Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was released in 2008, and as we’ve said before, it became a watershed moment not just for the comic book movie genre, but also the entire film industry. Ranking among the most acclaimed works of the year, Dark Knight collected several accolades, many of which were awarded posthumously to Heath Ledger. The film seemed like such an unstoppable force in pop culture that year that many believed it would secure a Best Picture nomination, following the footsteps of other genre titles that had previously become phenomena.
However, when Oscar morning came about, Nolan’s tour de force was conspicuously left off the ballot. It had acquired eight nods, and would go on to win two awards at the ceremony (Best Supporting Actor and Sound Editing), but the widespread outrage about its Best Picture snub became the larger story. People have always felt the Academy is out of touch, and this was Exhibit A for that belief system.
To their credit, the Oscars responded the following year by expanding the Best Picture category to include 10 nominees (today, it is a sliding scale where anywhere between 5 and 10 films can be nominated) with the goal being to invite more commercial fare to the party. The experiment has overall been a success, as several of the recent Best Picture contenders have gone on to become outright hits at the box office.
However, 2008 was hardly the only year in which the awards show would have benefited from having an expanded category. Every year, hundreds of films are released, and many critic organizations unveil top ten lists because there are frequently more than five movies worthy of being considered “the best.” So what great films missed out on another award nomination just because they came out at the wrong time? We thought about it and compiled the following list of mistimed Best Picture films; those that had the support of Academy branches but couldn’t quite get there.
NOTE: Oscar wins are bolded. Any film released between 2009-2014 was ineligible for inclusion.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Nominations: Best Score
The original animated film; Walt Disney received an honorary award from the Academy for pioneering a new realm of entertainment. It’s rare that the Oscars recognize these types of works for the main Best Picture (using the newer Best Animated Feature category to award them), but it has happened, and since Snow White had such a tremendous impact on film, it would have been hard for them to exclude it were more slots available.
The Third Man (1949)
Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Director (Carol Reed), Best Film Editing
This piece of film Noir was noteworthy for its groundbreaking stylistic choices, which included the introduction of Dutch angles as well as harsh lighting, which helped convey the atmosphere of post-war Vienna. Full of twists and fully-realized characters, The Third Man thrilled and excited audiences, becoming a premiere bit of entertainment.
The African Queen (1951)
Nominations: Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart), Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn), Best Director (John Huston), Best Screenplay
Since it was a player in all the key categories, it’s quite baffling that The African Queen couldn’t get enough support to contend for the main prize. Featuring Bogart at his cynical, charmingly hard-edged best and a thrilling story set during the high stakes of World War I, the ambitious work was certainly loved by many members of the Academy, so it definitely should have secured a Best Picture nomination to go along with all its other accolades .
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Gloria Grahame), Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Actor (Kirk Douglas)
It’s always surprising when a film that gets this much Oscar love, particularly in the major categories, is left off the Best Picture ballot. Throw in the fact that the film is about Hollywood and making movies (something that Academy usually goes for in a heartbeat) and secured many nods for some of the key Oscar precursors, this drama should have been in the field even if it wasn’t an expanded year.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Jean Hagen), Best Musical Score
Widely regarded as one of the best musicals ever made, Gene Kelly’s stirring portrait of Hollywood’s difficult transition from silent films to “talkies” entertained and delighted the hearts of many and still does to this day. The National Board of Review named it one of the top movies of the year, and the Directors and Writers Guilds both noticed it, which typically equates to a Best Picture nod these days.
Rear Window (1954)
Nominations: Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock), Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound
Viewed by many pundits as perhaps the best film by Hitchcock, the director displayed impeccable mastery of filmmaking techniques by taking audiences for this wild, thrilling ride. While the basic plot was more than enough to draw us in and leave us engrossed, there are several other fascinating layers Rear Window forces viewers to explore (morality, etc.) that make it two steps above your typical thriller.
Nominations: Best Sound, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing
The Academy always has a spot for a great musical, especially this one. Receiving a nomination from the Writers Guild for its screenplay and becoming one of the most successful films at the box office during its theatrical run in ’55, this story of love easily could have made a solid case for one of the slots in an expanded Best Picture category.
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Sal Mineo), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Natalie Wood), Best Screenplay
One of James Dean’s most iconic roles (and sadly one of his last), this drama turned film conventions on its head by telling a story of disenfranchised youth and breaking down the growing generational gap in middle class suburbia. The Academy is mocked for being “out of touch” with modern society, but every once in a while they go big for a film that speaks to the country’s contemporary audience (Social Network) and given how popular this film was, it’s alarming it didn’t get a Best Picture nomination.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Nominations: Best Costume Design, Best Director (Billy Wilder), Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction
Wilder’s legendary screwball comedy gave audiences big laughs and musical interludes that made it a perfect piece of entertainment. Featuring a screenplay that so elegantly balanced highbrow and lowbrow humor, and three stars firing on all cylinders (Lemmon, Bryan Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe), this tale of gender-swapping and finding love brought joy to many who saw it.
Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Peter Ustinov), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Music
Stanley Kubrick put audiences right in Ancient Rome with his classic swords and sandals epic. Featuring tremendous scope (as per usual with the director), and a riveting tale of a struggle for freedom from oppression, Spartacus represented why moviegoers went to the theater; to see these larger-than-life stories play out and captivate them for generations.