To win an Academy Award is the greatest honor any movie can receive. Sure, Golden Globes and SAG Awards are nice, but to put the title of “Oscar Winner” next to your film will make it remembered for decades to come. Through the years, there have actually been a number of surprising titles that can put themselves in this category: The Dark Knight, Suicide Squad, 8 Mile, and Avatar are just a few of the less “awards bait” movies to win the big award – though to be fair, most of the wins were in technical categories.
Then there are some movies that take home the little gold statue that make us wonder: “What were they thinking?” The tastes of the general public don’t always align with what the Academy thinks is best. This is why movies like Transformers and The Fast and the Furious can destroy box office records and then get completely snobbed by the voters.
It works the other way, as well: there are a lot of movies that were released to critical acclaim and went on to win multiple awards, that general audiences absolutely despised.
Here are 16 Oscar Winning Movies That Audiences Hated!
16. King Kong (2005)
When it was announced that King Kong was being remade for the upteenth time, audiences were excited that the new film was in the hands of Peter Jackson, the visionary director of the Lord of the Rings franchise. Jackson was still riding the success of his mega-hit trilogy and gathered a huge cast of A-list actors for Kong. His efforts were rewarded with a huge haul at the box office and multiple Oscar wins in the Academy’s technical categories.
The thing is that King Kong wasn’t as big of a hit with audiences as it was with Oscar voters. Though they loved the effects, action scenes, and charismatic actors, many fans felt the story was dragged on with the 187 minute run time. Others felt that the movie did little to differentiate itself from previous Kong films.
15. Alice in Wonderland
It’s not too hard to see why Alice in Wonderland won Oscars for its production design and costumes. This was the first time that somebody handed Tim Burton a limitless budget and told him to go to work with CGI. The director didn’t fail to impress the Academy, delivering a film that was a total visual spectacle ripped straight from his twisted mind. On top of winning these Oscars, Alice was a smash-hit at the box office!
The problem was that, other than its impressive visuals, the movie didn’t have much going for it.
Critics and audiences alike thought the story dull – both scores are “Rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes.
Many also lamented Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter, who they claimed was just Jack Sparrow in white make-up. However, the financial success of the movie allowed a sequel to be greenlit; Through the Looking Glass was even more despised and was a financial and critical flop.
Back in 2011, Martin Scorsese tried his hand at a family-friendly film with Hugo. Based upon the classic book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese’s flick was met with high praise. It currently sits with a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and has an 83% on Metacritic. During awards season the movie was nominated for several Oscars, winning five of the eleven categories it was nominated for.
However, nobody seemed to want to watch the movie.
Hugo was a huge bomb at the box office.
The tale of the young boy trying to solve the mystery of an automaton just netted a profit of $10 million (not taking into account marketing or other expenses). This razor-thin margin wouldn’t have been so terrible if the studio hadn’t invested $170 million into its production!
13. Pearl Harbor
Released in 2001, Pearl Harbor starred a young Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. as members of the U.S. military stationed at Pearl Harbor Naval Base in 1941. We all know what happens next.
Amidst the horrific surprise attack on the base, a love triangle develops between the leads. Like most Michael Bay films, the action set pieces were second to none. The Academy rewarded Pearl Harbor with a Best Sound Editing Oscar.
This is arguably the most controversial entry on this list.
Depending on who you ask, Pearl Harbor is either a great romantic tale or an awful Michael Bay vehicle. Generally, this argument leans heavily towards the latter; the movie has a 22% on Rotten Tomatoes due to its terrible historical inaccuracies and story that is just a cheap rip-off of Titanic.
Surprisingly, 1984’s Flashdance didn’t win its Oscar for the song from the scene everybody remembers – nor did it win for “Maniac.” Instead, it won Best Original Song for “Flashdance…What a Feeling”.
The story of the Steel Town Girl who aspires to be a professional dancer was a massive hit at the box office and has most certainly left its own mark on pop culture, even all these years later.
When it was first released, the critics completely destroyed Flashdance. Esteemed critic Roger Ebert even placed the movie on his “Most Hated of All Time” list! It currently holds an abysmal 39% Metacritic score and an equally as bad 33% on Rotten Tomatoes.
11. The Golden Compass
The Golden Compass was intended to be the first installment of a franchise based upon the popular His Dark Materials series of novels. The film was New Line Cinema’s most expensive project to date, and the studio pulled out all the stops with actors like Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, and Ian McKellen starring. The steampunk aesthetic of the world helped net the film an Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 2008.
The Golden Compass did abysmal at the box office, and the resulting loss directly led to the complete restructuring of New Line Cinema as a production company. The production itself was marred with controversy, as well; outrage over the franchises’ anti-religious themes caused severe edits to the story.
10. The Hurt Locker
2010 was supposed to be the year of Avatar. It was the first year that the Academy allowed a larger pool of nominees for Best Picture, and it looked like James Cameron’s visual masterpiece may just have a shot at the prize. Then came a last-minute push from The Hurt Locker. The Iraq War drama starring Jeremy Renner ended up going on to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and a slew of technical awards.
Apparently general audiences didn’t get the memo that the movie was a big deal. When it was released in June of 2009, The Hurt Locker bombed hard. The film cost about $15 million to make. At the end of its run, it had only raked in about $14.2 million, making it a financial failure as well as the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner of all time!
In 1985, Amadeus completely dominated the Oscars. The biographical story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart took home a whopping eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture!
Interestingly enough, there are two cuts of the film: The first is the theatrical, PG-rated version. In 2002, the film’s director released Amadeus with cut footage that upped the rating all the way to an R.
But who even remembers Amadeus?
