head head head
Home Contact RSS Feed
11 Questionable Best Picture Oscar Wins
The Movie God   |  @   |  


In the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science’s soon to be 81 awards ceremonies, countless awards have been handed out. The most important of these awards is the coveted Best Picture.

Now, every single year there’s an award won that appears rather questionable. Sometimes it’s just something or someone we really wanted to win that wasn’t necessarily better than the eventual winner. Sometimes a movie or person so undeniably deserving of the prize is passed up and the award is thrown elsewhere, which usually sparks an uproar. Then there’s those innocent and rare occasions when an award is given out without a second glance; but after some time passes these choices may seem just a little more questionable. This is a list for those times.

In honor of this year’s Oscars ceremony taking place tonight, I’ve decided to offer a peek at the history of Best Picture winners — who won, who maybe should have won, and even who might have won knowing what we know today. Should The French Connection have beaten A Clockwork Orange? Should One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest beat out Jaws? Can you say today that E.T. is better than Ghandi, or not a chance? These are far too difficult examples to say, but some years offer up runner-ups who we may just hold higher and closer to our hearts today then we did then.

In hopes of tonight not holding any enraging upsets, please enjoy The Most Questionable Choices In Best Picture History. Oh, and keep in mind that these are just food for thought mixed with a little personal opinion. Sometimes it’s just a little trippy to think about what was and what might have been.

Click on over to the other side to check out the list. Bolded at the top are the year, followed by the winning picture vs. what perhaps should have been the winner. Images are typically for those who may be considered better today.

1941 — How Green Was My Valley vs. Citizen Cane

KaneWhile I wasn’t around in the early days, which makes it much harder to tell whether a decision was legit or not, the very first year to catch my eye and make me scratch my head was 1941. That year, ten movies were nominated for Outstanding Motion Picture, with How Green Was My Valley taking the top prize. One of the other movies nominated that year had a very hard struggle to get where it was and it even was almost not released at all, but today, it’s one of the most recognizable titles of all time and consistently at or near the top of lists choosing the greatest movies ever made. Knowing this information back in 1941 would have surely landed this movie the award it never won. That movie was Citizen Kane.

1964 — My Fair Lady vs. Dr. Strangelove

Dr. StrangeloveTwenty-three years after the first curious year, a movie called My Fair Lady, which starred Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, took the Best Picture crown. While this movie is a classic and was well-deserving of its win, another film on this list stands out to me: Stanley Kubrick‘s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This movie is just as good and just as relevant today as it was in 1964, which makes one wonder that if we knew then what we know now, would things have been different? A comedy about a government struggling to stop a nuclear war from erupting, supported by the legendary trio of performances by the late, great Peter Sellers makes me think they just might have been.

1976 — Rocky vs. Taxi Driver

Taxi DriverWe all love Rocky and we all love a good underdog story. We all may not love Rocky‘s five sequels so much, but the character and the movies are some of the most recognizable in history. However, another movie was nominated in 1976 that demands that you see it and wonder. The movie is called Taxi Driver, and it was directed by Martin Scorsese and starred a young Robert De Niro and an even younger Jodie Foster. Looking at it now, would this dark tale of a young insomniac taxi driver who slowly loses his grip on reality win the ultimate prize over the underdog boxer? I feel it just might have.

1977 — Annie Hall vs. Star Wars

Star WarsThis is a tricky one. One of the other movies nominated in 1977 is also one of the most important films ever made, as well as the start to one of, if not, THE biggest and most financially successful franchises of all time: Star Wars (the original). While Star Wars is as incredibly important as it is, can you say today that it’s a better all-around movie that should have beaten Woody Allen‘s comedy Annie Hall? I think I have to say things worked out perfectly fine here. While George Lucas‘s saga is the stuff of legends, it does have its down points. Also, a lot of people would choose The Empire Strikes Back over it any day. On the other side, if you haven’t seen it, Annie Hall is a really great movie; it’s funny and smart and quite possibly the best that Allen has ever made. I know my saying this could shock and anger Star Wars fans worldwide, but in this particular case, it’s hard to say anything should be different about 1977.

1981 — Chariots of Fire vs. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost ArkThis one could be the first really hard-to-swallow selection. I was born this year, but to this day I have not seen Chariots of Fire. It may be a great movie, I don’t really know, but I look at the fact that Raiders of the Lost Ark was nominated that year and it just makes you wonder. While Indiana Jones has become another larger-than-life title/icon, recognizable all over the world by all ages, you just never ever hear anything about Chariots of Fire, and this says something. Honestly, the only things I know about the movie is that it was about running, and that the song was used in that Nintendo game, Track and Field. Even to this year with our hopes of The Dark Knight getting nominated, you can see the examples of how action movies aren’t always looked at as they maybe should be.

