Every year, movie lovers debate over which film deserves to win the Oscar for Best Picture. While each Oscar winner is forever immortalized, the public’s tastes are not set in stone. As time passes, love for a past winner can fade, a film may no longer hold up, and sometimes a movie shouldn’t have won in the first place.
Quite often, the picture that wins the Academy Award is only the short-term winner. Numerous Best Picture losers have outperformed their Oscar competition by way of box office returns, critical approval, or by attaining a large cult following.
The following list looks at 15 Best Picture Losers That Beat Their Opponents In The Long Run. To qualify, a film must endure in popular culture, be more influential, or held in a higher regard than the Oscar winner that beat it. This list isn’t arguing that the selected Oscar winners aren’t successful, entertaining or well-crafted; many of these films are classics. Instead, this list highlights Oscar losers that have had greater impacts on cinema.
15. 1971: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE LOST TO THE FRENCH CONNECTION
1971’s Best Picture winner, The French Connection, is a certified classic. The French Connection stands out for two reasons; it’s the first R-rated film to win Best Picture, and it features one of cinema’s greatest car chases.
A Clockwork Orange’s 90% Fresh RottenTomatoes score is deceptive. Like Kubrick’s previous film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange was a divisive film that wasn’t fully embraced upon release. Like 2001, many consider A Clockwork Orange ahead of its time. The film is now generally regarded as a masterpiece. The French Connection is a beloved film but its performances and themes don’t come close to masterpiece level.
A Clockwork Orange sparked many international debates over censorship and pushed rating standards to the limit (the film was pulled from British theaters). The philosophical questions at the film’s core (the nature of good, evil, and free will) continue to intrigue audiences to this day.
The French Connection can’t come close to matching the impact of A Clockwork Orange’s visuals either. The film’s costume design inspired the look of outfits worn by David Bowie, Kylie Minogue, and Gnarls Barkley. Additionally, Usher’s My Way, Rihanna’s You Da One, and Rob Zombie’s Never Gonna Stop videos each lift looks from the film.
14. 2010: THE KING’S SPEECH BEAT INCEPTION
The King’s Speech is the quintessential Oscar contender. It packs all the elements that voters love: It’s a period piece, stars a distinguished cast, and features lavish costume design. It’s no surprise that the film received 12 nominations.
Inception is a prestige sci-fi movie, it managed to nab 8 Oscar nominations. Audiences flocked to see the film, bringing in nearly $300 million domestically and over $800 million worldwide (doubling The King’s Speech’s numbers). Inception continues screening at genre movie festivals, inspires incredible fan art, and still sparks fierce debates over its ending (will the totem stop spinning?). Even the film’s premise, an inception, has entered the pop culture. It’s not uncommon to hear someone mention trying to “incept” an idea into someone else.
Inception is so popular that it managed to make a sound effect famous. The “Braaam” sound effect is ubiquitous with Inception. While previous films had used similar sound effects before, it wasn’t until that ominous sound appeared in Inception’s trailers that “Braaam” became a thing. For the next several years, it seemed like every movie trailer under the sun included a “Braaam” moment. Inception’s “Braaam” noise eventually became a staple of numerous memes and parody videos.
13. 1999: AMERICAN BEAUTY BEAT THE SIXTH SENSE
American Beauty bulldozed its way through the 72nd Oscars in what was a weak year for prestige cinema. American Beauty’s competition in major awards competition packed the punch of a wet nap. The average 2017 filmgoer would be hard-pressed to name a significant moment in The Cider House Rules, The Insider, The Straight Story, Tumbleweeds, or Sweet and Lowdown. American Beauty is a fine film, with a fine cast, but not in any way impactful to its genre.
All you have to say is, “I see dead people,” and even most non-moviegoers get the reference. It’s a testament to The Sixth Sense’s legacy that the nearly 20-year old phrase still resonates throughout pop culture. The film was a game changer in the horror genre. The Sixth Sense brought Hitchcock-style suspense back to a genre known for gore-filled slasher flicks.
The Sixth Sense turned M. Night Shyamalan into a star. Love him or hate him, it’s likely you know who he is and you know his signature style. The Sixth Sense contains one of the most shocking twists in the history of mainstream cinema. To this day, people still refer to twist endings as Sixth Sense-like.
