10 Oscar Contenders That Were Robbed on Oscar Night

Saving Private Ryan

Hollywood is full of glamor and spectacle on a normal day, but it gets notched up to a new level on Oscar night. Actors break out the tuxedos and lavish designer gowns and hit the red carpet to celebrate the very best films. The entire process of selection is clouded in mystery and will continue to for the foreseeable future. But what isn’t so secret is who we want to see win and who are the favorites.

With the so-called “awards season” ramping up in the fall, the Oscar-bait films begin to slowly disseminate throughout the end of the year and begin to lobby their case for Oscar gold. Sometimes the favorites are obvious - Leo had his Oscar in the bag back in October - but other times, the suspense carries on until the envelope is opened. As it turns out, many of the results disappoint. There are years when some losers are better than the winner but somehow they lost.

This is a subjective case, and many won’t agree with the choices, but the fact that many of these directors, actors and films were either favored to win their respective award or are generally seen upon more favorably in the subsequent years. We're not here to bash any movie or actor that won; we're just saying maybe they shouldn't have won.

Here are the 10 Academy Award Contenders Who Got Robbed On Oscar Night.

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Michael B. Jordan in Creed
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11 Sylvester Stallone for Creed (2016)

Michael B. Jordan in Creed

Leading up to the 2016 Academy Awards, the two main acting categories (Best Actor and Best Actress) were essentially won for Leonardo DiCaprio and Brie Larson. The true mystery revolved around the supporting roles. The leading candidate for Best Supporting Actor was Sylvester Stallone for his role as Rocky Balboa in Creed. It had been 40 years since he was nominated for the first Rocky movie and it seemed like fate that he would return for the sixth movie and finally take home the Oscar.

He snagged the supporting actor award at the Golden Globe Awards. By the time the Oscars rolled around, many not only assumed he would take home the Best Supporting Actor award, they started to root for him. It came as a big surprise and letdown when Mark Rylance took the award for his role in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies. Being the favorite to win an award doesn’t guarantee a winner, but this year ended up being a disappointment for viewers. This is by no means an indictment on Mark Rylance, who is a fantastic actor and well deserving of the award, but the narrative for the 2016 Oscars was that Leo and Brie won by a landslide, but also that Stallone again was snubbed of a golden statue.

10 Viola Davis for The Help (2012)

Viola Davis in The Help

There are some actors who only get one chance to win an Oscar. Not every one is a blessed as Meryl Streep to earn nominations for what seems every year. This was none more evident in 2012. Viola Davis starred in the surprising hit, The Help, which earned a great reputation on its way to earning multiple Oscar nominations, including a Best Actress nod for Viola Davis. Leading up to the awards ceremony, Streep - who was nominated for The Iron Lady - went head to head with Davis, splitting wins in the early awards.

In the days before the ceremony, Davis rose as the favorite to take home the statue. After all, Streep had been nominated 16 times and had two golden statues to her name. It seemed like the Academy was ready to reward another worthy actress. But the speculation was for naught, as Streep usurped Davis and took home her third Best Actress statue. There was a natural shock after the announcement and even Streep acknowledged the surprise of her win and the collective letdown that Davis lost, but she had yet another Oscar. Meryl Streep is an iconic actress that will probably go down as the best actress of all time, but for this night, she was wrongfully rewarded and Viola Davis robbed.

9 Brokeback Mountain (2006)

Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain

Every once in a while comes a movie so polarizing and groundbreaking that it’s ahead of its time. Back in 2005, Ang Lee’s story of two gay cowboys, Brokeback Mountain, came at a time when homosexuality was just being accepted in the country. It’s difficult to quantify the atmosphere surrounding homosexuality ten years ago, but it was not as widely accepted as it is now. That serves as the preface to dive into the 2006 Academy Awards. Leading up to the Oscars ceremony, Brokeback Mountain won most of the major awards - BAFTA, Critics Choice Awards and Golden Globes. It was almost a forgone conclusion it would end up with the Best Picture by the end of the night - but it didn’t.