The movie was a critical darling, but it was a complete failure at the box office. Sure, it made back its production budget, but once you account for marketing and other costs the film just broke even. Though it was still “successful,” a two-and-a-half hour period piece just didn’t woo general audiences like other movies of that year.
8. The Iron Lady
Is there an actress more dynamic than Meryl Streep?
Streep has won three “Best Actress” Oscars, and just putting her in your film seems to make it an instant contender. 2011’s Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady was no different. The movie snagged Streep her third award and earned a win in the category of Best Make-Up.
Despite an incredible performance from Streep, The Iron Lady didn’t do enough to woo over critics or the general audience. The film was considered a smashing financial success, but only netted a rating of 51% on Rotten Tomatoes in both the critics and audience categories. The Iron Lady also has an extremely poor score of 54% on Metacritic and a “meh” rating on IMDB.
7. Harry and the Hendersons
Believe it or not, yes, Harry and the Hendersons is an Oscar-winning movie. The story of a small-town family that accidentally injures Bigfoot on a camping trip and takes him in as part of their own family snagged a highly-coveted Oscar win in 1988 for Best Make-Up. We can see why: the costume for the character of Harry is about as realistic as you can get (for a Sasquatch, or course).
The reason it may surprise you to see Harry and the Hendersons on this list is because it is generally regarded as a terrible film. A guilty pleasure, sure, but a terrible movie nonetheless!
6. Citizen Kane
Today, Citizen Kane is considered by many to be the greatest piece of cinema ever made. Written, directed, and starring the legendary Orson Welles, the film followed a reporter tasked with invtigating the last words of tycoon Charles Foster Kane. Surprisingly, the so-called greatest movie ever made only won a single Oscar, for Best Original Screenplay.
This was perhaps because, when it was first released, people didn’t like Citizen Kane. Welles’ film had to struggle against a smear campaign from William Hearst (the inspiration for the character of Kane), who felt it was a personal attack on himself.
5. BUtterfield 8
Every now and again there comes a movie that was just tailor-made to snag its lead actor an Oscar. The Revenant was the one for Dicaprio. It was The Queen for Helen Mirren. For Golden Age icon Elizabeth Taylor, it was BUtterfield 8. The story of this drama followed Taylor’s character, a call girl who has an affair with a very wealthy man.
You probably don’t remember this movie because all it did was serve its original purpose; it gave Taylor a stage to shine on without much in the way of directing, supporting actors, or writing to overshadow her performance.
The movie was a hit when it was released, but it fared pretty poorly with audiences, who have quickly forgotten it. Those who do remember it don’t do so fondly; it currently sits at a middling 47% with audiences on Rotten Tomatoes.
4. The Wolfman
In 2010 fans of classic horror were either super excited or completely disgusted that director Joe Johnson (of Captain America fame) released his remake of The Wolfman. The original film was one of the greatest horror movies ever made, so anything that came after it was going to have a hard time living up to the hype.
One thing that everyone could agree on, however, was that the Wolfman himself looked amazing! The Academy agreed, and awarded the picture with an Oscar for its make-up.
The thing is, the movie itself was extremely lackluster. The Wolfman looked cool, but the movie was plagued with terrible acting as well as some terribl story beats on top of a lack of scares. For a horror movie this is the kiss of death. Audiences and critics alike hated the movie, which flopped at the box office.
3. The Greatest Show on Earth
The Greatest Show on Earth was the 1950’s equivalent of Oscar bait. The movie was produced and directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille and starred Betty Huton, Cornel Wilde, Charlton Heston, and James Stewart. The plot followed the drama behind the scenes at the Barnum & Bailey Circus and was a massive box office hit when it was first released. The Greatest Show on Earth won an Oscar for Best Picture as well as Best Story.
The film has a ranking of 44% on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the lowest-rated Best Picture winner of all time. It also didn’t help that it beat out High Noon for the award (a movie that is regarded as one of the great classics today). More significantly, only 55% of audience voters on Rotten Tomatoes enjoyed the movie.
Starring Charlton Heston at the height of his career, Earthquake was a movie that followed a crew of rag-tag survivors after a massive earthquake destroys Los Angeles. The movie was highly regarded for its special effects, including the use of the revolutionary Sensurround effect. This audio effect used low bass frequencies to give theater-goers the impression that they were really feeling things like earthquakes and bombing raids.
The Academy recognized Earthquake for its technical accomplishment, giving it the Oscar for Best Sound Mixing. However, if it were not for the novelty of this new effect, this movie wouldn’t have been anywhere near the Academy Awards.
Earthquake was viewed back then as we view movies like San Andreas or 2012 today: total schlock with some pretty visuals and a few fun scenes. Despite being the third-highest grossing film of ’74, the movie was torn to shreds by critics and has a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of just 36%.
1. The Wizard of Oz
Released in 1939, The Wizard of Oz was one of the first films to ever be shown in color. Over the years it has become regarded as one of the most important movie in cinematic history. Pretty much everybody has watched it at some point in time. At the 1940 Academy Awards Ceremony, it received multiple nominations and ultimately took home the prize for Best Original Score.
It may be considered a classic today, but The Wizard of Oz was horribly received back in the day. The film was a nightmare to produce, racking up a $2.7 million dollar production budget. The economy was still coming out of the Great Depression, which led to it only making about $3 million total.
Once distribution costs were added on, The Wizard of Oz was a $1 million loss for MGM. Reviews were surprisingly mixed, as well, with one critic even calling the film “a stinkeroo.”
Were audiences too harsh on these movies? Did the Academy get these winners wrong? Let us know in the comments!
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