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And the Oscar Goes to the Wrong Best Picture – Top 10 Blunders in Oscars History

by Scott Kacsmar
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Pulp Fiction

The 96th Academy Awards are approaching on March 10, 2024, and the top prize is always the Oscar for Best Picture.

Many of the greatest films of all time have been bestowed with this most prestigious award, including Casablanca, The Godfather, The Silence of the Lambs and Schindler’s List.

The favorite for Best Picture this year is Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. Whether you have a personal preference for another film, such as Killers of the Flower Moon or The Holdovers, it would be hard to argue Oppenheimer as a bad choice for Best Picture for the year 2023.

Sometimes, there are some really good films nominated in the same year, and even if you prefer a different one from the winner, you still feel like the choice is justified. For example:

1957: 12 Angry Men is an important classic, but it’s hard to argue with The Bridge on the River Kwai.

1971: A Clockwork Orange is hard to turn your eyes away from, but The French Connection is essential viewing as well.

1975: Jaws is timeless and set the standard for all shark movies that has never been met since, but One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is Jack Nicholson at his best.

2007: There Will Be Blood was an amazing performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, but No Country for Old Men is extremely rewatchable as well.

Award shows for art are subjective in nature. Still, that doesn’t mean the voters don’t sometimes make a choice that the consensus would strongly disagree with. Looking back at the first 95 Oscars, there have been quite a few egregious choices for the show’s top award. I say this as someone who has watched 572 of the 600 Best Picture nominees since 1927 (95.3%).

When we talk about the top 10 Oscar blunders at Best Picture, we don’t mean that moment at the 89th Oscars in 2017 when they mistakenly announced La La Land was the winner before getting it right with Moonlight.

So, before going into the major awards betting sites for the 96th Academy Awards, we are talking about the top 10 times at the Oscars where the Best Picture went to the wrong picture.

One thing we will not include are snubs of movies that were not even nominated for the Best Picture Oscar that year. Yes, it is annoying how underrepresented Alfred Hitchcock’s classics were, or that even with an expanded field in the last two decades, films like The Dark Knight (2008), Prisoners (2013) and Nightcrawler (2014) were not nominated.

Honorable Mentions

Before we get started with our top 10, here are some honorable mentions for other snubs at the Oscars for Best Picture:

1932-33: Cavalcade was an incredibly poor choice over I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (highly recommended).

1952: A meandering take on the circus, The Greatest Show on Earth had no business beating out the Gary Cooper-led Western classic High Noon.

1964: I’ll try to hold back my contempt for most musicals, but My Fair Lady did not deserve to beat out Stanley Kubrick’s satirical classic Dr. Strangelove with Peter Sellers.

1980: Ordinary People is an excellent drama, but Raging Bull and The Elephant Man were two of the greatest films ever made by visionary directors Martin Scorsese and David Lynch and featured career-enhancing roles for Robert De Niro and John Hurt.

2010: No offense to Best Actor winner Colin Firth, but The King’s Speech did not need to beat out The Social Network, which actually deserves a sequel given what we now know about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s conflicted role in society.

2014: Never understood the hype over Birdman as Whiplash was clearly a better film.

2020: I’ll die on the hill that Nomadland does not hold a candle to Sound of Metal.

Note: There may be some spoiler alerts below, but you’ve had many many years to see a lot of these films. Get to it.

10. The Night Social Media Would Have Flipped If It Existed (2005)

  • The Best Picture Winner: Crash
  • The Real Best Picture: Munich
  • The Other Acceptable Choice: Capote

While it was only in 2005, it is hard to see this ballot playing out the way it did if the vote was held today.

Crash was a controversial film upon release for its handling of racial issues in America. Some would argue it was a clumsy meditation on race at best.

Its upset win over a field that included movies centered around homosexuality (Brokeback Mountain, Capote), McCarthyism (Good Night, and Good Luck), and a terrorist event (Munich) would not go over well in today’s society, especially on social media.

Crash is still watchable, but Munich is really the hidden gem here as it’s one of Steven Spielberger’s most underrated films. It is inspired by the Black September terroristic attack at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, and then the aftermath of a team of Mossad agents acting out of revenge on the terrorists.

