Top 10 Great Movies That Didn’t Win An Oscar


As quickly as 2010 came and went, here we find ourselves in the middle of another exciting awards season. The Golden Globes have been awarded and the 83rd Oscar ceremony is next.

When it comes to Hollywood’s highest honors, the Academy’s omissions often provoke more outcry and buzz than the actual winners. The Academy Awards are quite controversial among many film experts and fans. Although the Academy has honored many of the cinema’s masterpieces, numerous other great movies have been entirely overlooked. It seems they weren’t even worth the nomination. Other notable films were nominated, but didn’t win a single Oscar. It’s the case of Double Indemnity (a classic film noir masterpiece with seven nominations!!!) Pretty Woman, Being John Malkovich, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Munich, It’s A Wonderful Life,  Singin’ in The Rain, Mangnolia, The Magnificent Ambersons and many more.

10. Poltergeist (1982)

The first Poltergeist movie was released during the summer 1982. The very successful thriller of the 80s ranks 84th on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills list. The 1986 and 1988 sequels didn’t quite measure up to the original.
Special effects can often make or break a film. It’s for sure not the case of Poltergeist (1982). Many consider that producer Steven Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper are the real stars of Poltergeist, both of them famous for creating awesome special effects. Poltergeist won in 1983 the BAFTA Film Award for Best Special Visual Effects, but failed to win the Oscar. It remains a visually striking movie that harmonically combines effective special effects with a human touch, something most horror movies lack these days.

Poltergeist – Oscar nominations

1983, Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing: Stephen Hunter Flick, Richard L. Anderson

Best Effects, Visual Effects: Richard Edlund, Michael Wood, Bruce Nicholson

Best Music, Original Score: Jerry Goldsmith

9. Ghostbusters (1984)

The 1984 Ghostbusters is one of those few great films “where the original, fragile comic vision has survived a multimillion-dollar production”, said Roger Ebert. The American fantasty-comedy made close to $300 millions in the United States, the equivalent of nowadays $596,878,264 and AFI ranked it #28 on the „ 100 Greates Comedies of all Time” list.

The plot of the movie is imaginative and very well written, the special effects were spectacular for it’s time and the cast was well put together, for both leading and supporting roles. Bill Murray portrayed Dr. Peter Venkman, Dan Aykroyd – Dr. Raymond Stantz, Sigourney Weaver – Dana Barrett and Harold Ramis – Dr. Egon Spengler.

Times columnist Caitlin Moran sparked quite a bit of controversy with her article titled “Sorry Star Wars fans, but Ghostbusters is the best film ever made!” I didn’t read such a funny, yet thought provoking article for a very long time. Great stuff, well worth reading. What do you think? Is she right?

Ghostbusters – Oscar nominations

1985,  Best Effects / Visual Effects: Richard Edlund, John Bruno, Mark Vargo, Chuck Gaspar

Best Music / Original Song: Ray Parker Jr.

8. Vertigo (1958)


Great story with original plot twists, obsessive passions, astonishingly visceral music, spine-tingling suspense, mystery…in one word: Vertigo! Vertigo’s screenplay is credited to Samuel Taylor and Alec Coppel. It  was an adaption of P. Boileau’s and T. Narcejac’s novel, D’Entre les Morts (Between Deaths / The Living and the Dead).

Although Hitchcock’s Vertigo was nominated for only two Oscars, and won none, it is widely regarded as a masterpiece. Hitchcock perfectly combined multiple levels to create a complex movie. On a literal level, Vertigo tells the  suspense-filled mystery story of a man manipulated into acting as an accomplice in a crime. On the other hand, the film’s psychological level reveals a man’s dark and twisted psyche full of fears and laden with guilt. The story follows Scottie’s obsessive fantasies and the desire to end his existential vertigo, “desperately searching for an object on which to concentrate its repressed energy”. (Magill’s Survey of Cinema) The movie explores the dangerous link between desire and death, between falling in love and falling. Finally, at a deeper and metaphorical level, Vertigo retells the ancient legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. John “Scottie” Ferguson, just like Orpheus, travels into the terrifying underworld to reclaim his lost love. These multiple levels blur the fine line between subjectivity and objectivity.