Paul Haggis’ story of cultures clashing in the greater L.A. area, Crash, took home the most important price of the night. Nothing against that Haggis’ movie, but Brokeback Mountain was considered the superior movie that year. When the winner was announced, it felt as though the Academy went with the safe choice and awarded an unworthy winner. To this day, Crash is considered one of the worst Best Picture winners, and that largely due to it robbing the award from Brokeback Mountain.

8 Fargo (1997)

Frances McDormand In 'Fargo'

The Coen Brothers have developed a reputation for making great films over the past two decades. That reputation really took off with the critically acclaimed Fargo in 1996. The film starring Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi and William H. Macy embarked on a murder plot gone wrong. Fargo started its journey winning the Prix de la mise en scene at the Cannes Film Festival and went on to earn seven Academy Award nominations, including winning Best Actress (Frances McDormand) and Best Original Screenplay (Joel and Ethan Coen).

The movie was not the frontrunner to win Best Picture, which it ended up losing to The English Patient. But something has happened over the last 20 years since its release: it has developed a stronger reputation than the winner. It almost seems as if it did win Best Picture, as it should have. One of the leading reasons is that The English Patient has not aged well and is now criticized for being a boring and a drab affair. There was even a Seinfeld episode that poked fun at the movie for its boring nature. Fargo, on the other hand, is considered one of the best films of the 1990s and one of the best-written movies of all-time.

7 Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler (2009)

The Wrestler (Mickey Rourke)

Mickey Rourke became the prodigal son who returned triumphantly after his fall from grace in the early 1990s. As fast as he shot to fame, he also lost it when he chose to pursue a career in boxing. The change in career ended up punishing his face, and he was hardly recognizable. It wasn't until his return in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler that he was back on the scene. The tour de force set him up as the favorite to take home the Best Actor award. It was a redemption story not even a Hollywood writer could write better. The prodigal son returns to win Oscar gold. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Throughout the awards season, Rourke swept nearly every Best Actor award there was except one (SAG Award). He was the heavy favorite to take home the Oscar, but to everyone’s surprise, he lost. Sean Penn took home his second Best Actor award for Milk. Both of their performances were outstanding, but given the response to Rourke’s performance prior to the Oscars and Penn already having won an Oscar, the timing felt perfect for Rourke to win an Academy Award for the performance of a lifetime, yet he didn't.

6 Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls (2007)

Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls

Eddie Murphy was one of the biggest movie stars in the world in the late 1980s and he carried that momentum into the early 2000s. But after some massive flops, his star began to wane. There was even some speculation if his career was over. That changed in 2006 when he starred in the critically acclaimed musical, Dreamgirls. The comedic actor showed range in his dramatic turn as James “Thunder” Early. He took home most of the awards for supporting actor during the awards season including the Golden Globes and SAG Awards. Everything seemed to be falling into place for Murphy until it all fell apart.

Weeks before the Academy Awards, Murphy starred in the comedy Norbit and it was destroyed by critics. It led to such a negative backlash, many believed it would stop Murphy from winning an Oscar even though he seemed like a shoe-in to win. By the time the ceremony arrived, Murphy lost Best Supporting Actor to Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine. All of this is speculation, but given the buzz surrounding Murphy for the best performance of his career, it came as a big surprise when he lost and people were quick to conjure up this conspiracy theory. 

5 Saving Private Ryan (1999)

Saving Private Ryan

By now it has been established that the Academy really misses the mark with some of its winners. 1999 is one of those years, with Saving Private Ryan missing out on the top prize to Shakespeare In Love. This is not a piece with a singular intention of trashing Shakespeare In Love, but given the ensuing decline in favorable views as a winner, it hasn’t stood the test of time well. This plays out on multiple levels; one being that Saving Private Ryan is seen as the movie that should have won Best Picture that year and second, that it’s also considered one of the best war films of all-time. Losing to a better movie is a recipe for controversy and arguments, and nearly 20 years later, the discussion over why Saving Private Ryan didn’t win Best Picture still continues.