It is a dark, epic story not for the faint of heart with excellent performances from Eric Bana and Daniel Craig.

That would be my pick for Best Picture that year, and the Capote biopic about the eccentric writer also would have been a good choice as that is one of the best performances of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s career.

9. It’s Not Your Fault, Rose. You Shouldn’t Have Won (1997)

  • The Best Picture Winner: Titanic
  • The Real Best Picture: L.A. Confidential
  • The Other Acceptable Choice: Good Will Hunting, As Good as It Gets

Look, I get it. Titanic was certainly a movie-going event in 1997.

I was there as an 11-year-old kid at the theater who badly had to use the restroom after its 3-hour runtime finally ended long after my large cherry drink was consumed. I can remember people, mostly women and young girls, crying during the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack dies at the end, and I can remember laughing a little at their crying as I was just 11 at the time.

If you bought the movie on its double VHS tape release, you could just skip over the first tape and go right to the action in Tape 2 as the movie does get quite good once the iceberg hits the ill-fated vessel. That part is certainly rewatchable, as director James Cameron does the action scenes very well, Billy Zane is great as the villain and there are touching little moments like the band playing their last song together.

Still, even as a kid, L.A. Confidential was more my vibe as an old Hollywood murder mystery/conspiracy with a great cast featuring Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, Kevin Spacey and David Strathairn.

It still holds up well today too.

In fact, this field was stacked, as Good Will Hunting was an excellent film for the writing duo of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and the late Robin Williams doing drama is always a treat to see. The emotional ending of him repeating “it’s not your fault” to Damon’s lead always hits hard.

Even a film like As Good as It Gets with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt was high on my replay list back in the day when it came out. A very good comedy with some emotional digs that they almost never make these days.

Titanic is fine, it made Kate Winslet and Leo bigger stars before they turned into 2 of the best actors of their generation. But I’ll still take at least 3 other films from this year over it for Best Picture.

8. Chicago and All That Jazz (2002)

  • The Best Picture Winner: Chicago
  • The Real Best Picture: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  • The Other Acceptable Choices: The Pianist, Gangs of New York, The Hours

Musicals are not my cup of tea, but at least Chicago is better made than most. I would be lying if I said I never went to YouTube to rewatch that early scene of Catherine Zeta-Jones leading the performance of “And All That Jazz.”

I would still rank it 5th and last place from that 2002 field for the Best Picture award.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was nominated each year at this time, and the only win it received was a year later in 2003 for the conclusion of The Return of the King. Fair enough, but there is an argument that The Two Towers is the best film in the trilogy thanks to the incredible Battle of Helm’s Deep.

That would be my choice. However, you really couldn’t go wrong that year.

The Pianist is one of the best modern films about World War II, and those usually have done well at the Oscars. In an odd twist, The Pianist won Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Adrien Brody) and Best Director. Normally, a film that wins those key awards would win Best Picture too, but they still picked Chicago.

Could it have been a protest against director Roman Polanski? In case you didn’t know, Polanski is a fugitive who fled America after he pled guilty to drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Yet, the protest vote theory falls apart when you consider the Academy literally honored Polanski with the Best Director Oscar for this film. Bizarre stuff that they didn’t seal the deal with the Best Picture too.

Gangs of New York was the first collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, and Daniel Day-Lewis stole the show in that one. Great film. The Hours is also a fine drama centered on a female cast led by Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman.

Strong year but the weakest nominee won Best Picture.

7. O Captain, My Captain! You Were Extraordinary (1989)

  • The Best Picture Winner: Driving Miss Daisy
  • The Real Best Picture: Dead Poets Society
  • The Other Acceptable Choice: My Left Foot, Born on the Fourth of July

I like Morgan Freeman as much as anyone, but what did people see in Driving Miss Daisy that it beat out so many quality films that had more to say than this lighthearted comedy-drama? Driving Miss Daisy is the last PG-rated film to win Best Picture at the Oscars too.

In 2015, the Hollywood Reporter did a story polling hundreds of Academy voters to see if there were any Best Picture winners they’d like a redo on. One of the ones listed was Driving Miss Daisy now losing to My Left Foot, the story of Christy Brown. That would have been a great choice, as Daniel Day-Lewis gave the first powerhouse performance of his legendary career as the lead.

Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July with Tom Cruise playing a Vietnam vet was also a solid choice that year, but it isn’t quite as good as similar movies such as Platoon, Apocalypse Now, or The Deer Hunter.

My pick this year would have definitely been Dead Poets Society.

Call me a sucker for school movies and a simp for Robin Williams in any dramatic role, but this one has stood the test of time. Look how many times the “O Captain! My Captain!” scene has been parodied in other entertainment over the years. It is also one of the rare movies where – spoiler alert – a main character commits suicide, and that has a harsher effect than usual given he was only a high school student. Watching this in ninth grade certainly had an impact.

Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Someone else should have seized the Oscar over Driving Miss Daisy.

6. Respect the Noir (1944)

  • The Best Picture Winner: Going My Way
  • The Real Best Picture: Double Indemnity
  • The Other Acceptable Choice: Gaslight

I have tried to hold back on the musicals, but this one is so egregious that it must be slammed.

Going My Way was a musical comedy in 1944 where Bing Crosby plays a young priest and he of course sings in it. “Swinging on a Star” was the hit original song from this one. They actually made a sequel a year later called The Bells of St. Mary’s that was a better film all around.

Still, this is just not a memorable musical in any way.

It didn’t have a great supporting cast. If I have to watch Bing Crosby, at least give me Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra or Danny Kaye to pair with him.

The egregious part is this beat out director Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, the noir classic starring Fred MacMurray as an insurance salesman. He gets mixed up with a femme fatale played wonderfully by Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson is the claims adjuster who has to figure out if her husband’s murder was an accident or some kind of plot between MacMurray and Stanwyck.

If you had to show one person a film from the 1940s to understand the noir genre or just to get into the classic films period, this should be the one. I saw it in a college film class and was floored by it, which is how I got addicted to recording old films on Turner Classic Movies.

This is the cream of the crop, and somehow it went 0-for-7 at the Oscars that year.

It could have been due in part to the feeling of the time. This award ceremony was in March 1945, World War II was nearing its end with Hitler nearing defeat and maybe voters and moviegoers just resonated better with the wholesome Going My Way more than they did murder mysteries like Double Indemnity and Gaslight, the latter also being a better choice.

Still, for my money, Double Indemnity should have cruised to a Best Picture win at the Oscars.

5. Aw Jeez, You Weren’t Feeling Minnesota? (1996)

  • The Best Picture Winner: The English Patient
  • The Real Best Picture: Fargo
  • The Other Acceptable Choices: Secrets & Lies, Shine, Jerry Maguire

Remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine got dragged by her boss to see The English Patient and she hated it? That was how many of us felt about the overly long love story set under the guise of World War II.

elaine-the-english-patient

It’s not that it was a poorly made film. It’s just boring and didn’t have the feel of a classic epic like Doctor Zhivago or something along those lines.

This was another case where I would have given the Best Picture to literally anything else nominated, including Tom Cruise’s fun sports agent movie Jerry Maguire, Geoffrey Rush’s excellent performance in Shine and a very underrated Mike Leigh film called Secrets & Lies that you must check out if you missed it from 1996.

Still, what’s the film that shocked audiences when it came out, won Frances McDormand a Best Actress Oscar, had everyone doing a Minnesota accent and spawned a hit anthology TV series years later?

It’s Fargo, a dark comedy masterpiece from the Coen brothers about a kidnapping plot gone wrong.

With excellent casting with William H. Macy playing the scheming husband, Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare as the kidnappers, and perhaps the most iconic role of McDormand’s career, Fargo was a blast and should have taken home the Best Picture Oscar in a landslide.

Miss me with that English Patient melodrama.

4. How Green Is My Puke Emoji for Robbing Orson Welles (1941)

  • The Best Picture Winner: How Green Was My Valley
  • The Real Best Picture: Citizen Kane
  • The Other Acceptable Choices: The Maltese Falcon, Sergeant York

Before we get to our top 3 that focuses on the same decade of disastrous picks, let’s go way back to 1941, when How Green Was My Valley somehow robbed a field of classics like The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart and Sergeant York with Gary Cooper.