Vertigo – Oscar nominations

1959, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration / Black-and-White or Color: Hal Pereira, Henry Bumstead, Sam Comer, Frank R. McKelvy

Best Sound: George Dutton

7. Basic Instinct (1992)

Written by Joe Eszterhas and directed by Paul Verhoeven, Basic Instinct features Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, Jeanne Tripplehorn and George Dzundza. The film generated major controversy  due to its steamy love scenes, overt sexuality and intense acts of violence.

A diabolical killer, a brutal murder, a police detective who can’t resist the temptation of danger, and a mysterious femme fatale who promises carnal pleasures, but delivers death. What more can we ask for? Basic Instinct was immensely successful upon release. It was one of the highest grossing movies of that year.

While Frank J. Urioste got nominated for Best Film Editing and Jerry Goldsmith  for Best Music, Sharone Stone and Paul Verhoeven were left out. Still can’t believe that Basic Instinct didn’t win a single Oscar.

Basic Instinct – Oscar nominations

1993, Best Film Editing: Frank J. Urioste

Best Music / Original Score: Jerry Goldsmith

6. Fatal Attraction (1987)

Can you trust that 26 directors rejected Fatal Attraction because they considered it uncommercial? One thing is for sure: Fatal Attraction was not ignored upon its release in 1987. It was the year’s most intensely debated movie, grossing over $320 million at the box office. Fatal Attraction was such a massive hit because it gave the audience something different. As Tom Hanks stated in Sleepless in Seattle: “Fatal Attraction scared the shit out of every man in America.” All the actors’ performances were outstanding. AFI ranked Glenn Close for portaying Alex Forrest #7 on its “100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains” list.
Although popular with six nominations, Fatal Attraction didn’t win any Academy Awards.

Fatal Attraction – Oscar nomincations

1988, Best Actress in a Leading Role: Glenn Close

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Anne Archer

Best Director: Adrian Lyne

Best Film Editing: Michael Kahn, Peter E. Berger

Best Picture: Stanley R. Jaffe, Sherry Lansing

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: James Dearden

5. Frost/Nixon (2008)

Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon is a sharp historical drama adapted from a theatre play by Peter Morgan. Certain characters and actions have been fictionalized, but the plot is based on the famous 1977 interviews. The highlights of the movie are Frank Langella as former US President Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen as British journalist David Frost. The confrontations between these two ambitious men are truly electrifying. While Nixon struggled to regain his reputation by reminding America of his political achievements, Frost aspired to be recognized as a prominent journalist, he wanted to be admired and respected. Frost/Nixon was nominated for five Academy Awards, but lost most of the awards to Slumdog Millionaire. I’ll never understand how this fantastic movie lost to Slumdog Millionaire

Frost/Nixon – Oscar nominations

2009, Best Achievement in Directing: Ron Howard

Best Achievement in Editing: Mike Hill, Daniel P. Hanley

Best Motion Picture of the Year: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Eric Fellner

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Frank Langella

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published: Peter Morgan

4. The Godfather, Part III (1990)

The third part of The Godfather trilogy is another interesting movie that failed to win an Academy Award, despite being nominated seven times. The American gangster film received mixed reviews. While Washington Post columnist Bal Hinson wrote “The man who made those two masterpieces is not the man who has given us this failed final chapter… you can’t help but see The Godfather Part III as his headstone”, Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert considerd it a “beautiful-looking film, a beautiful-feeling film, it’s great to see these people again. It’s interesting the way they dig in to the controversy invlving the Catholic Church.”

The Godfather, Part III – Oscar nominations

1991, Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Andy Garcia

Best Art Direction-Set Decoration: Dean Tavoularis, Gary Fettis

Best Cinematography: Gordon Willis

Best Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Best Film Editing: Barry Malkin, Lisa Fruchtman, Walter Murch

Best Music / Original Song: Carmine Coppola (music), John Bettis (lyrics) For the song “Promise Me You’ll Remember”.

Best Picture: Francis Ford Coppola

3. Once Upon A Time in America

One of the last memorable epics to come out of Hollywood is Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America starring Robert De Niro and James Woods. And I am talking about the original version with a running time of 227 minutes. Once Upon a Time in America was so heavily edited for its U.S. theatrical release, that the Italian film director was left inconsolable. He never made another film after Once Upon a Time in America. Unfortunately, the movie’s most interesting scenes are missing from the short version and the plot is kind of hard to understand. The full-length version of the crime drama explores the lives of a group of Jewish immigrants, chronicling their childhoods and years of glory as gangsters in America.
Why Leone’s masterpiece never received an Oscar, let alone a nomination, remains a mystery.