1990 — Dances With Wolves vs. Goodfellas

GoodfellasAs we get into more recent years, with a much more fresh memory of winners and losers, you have to stop wondering if time and knowledge would change the outcome of a Best Picture winner, and start wondering why something just didn’t win to begin with. Dances With Wolves is a very good (albeit very long) movie, with a wonderful story, solid acting, beautiful scenery, and that huge, epic feel that Oscar loves so dearly. Another movie was nominated that year, though, and we know it as Goodfellas. I really don’t even have to ask if anyone thinks it would beat out Kevin Costner’s western today, because it’s just that popular and that loved. I’d be more curious to see if it would have won only the next day. Thankfully, many years later, a little movie called The Departed made up for this… at least in the mind of Mr. Scorsese.

1994 — Forrest Gump vs. The Shawshank Redemption vs. Pulp Fiction

ShawshankAllow me to start this one by saying that I love Forrest Gump and think that it more than deserved its Best Picture win, even if it’s not my favorite of the 1994 contenders. The reason that I bring up this year is because it just may be the most impressive year for Best Picture nominees. Ever. While Gump is fantastic and easily a legit winner, two other huge titles were nominated that year that would have movie lovers arguing for weeks over the real best picture of the group: The Shawshank Redemption or Pulp Fiction. It hurts my brain to even begin thinking about these movies in comparison to one another, so I won’t even try. It’s just worth noting that any one of these three could win on any particular day. A peek at IMDB would show Shawshank and Pulp Fiction as two of the top five movies of all time, with Forrest Gump at 44. Out of 250 movies, this is a mind-blowing Best Picture group, which was rounded off by Quiz Show and Four Weddings and A Funeral.

1997 — Titanic vs. Good Will Hunting vs. The Full Monty

TitanicAnother super-power year was 1997. Titanic seemed to take home the Oscar before the nominees were even announced, but when you look back at the nominees now, does it still loom large over everything else? Also nominated that year were Good Will Hunting and The Full Monty [and LA Confidential]. You could make cases for all of these in their own right, and in some cases you might be correct. The truth here though, is that Titanic was just too damn huge, and too damn good to not vote for it, and that fact stands true to this very day. It’s still breathtaking to watch that movie and just take in the size and scope of everything that James Cameron created.

1998 — Shakespeare in Love vs. Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private RyanIt’s still difficult to even type that out. 1998 goes without saying; everyone knows the deal, everyone knows what happens, and it’s hard to find even one person who can legitimately make an argument otherwise. This year’s Oscars will quite possibly forever be known as holding the very worst choice in Academy Awards history. While Shakespeare in Love is a perfectly fine film to watch, no human being with a soul can look me in the eyes and tell me that it’s better than Steven Spielberg’s brutal World War II epic, Saving Private Ryan. It’s as simple as that. For me personally, a Life is Beautiful — which was also nominated that year — is also a better choice than Shakespeare, but considering it pulled off the rare feat of being a foreign language film and nominated for overall Best Picture, that was enough.

2002 — Chicago vs. Gangs of New York

GangsAnother painful one to see, it’s still amazing to think that this musical took home Best Picture. Again, a good movie in its own right, but the very best movie of the year? That’s a little harder to swallow. While you can’t say that The Hours or The Pianist were so good that they should have won, you could scream your argument for the other two runner-ups. One was the second (and favorite of some) in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers. The other brings us yet again to Mr. Martin Scorsese with Gangs of New York, the movie I personally think deserved the prize then and still today. This year still pains me to think about for Denzel Washington‘s win over the unbearably good Daniel-Day Lewis as Bill the Butcher in Gangs.

2004 — Million Dollar Baby vs. Finding Neverland vs. Sideways

SidewaysWhen Million Dollar Baby pulled off the win, I remember being pretty happy. I enjoyed the movie and love Clint Eastwood, so there was nothing to dislike. Now, five years later you have to look back at this one as a little curious. While the movie is still a good film and it’s not easy to make an argument against it, two of the other films nominated do stand higher than it in my world: Finding Neverland and Sideways. Neverland isn’t all that hugely popular, so it would more likely be back with the other nominees The Aviator and Ray, but it’s hard to look at Sideways and put it below any of them. This curious selection may just go hand-in-hand with the infamous snub of Paul Giamatti in the acting arena.

