Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

10 Oscar Winners Who Won For The Wrong Film

by Oliver Lyttelton
February 11, 2014 3:40 PM
  • |
Terms Of Endearment

Shirley MacLaine
Total Nominations:
Six—five leading actress nominations, for "Some Came Running" (1958), "The Apartment" (1960), "Irma La Douce" (1963), "The Turning Point" (1977) and "Terms Of Endearment" (1983), plus a Documentary Feature nod in 1976 for "The Other Half Of The Sky: A China Memoir."
The Film She Won For:
"Terms Of Endearment," James L. Brooks' comedy-drama that proved to be an unexpected Oscar juggernaut, picking up eleven nominations and winning five, including Best Picture and acting prizes for MacLaine and co-star Jack Nicholson. The film is a fairly superior example of an unfashionable genre, and probably ranks in the upper tier of Brooks' spotty filmography (though "Broadcast News" obviously takes the top slot). MacLaine gets a lot to chew on, and satisfyingly underplays the material even when Brooks tips into sentiment, which is quite often. But the power of the film and the performance has been somewhat lessened over time by its many imitators and competitors (plus its unwelcome 1996 sequel "The Evening Star"). But ultimately, in retrospect, it doesn't much stand up among even MacLaine's subsequent work—her turns in "Postcards From The Edge," "Bernie" or even the undervalued "In Her Shoes" are eminently more nominatable. Not to mention...
The Film She Should Have Won For:
"The Apartment." Billy Wilder's picture is credited by some these days as inventing the manic pixie dream girl, but MacLaine's wondrous performance is far more complex than that. Few actresses have ever found the truth and pain of unrequited love, of despair, and of your life spiraling down the drain with as much lightness of touch or grace as MacLaine does here. Try to imagine the film without MacLaine and Lemmon, and you'll see why we think they both should have won.

The Color Of Money

Paul Newman
Total Nominations:
Ten in total, with one supporting nomination, for 2002's "Road To Perdition," one for Best Picture for "Rachel Rachel" in 1968, and eight in Best Actor, for "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" (1958), "The Hustler" (1961), "Hud" (1963), "Cool Hand Luke" (1967), "Absence Of Malice" (1981), "The Verdict" (1982), "The Color Of Money" (1986) and "Nobody's Fool" (1994). He also won an Honorary Award in 1986, and a Humanitarian award in 1994.
The Film He Won For:
"The Color Of Money," Martin Scorsese's 1986 sequel to one of Newman's best known roles, in "The Hustler" (which he was also nominated for). Seeing Newman reprise Fast Eddie is an undeniable pleasure, but the film, an unusually anonymous and workmanlike one from the director, isn't even the best performance the star gave as the character, let alone across his whole career. He's very good, obviously, but if you were going to give one of the all-time great movie stars only one award for acting, why would it be for this movie? (Though in fairness, it wasn't the most competitive year.)
The Film He Should Have Won For:
Almost any of the other nominations would have done, including "The Hustler" (which has much more for Newman to play with), but we'd either go for the effortless charisma and iconic presence of "Cool Hand Luke," or, if you're going to award late-era Newman, 1981's "The Verdict," where Newman takes David Mamet's phenomenal screenplay about a faded alcoholic lawyer and plays it like a symphony.

Scent Of A Woman

Al Pacino
Total Nominations:
Eight. Three in supporting—"The Godfather" (1972), "Dick Tracy" (1990) and "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992)—and five in lead, including "Serpico" (1973), "The Godfather Part II" (1974), "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975), "...And Justice For All" (1979) and "Scent Of A Woman" (1992).
The Film He Won For:
Hoo-hah! It was, of course, "Scent Of A Woman," which has become something of a byword for the kind of odd, sorry-we-didn't-do-this-earlier Academy decision that we're talking about in this piece. Martin Brest's film isn't bad, really, though it's way too long and somewhat inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. And Pacino is pretty good in it, and clearly having fun, even if it clearly marks the start of his descent into the Shouty Al persona that we all know today. It's far from Pacino's last great performance ("Carlito's Way," "Donnie Brasco," "The Insider" and "Insomnia" all were nomination-worthy), but to give him the award in the year of Denzel Washington's turn in "Malcolm X" (or, indeed, Robert Downey Jr. in "Chaplin" or Clint Eastwood in "Unforgiven," also nominated alongside him) was insanity.
The Film He Should Have Won For:
Bar "Dick Tracy" and "...And Justice For All," any of his other nominations are deserving, but "Dog Day Afternoon" is our absolute fave. Sure, it might have elements of Shouty Al, but for the most part, Sidney Lumet's masterpiece lets Pacino play beautifully against type, a sensitive and brave performance that's easily the most moving work he's ever put on screen. Still, he was up against winner Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," so it's at least understandable why he missed out.