How Green Was My Valley follows a family in a mining town. It is not a bad film by any means, but historically, those other films have proven to be more well-received and revered over the decades.

However, the real misstep here was not acknowledging the greatness of Citizen Kane, which is now considered the greatest film ever made by numerous film institutes and critics, including the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound, The American Film Institute and legendary critic Roger Ebert.

Orson Welles’ debut film was a landmark for innovative filmmaking, including the way its narrative was structured with flashbacks and the “Rosebud” mystery used in the beginning, the cinematography, special camera shots and a memorable score from Bernard Herrmann.

It did take several years for the film to earn the high praise it has now. It had a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes until an old negative review from 80 years ago was discovered in 2021, dropping it to 99%.

Haters will hate, but it would be hard to walk away from a viewing of the field from 1941 and not come away thinking Citizen Kane was at least the best film of the year.

3. Shakespeare in Love Over the Horrors of World War II? (1998)

  • The Best Picture Winner: Shakespeare in Love
  • The Real Best Picture: Saving Private Ryan
  • The Other Acceptable Choices: Life Is Beautiful, Elizabeth, The Thin Red Line

This might be the No. 1 blunder in Oscars history for a lot of people, and I wouldn’t blame them for feeling that way.

In fact, when Shakespeare in Love defeated Saving Private Ryan, I stopped watching the Oscars for a solid decade after frustration with the types of movies that kept winning big in the 1990s.

This just felt like the peak of voters opting for sappy romantic stories after going for Titanic (1997) and The English Patient (1996) the previous 2 years. This was the first comedy to win Best Picture since Annie Hall in 1977, and this was not vintage Woody Allen writing by any means.

In fact, it gets a little more nauseating when you learn that Harvey Weinstein, the film’s disgraced producer, pressured his stars into an aggressive press tour to promote the film to beat the favored Saving Private Ryan. It also led to a Best Actress Oscar for Gwyneth Paltrow, who was not as good as Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth in my view.

The worst film won that year for sure. Maybe it did not help that the field was overloaded with the horrors of World War II.

The Thin Red Line was an interesting take on a lesser-known World War II story from director Terrence Malick with a stellar cast. It was just overshadowed by Steven Spielberger’s epic.

Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful was a heartbreaking story of a father trying to hide the horrors of a concentration camp from his young son by pretending they were playing a game.

Saving Private Ryan has that unbelievable opening act with the Normandy invasion at Omaha Beach and there are still many other great parts to Spielberg’s classic with a loaded cast.

Movies like that usually did so well at the Oscars, including Sophie’s Choice and Schindler’s List. Still, they snubbed Spielberg this time for a silly RomCom.

2. Go Home and Get Your Shine Box, Kevin Costner (1990)

  • The Best Picture Winner: Dances with Wolves
  • The Real Best Picture: Goodfellas
  • The Other Acceptable Choices: Awakenings, The Godfather Part III, Ghost

After finally watching Yellowstone, I cannot say I am a Kevin Costner hater. He also was the lead actor in A Perfect World (1993), the first film that ever made me cry while watching it as a young kid.

However, there are parts of Costner’s filmography that just scream “overrated filmmaker” to me. Field of Dreams is a baseball movie that shouldn’t rank as high as it does, but his most overrated creation was the 1990 epic Dances with Wolves, a Civil War-era story about a Union soldier falling in with a Lakota tribe.

I’m all for any criticism, hindsight or not, of the film, because it was boring and cheesy to me.

The whole thing just reeked of Oscar bait from Costner and it’s a chore to watch for over 3 hours. Some have marked it as a “White Savior” film with Costner’s character instantly becoming the protector of the indigenous people he encounters. It’s been criticized for not doing justice to the Lakota language from the actors as well.

I would have taken anything from the field over this movie, including Awakenings (great De Niro performance), The Godfather Part III (just pretend Sofia Coppola isn’t there), and Ghost (sentimental cheese done right).

Still, the real injustice done by Dances with Wolves was stealing a Best Picture Oscar from Martin Scorsese for his incredible gangster epic Goodfellas.

