The mission statement of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is “to recognize and uphold excellence in the motion picture arts and sciences, inspire imagination, and connect the world through the medium of motion pictures.”
That sounds like a bulletproof goal, but, unfortunately, they get it wrong quite often. Every year it seems the Academy rewards mediocrity, and sometimes you wonder what movie they watched, because their thought process appears to make absolutely no sense. Here are some of the worst Oscar winners of all time.
Some people think Tom Hanks didn’t deserve two of his Oscar wins…
This might be the only time in history that an actress bashed the film she ended up winning an Oscar for. Elizabeth Taylor called Butterfield 8 “a piece of obscenity” and only made the film to fulfill her contract with MGM.
I guess when you’re good, you’re good. When she was nominated, she said she had no desire to see it. She came away with the Best Actress Award which may have had less to do with her performance in the movie and more to do with the fact she almost died from pneumonia earlier that year.
Marisa Tomei raised some eyebrows and caused a few people to spit out their popcorn when she won for Best Supporting Actress in 1992. The film My Cousin Vinny was a classic comedy, but the fact that she beat out Judy Davis, Joan Plowright, and Vanessa Redgrave that year was a little bit suspect.
In fact, there were conspiracies that the presenter was drunk and misread the winner, and it was actually Redgrave’s performance in Howard’s End that got the prize.
There’s nothing wrong with Glenda Jackson’s acting. But, the fact that she took home the Best Actress award in 1974 (for Touch of Class) is pretty shocking. She’s played British Queens, and done subtle house art films which were all done well, but what did she win for?
A romantic comedy that is forgettable at BEST. What makes it worse is that she stepped over Ellen Burstyn for The Exorcist, and Joanne Woodward for Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams.
This is not a knock on Al Pacino and his acting skills, which are incredible. But, if you were to watch The Godfather Part II and then Scent of a Woman back to back, you would think you’re looking at a different actor completely.
The groundbreaking actor transformed into a grumbling performer who obviously forgot the act of layering. The Academy played a sick joke on Pacino by giving him a lifetime achievement award for this performance and not his other works. Denzel Washington in Malcolm X 10 times out of 10 that year.
Remember Mary Pickford? Of course you do. She was America’s Sweetheart in the 1920s, yet her performance in the film Coquette was heavily criticized. Despite that, she still took home the award for Best Actress in 1928. Many felt that she won over other actresses that were much more deserving, but, Pickford campaigned for the award very hard.
She had members of the Academy over to her house for tea, and it didn’t hurt that she was a founding charter member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science.
Coming up: why some film buffs believe Tom Hanks shouldn’t have won
There’s nothing wrong with Rex Harrison. He’s a fine, reliable actor. But his performance in My Fair Lady absolutely didn’t deserve the Best Actor at the Oscars in 1965. The best performance was BY FAR Peter Sellers, who played THREE different characters in Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
It’s nothing personal to Mr. Harrison who I’m sure is quite the fellow, but this is just straight up wrong.
If you look back, the Oscar campaign for Argo is baffling. Ben Affleck, snubbed for a Best Director nomination, was somehow “due,” so the Academy seemingly handed his movie a Best Picture award. How?
It’s not like the 2012 class wasn’t good. What about Lincoln? Amour? Beasts of the Southern Wild? Bueller? Bueller? Is anyone from the Academy listening? It’s disappointing that a middlebrow drama like “Argo” took the top prize that year. That is all.
The 1998 Academy Awards were full of shocking winners. Perhaps none more so than Gwenyth Paltrow winning Best Actress (for Shakespeare in Love) over her far more deserving rival Cate Blanchett for Elizabeth. Okay, I must admit, the whole Saving Private Ryan snub that year was hard to swallow too.
It’s widely accepted that Paltrow only won the Oscar because Harvey Weinstein was extremely aggressive in his campaign for the award. That part didn’t age well, did it?
Cuba Gooding Jr
Cuba Gooding Jr is a textbook example of an actor who won an Oscar, and almost immediately fell off the face of the earth afterward. He snagged a Best Support Actor award for his performance in 1996’s Jerry Maguire.