2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption is an inspiring ‘lesson’ on how to unleash our full potential by embracing new challenges, building on our strengths and having the courage to fight back against life’s injustices and miseries. “Get busy living…or get busy dying. That’s god damn right.” Just like Red (Morgan Freeman) said.

Although The Shawshank Redemption depicts the story of two men who become close friends while serving life sentences in a maximum security prison, it is not the typical prison drama. Frank Darabont defied all conventions of the genre (bullying, violence, crime, hopelessness of a life) to reveal new themes: friendship, determination, survival and faith. The cast is headed by Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman and Bob Gunton. Yet, despite all of its greatness and 7 Oscar nominations, The Shawshank Redemption did not succeed in winning one.

The Shawshank Redemption – Oscar nominations

1995,  Best Actor in a Leading Role: Morgan Freeman

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins

Best Film Editing: Richard Francis-Bruce

Best Music / Original Score: Thomas Newman

Best Picture: Niki Marvin

Best Sound: Robert J. Litt, Elliot Tyson, Michael Herbick, Willie D. Burton

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Frank Darabont

1.Psycho (1960)

Here we are at number one: immortal Psycho! No other movie had such a great psychological impact on the audience as Psycho had in its time. Hailed as the father of modern suspense, Hitchcock broke all the conventions and created one of the best and scariest movies ever. However, it failed to win an Academy Award. Psycho influenced many films that came after it ( Silence of the Lambs, Portrait of a Serial Killer etc.) and helped shape the slasher genre. No wonder it tops AFI’s list of 100 most thrilling American movies.

Psycho connects directly with some of our most vivid emotions: terror, despair, fear, and this makes it immortal. The nightmarish movie’s themes of paranoia caused by isolation, voyeurism, the dual nature of the human psyche, the lack of distinction between reality and appearance, the supremacy of death over life and the way in which madness is represented make Psycho stand out as one most disturbing and violent films. But…“We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?” – Norman Bates

Psycho – Oscar nominations

1961, Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Janet Leigh

Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White: Joseph Hurley, Robert Clatworthy, George Milo

Best Cinematography, Black-and-White: John L. Russell

Best Director: Alfred Hitchcock


By Timeea Vinerean

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  1. It is generally well known that “The Godfather III” was more of an attempt at making money than an actual attempt at making a worthy successor to the prior films. It was more of a “Yeah, they’ll buy that” rehash of the prior films than anything original, except now Michael is a doddering old fool who is a mere shadow of himself or his father. What would have been great is to see “older Michael” taking on the attributes of his Father, seeing him become the cunning, older “Godfather” who demanded respect with a glance, but still having enemies, with his son “pulled in” just as he was to a life of crime, the cycle repeated.
    I have often thought about purchasing the “Godfather collection” on DVD, but the inclusion of part III is a dealbreaker. I wouldn’t attain it from a $1 bargain bin.

  2. Peter Boucher on

    How about “The Flight Of The Phoenix” (1965) starring James Stuart and Richard Atttenborough

  3. I agree with most of your choice here. I can’t believe that Shawshank didn’t win an Oscar but seriously, Ghostbusters? Best Picture Nominees for the year 1985 were “OUT OF AFRICA”, “The Color Purple”, “Kiss of the Spider Woman”, “Prizzi’s Honor”, “Witness.” These are all well-deserved.

    • Pacquiao Marquez on

      You’re right and I completely agree. Also, Psycho. It’s an insult that Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar when he was alive.

  4. “Steven Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper are the real stars of Poltergeist, both of them famous for creating awesome special effects”

    um? neither are special effects artists…..they are directors who made movies that have special effects in them…..they created no special effects, they had people do that for them…

    what a crappy list.

  5. It is interesting how time changes perceptions and how the movies that got Best Picture, which you never see anymore, are viewed next to the “bombs” that are now considered classics.

    Shawshank Redemption failed at the box office suffering from a horrible title. Yet now, becasue of video and T.V. is is recognized for the classic actor’s movie that it is.