This completes our list of Oscar’s most curious winners over the past 70 years or so. As we become more recent, it’s harder to see or say what might be questionable. Will we look back 20 or 40 years from now and say “How could Crash have possibly beaten Munich?”, or “There’s no way No Country For Old Men was better than There Will Be Blood!”? We just may.

One thing is for sure, though — if anything but Slumdog Millionaire wins on tonight, we may just have an instant addition to this list of questionable Best Picture winners.


  1. ’94 and ’97 were indeed exceptional years. I liked your take on ’94 in particular. Gump bashing is on the rise in recent years, and you correctly state that it was a worthy film, even if Shawshank and Pulp were equally worthy.

    But in the ’97 discussion, how do you leave LA Confidential out of the discussion? That movie was freaking awesome! If you haven’t seen the film, check it out. It is one step below Goodfellas level.

    That movie had great writing and direction, plus one heck of a cast: Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pierce, James Cromwell, Danny Devito, David Strathairn, and Kim Bassinger.

    [Editor’s Notes: Actually, LA Confidential had been listed originally as a worthy contender, it seems I must have accidentally deleted it! Sorry TheMovieGod!]

    Comment by middleman — February 22, 2009 @ 10:02 am

  2. I have boycotted the Oscars ever since Forrest Gump beat Pulp Fiction.

    How can the Academy reward feel-good schlock like Forrest Gump over of a paradigm changing film like Pulp Fiction? I have no use for any institution that would do such a thing.

    Chicago vs. Gangs of New York is another good example of the Academy’s myopia.

    Comment by Paul — February 22, 2009 @ 10:15 am

  3. +1 on LA Confidential. Most egregious loss in last 20 years of Oscars.

    Comment by TM — February 22, 2009 @ 11:22 am

  4. Regarding comments in the above-mentioned post about “Chariots of Fire,” you really do need to see it. As much as I love “Raiders,” there simply is no comparison, and “Raiders” just had the misfortune of coming out the same year as one of the most sublimely profound movies ever made. It’s just an apples-organges thing. “Raiders” is perhaps the greatest popcorn movie ever made and a loving tribute to 1940s movie serials and action-adventure movies, but “Chariots” gets at man’s inner convictions and integrity, with a key point being the personal faiths of the men involved in the race including one (Eric Liddell, a comitted Christian) who refuses to run on Sundays. As for not hearing anything about it, you’re just not traveling in the same circles as the fans of the film, who are legion the world over. There was even a one-man play that was a sequel about what happened to Eric Liddell AFTER the events depicting in the movie, and talk of turning that stage show into a movie. It is a movie that has impacted people’s lives in major ways, inspiring them to reinforce their own convictions. The little movie that could… did.

    Comment by Paul — February 22, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

  5. I remember bitterly the win of Forrest Gump over Shawshank Redemption. Pathetic. (Please note, I like Pulp Fiction a lot too, but Shawshank touched me.) 1990 was a tough year. Good Fellas vs. Dances with Wolves could go either way for me. The Oscars lost all prestige for me since Shakespeare in Love won best picture. What a stupid, ridiculous movie, totally lacking in entertainment value.

    Dr. Strangelove should have won. It’s a masterpiece. I can’t go a year without watching it, and it gets better every time I watch it. I even refer to my new flat panel TV as the “big board.”

    Comment by Tracy Falbe — February 22, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

  6. 1994? Gump was, is, and will always be, a piece of shit. Gump was not a good person. Goodness requires being aware of a spectrum of choices and consciously and deliberately making a good one. Being too stupid to have that awareness and making “good” choices by accident doesn’t make a character good, it just makes them an idiot. The dumb luck of a bumbling moron doesn’t make a compelling story to me. What it did have was the overwrought, telegraphed emotional puppetry that the Academy loves.

    For me, Pulp Fiction, like so much of Tarantino’s work, is a collection of cool and self-aggrandizing scenes and lines that don’t in any way come together to make a coherent movie. It’s enjoyable, but not actually a good film.

    Shawshank was a soup-to-nuts exceptional execution of an exceptional story. This one should have been no contest.

    Good Will Hunting is so far superior to Titanic that I don’t even know where to begin.

    Comment by 1-900-HEY-NICK — February 22, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

  7. Chariots Of Fire, while not a slam-bam action movie, is a very important film, telling the true story of two runners competing for Britain in the 1924 Olympics. One was a Jew, the other a devout Christian. It tells an important and compelling story. Just not one that you want to watch 21 times in 21 days.