12. 2001: A BEAUTIFUL MIND BEAT THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
A Beautiful Mind’s win is another example of the Academy’s aversion to rewarding blockbusters and genre movies. A Beautiful Mind didn’t pull in comparable box office numbers or receive the same critical acclaim as The Fellowship of the Ring. A Beautiful Mind’s RottenTomatoes score stands at a middling 75% Fresh compared to Fellowship’s 91% Fresh rating. Fellowship also received 12 Oscar nominations while A Beautiful Mind received 8.
Fellowship was a return to epic cinematic storytelling, reminiscent of classics like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur. The film raised the bar for computer effects and motion capture storytelling. Fellowship’s ground-breaking special effects opened the door for films like King Kong, Avatar, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
The Fellowship of the Ring is a timeless movie that inspires unrivaled passion from its fans. People still conduct Lord of the Rings themed weddings ceremonies, cosplay as movie characters, and collect film memorabilia. The movie also inspired thousands of people to travel to New Zealand and take tours of the film’s famous shooting locations. Even though the series had millions of fans long before Fellowship of the Ring hit theaters, the movies revitalized the fan base and introduced a new generation to the books.
11. 1999: SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE BEAT SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
Few Oscar winners have received the amount of backlash heaped upon Shakespeare in Love. The Academy selected Shakespeare in Love over Steven Spielberg’s universally acclaimed World War II epic, Saving Private Ryan. Making matters worse, Spielberg beat out Shakespeare in Love’s director, John Madden, for the Best Director Oscar. While Shakespeare in Love doesn’t deserve so much hate for winning, its cinematic impact pales in comparison to that of Saving Private Ryan.
Saving Private Ryan is one of the best war movies of its generation. The film executes Spielberg’s masterful vision on every level. The talented cast delivers strong performances, the cinematography and production design immerse the viewer in its harsh world, and the film’s Omaha Beach raid is an action set piece for the ages. Two decades after its release, critics still reference Saving Private Ryan as one of the late 90’s cinematic high points.
The film’s gritty style influenced a generation of films, TV series, and video games. It’s hard not to see Saving Private Ryan’s impact when playing Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Halo, and Gears of War. Tarantino has even referenced the movie as one of the inspirations for his own war film, Inglourious Basterds.
10. 1990: DANCES WITH WOLVES BEAT GOODFELLAS
Like many films on this list, Dances with Wolves was an awards season beast; it took home 7 awards on Oscar night. Dances with Wolves is the third-highest grossing movie in 1990 and was a major factor in revitalizing the western genre. What Goodfellas lacks in box office numbers, it more than makes up for with its enormous cult status — Joe Pesci’s, “What do you mean I’m funny?” line is one of the most famous movie quotes of the 90’s.
Gangster movies are a staple of American cinema and Goodfellas is one of the genre’s crown jewels. Goodfellas is the 17th highest rated picture on IMDb’s top 250 movies of all-time list. The film’s characters and story structure have been parodied and imitated many times in television (The Simpsons, Community), movies, music videos, and video games (including multiple GTA titles).
Goodfellas changed the way gangsters were portrayed in popular culture. The film was an inspiration for one of television’s greatest series, The Sopranos. Goodfellas take on mob life was so pitch perfect that almost 30 of the film’s cast members would go on to star in The Sopranos.
9. 1982: GANDHI BEAT E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL
Richard Attenborough’s 3-hour epic, Gandhi, dominated the 1982 Oscars as though it were LeBron James playing basketball with middle-schoolers. The film went into the evening with 11 nominations and took home 8 awards at the end of the night. While Gandhi’s message will endure for generations, Gandhi the movie’s lasting impact doesn’t compare to a film it beat out for the Oscar: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is one of cinema’s most dominant blockbusters and considered one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever. E.T. earned $435,110,554 at the box office (that’s over $1.2 billion when adjusted for inflation). E.T. is such a cultural phenomenon that even the story surrounding the Atari 2600’s rancid 1982 E.T. video game adaptation achieved cult-like status, leading to a 2014 documentary.