    Vertigo, for years, was considered Hitchcock’s worst film, panned by the critics of the day and the movie going audiences. The country had to “grow up” to appreciate it.

    I have to disagree with a few on your list of course. After all, this IS the internet.

    “Once Upon a Time in America” was epic, but epic is not synonymous with good. Just look at Heaven’s Gate and Legends of the Fall. This movie sank under its own weight and should have been done in two parts like The Godfather.

    As for Godfather 3, it had its moments, but I would not have voted for it for Best Picture.

    Basic Instinct generated controversy also for having a psycho who was gay. The gay community in Hollywood only wants positive depictions of gay characters. If they are not perfect don’t use them. AND a lot of the Academy either is gay, or cowers to the march of gay drums. Now if Michale Douglas had been Bi, it would have walked away with all the awards that year.

    And Frost/Nixon was just not that good of a movie. It was yet another attempt by Baby Boomers to to hang on to their relevance. How many “Teapot Dome” movies have you ever seen?

    Each year The Academy misses the boat when it comes to the “Best Picture.” The reasons are legion. No list is perfect, but yours shows how off the mark Oscar usually is. And how time shows them most of their mistakes.

    BTW, you forgot to add “Me and Orson Welles” to the list. No better acting was seen that year and it was a crime that the Academy missed it.

    • shobhit bhatnagar on

      This is the list of those movies which didn’t win even a single Oscar. Pulp Fiction won the Oscar award of “Best original screenplay’.

  6. Once upon a time in America wasn’t nominated for any oscars because it was submitted too late to the academy or something. I remember reading an article on the film in uncut magazine in the UK, and it was some silly thing like that. I’m confident with James woods, robert De Niro and the incredibly well respected Sergio Leone it would have won something if eligible. Also, Basic Instinct, is rubbish. In MY top 10 list it’s replaced by The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford, (which should have at least won best photography).

  7. Forgot “The Elephant Man.”

    Nominated for 8; didn’t win diddly. (At that time there was no award for makeup. The award was created the next year for this very reason.)

  8. Basic Instinct isn’t of the same caliber as the rest of the films on the list. Without Sharon Stone’s interrogation flash, no one would have cared about that film at all.

    Poltergeist would never win – it’s horror and the Academy snubs horror regularly. Plus, not as good a film as everyone thinks it is.

    Godfather III is a stinkheap. Nevermind and Oscar – it barely deserves to bear the Godfather name. There were kernels of good ideas that just got bogged down by terrible casting, terrible decisions and its own heritage.

    • I have to agree with the general sentiments here regarding Godfather 3.

      It just did not have that magic, power, and aura of the first two.

      Not to mention Sophia Coppola was one of the worst casting choices ever, could not act her way out of a paper bag.

  9. Raiders of the Lost Ark was clearly not only light years ahead of the other films that were nominated for best picture in 1981, but the greatest movie ever made.

    The nominees that year were “Reds,” “Chariots of Fire,” “On Golden Pond,” and “Atlanc City.”

    “Chariots of Fire” was a good movie and receive the Oscar, but clearly Raiders was robbed.

    • Not robbed really.
      Hollywood has NEVER admitted that fun adventure films were REAL movies.
      That is why comedies and science fiction/fantasy films never win and are seldom nominated.

      As for “Raiders” I agree with you 100% but remember, “On Golden Pond” was Fonda’s last film
      and the last chance for the Academy to correct a glaring error. “Tootsie” should have given Dustin Hoffman the best actor award, but they HAD to give it to Henry Fonda.

  10. Godfather III does not live up to the standards of the first two, it simply does not merit an Oscar. As for Shawshank Redemption, I have always felt the movie is over rated. I never saw Frost/Nixon so I cannot comment on it.

    Otherwise, I think it is a good list.

  11. I think you’re viewing a lot of these movies as they’re viewed today, not really when they were released. “Psycho” was made on the cheap and almost as a TV movie, it’s a horror classic, but I really don’t know about oscar winning. Maybe sound design, but most of these might qualify for a technical, but I really don’t think Oscar worthy. Poltergeist? Ghostbusters? Classics, but not quite that caliber…

    • A top 10 list is often not enough to satisfy everyone. I agree with you, Requiem for a Dream is another fascinating movie, a very powerful drama. It’s amazing how well the film director portrays the mental states of his addicts.