That year, he beat out Edward Norton in Primal Fear, and William H. Macy in Fargo, both of whom STILL don’t have an Oscar to their name. This may be an unpopular opinion, but this was a waste of an Oscar.
We’ll learn more about Tom Hanks’ Oscar wins soon!
Zellweger was the darling of the early 2000s in the eyes of the Academy. She was nominated three consecutive years from 2002-2004. She was awarded Best Supporting Actress for her work in the movie Cold Mountain.
While it’s safe to say she was the most entertaining part of an otherwise bloated drama, her cartoonish performance shouldn’t have been a serious Oscar contender. An apology is in order for Holly Hunter who was snubbed that year for her role in Thirteen. You deserved it.
Jon Voight was once a very talented actor who ended up pimping himself out for a paycheck by the end of his career. But, before that, he scooped up a Best Actor award for his role in the 1978 war drama Coming Home.
So, let’s not ignore the fact that he ROBBED Robert De Niro of a win that same year for The Deer Hunter. Voight was merely decent in an over-sentimental movie.
Jennifer Hudson’s 2007 Best Supporting Actress win for her performance in Dreamgirls remains one of the most head-scratching moments in recent Oscars memory. It wasn’t a bad performance, but it also wasn’t acting.
The entirety of the movie is based around her singing ability and little is asked of her when it comes to a dramatic rendition. They gave her the nod over more the more deserving Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal and Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a comedy winning an Oscar, but there’s something wrong with a comedy winning an Oscar. Roberto Benigni in the movie Life Is Beautiful had a pleasant and funny on-screen presence.
But, his performance, compared to some of the other nominees, comes off as very forgettable and even a bit sappy. The fact that he beat out Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan is one of the worst robberies of all time.
Yes, she’s an icon. Yes, she’s one of a kind. Yes, she can act. She was nominated for her role in the 1983 film Silkwood, and then won The Best Actress award outright in 1987 for Moonstruck. These roles were entertaining, but showed that her range was VERY limited in the acting realm.
Her win was very questionable, to say the least. She’s one of the only Oscar winners to STILL not be taken as a serious actress even after she took home the biggest prize.
Coming up: Tom Hanks isn’t beloved by EVERYBODY…
This was a stacked year for performances in the category. 2011 saw George Clooney, Gary Oldman, and Brad Pitt lose to Jean Dujardin for his performance in The Artist.
He was charming and entertaining, no doubt. But, most people saw him as the weakest one in the category. The Academy obviously had a soft spot for an old-fashioned sultry narrative that year. I guess they can’t get it right every year, or any year for that matter.
Just a few short years into her career, Mira Sorvino scooped up an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Woody Allen’s 1995 film Mighty Aphrodite. She’s done nothing of value since.
She’s starred in 20 critical duds of movies since that time, and her performance in the film was fine, but Oscar-worthy? The trajectory of her career tells you everything you need to know. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, I guess.
A Beautiful Mind
No one is saying that Ron Howard isn’t one of the best directors in the business. He’s incredibly reliable, and while his film A Beautiful Mind was fine, it didn’t deserve the Best Picture award OR the Best Director award in 2002.
Sorry, Ronny, but David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive was also nominated for Best Picture, and Lynch in the Best Director category. He would’ve been a much better pick and it would’ve rewarded one of the greatest filmmakers who is constantly snubbed by the Academy.
Tom Hanks had taken home some hardware from the Academy for the movie Philadelphia in 1993, and then again for Forrest Gump in ’94. Many people believe that he stole that gold hardware from John Travolta in Pulp Fiction and Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption, who were much more deserving. Sorry, Tom.
Obviously, Forrest Gump was a massive hit, but it’s hard to look at those other two performances and legitimately believe that he should’ve run away with the Best Actor award. Even some of Hanks’ biggest fans agree.
There’s just no other way to look at Avatar then through an animated lens. According to Academy rules, a studio can submit any movie as an animated film if animation is used in 75% of the film’s running time.
But, Avatar wasn’t submitted as an animated film, seeing as the majority of it took place in a CGI created environment, with characters created by CGI and motion capture technology. They won Best Cinematography at the 2010 Oscars, which is suspect considering everything in front of the screen was digitally created.
