10 Iconic Films That Never Won a Single Oscar

Hindsight's 20-20, but the Academy turned a blind eye on these classics


    Awards like the Oscars are fodder for so much whining and moaning: Who got absolutely snubbed? Who shouldn’t have been nominated? Who should or shouldn’t have won? But, as we sit and nitpick the decisions of a single year’s Oscars over the next few weeks (months, even?), let’s remember that there were decades of questionable decisions made well before we had Facebook comments to spew hogwash and argue about.

    For that reason, we developed a list of 10 iconic films that you would swear had been massive critical successes and won dozens of awards — except they didn’t win a single Oscar. In compiling this list, we narrowed down the offerings to legendary movies that were nominated for Academy Awards but didn’t win a single one.

    So, before you get into the comments and start griping about how The Big Lebowski should have won a bunch of awards, man (we get it, the film really would’ve tied this list together, har-har), remember that these are the movies that could’ve won little gold statues but came up short. It’s a maddening collection, alright.

    –Lior Phillips
    Associate Editor


    Hitchcock’s Greatest Hits (1950-1960)

    psycho 10 Iconic Films That Never Won a Single Oscar

    Nominations: Strangers on a Train — Best Cinematography; Dial M for Murder — None; Rear Window — Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock), Best Screenplay (John Michael Hayes), Best Cinematography, Best Sound; Vertigo — Best Art Direction, Best Sound; North by Northwest — Best Screenplay (Ernest Lehman), Best Art Direction, and Best Editing; and Psycho — Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Janet Leigh), Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction

    The fact that Alfred Hitchcock never won a single Best Director Oscar and yet Three Six Mafia has a trophy sitting at home is all the proof you need to know that the Academy Awards is full of shit. But man, what a political move, huh? Not one goddamn win? Given his handful of advantageous nominations (see above), he must have either fucked someone over royally behind the scenes or simply suffered from bad luck at award ceremonies. After all, even then it was hard to dispute that he wasn’t the most iconic visionary to grace Hollywood, turning his productions into sweeping events that seemingly froze the nation.

    Today, his string of greatest hits, most notably 1954’s Rear Window, 1958’s Vertigo, 1959’s North by Northwest, and 1960’s Psycho, remain some of the most influential films of all time, taught in colleges all across the world and critiqued by generations of film critics. He’s responsible for the modern thriller, he gave new meaning to the word “auteur,” and he essentially paved the way for DePalma, Carpenter, Nolan, Spielberg, and Fincher. So, when you watch Cary Grant run through the cornfields or follow Jimmy Stewart around San Francisco as he tails Kim Novak, try not to forget that the Oscars never once found any of it to be genius enough for their ridiculously dubious standards. That should put any future upset into perspective. –Michael Roffman


    12 Angry Men (1957)

    12 angry men 10 Iconic Films That Never Won a Single Oscar

    Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Sidney Lumet), and Best Screenplay (Reginald Rose)

    In many ways, it’s not surprising that Sidney Lumet’s 1957 adaptation of Reginald Rose’s acclaimed teleplay 12 Angry Men left the 30th Academy Awards empty-handed. Credit Oscar for nominating the unlikely film at all. After all, apart from its opening and closing moments, the film’s action, mostly fidgeting in chairs and rehashing testimony, takes place in a single stuffy deliberation room. But it’s what those 12 men bring into the room with them – different experiences, prejudices, and worldviews – and what our system of justice ultimately requires them to set aside that creates a film so compelling and explosive that it threatens to blow the windows clean out of that jury room.

    Credit Lumet for using his camera to create a moral claustrophobia that still suffocates 60 years later, Henry Fonda’s Juror #8 for holding a mirror up to our own souls, and arguably the greatest ensemble cast of all time for one rich, gritty, epiphanic performance after another. 12 Angry Men is one of those rare films that shifts the cargo in our hauls without our consent. That it remains so relevant and beloved more than half a century later speaks to something invaluable and eternally hopeful about both the American and human spirit. –Matt Melis

    Easy Rider (1969)

    easy rider 10 Iconic Films That Never Won a Single Oscar

    Nominations: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jack Nicholson), Best Original Screenplay (Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern)

    Some films capture a generation. Other films capture a moment, but few often do both. Easy Rider led the charge, no pun intended, for the late ’60s counterculture movement. Decades later, the late Dennis Hopper’s salient portrait on the psychedelic underbelly of America still feels real, thanks to its documentary-style approach, which was largely part of a counterculture in itself: the New Hollywood era. As such, it’s not exactly surprising that the traditionally unhip Academy was totally square and only gave the film a Supporting Role nomination and a nod for Original Screenplay.

    Granted, nobody’s going to argue against John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, which rightfully took home Best Picture and Best Director at that year’s admittedly decisive Oscars (ahem, the ever-flawless Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was also in the running), but c’mon, Hopper wasn’t even nominated in those categories and neither was star Peter Fonda. The least they could have done was give Nicholson the Supporting Actor award. Though, to be fair, his performance here only opened more doors for him in Hollywood, and he’s done just fine for himself.