That’s what you call a timeless classic you can watch over and over to this day and not get sick of it. Everything, from Ray Liotta’s narration to the great soundtrack to the restaurant tracking shot to Joe Pesci’s violent outbursts (“Do I amuse you?) to Scorsese’s mom feeding the boys after they kill Billy Batts, it’s just film perfection.

The film fans have this one correct:

  • Dances with Wolves has an 8.0 out of 10 on 288,000 votes at IMDb.
  • Goodfellas has an 8.7 out of 10 on 1.2 million votes at IMDb.

Dances with Wolves has a weighted average of 3.85 out of 5 on 90,874 ratings on Letterboxd.

Goodfellas has a weighted average of 4.48 out of 5 on 988,069 ratings on Letterboxd.

I might be biased against Westerns and musicals, but it is hard to trust anyone’s film opinion if they would take Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas.

1. I’ll Take a $5 Shake Over a Box of Chocolates (1994)

  • The Best Picture Winner: Forrest Gump
  • The Real Best Picture: Pulp Fiction
  • The Other Acceptable Choice: The Shawshank Redemption

We have reached the biggest blunder of them all.

I’ll start by saying that Forrest Gump is a fine film. It’s unique, well-acted, memorable, quotable, rewatchable, has good pacing and it definitely felt like a “moment in time” film upon its release.

Yet, in arguably the most stacked race in the history of the Oscars, Forrest Gump beat out what I and many others have as 2 of the 8 greatest films ever made in Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. Just look at the fan response as we reach the 30-year anniversary for these 1994 classics:

IMDb Rankings: The Shawshank Redemption (#1), Pulp Fiction (#8) and Forrest Gump (#11).

Letterboxd Ratings: The Shawshank Redemption (4.55), Pulp Fiction (4.27) and Forrest Gump (4.12).

Again, Gump still tracks well, but you cannot convince me it added more to the film zeitgeist than those other 2 films have.

Pulp Fiction, my personal favorite film of all time, is the greatest achievement ever in independent film, as it only had a budget of $8 million for director Quentin Tarantino. His screenplay is legendary and influenced a whole generation of screenwriters as he built on the dialogue he started working into his debut feature Reservoir Dogs.

He took it up a notch with the swearing delivery by casting Samuel L. Jackson into a career-defining role. He rejuvenated John Travolta’s career, which was in the tank, and launched a career for Uma Thurman. The little cameos from Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel and Tarantino himself were all very memorable parts of the film.

Given the narrative structure, you could literally watch it at any scene you want and just enjoy the dialogue and performances. It’s been parodied to death, and who doesn’t think of getting blown away by a shotgun every time the toaster pops up finished now?

As for The Shawshank Redemption, it is by far the best adaptation of any Stephen King story ever made.

It offers a career-defining role for Tim Robbins, establishes Morgan Freeman as an all-time great actor and voice for narration, and who can forget that infamous shot of the cruel warden pulling the poster down and discovering the hole Andy escapes through?

Yeah, you don’t need a spoiler alert for that one. You had 30 years. Get busy living or get busy dying.

Warden-Norton-in-The-Shawshank-Redemption

In a revote today, it is hard to say which film would win the 1994 Oscars race. However, it seemingly would not be Forrest Gump. Shawshank is probably the most neutral choice, as there is an anti-Tarantino crowd out there and younger viewers aren’t going to like the dialogue his character says about the storage space in his house in the final act.

However, if Forrest Gump was released today, that would probably be a controversial film too. Some people would be calling Tom Hanks an ableist for playing a disabled character, especially a year after he won an Oscar for Philadelphia by playing a gay man with AIDS while Hanks himself was straight. Speaking of AIDS, screenwriter Eli Roth would be taken to task now for brushing over that was the cause of Jenny’s illness and death in the film, as he admitted many years later.

Still, those are modern views people like to inject into every little thing now.

1994 was a simpler time where people could just watch a film and enjoy it for the entertainment value. Yes, times have certainly changed. A $5 milkshake sounds like a bargain instead of the absurdity it was to Vincent Vega 30 years ago.

These films have stood the test of time. Yet, it’s just too bad the Oscars gave the gold to the bronze performer.

author avatar
Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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