This coming Sunday, movie lovers will be watching the Academy Awards telecast and betting on which films and creative artists will take home the celebrated prize. Oddly, the history of the Oscars is heavy with classic works that failed to snag a single nomination – and the reasons for the omissions are among the great mysteries of movie history.
For your consideration, here are 10 beloved films that Academy voters failed to bless with any nominations – but, somehow, they achieved classic status without Oscar’s blessing.
“City Lights” (1931): Considered by many film scholars to be Charles Chaplin’s masterpiece, “City Lights” was conspicuously overlooked. Some claim that was because Chaplin stubbornly held on to the silent film format well into the sound era, but F.W. Murnau’s silent “Tabu” won the Best Cinematography Oscar that year. Ironically, the Best Picture winner in that year’s competition, “Cimarron,” is widely regarded as one of the worst films to snag Hollywood’s grand prize.
“King Kong” (1933): Despite the critical and commercial acclaim for “King Kong” and its extraordinary technical achievements, the Academy was indifferent to its greatness. Producer David O. Selznick lobbied the Academy to grant a special award to Willis O’Brien for his special effects mastery, but his efforts were in vain.
“His Girl Friday” (1940): The pinnacle of screwball comedy, this fast-paced, fast-talking knockout should have been a shoo-in to generate nominations for Best Picture and for director Howard Hawks and stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell – none of whom ever won a competitive Oscar.
“Cry, the Beloved Country” (1951): This deeply moving adaptation of Alan Paton’s novel set in apartheid South Africa was too much of a political hot potato for the Academy – between its quiet condemnation of racial discrimination and leading actor Canada Lee’s fight against the Hollywood blacklist, the film never found its way to the Oscar ballot.
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953): Another Howard Hawks treasure that the Academy buried – with its Technicolor glory, memorable costuming and production design, a score with fun new songs and, of course, its voluptuous stars at the peaks of the power, this snub is among the most astonishing in Oscars history.
“The Searchers” (1956): A forceful argument could be made that this work represented the pinnacle of John Ford’s and John Wayne’s respective careers and the Western genre. But the Academy rarely granted its honors on Westerns, which may explain why this classic was omitted from the year’s nominations.
“Compulsion” (1959): Richard Fleischer’s jolting dramatization of the Leopold and Loeb case earned him a Director’s Guild of America Award nomination, while Richard Murphy’s screenplay was nominated for the Writers Guild of American Award and stars Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman shared the Best Actor prize from the Cannes Film Festival. And that’s where the film’s awards ended – nothing from the Academy.
“Breathless” (1960): The Academy voters had no problems bestowing nominations on the French New Wave entries “The 400 Blows” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” but they couldn’t bring themselves to extend their admiration to Jean-Luc Godard’s innovative drama. Indeed, no Godard film would ever receive an Oscar nomination, and by the time the great director was given an honorary Oscar in 2010 he didn’t bother showing up to the ceremony.
“Airplane!” (1980): Surely you can’t be serious that this film – with its too-funny screenplay and to-die-for performances by Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges and Stephen Stucker – got passed over? I am serious – and don’t call me Shirley!
“The Terminator” (1984): It is impossible to comprehend that this film couldn’t even get nominated in any of the technical categories – although its imaginative screenplay deserved commendation. At least it won three Saturn Awards, so someone in the film industry appreciated it.
“The Big Lebowski” (1998): The Academy would eventually get around to giving Jeff Bridges an Oscar for 2009’s “Crazy Heart,” but most movie lovers who are not Academy voters will always identify him as The Dude in this 1998 cult classic.
Of course, there are countless other great films overlooked by the Oscars. If your favorites aren’t among this list, please share your choices in the comments section below.