Watching the Academy Awards this year, it like a foregone conclusion that Leonardo DiCaprio would win for his chilling, bison-chewing performance in The Revenant. Not because his performance was so great, but because after six nominations, everyone agreed he was due for a win.
Sometimes it seems like the Academy gives Oscars to reward a body of work more than a particular performance, or as an attempt to correct overlooking past performances. For that reason, it can’t help but feel like the actor wins an award for a film that didn’t really make sense.
Here are Screen Rant’s 10 Actors Who Won Oscars For The Wrong Film.
Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart
By the time Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for playing washed-up country star Bad Blake in 2010’s Crazy Heart, he’d had a career that had spanned five decades and several classic roles. He’d received four nominations prior to this, but none of these were for his most iconic role of all time. Comedies are often overlooked by the Academy, but there’s no denying that The Big Lebowski would not be the cult favorite it is today were it not for Bridge’s bang-on, hilarious performance as the film’s lead. He may have won for being Bad Blake, but Jeff Bridges will always be The Dude to us.
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
2012 was a breakout year for Jennifer Lawrence: she picked up Katniss Everdeen’ bow and arrow for the first Hunger Games film, and picked up an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. While she charmed her way into mainstream America’s heart, more serious film fans already knew her for the dark indie hit Winter’s Bone. At 20 years old, Lawrence gave an unflinching performance as a young woman trying to keep a roof over her dysfunctional family’s head. Give the academy credit for going off the beaten path and giving Lawrence a nomination, but she was still the new kid in town and the award went to the more established Natalie Portman for Black Swan.
Christian Bale – The Fighter
It’s no secret that Christian Bale goes full tilt into any role he plays. Known for his physical transformations, Bale took home gold for his role as a drug addicted boxing coach in The Fighter, but being gaunt and twitchy wasn’t nearly as impressive as what he did with Patrick Bateman in American Psycho ten years prior. Bale shed his child star persona to play this pumped up, narcissistic psychopath to perfection in a film that was probably… a little too out there for the Academy.
Russell Crowe – Gladiator
If Titanic taught us anything, it’s that the Academy likes to reward box office success (when it suits them). It seemed like this was the case in 2001 whenRidley Scott’s epic Gladiator won Best Picture, and Russell Crowe took home the Oscar for his lead role as Maximus. While Crowe did nail some intense scenes in this epic movie, it was primarily an action hero role which came between nominations for two performances widely considered as much stronger demonstrations of his talent: The Insider in 2000, and A Beautiful Mind in 2002.
Denzel Washington – Training Day
Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington should probably just swap Oscars: in the year that Crowe won for Gladiator, Washington was snubbed for his tour de force performance as The Hurricane‘s Ruben Carter, a boxer who was wrongfully imprisoned for almost 20 years. They both found themselves in the race again the following year, when Washington beat out Crowe’s Beautiful Mind performance with his over-the-top dirty cop role in Training Day.
Jennifer Connelly – A Beautiful Mind
Crowe was about the only major player in A Beautiful Mind who didn’t take home gold that year. Ron Howard won best director and Jennifer Connelly won best actress for playing his wife. While Connelly did an admirable job portraying Alicia Nash through the decades, the intensity level never came close to what she achieved in Requiem for a Dream two years earlier. Her brave depiction of addiction shocked viewers who still saw her as the little girl from Labyrinth and established her an actress with chops and longevity.
Al Pacino – Scent of a Woman
Al Pacino delivered Oscar nominated performances in such modern classics as The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and Glengarry Glen Ross, so it may surprise you to learn that the one he actually won for was The Scent of a Woman. Sure, the blind retired army lieutenant gave us Pacino’s trademark “HOO-ahhh”, but the hammy performance hasn’t aged nearly as well as his more subdued Michael Corleone (or any of the roles listed above).
Morgan Freeman – Million Dollar Baby
It seems like the Academy has a soft spot for boxing films. In 2005, Million Dollar Baby nearly swept all of the major categories, which meant a best supporting statue for Morgan Freeman. A decade has passed, and most people probably can’t quote a single line from the film, or even recall that Freeman narrated it, yet his voiceover and character from The Shawshank Redemption are forever etched into the consciousness of the millions who hold that film close to their heart. Red was the one guy “who could get it for ya,” and Freeman more than delivered.
Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side
In 2009 Sandra Bullock gave an impressive performance as a woman who adopts a homeless African American boy in The Blind Side, earning herself an Oscar nod from the Academy. As good as she was, the film was mostly carried by its emotionally manipulative movie of the week narrative, as opposed to a particularly gripping or ambitious performance from Bullock. But if the Academy just wanted to award Bullock with some recognition, they wouldn’t have had to wait long: Gravity depended solely on Bullock’s performance to carry us through. What was essentially a one woman show in front of a green screen, Bullock brought great gravitas to her role, while The Blind Side already feels dated.
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
As the inspiration for this list, we’d be remiss not to mention Leo. The trophy eluded DiCaprio for so long that it became a running joke, not to mention an Internet meme. Most of the press around The Revenant was focused less on the demands of this particular role, and more about the lengths Leo went to to solidify it as his Oscar winner. But by putting himself in real, harsh conditions, it would seem that the role required more reacting than actual acting.
The character of Hugh Glass didn’t feel as fully realized as some of Leo’s past work, particularly What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, the film that earned Leo his first Oscar nomination at only 19. As Arnie, a mentally disabled teenager, DiCaprio created a character that was funny, tragic, and heartfelt whereas Glass was just… cold. In all honesty, an Oscar for any role from The Departed, Gangs of New York, Catch Me if You Can, The Aviator would have seemed like the right call at the time.
Those are our picks for the Oscar winners that seemed to defy expectations, with awards given for the last role you might think. But which ones have we overlooked? Think some of the films on our list are overrated? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe to our channel for more videos like this one!