Trip To Bountiful

Geraldine Page
Total Nominations:
Eight, with four for supporting including "Hondo" (1953), "You're A Big Boy Now" (1966), "Pete 'n' Tillie" (1972) and "The Pope Of Greenwich Village" (1984) and four for lead in "Summer and Smoke" (1961), "Sweet Bird Of Youth" (1962), "Interiors" (1978) and "The Trip To Bountiful" (1985).
The Film She Won For:
When he opened the envelope at the 1986 Oscar ceremony, F. Murray Abraham was clearly palpably delighted that he would get to read out Page's name, saying "I consider this woman the greatest actress in the English language," and with seven nominations without a victory, Page was certainly overdue, even if the actress was arguably better known as a Broadway star than in the movies. But the win is probably the only reason that "The Trip To Bountiful" is remembered at all. The adaptation of Horton Foote's play is sweet enough, and Page is great in it, but it's fairly dull and creaky stuff that never finds much of a reason to exist on screen. Page might have been the best of rather a quiet year, but there were definitely previous performances that were more deserving.
The Film She Should Have Won For:
Page's work in the two Tennessee Williams adaptations are fairly definitive, but we really love her as the depressed matriarch in Woody Allen's "Interiors." The bleak film, Allen's first drama, isn't the easiest watch, but at the very least has a superb cast, with Page first and foremost among them. It was a competitive field—Jane Fonda for "Coming Home" won, with Ingrid Bergman, Ellen Burstyn and Jill Clayburgh also nominated—so it's understandable that Page missed out, but it might have been a more fitting summing-up of her career than "The Trip To Bountiful."

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    


  • Brett | March 12, 2014 5:26 PMReply

    Martin Scorsese is my favorite director and I thought The Departed was my favorite of his, I thought Raging Bull was overrated

  • John | March 3, 2014 2:44 PMReply

    Ordinary People is.. cute, but Raging Bull is an American masterpiece, and at the very least should have gotten Martin his first directing Oscar.

    Gloria Swanson should have won for 'Sunset' not Davis for All About Eve. The others I agree with.

  • Get a clue, John | March 9, 2014 12:23 AM

    Ordinary People is cute????!!!! That is such a lowly belittling insult. It is an American masterpiece worthy of every award it was given. Although as has been stated Timothy Hutton should have been nominated and won for Best Lead Actor.

  • L | February 26, 2014 7:41 PMReply

    Ordinary People was amazing. If any award was given to the wrong person that year, it was Timothy Hutton in Supporting--he should've been in the Lead category, and he absolutely should have won.

  • Jake | February 26, 2014 1:41 AMReply

    I'm kinda sick that people say ordinary people was not worthy to win best picture, I recently saw it again and I don't think a movie has moved me as much as that did. Shirley MacLaine was very deserving for terms of endearment. Why not mention renee zellwegger and Penelope cruz who both won supporting oscars the following year for performances they were better in

  • Bob | February 20, 2014 9:58 PMReply

    Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe are two big ones that stand out. Crowe should have won for INSIDER and then BEAUTIFUL MIND and Denzel for HURRICANE.

  • jhpcine | February 20, 2014 5:00 PMReply

    I've just read your honorary mentions and I couldn't agree more... With the exception of James Cagney's inclusion! He was perfect in "Yankee Doodle Dandy"! One question, which film do you think should've earned his award to Robert Duvall?

