20 Recent Movies That Clearly Hoped For Oscars But Failed

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You know their type. Mockingly referred to as “Oscar bait,” these are the films that, from the first trailer (and sometimes even earlier), look like they were made for one reason and one reason only: to win golden, naked man-shaped statues. Featuring inspirational orchestral music, A-list talent, and the promise of tackling important hot-button issues, these are the kinds of films that are usually saved for end of year release and seem poised to dominate the national conversation come awards season… the operative word being “seem.” For without fail, every year there are projects that, despite promising appearances and growing anticipation, fail to live up to expectations, sometimes staggeringly so. For every The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave, there are, well, these movies.

The following are not all bad films, of course (though some certainly are), but, either due to their disappointing quality, stiff competition, or a combination of both, all failed to win a single Oscar (though as we will see, some garnered at least a nomination or two). The history of the Academy Awards is spotty at best when it comes to rewarding deserving films and performances, but sometimes, arguably, the Academy’s reluctance to go for the “bait” is more than appropriate.


1. The Majestic (2001)

The Majestic (2001)

The Bait:
• Directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile).
• Starred Jim Carrey, but in the same uncharacteristically serious mode he displayed in the critically-acclaimed The Truman Show.
• Period piece that dealt with the weighty issues of McCarthyism and blacklisting.

The Reaction: Too long and too sappy were the most common complaints, though few found fault with Carrey’s earnest performance. Though it was a movie that celebrates movies – something Hollywood and the Academy typically love – it simply lacked the power of Darabont’s two Stephen King adaptations and was more than heavy-handed in its treatment of the big issues central to its story.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 42%
Oscar nominations: Zero


2. Alexander (2004)


The Bait:
• Directed by Oscar-winner Oliver Stone.
• Period piece about one of the most famous historical figures of all time.
• Had a budget of $155 million (about $50 million more than Gladiator, as a point of comparison), implying a truly epic scale.

The Reaction: There are no less than FOUR VERSIONS of this film, and not even the freedom to take extra time to edit them all could salvage the product as a whole. Critics and historians were similarly merciless, taking issue with the film’s length, slow pacing, and uneven performances. Despite having all the hallmarks of the sword-and-sandal epic, Alexander ultimately fell short in virtually every way possible.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 16%
Oscar nominations: Zero


3. All the King’s Men (2006)

All the King’s Men (2006)

The Bait:
• Adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel whose 1949 film adaptation won Best Picture.
• The impressive cast (Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, etc.)
• Directed and co-written by multiple Oscar-nominee Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Awakenings)

The Reaction: Now this one had to hurt. In spite of all the talent involved, the film was a critical and commercial disaster. Derided as simultaneously over the top and dull, it failed to gross even $10 million… worldwide. To say that it wound up disappointing would be one of the biggest understatements of the year.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 11%
Oscar nominations: Zero


4. Bobby (2006)


The Bait:
• Premise focusing on a tragic and well-known recent historic event.
• Ensemble cast including Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Martin Sheen, William H. Macy, and more.

The Reaction: Despite featuring an all-star cast and the structure of great Robert Altman films like Nashville and Short Cuts, director Emilio Estevez’s final product turned out to be mediocre at best, and exploitative at worst. The presence of so many big name actors came off as distracting to many, rather than warranted by the thin script. Given the limited focus on RFK himself, one also could not be faulted for finding the title just a tad bit misleading.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 46%
Oscar nominations: Zero


5. The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)


The Bait:
• Period piece about an infamous historical figure.
• Starred Brad Pitt and the less famous (but still highly talented) Affleck brother.

The Reaction: It barely registered at the box office and is one of Brad Pitt’s lowest-grossing films to date, but critics were impressed, with many naming it one of the ten best films of the year. Its lengthy running time and similarly unconventional title likely put off potential viewers, and though it did end up getting a few well-deserved Oscar nominations, it was undoubtedly overshadowed by two films with similar settings released the same year: There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Oscar nominations: Two (Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography)


6. Lions for Lambs (2007)

Lions for Lambs (2007)

The Bait:
• Academy darling and previous winner Robert Redford at the directing helm.
• Serious premise about a real-life war still being waged at the time of the film’s release (and as of the writing of this list, sadly).
• Two words: Meryl. Streep.

The Reaction: Common complaints were that the film was preachy, dull, and had content better suited for the stage than the screen. Audiences seemed to concur, with this talky political drama earning only $15 million domestically.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27%
Oscar nominations: Zero