Okay, while it didn’t win the Oscar for Best Makeup in 2006, the fact that the movie Click was even nominated in the first place is hilarious. Do you even remember Click?
It has the dubious honor of being the ONLY film to get Adam Sandler nominated for an Oscar. It’s a sci-fi comedy which sees Sandler play an overworked dad who neglects his family and does so even more once he obtains a remote that lets him fast-forward through life as he chooses.
You can’t call Art Carney a bad actor. That’s why writing this is proving to be a bit of a challenge, but you have to call a spade a spade. The Academy made the worst possible choice by choosing Carney in Harry and Tonto.
It’s a good film, but it stops at being just good. The idea that it beat out Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II that year seems blasphemous at best.
I’m sorry, but Robert Donat’s 1939 performance in Goodbye Mr. Chips fails to withstand the test of time. It doesn’t have a spark, there’s no fire or pull to it.
But, you know what movie did have a spark? You know what performance did have some fire in 1939? Clark Gable’s profound work in the movie Gone with the Wind. It stood the test of time, and Clark certainly should’ve been rewarded for it that year.
Look, True Grit is a classic, no one is going to argue that. But, not every classic needs to have an actor win an Oscar undeservingly. It’s not that John Wayne isn’t legendary. It’s not that he isn’t competent. But, the lack of depth or realism makes the movie look strained.
Let’s not forget that in 1969, Dustin Hoffman was in Midnight Cowboy, which was a much more deserving performance and it got snubbed.
Rocky is somewhat of a classic movie. It’s a sappy boxing movie that starred Sylvester Stallone. But, like most of the entries in this article, often times it’s more about who DIDN’T win during that year’s Oscars. 1977 saw Taxi Driver, All The President’s Men, and Network all nominated for Best Picture.
Yes, Rocky is inspiring, but it’s also clichéd. It’s completely undeserved to win the Best Picture and Director award.
I think it’s pretty easy to say that in the 21st century, the worst best picture winner is, without a doubt, 2004’s Crash. It’s a weepy, unconvincing drama about how racism is bad. It has the elegance of New York City’s transportation system and, somehow, also won Oscars for editing and screenplay.
The movie’s director, Paul Haggis, didn’t even think it deserved the award. He said in an interview, “was it the best film of the year? I don’t think so.”
Gary Oldman finally won an Oscar. Many people are happy for the iconic actor and do believe that he played a very sound version of Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour. He spent hours in the makeup chair every day and researched the heck out of character.
But, the movie’s writing, combined with his shout-y performance, gives us a depiction of Churchill that’s more heavy-handed. When you put that performance up against Daniel Kaluuya’s in Get Out, or Daniel Day-Lewis’s in Phantom Thread, it doesn’t match up.
It was the year that Woody Allen gave the cinematic gem that still lingers around called Annie Hall. Meanwhile, Neil Simon crafted a seemingly sweet, inconsequential romantic comedy called The Goodbye Girl in 1977 that seems incredibly stale and boring now. Richard Dreyfuss’s performance as the neurotic wannabe-actor Elliot is painfully overacted and even with some shining moments is not fully realized.
The look on Richard Burton’s face when he realized he lost his final attempt at an Oscar was painful.
A Man for All Seasons was an Academy favorite in 1966, winning six Oscars. Scofield’s win isn’t necessarily problematic because of his performance, even though he was extremely restrained and subliminal even with staggeringly dull speeches in the film, but because he beat one of the greatest performances by Richard Burton.
It was Burton’s performance in the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that was much more memorable and influential during that time in movie history.
This is more of an interesting story than an undeserving Oscar. Halle Berry was the first black woman to win a Best Actress Oscar in 2002 for her performance in Monster’s Ball. Since then, eight women of color have been nominated in the Best Actress category, but none of them have ended up winning.
She has come out and said that she thought she broke down barriers, but now says that her win meant nothing to Hollywood.
The Hurt Locker
Anyone who says that The Hurt Locker is a bad movie just comes from a disingenuous place. It’s a good movie. In fact, maybe it wouldn’t even be on this list if it happened to be nominated in another year. But, when looking at the movies The Hurt Locker was able to beat out for Best Picture, it just doesn’t sit well.