  • jhpcine | February 20, 2014 4:33 PMReply

    Just some random thoughts: Julie Christie was awarded for "Darling" by academies (she won both the Oscar and the BAFTA) as well as by cirtics circles such as the National Board of Review and New York. The same with Shirley McLaine; she didn't just won the Oscar for "Terms of endearment", but the most important American film critics' awards: Los Angeles, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics and New York. As for Geraldine Page, I agree "The trip to Bountiful" isn't a great film, but Page's performance is great, don't you think? I love her in both Williams' films, but do you think she should've beaten Sophia Loren and Anne Bancroft?

  • Helgi | February 15, 2014 8:45 AMReply

    Stanley Kubrick. The fact that he never won an Academy Award for directing shows that it is just a popularity contest. A showcase for beautiful bubbles to shine for a day or two.

  • robin | February 14, 2014 11:00 AMReply

    The biggest omission is certainly Alfred Hitchcock. He is the most critically acclaimed director now (according to the sight and sound survey, 2012). But he never won an Oscar.

  • Dave's Deluxe | February 14, 2014 12:05 PM

    Now now, Oliver. "Snark" isn't very becoming of internet movie critic folks. I would assume it best to simply contribute to the mystique of the work and remain silent, and let us little people have our fun amongst you quick-witted giants.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | February 14, 2014 11:29 AM

    I'm used to people commenting without reading the article, but you might be the first person I've come across to leave a comment without even reading the headline.

  • blobbo | February 13, 2014 10:16 PMReply

    Fun article. One error: at the end of the piece about Carol Reed, it states that he lost the Best Director Oscar for "The Third Man" to Joseph L. Mankiewicz for "A Letter to Three Wives." In fact, he did lose to Mankiewicz for the 1950 awards, but it was when Mankiewicz won for "All About Eve." It was the year before that Reed -- nominated for "The Fallen Idol" -- lost to Mankiewicz for "A Letter to Three Wives." Also, it might just be semantics, but you state that "Odd Man Out" did not even receive a nomination. If you are specifically talking about Reed as director, that is correct, but the film did receive a nomination for Best Film Editing. "Body and Soul" starring John Garfield won that category. Personal opinion: as for the one and only magnificent Julie Christie, I'd choose "McCabe and Mrs. Miller." Heartbreaking and haunting performance.

  • DomizianoA | February 12, 2014 2:28 PMReply

    Oh my God: great article! But as usual the comments are angering me! We are talking about sublime legends like Julie Christie, and, most comments go over Jennifer Lawrence, or Amy Adams who was truly insipid in 'American Hustle' (i am sorry but she was, just not her role!),or Russell Crowe! People, it is just not about today! And just today! There were so many better movies, and so many dreamier stars back until the 1980's: in fact, those icons who are still alive, such as Christie, still works, and looks great (she was the best thing of "The Company You Keep" by FAR!!!), and, not like other thespians lately.. who have a decade, max!
    And, of course, there are still MacLaine, and the great Pacino, and there was Carol Reed who made a few memorable movies...
    Please, try to get back to the greater Cinema, at least once in a while!!! Goddammit!
    And, no i am not 70, i am barely 40.

  • Klamentyne | February 28, 2014 1:38 AM


  • Colin | February 15, 2014 2:35 PM

    Domizianoa , actually both the highly overrated Jennifer Lawrence & Amy Adams are insipid in American Hustle . I am still surprised that film and its performances received Oscar nominations .

  • Alex Carlson | February 12, 2014 10:07 AMReply

    I'd add John Mills to this list. He's a brilliant character actor who did brilliant work in films like GREAT EXPECTATIONS, but he wins the Oscar for his non-speaking role in RYAN'S DAUGHTER, a performance that basically consisted of making scared faces and running away from things.

    He should have won for HOBSON'S CHOICE, where he gives and incredibly honest comedic performance as the nervous future son-in-law of Charles Laughton's brash protagonist.

  • Jmclarosb | February 12, 2014 9:13 AMReply

    I'm surprised hot to see Russell Crowe on the list. He should have won for The Insider and/or ABeautiful Mind, not Gladiator

  • jimmiescoffee | February 12, 2014 12:29 AMReply

    'The Departed' is an almost perfect film. sorry.

  • Frank | February 26, 2014 5:17 PM

    No, The Departed is the exact opposite of perfect.

