silence looks like a oscar bait albeit its not failed.

  • Will Smith received praise for Concussion? Come on! That was a terrible performance with a bad accent. I’m glad he’s starting to fail. I wanted to see Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk because of Ang Lee but then I saw the fucking trailer and I was like…. “oh shit”. Plus, he tried to go for something that was unnecessary with this fps bullshit.

    • tommyturner

      You saw the TRAILER? I guess you would judge a book by its cover.

      • Well, if you saw the trailer as I did. You’d also be nervous considering what it tries to do and say as it just left a bad taste in my mouth. I was hoping to be wrong when it came out but man… the critics slaughtered it and pretty much revealed everything I was dreading and more.

  • Rudi

    Collateral Beauty is a pretty good movie. The story is a bit cheesy (hey, it was Christmas…) but the excellent acting and fine cinematography make up for it.

  • sailor monsoon

    Denial is fantastic

  • Cátia Oliveira

    When i saw this list i imediatly thought of The light Between Oceans. It was directed by Derek Cianfrance, and it starred Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. Even the story itself seemed Oscar Bait-y. But it had mixed reviews and it hasn’t had any nominations

  • andrewklynsmith

    You missed pointing out the most obvious kind of Oscar-baiting: the virtue signalling movie.

  • Vincenzo Politi

    “There are cases where a movie like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close can sneak in”. I will never understand all the hate against that movie. I have noticed that most of the hate comes from the American audience, which deemed the movie too ’emotionally manipulative’ for its representation of 9/11. Even great American movie critics loose all their rationality when it comes to that movie and just go with their gut feelings. Yet, Hollywood has made so many ’emotionally manipulative’ movies, but it seems like American critics do not feel so much manipulated when a movie shows some tragedies which have occurred OUTSIDE the US. How interesting. In reality, all around the world many people simply loved Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: it is a marvellous picture, it is not so devilishly manipulative as many say, it is actually very delicate. Plus, that kid was a star! The movie deserved the nomination. And please, remember that Crash won for Best Picture in 2004: seriously, let’s put things in perspective!