It’s hard to reconcile that it was able to beat out Avatar, District 9, Inglorious Basterds, and Up. All of those movies are somewhat groundbreaking in their own genres.
Sandra Bullock is funny, charming, and she’s an easy person to root for, but she didn’t deserve an Oscar for her performance in The Blind Side. Even the muse of the film, Michael Oher, wasn’t a fan of it.
It’s a fun movie, and perfect for TV ten years down the road. Honestly, it kind of is the perfect TV movie. But, the academy decided that this was a performance they wanted to reward because of the story it told.
Despite what many critics think, a film can be very good without being well-directed. Yes, The King’s Speech was a good film, but that wasn’t because Tom Hooper was the director. The film was the 2010 Oscar darling, and perhaps rightly so, but Tom Hooper didn’t deserve his win.
A great director should be able to elevate his material, but the directing seemed to be uninspiring at best. He beat Darren Aronofsky, who directed Black Swan, and the Coen Brothers film True Grit.
This is one of the veteran additions to the list that is one of the Oscars’ biggest blunders. John Ford was an acclaimed director in the 30s and 40s and ended up winning an Oscar for How Green Was My Valley in a year when Orson Welles put out Citizen Kane.
Even if you think Citizen Kane is an overrated movie, you can’t dispute the fact that it’s one of the best-directed films of all time.
If you want to highlight the sheer ridiculousness of the academy and some of the decisions they make, this is a perfect example. Christopher Plummer is a brilliant actor, but he won an Oscar in 2010 for Best Supporting Actor in Beginners.
His acting was fine, but let’s be honest, he was the lead actor. He was basically on screen for the entire movie. It didn’t seem right that he was in the “supporting actor” category at all.
Dances With Wolves
Let’s do a fun exercise called “name one scene from Dances With Wolves that actually stands out to you.” You’re going to lose that game 10 times out of 10.
It’s a fine movie, but the fact that it beat out Goodfellas for Best Picture at the 1990 Oscars is borderline blasphemous. Martin Scorsese created a work of near perfection. The dialogue was razor sharp and the performances were drop dead gorgeous. Apparently, the academy had a thing for Kevin Costner frowning at the camera, which is why Dances With Wolves won.
The race to win Best Supporting Actor during the 2003 Oscars was a weird one. Many critics would argue the controversy lies with who wasn’t nominated in the category, as Peter Sarsgaard in Shattered Glass was surprisingly absent.
Nonetheless, Tim Robbins in Mystic River was the eventual winner of the award. It seems like Robbins was the beneficiary of Mystic River cleaning up award season that year. No one really stops to realize that Robbins really did not have a good performance in that movie.
The year was 1997, and the movie world had been fully taken over by Titanic and the academy was looking to give someone else from another movie an award. They settled on Kim Basinger, who got the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in L.A Confidential, which was a solid film.
But, the Academy missed the mark with their pick. It only gets clearer as time goes by. Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights should’ve won that award hands down.
It’s safe to say that Tom Cruise has sort of stopped trying to win Oscars after he was robbed for his performance in Jerry Maguire. The Oscar for Best Actor was given to Geoffrey Rush in the movie Shine.
Rush wasn’t bad in the movie, but it almost seemed like the hookiest, Oscar-bait performance that year. It’s known that romantic comedies rarely win Oscars, so if Tom Cruise was able to pull it off, he would’ve been the standard-bearer for the genre.
A Beautiful Mind
There’s no doubt that A Beautiful Mind has its loyal fans, but with all due respect, it’s not even close to the brilliance of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Yes, it sucks to have to remind you that A Beautiful Mind beat out LOTR for Best Picture.
The academy realized how big of a mistake they made by not giving the Oscar to LOTR, so they redeemed themselves just two years later. They ended up giving the series an Oscar in 2003, but it already should’ve had one.
Okay, if you’ve seen the flick Charly, you were probably underwhelmed, and don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s an incredibly mediocre movie that attempts to portray a man with a mental disorder who is turned into a genius after a procedure is performed on him. Robertson’s acting seemed insensitive and unbearable at times.
What makes this victory for Robertson even worse is that he beat out an iconic performance by Peter O’Toole in The Lion in Winter.