  • Kurskij | February 14, 2014 3:16 PM

    It is, but considering Scorsese directed it and it came out as an almost frame-by-frame by more bleak and (I hope it's not an IMHO) superior Internal Affairs, while it wasn't a surprise and was a relief that Scorsese finally got his due, it was disappointing that one of the very best directors of all time, one of the smartest and most respected men in Hollywood and, moreover, in the history of cinema, won for what was a terrific movie, but one clearly belonging amongst his lesser works.

    Only recently he admitted that some movie he made as bona fide favors to people he admires - and it seemed like he was talking about Departed and Wolf of Wall Street.

    Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and praised yet still underrated Casino are parts of cinema history to be studied, admired and cherished for as long as cinema lives.

    While Departed will always remain a powerful remake of a movie that truly f*cked with the genre in an the most astonishing ways.

  • Doon | February 12, 2014 3:22 PM

    Hear, hear!

  • gerard kennelly | February 12, 2014 1:34 AM

    the departed is a cartoon when you compare it to goodfellas or mean streets

  • K. Bowen | February 12, 2014 12:05 AMReply

    Is it too soon to say Jennifer Lawrence?

  • Colin | February 15, 2014 2:37 PM

    Agreed about Jennifer Lawrence . First , she was nominated over Marion Cotillard , and she won over Emanuele Riva and Naomi Watts. Talk about hilarious .

  • Sean | February 11, 2014 11:34 PMReply

    Personally, I think you guys don't know shit when it comes to MacLaine and her win with Terms.
    But other than that, I agree with everything else. Hell, I would even go with Scorsese and Aviator. Just not Departed.

  • Jorge Clooneigh | February 11, 2014 9:05 PMReply

    Why do I get the horrible feeling that Amy Adams will join this list come March after a surprise thieving of the trophy from the genius Cate Blanchett?

    Adams is so mediocre in American Hustle it would be insulting to her work in Junebug, The Master and many other performances to acknowledge her here.

  • Oogle monster | February 11, 2014 8:41 PMReply

    What about Colin Firth for A Single Man (instead of TKS), Jennifer Lawrence for Winter's Bone (instead of SLP), and Gwyneth Paltrow for absolutely nothing since her career is a joke and her Oscar win is a bigger joke (although she is borderline good in The Talented Mr Ripley)....

  • Kurskij | February 14, 2014 3:21 PM

    Firth gave a very nuanced performance in A Single Man - and TKS was for him what Gladiator was for Crowe and "Iron Lady" for Streep (also Pacino etc. etc.).

    "We feel bad, there ya go" Academy is the worst. And it looks like it's getting worse.

  • IJS | February 11, 2014 7:22 PMReply

    Denzel won for Training Day, but he should have won for Malcolm X. I must have pushed Al Pacino's win out of my mind.

    Whoopi Goldberg won for Ghost years after her Color Purple snub.

  • sam jackson | February 12, 2014 1:36 AM

    mark my words
    steve mcqueen WILL win best director
    and that loudmouth cu** spike lee will present it

  • Jorge Clooneigh | February 11, 2014 7:11 PMReply

    Why do I get the horrible feeling that Amy Adams will join this list come March after a surprise thieving of the trophy from the genius Cate Blanchett?

    Adams is so mediocre in American Hustle it would be insulting to her work in Junebug, The Master and many other performances to acknowledge her here.

  • Klamentyne | February 28, 2014 1:44 AM

    not gonna happen!

  • Cassie | February 11, 2014 5:55 PMReply

    Cher should have won for mask or silkwood not that silly accent in moonstruck

  • Truth | February 11, 2014 7:04 PM


  • BEF | February 11, 2014 4:28 PMReply

    Man, Ordinary People sure gets a short shrift from everyone. It's a good movie. Is Raging Bull better? Of course! But Ordinary People is no Crash awarding embarrassment ... it's just a good throwback melodrama without the Sirk colors. I wish people would pick on Costner more for "robbing" Scorsese.

  • Kurskij | February 14, 2014 3:24 PM

    Oh, damn, "Crash". The year when what looked like a lesser HBO movie won Best Picture.

    I'm still amazed what happened there.