You can make the case that Gandhi is the more important film, but you can’t argue that it’s the most culturally dominant movie of the two. A generation of kids grew up with E.T. and Elliott in their homes and E.T.’s pop culture relevance is multi-generational. Nearly 40-years later, people still remember E.T.’s glowing finger, his love of Reese’s Pieces, and his strange bromance with Michael Jackson.
8. 2009: THE HURT LOCKER BEAT AVATAR
The Hurt Locker is an excellent film that is worthy of awards season recognition. Despite The Hurt Locker’s Best Picture win, it’s a film that is unlikely to go down in the history books. Avatar is cinema’s all-time box office champion. No other movie in the history of cinema has had the worldwide box office success of Avatar. Avatar earned nearly $2.8 billion! Titanic, the film Avatar passed to become number one sits at almost $2.2 billion. In the battle for cultural relevance and lasting impact, earning more money than any other film is an automatic knockout punch.
Avatar isn’t just a successful film, it’s a worldwide phenomenon. The film’s cultural impact can still be felt almost a decade after its release. Avatar pushed special effects technology to the limit — it was the turning point when 3D went from ineffectual and gimmicky to outstanding. There are numerous books, video games, collectibles, and toys based on the movie. People still cosplay as Avatar’s Na’vi characters at cons and costume parties. There are also several Avatar sequels in pre-production. Topping things off is an Avatar theme park titled, Pandora: The World of Avatar, which is set to open May 27.
7. 1981: CHARIOTS OF FIRE BEAT RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Chariots of Fire is many things: Well-made, well-acted, and inspiring chief among them. But, Chariots of Fire’s greatest lasting contribution to cinema may be providing the theme music for slow motion training montages. Even Chariots of Fire’s biggest advocates wouldn’t try and argue that it’s cultural impact runs deeper than that of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is the result of a collaboration between a movie industry dream team: George Lucas and Steven Spielberg — two auteur directors at the height of their powers — as well as screenwriting extraordinaire Lawrence Kasdan, and legendary producer Frank Marshall. All the production’s talent translated into the successful debut of Indiana Jones, one of cinema’s most beloved characters.
Raiders of the Lost Ark ran amok at the box office, bringing in $248,159,971 ($765,756,700 after adjusting for inflation). Raiders of the Lost Ark inspired several hit sequels, a 1992 television prequel series, video games, collectibles, and what may be history’s most epic fan film.
6. 1973: THE STING BEAT THE EXORCIST
The Sting reunited Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s main players — director George Roy Hill and actors Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The Sting is as entertaining a film as they come; it has a great script, a hall-of-fame cast, and a memorable score.
The Exorcist is widely regarded as the scariest horror movie of all time. Even today, few films can match The Exorcist’s blood-curdling atmosphere. The scariest movie ever distinction is enough to leapfrog The Sting’s cultural impact, but that’s not all. The Exorcist remains relevant in pop culture, spawning sequels, a prequel, parody movies, and a 2016 television series. The Exorcist is also an all-time great film. It received 10 Oscar nominations, including a Best-Supporting Actress nod for child-actor, Linda Blair.
The Exorcist pushed the horror genre’s boundaries. In the early 70’s mainstream audiences had never encountered anything like the film’s body horror, profanity, and violent acts. The Exorcist raised the bar for the horror genre and spawned its own demonic possession subgenre. The film is responsible for etching projectile vomiting, levitation, and spinning heads into the public’s nightmares.
5. 1979: KRAMER VS. KRAMER BEAT APOCALYPSE NOW
Kramer vs. Kramer is the perfect example of a noteworthy movie that failed to stay culturally relevant. The film features a couple of acting legends (Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman), won over critics, and breezed through the Academy Awards (9 nominations and 5 wins). In 2017, Kramer vs. Kramer still resonates with movie-buffs but not with casual movie watchers.
Apocalypse Now is instantly recognizable to anyone vaguely familiar with popular culture. Critics consider Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam classic to be the greatest war movie ever. Apocalypse Now also sits near the top of many best movies of all time lists. As if that weren’t enough, Apocalypse Now also spawned Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, one of the most fascinating and candid behind-the-scenes film documentaries ever.
Apocalypse Now’s signature line, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” is one of cinema’s most memorable quotes. It’s a line that is still parodied and riffed on in movies, television, and video games.
