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Five Movies That Should've Won the Academy Award for Best Picture, But Didn't

Updated on January 17, 2014

And the Oscar goes to...

The Academy Awards has been one of the most prestigious award ceremonies in Hollywood since first taking place back in 1929. Now 85 years later the Academy Award, more commonly referred to as the Oscar, is still one of the most coveted movie-related awards in the world and it's influence doesn't seem to be waning anytime soon.

The highest honor given out at the Oscars by far is the award for Best Picture, an award that has eluded some of the best films of all time. A lot of industry politics go into who wins this award and many times the best film of the year won't receive this honor due to things that have nothing to do with how good a picture is. Sometimes the Academy get's it right and other times they are way off base but there are some extremely notable examples of when an incredible film was denied Hollywood's highest honor due to politics. Here are a few...


Citizen Kane (1941)

Film that beat it: How Green was My Valley

Orson Welles directed, co-wrote, produced and starred in this cinematic masterpiece that for decades now has been declared the greatest film ever made. With all the current hype surrounding this film, many today can't even fathom how this work of art could be denied the Oscar for Best Picture. Every single frame of this picture is masterfully shot. Cinematographer Gregg Toland's use of a deep focus lens created a 3D-like effect that gives the film a visual depth unlike anything seen before. Everything about this film was unprecedented, from it's non-linear storytelling to Welles' breathtaking performance in which he ages several decades throughout the story.

So why did this film win only a single Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and was denied any wins in the other eight categories it was nominated for including Best Picture? Simple, a powerful man stopped this film from gaining any traction. The movie details the life of Charles Foster Kane, a man many believed to be based on American newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was outraged at the film and banned any mentioning of it in any of the newspapers he owned. Hearst tried hard to have the film destroyed and although failed at that, he did manage to heavily ruin the commercial success of the film and many blame him for the film's losses at the Academy Awards.


A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Film that beat it: An American in Paris

In the early 1950's the Hays Production Code was still in effect and it strictly kept sexual and violent content out of the Hollywood pictures. But that didn't stop this explosive film from rocking the very core of Hollywood with some of the best performances it had ever seen along with content not experimented with since Pre-Code Hollywood. A Streetcar Named Desire stars film legends Vivien Leigh (in a comeback role) and Marlon Brando (in the role that introduced him to Hollywood) in a highly risqué story based off a Tennessee Williams play about a woman with a sordid past who comes to stay with her sister and her sister's brutish husband.

Although today most of it's language comes off as subtle and mild, at the time audiences were shocked by such a film which spoke so candidly about sexual deviancy. Critics praised the film and it was nominated for 12 Oscars winning four including an unprecedented three wins for it's actors. However, the most stunning performance in the film given by Marlon Brando was denied a win for Best Actor and the film itself lost the award for Best Picture to a musical. Many believe Brando's raw power and the film's overall content was just a bit too much for viewers at the time.


The Graduate (1967)

Film that beat it: In the Heat of the Night

Yet another example of a film that was just too much for viewers at the time, The Graduate has been long held as one of the most revolutionary movies of all time. This film about a young college graduate, played by Dustin Hoffman, who begins to have an affair with an older woman only to fall for the older woman's daughter shocked many with it's counter-culture like approach to sex, relationships, and marriage. The highly inventive film was directed by Mick Nichols who shattered the industry a year earlier with his film Who's Afraid of Virgina Wolf, a film many believe to have ended the long held Hollywood Production Code and led to the creation of a ratings system still in use today.

The Graduate broke a lot of ground in terms of technical style, plot, and of course it's off-color content. The film won Nichols the Oscar for Best Director but lost Best Picture with many believing it's sexual content was simply too strong to win. Ironically, two years later a film also starring Hoffman called Midnight Cowboy would become the first and only X Rated film to win Best Picture with sexual content far greater than that of The Graduate.


Raging Bull (1980)

Film that beat it: Ordinary People

Possibly the greatest film Martin Scorsese has ever created, Raging Bull tells the story of underdog boxer Jake LaMotta who rises to fame only to fall from grace in the worst of ways. Shot on stark black-and-white film at a time when black-and-white movies had been completely phased out, this bloody and gut-wrenching display of humanity, pride, and rage is cited as one the most powerful boxing movies ever made and recently the American Film Institute named it one of the top five films of all time. The film contains one of the best performances ever given by Robert De Niro and the only so far to win him an Oscar for Best Actor. However the film lost the award for Best Picture probably because, like most Scorsese films during this time period, the movie was just too explicit and violent for most viewers.


Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Film that beat it: Shakespeare in Love

Saving Private Ryan has been often cited as one of the greatest war films ever made. From it's incredibly violent opening which displays the American invasion of Normandy to it's intense battle scenes throughout, the film shows the struggles of World War II in a realistic and awe-inspiring manner that few films before it or after it have achieved. The movie was directed by Steven Spielberg whose name had become synonymous with film by the 1990's.

Although this film won Spielberg his second Oscar for Best Director, the film's lost of Best Picture may be due to the politics of the Academy not wanting to repeat itself. Spielberg's film Schindler's List had won the double honor of Best Picture and Best Director back in 1994, just a few years before Saving Private Ryan. The Academy may have thought it would be unfair to award another Spielberg film with that same honor in such a short time period despite the film deserving it.

Which of these films do you think deserved Best Picture the most?

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    • BernietheMovieGuy profile image

      Bernie Ment 4 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      Agreed with you and the commentors herein. Personally, I always felt that Star Wars was snubbed in favor of Annie Hall, which I never really found to be wither entertaining or funny...but then again, I feel the same way about Woody Allen. Again, nice hub - and voted UP!

    • thebiologyofleah profile image

      Leah Kennedy-Jangraw 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great list here, I never knew the story behind why Citizen Kane got no Oscar love, really interesting stuff.

      I agree with kotobukijake- even though we love to pick apart the decisions we still continue to use the Oscars as guidance to what we should see.

      I think one of the things that makes the Oscars exciting is looking back on what is selected as best picture year to year, it isn't always the deepest movie of the year sometimes it's the most entertaining for example. It makes you wonder if a given movie was released in a different year if it would do better in the award circuit.

    • kotobukijake profile image

      kotobukijake 4 years ago

      It is interesting how very much movie buffs love to pick apart the Oscars, and yet we continue to come back to them time and again as the benchmark for how much credit a movie is given in its time. I fully agree that all five of the movies you've chosen were excellent, with Kane's loss being the most egregious injustice given the film that beat it. However, for every great film beaten by a lesser film, there are probably twice as many incredibly deserving films NOT EVEN NOMINATED. Case in point--the Oscars for the year 2000. Gladiator was an enjoyable movie clearly deserving of recognition, but its win over Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a crime; even worse, the total lack of a Best Picture nod for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the best film of the year, and the decade (to my mind, the best in cinematic history), was nothing short of a travesty. Chicago's win in 2002, a year that featured The Pianist, The Hours and Adaptation, was also a travesty, even though it was a very good movie. Maybe one day the balance will tip more in favor of deserving wins, yes?

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Shakespeare in Love? Seriously. Never saw Raging Bull but I did see Ordinary People and it should not even have been nominated. Every year there is some blip but then filmmakers not audiences vote for the Oscar. Last year's Meryl Streep win for Iron Lady was a gross injustice to the actress from The Help, and I love Streep in anything. That was just a bad movie.

      Interesting topic. We'll see what happens this year.