    Nevertheless, Easy Rider has since impacted every generation in its wake, haunting college dorm rooms with its iconic poster and outstanding soundtrack that ropes together the likes of Steppenwolf, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who, The Byrds, and Joe Cocker. “Don’t bogart that joint.” Words to live by, my man. Words to live by. –Michael Roffman

    A Clockwork Orange (1971)

    a clockwork orange poster goldposter com 43 10 Iconic Films That Never Won a Single Oscar

    Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Stanley Kubrick), Best Screenplay (Stanley Kubrick), and Best Editing

    For a guy on the short list of the greatest director/writers of all time, Stanley Kubrick sure lost a lot of Oscars. In fact, of the 13 awards he was nominated for, the Academy only decided that the visual effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey were worth a statue. One element of that astonishing fact is that the thrilling, esoteric late-night favorite A Clockwork Orange lost all four of the Oscars it was nominated for. There are twin factors that explain that seemingly stunning fact.

    First is the challenging nature of the subject matter. When you think of the voters in the Academy, you’re not typically thinking of some hip, edgy folks hungry for a film full of rape, ultra-violence, and its own fictional dialect. But those are the very factors that make A Clockwork Orange stand out in the first place, the way Kubrick unflinchingly looks at a possible dystopic future and the muddy waters of morality and cognitive conditioning on the societal scale.


    The other factor leading to the film’s shutout is the critical buzzsaw that A Clockwork Orange faced at the Oscars: The French Connection. Kubrick and co. lost Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay to the Gene Hackman-starring, William Friedkin-directed crime thriller. The fact that the same film won out in every matching category (and another novel adaptation at that, meaning they went head-to-head there instead of other writing categories) meant that Kubrick would go home empty-handed, losing out to the easier-to-digest film.

    That’s not to say that The French Connection isn’t great; it’s just a shame there wasn’t room for two winners. –Lior Phillips

    Taxi Driver (1976)

    taxi driver 10 Iconic Films That Never Won a Single Oscar

    Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Robert De Niro), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Jodie Foster), and Best Score (Bernard Herrmann)

    The Academy loves to be a bunch of dicks. Case in point: Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver was nominated for all the essentials — Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Score — except Best Director. That’s just plain cold. That’s just straight-up evil. Could you imagine sitting there at the ceremony, trying to smile and wave at the camera, all while knowing damn well that you were hideously snubbed? Awful stuff. Though, in hindsight, it doesn’t matter much since nobody walked home with gold that night. To be fair, the competition in 1977 was incredibly stiff: Best Picture went to Rocky, Best Actor went to Network’s Peter Finch, who had died earlier that year, Best Supporting Actress went to Network’s Beatrice Straight, and Best Score went to Jerry Goldsmith’s eerie compositions for The Omen.

    Still, Taxi Driver is one of Scorsese’s finest hours behind the camera and, as we argued recently, De Niro’s greatest role. And although the Academy has since been more economical amid its harder years, splitting the awards accordingly among various areas, Mr. Travis Bickle had zero fares on March 28, 1977, which is just baffling. On the plus side, the film won the Palme d’Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival and has since been featured in countless best-of critics lists. Plus, everyone involved has won their share of the gold: Scorsese for 2006’s The Departed, De Niro for 1980’s Raging Bull (he also has previously won Supporting Actor for The Godfather Part II), and Foster twice for 1988’s The Accused and 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. As for Herrmann, the legend only won once for 1941’s The Devil and Daniel Webster; let’s not forget, he was a large part of the Hitchcock curse. Shame! –Michael Roffman


    The Color Purple (1985)

    colorpurple 10 Iconic Films That Never Won a Single Oscar

    Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Whoopi Goldberg), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Margaret Avery), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Oprah Winfrey), Best Screenplay (Menno Meyjes), Best Cinematography (Allen Daviau), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design), Best Original Song (Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, and Lionel Richie), and Best Original Score

    While all of the films on this list failed to win a single Oscar, none of them lost as many as The Color Purple. The Alice Walker-adapted stunner tied an all-time record for the most Academy Award nominations without a win at 11.

    Director Steven Spielberg’s nuanced look at racism, sexism, incest, domestic violence, and other raw topics not taking home the hardware certainly deserves to be called a snub, but this film more egregiously stands in the long line of miscues along the path to the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. While African American actors, especially black women, so often get overlooked, even in terms of nominations, Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Avery, and Oprah Winfrey each received nominations — though of course they all lost.


    In terms of the big picture awards, The Color Purple lost out to the ironically titled Out of Africa, set in British East Africa, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. While some have called out the problematic potential of Spielberg’s eye as the frame set around the ways in which black men in the film treat women, The Color Purple gave voice to themes and people and managed to wring beauty and power from the darkness. –Lior Phillips

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