4. 1981: ORDINARY PEOPLE BEAT RAGING BULL
Ordinary People features an impeccable cast; Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, and Timothy Hutton all turn in strong performances. Factor in the great work by the pictures’ director, Robert Redford, and you have an Oscar-worthy film. While Ordinary People was a noteworthy film back in the early 80’s, its legacy doesn’t extend beyond the most passionate movie lovers.
Raging Bull is one of the most iconic movies to emerge from the 80’s, one cinema’s greatest sports films, and often in the conversation about the best films, period. Raging Bull garnered its star, Robert De Niro, a best actor award, ignited Joe Pesci’s acting career and is often cited as legendary director, Martin Scorsese’s signature film.
Raging Bull’s main character, Jake La Motta still endures in the minds of casual moviegoers. Raging Bull posters adorn the walls of movie lovers around the world and modern filmmakers still reference the film’s gritty aesthetic as an inspiration. The 1993 Sega-CD game Prize Fighter was one massive homage to the film. Prize Fighter lifted everything from the brutal fight choreography right down to Raging Bull’s black and white presentation and created an homage and spiritual successor to Scorsese’s classic film.
3. 1994: FORREST GUMP BEAT PULP FICTION
Forrest Gump deserves a spot in the feel-good-movie hall of fame. Forrest Gump is a popular film featuring an iconic performance and filled with memorable moments. Unlike another major release from 1994, Forrest Gump is not a game changer.
100-years from now, film schools will teach classes on Pulp Fiction; the film is considered a masterpiece. Pulp Fiction changed the course of American cinema. The film’s slick narrative structure, snappy dialogue, and pop culture references inspired a new wave of films. Although Pulp Fiction was tangled up in controversies over its obscene language and graphic violence, the film’s success solidified Quentin Tarantino as one of America’s greatest directors.
Pulp Fiction’s narrative structure was almost too sophisticated for viewers in the early 90’s. While time-jumping stories are standard practice now, audiences weren’t used to how Pulp Fiction’s plot weaved in and out of the past, present, and future. Pulp Fiction also turned its two central characters, Jules and Vincent into pop culture icons, revitalized John Travolta’s career, and turned Samuel L. Jackson into a household name.
2. 1975: ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST BEAT JAWS
Upon its release, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was a hit with critics and fans. The film made a killing at the box office and remains relevant in pop culture.
Jaws is as close to flawless as a film can get, it’s a pop culture cornerstone, and it changed how movies get made and distributed. Jaws is the first summer blockbuster. Jaws‘ $260,000,000 box office tally is equal to $1,107,881,800 today. That places Jaws at 7th on the list of all-time highest grossing films (when adjusted for inflation). Jaws set the framework that Hollywood still uses today – studios hedging their bets with big budget, heavily promoted movies which debut from May through August.
Jaws is a fantastic all around movie. It’s thrilling, features classic set pieces, and is perfectly crafted on a technical level. There are scores of essays and videos on Spielberg’s genius as a visual storyteller and Jaws is an example of a master firing on all cylinders. Jaws is the ultimate popcorn movie because unlike today’s blockbusters, it isn’t loaded with empty calories. It’s also one of the most terrifying films ever made. Jaws made an entire generation of moviegoers afraid to go into the water.
1. 1977: ANNIE HALL BEAT STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE
People love romcoms, and rightfully so. The genre’s combination of laughter and poignant storytelling create one of cinema’s best forms of emotional catharsis. Annie Hall is one of the genre’s finest movies. In 2017, Woody Allen movies have become their own quasi-genre, and Annie Hall is considered his seminal work. Annie Hall’s exploration of love, sex, and ego inspired legions of screenwriters to delve into the genre.
Star Wars connects with a wide audience in a way that no other movie has. First off, Star Wars placed butts in seats at an unprecedented level for the modern era. Star Wars $460,998,007 box office equates to $1,540,734,500 when adjusted for inflation. Only Gone with the Wind places higher.
Star Wars launched a franchise that is still going strong 40-years later. The franchise’s spin-off movies and sequels are poised to continue taking turns dominating the box office. Even the prequel that most people didn’t like made a killing at the box office and introduced iconic characters to the Star Wars canon.
The 89th Academy Awards ceremony takes place on February 26, 2017.
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