    Comment by Smed — February 22, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

  8. Very interesting, thoughtful and enjoyable article.

    Comment by tstar69 — February 23, 2009 @ 7:26 am

  9. It is terrible to hear that Denzel Washington is not warranted by Training Day, but did not say that it was not given by Malcolm X and Hurricaine for political reasons.

    Comment by amparo — February 24, 2009 @ 4:42 am

  10. My humble opinion: Forrest Gump is a huge preposterous turd. It may feel great to americans to see such an onanistic look at their own history but overseas it’s just one of these ‘american flag’ BS.
    The Shawshank redemption should have won, such a perfect story, acting, directing… It is aging far better than pulp fiction.

    Comment by flakeyfoont — March 6, 2009 @ 8:00 am

  11. to the contrary, the departed’s win is a blot on scorsese’s legacy when his better films have lost. the remake didn’t do justice to the far-superior original. judged on its own de/merits: departed has good acting/direction, although you can poke many (justified) holes in the plot.

    Comment by jim — March 7, 2009 @ 11:42 pm

  12. Oscars have always been strange and I guess will continue to be. Gangs of New York is probably one of Scorcese’s worst. I watched it twice and remember thinking each time “Boy, what a mess!”

    Not that “The Departed” was any great. And therein lies the problem with Oscars. There irritating tendency to honor someone for their lesser work to make up for failing to recognise their earlier, superior one. I think they are losing importance for the modern audience all over – the constant slide in their ratings is well enough indicative of this.

    I too hate Gump with a vengeance. “Life is like a box of chocolates you never know which one you’ll choke on”. Rubbish. Also “Saving Private Ryan” is a complete cheat. A war monger of a film masquerading as anti-war film. Let’s fight, this is the most decent thing we can do in this war (paraphrase of Tom Sizemore line)Huh? I can’t believe Indiana Jones even got nominated. Shawshank, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction are much worthy. And I also can’t believe they passed Citizen Kane!

    Great idea for an article, by the way. But not very well written.

    Comment by Shaz — April 25, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

  13. Almost a good list. I haven’t seen How Green Was My Valley, but I think Citizen Kane was great and it is definitely hard to beat. Even though I haven’t seen My Fair Lady, I really don’t think Dr. Strangelove could be better than it, since it was very boring, and not really funny, the only good thing about it was Peter Sellers’ performance and the social comments. I agree with Taxi Driver over Rocky, although I would have chosen Network over both, because it is a brilliant film. Definitely Star Wars should have won because Annie Hall is a very lacking film and I choose Star Wars even though I’m not really a fan. I loved Raiders of the Lost Ark so I guess I agree with you on that. No comment for 1990. In 1994 I agree that Pulp Fiction should have won and not Forrest Gump or The Shawshank Redemption (which I find very good but very overrated as well). In 1997 no movie could compete with Titanic and much less The Full Monty which was not even in the same level as Titanic in any way. No comment for 1998. My pick is definitely still Chicago for 2002 and in 2004, not Million Dollar Baby but obviously not Sideways which is an irrelevant film, definitely my choice is The Aviator.

    Comment by Armando — October 13, 2010 @ 6:41 pm

  14. L.A. Confidential was better than Titanic, Good Will Hunting OR The Full Monty.

    Comment by alkh3myst — November 29, 2016 @ 6:10 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Topics: Features, Movies
Previous Article
Next Article
You may have noticed that we're now AD FREE! Please support Geeks of Doom by using the Amazon Affiliate link above. All of our proceeds from the program go toward maintaining this site.
Geeks of Doom on Twitter Geeks of Doom on Facebook Geeks of Doom on Instagram Follow Geeks of Doom on Tumblr Geeks of Doom on YouTube Geeks of Doom Email Digest Geeks of Doom RSS Feed
The Drill Down Podcast TARDISblend Podcast Westworld Podcast
2023  ·   2022  ·   2021  ·   2020  ·   2019  ·   2018  ·   2017  ·   2016  ·   2015  ·   2014  ·  
2013  ·   2012  ·   2011  ·   2010  ·   2009  ·   2008  ·   2007  ·   2006  ·   2005
Geeks of Doom is proudly powered by WordPress.

Students of the Unusual™ comic cover used with permission of 3BoysProductions
The Mercuri Bros.™ comic cover used with permission of Prodigal Son Press

Geeks of Doom is designed and maintained by our geeky webmaster
All original content copyright ©2005-2023 Geeks of Doom
All external content copyright of its respective owner, except where noted
Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under
a Creative Commons License.
About | Privacy Policy | Contact