As with many of the films that robbed the losers on this list, Shakespeare In Love is considered among the worst Best Picture winners. Winning the award isn’t a claim that the winner will be seen as one of the best movies of all-time, but when the film fails to leave a lasting legacy - like Saving Private Ryan has - the Academy may have chosen the wrong winner.

4 Russell Crowe for A Beautiful Mind (2002)

A Beautiful Mind (Russell Crowe)

The Australian actor Russell Crowe took Hollywood by storm in the late 1990s and into the early 2000s. Beginning with his role in the critically acclaimed L.A. Confidential in 1997, from 1999-2001 he starred in three movies that earned him three straight Best Actor nominations and won two Best Picture awards. He took the award for Best Actor in 2001 for Gladiator as General Maximus Decimus Meridus and he was the heavy favorite to repeat for his turn John Forbes Nash Jr. in A Beautiful Mind in 2002.

Crowe won every award for Best Actor leading up to the Oscars, but then controversy struck him. After winning the BAFTA, he launched into a tirade against BBC producer for cutting his speech too short. The controversy followed him into the Academy Awards where he lost to Denzel Washington (Training Day). While nothing is concrete, there is much speculation whether the incident led to Crowe losing the award many believed he deserved due to a stronger performance. To this day, the discussion continues whether things would have played out differently had he not gone on that tirade.

3 Goodfellas (1991)


If there ever is a person who has a beef with the Academy Awards over getting robbed of multiple Oscars, no one has a better argument than Martin Scorsese. But the magnitude of the injustice reached a fever point in 1991 when Scorsese’s film, Goodfellas, was shut out of nearly every major award it was nominated for. In fact, it only won one Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci). In 1991, the big winner was Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves, which took home Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. But that film doesn’t hold up nearly as well as Goodfellas, which is now considered one of the greatest films of all-time.

At times it seems as though the Academy is hesitant to embrace a certain kind of filmmaking. Around the early 1990s, it took a conservative approach to rewarding the nominees. Dances With Wolves plays more as a feel-good movie while Goodfellas is unrelenting with its violence. While it is debatable now whether Dances With Wolves should have won the award, the declining reputation of the movie and the greatness of Goodfellas speaks for itself. It was even added to the National Film Registry for its contribution to cinema. The trend of awarding conservative, feel-good movies continued into the rest of the 1990s and it wasn’t that much later that another groundbreaking film was snubbed again.

2 Pulp Fiction (1995)

John Travolta and Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction

Some movies seem to enter a new level of brilliance with their concept-defying achievements. Very few films get the chance to change the movie landscape and the way stories are told, and when they do, they set a new precedent for years to come. Pulp Fiction did just that in 1994. Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece of vignettes sliced together in an inconsequential order delivered a new medium to deliver a storyline. Telling a story that doesn't follow chronological order was so crazy that is was brilliant. The story still crafted a strong plot and rising action while developing the character arcs. Unfortunately for the avant-garde movie, the Academy Awards didn’t deem it a worthy winner of the Best Picture statue.

The winner of the 1995 Academy Award for Best Picture is the beloved Forrest Gump. You won’t find any arguments here decrying it as a bad movie or even an unworthy winner. It’s a great movie, but is the best movie of 1994? When stacked up against Pulp Fiction, the answer is no. That argument is augmented when you consider Pulp Fiction is considered one of the greatest films ever with one of the best scripts ever - for which it was duly rewarded with a Best Original Screenplay Oscar (Quentin Tarantino). As previously mentioned, this was around the time the Academy was leaning on the conservative side and this is another example of a transcending film getting denied again.

1 Conclusion

The Wrestler (Mickey Rourke)

You win some and you lose some. That’s the way things go, but for these nominees, it’s hard not to hold a grudge. All it takes is one chance to win an Oscar and that may be the last time they get. Not everybody is Meryl Streep who is nominated every other year. It’s not always fair, but that’s the way things went. A nomination and living the whole spectacle of Oscar night is a solid consolation price but for these nominees, that golden statue is the one that got away.

Are there any nominees that you felt got robbed of an Oscar? Let us know in the comments below your choices.

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