  • brad pitt54321 | February 12, 2014 1:42 AM

    goodfellas is 5 stars amazing
    but so is dances with wolves
    on the big screen Dances With Wolves would make goodfellas look like a tv show
    the average academy member is 62
    of course they preferred an epic western instead of
    stomach turning foul language and violence

  • Andrew | February 11, 2014 4:25 PMReply

    A more recent trend has been awarding someone in an acting field for an inferior performance to one they gave the year prior. Colin Firth deserved Best Actor for A Single Man, not The King's Speech.

  • cattt | February 11, 2014 4:23 PMReply

    They could've swapped the best actor winners from 2010 and 2011. Jeff Bridges should've won for True Grit and Colin Firth should've won for A Single Man. It went the other way around.

  • Kurskij | February 14, 2014 3:26 PM

    Crowe should have one for Insider (not to start and argument of course) - a quiet, immensely powerful performance from an actor who is considered burly and "walking the line".

  • soup per man | February 12, 2014 1:47 AM

    @ CATTT

    Russell Crowe should've won for a beautiful mind

    he did till he beat up the bafta producer
    and the ocars were playing politics that night
    halle berry
    same PC garbage that went on the night they gave best actor to penn instead or rourke
    and hanks instead of Thewlis who wasn't even nominated

  • tom cruise 12345 | February 12, 2014 1:44 AM

    pitt and Clooney should have been nominated for tree of life and ides of march instead of moneyball and descendents

  • Jorge Clooneigh | February 11, 2014 9:38 PM

    SO TRUE. I have thought this for a while too. Firth is superb in A Single Man. He is the best thing about The King's Speech, granted, but it is clearly inferior to the former.

    Likewise, Jeff Bridges is fine in Crazy Heart yet it was kind of ridiculous to see the Academy freak out thinking "oh, crap he's getting old - let's give him an Oscar before he dies!", when they could have waited a year.

  • Jorge Clooneigh | February 11, 2014 7:05 PM

    SO TRUE. I have thought this for a while too. Firth is superb in A Single Man. He is the best thing about The King's Speech, granted, but it is clearly inferior to the former.

    Likewise, Jeff Bridges is fine in Crazy Heart yet it was kind of ridiculous to see the Academy freak out thinking "oh, crap he's getting old - let's give him an Oscar before he dies!", when they could have waited a year.

  • cattt | February 11, 2014 4:26 PM

    Also: Russell Crowe should've won for The Insider or A Beautiful Mind instead of Gladiator.

  • serena | February 11, 2014 4:08 PMReply

    A lot of great classic actors won for the wrong film. Henry Fonda should've won it for GRAPES OF WRATH, Humphrey Bogart won for THE AFRICAN QUEEN but his greatest performance was the previous year in IN A LONELY PLACE, I'd even argue that Gary Cooper's first Oscar was the right year for the right director, but the wrong film: BALL OF FIRE has aged so much more gracefully than SERGEANT YORK, both released in 1941 and directed by Howard Hawks.

  • Milano | February 11, 2014 4:04 PMReply

    James Stewart won for "The Philadelphia Story" and should have won the year before for "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Joan Fontaine won for "Suspicion" and should have won the year before for "Rebecca."

  • serena | February 11, 2014 4:11 PM

    With respect to Stewart, Robert Donat is pretty marvelous in GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS which won Best Actor in the crowded year of 1939. For me Stewart's crowning achievement is IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, a beautiful performance he has to carry on his lithe back. Either way, his Capra films allowed for better acting than THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.

    For what it's worth, the best film and performance Joan Fontaine featured in was LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN.

  • T | February 11, 2014 3:58 PMReply

    Goodfellas Vs. Dances with wolves....

    now on which universe is the latter deserving over the former?

  • RTO | February 25, 2014 2:03 PM

    Loved, and still love, Dances With Wolves. I rarely re-watch a movie a second time, and have seen this just twice, but remember it sooooo fondly. It's been at least a decade since the last viewing, so this has reminded me it's time to see it again.

  • Julieanne | February 14, 2014 1:33 AM

    To be honest - Dances with Wolves. I think Goodfellas is a bloody good film HOWEVER I just love the romance and optimism of Dances. And I think Kevin Costner is a spunk!

  • goodfellas is mafia disgusting propaganda | February 12, 2014 1:49 AM

    which movie would you rather watch in a cinema right now ?
    be honest

Email Updates