Contrary to popular belief, Oscar bait is a pretty new phenomenon. Back in the day, studios had vague ideas about what voters were looking for, but the 2000’s were really when everyone started to specifically target awards season voters. They noticed patterns pertaining to the preferred genre, release date, and cast members. This allowed them to take advantage of voters and beat out more experimental movies that arguably deserved awards just as much.
This isn’t always the case though. Sometimes producers, directors, and actors come together to create an awards season darling only to fail miserably. Sure, some of the movies listed below managed to pick up a few nominations, but they failed to live up to the promise.
This is almost entirely due to the fact that they were critical punching bags that were beat out by more watchable Oscar bait movies. However, there are several reasons as to why the movies listed below failed.
It should also be noted that the voters of today are slowly starting to take risks and ignore the . For example, The Shape of Water and Get Out hardly seem like typical Best Picture competitors compared to movies like Stronger and Victoria and Abdul.
Somehow, the latter two movies were almost completely shut out while the former two earned countless nominations. Maybe in the future, Oscar bait movies will become extinct. For now, however, it’s important (and fun) to call out the biggest failures.
Amelia came and went completely unnoticed. To put it nicely, nobody really cared about it before it came out and nobody really cared about it after it came out. On paper, it was undeniable Oscar bait. Oscar winning actress? Check. Period setting? Check. Based on a historical figure? Check. Yep, this seems like a movie that would dominate at the Academy Awards, but nobody even paid attention to it upon its release. That’s probably because it was a legitimately bad movie.
A lot of movies on this list weren’t bad as much as they were just disappointing. The Soloist, for example, is a perfectly watchable movie with some noteworthy flaws. Amelia, on the other hand, is just flat-out not good.
For one, it shows viewers nothing that they couldn’t simply learn on Wikipedia. That would be fine if the most could at least tell the story in an interesting way, but it can’t. With robotic dialogue and a story that borrows from every biopic in the book, Amelia was a chore to sit through. Thankfully, voters recognized that and stayed far away.
9. The Monuments Men
That February release date should’ve been a warning sign, but it’s still hard not to put faith in a war film directed by and starring George Clooney. The Academy loves war, George Clooney, and ensemble casts, so what stopped them from falling in love with The Monuments Men? In theory, this should have been a slam dunk, but things don’t always go according to plan when it comes to blatant Oscar bait like this.
So let’s start with that February release date. Very few movies are able to sneak into the race with a release date that early. A movie needs to be more than just a forgettable drama with famous actors.
Sadly, that’s exactly what The Monuments Men was. It’s a movie that just doesn’t need to exist. It doesn’t have anything important to say, it’s not fun to watch, and the narrative is all over the place. Is it really a surprise that nobody could remember it almost a year later when people were required to vote?
8. I Am Sam
The love for movies about developmentally disabled people has slowly dwindled since the early 2000’s, but there was a time when those movies were guaranteed to earn Oscars.
Remember Forrest Gump? How about Rain Man? Those movies killed at the Oscars because they told inspirational stories about people who weren’t as fortunate as the average Joe. During this heightened level of popularity, Jessie Nelson thought it would be a good idea to throw Sean Penn into the mix and sweep the Oscars with I Am Sam. It didn’t work out according to plan.
While Sean Penn did earn a Best Actor nomination, the movie was widely ignored during awards season. It’s not a surprise considering the fact that this is a terrible excuse for cinema that borders on being downright offensive. It has good intentions, but the execution is so cringeworthy that it’s no wonder it was blasted by critics and audiences alike.
More casual viewers have been able to embrace the gross sentimentality, but everyone else left the movie feeling insulted by the blatant attempt to manipulate viewers. Oscar voters, like many other people, weren’t easily tricked.
Angelina Jolie was unable to direct a critically lauded movie until last year’s First They Killed My Father, which also failed to impress Oscar voters. Even though it took her four tries to finally make a great movie, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Unbroken in particular was supposed to. Pundits had it listed as a Best Picture frontrunner before the movie was even released. That’s probably because it checked off all the Oscar bait boxes. It was a war movie written by the Coen brothers featuring a character battling adversity. What’s not to love?
Apparently there was quite a bit not to love. Admittedly, Unbroken was more well-received than her directorial debut and the critically-demolished By the Sea, but it still scored below the threshold on review aggregating website.
Once again, that doesn’t mean everything considering the fact that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close managed to sneak into the race. However, given the mixed critical reaction and stiff competition, it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that Unbroken didn’t do all that well. It earned three Oscar nominations, but they were all in technical categories. Maybe Jolie’s time will come in the future.
6. The Lovely Bones
After directing a trilogy of films of Oscar winning films that are anything but Oscar bait, Peter Jackson decided to direct an Oscar losing that was clearly Oscar bait. The Lovely Bones is a supernatural drama about loss based on a bestselling novel that also happens to feature an all star cast.
The supernatural element doesn’t exactly scream “Best Picture winner,” but everything else, including the winter release date seems to point to the fact that this was meant to be a critical darling and awards season favorite.
Considering its inclusion on this list, maybe it’s clear that this didn’t happen. Considering the top notch cast, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the performances are all excellent. Critics were quick to note this, but that’s roughly where the praise ended.
Most folks found it to be a tonally uneven hodgepodge of unnecessary sentimentality. The novel may have earned critical acclaim, but Jackson’s adaptation left many people feeling unenthused. He went back to his Middle Earth roots shortly after, to equally middling results.