Great Oscar Snubs Part 2: 10 Best Films not Nominated for an Oscar

Posted by Wade Sheeler February 20, 2013 19 Comments 26072 views

They always say, “It’s a thrill just being nominated.” But what about the great films that got no respect at all? Oscar’s history is littered with some of cinema’s finest that weren’t even invited to the party. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to play armchair quarterback upon seeing the timeless classics that coulda, woulda, shoulda been nominated, and complain that the Academy made foolish and shortsighted decisions. To be fair, how can we say a good film of today will go on to be a classic tomorrow? Sometimes you can tell, but mostly, it’s a gamble. So, we’ll give Oscar that – you can’t always pick an immortal performance, director or film. But even recently, when you end up with Best Pictures Shakespeare in Love or Crash, you know some type of mass hysteria or successful mind-altering PR campaign took hold, just as in 1993, when Marisa Tomei’s publicist laughed all the way to the bank.

What are your best films that didn’t even get nominated? Tell us in the comments!

10 Best Films Not Nominated for an Oscar

City Lights (1931)

Started in 1928, Charlie Chaplin’s greatest work remained a silent film with synchronized sound effects and his own musical score. Released during the onslaught of talkies, it persevered despite conventional wisdom that a silent film was an anachronistic curio of the past. It stands today as a monument to his career, with an ending that film critic James Agee believed to be “the greatest piece of acting and the highest moment in movies.” Modern Times, released 5 years later, is also one of his greatest films, and also received no nominations. Was it his scandalous personal life or his questionable political affiliations that soured him with the Academy? Either way, like Hitchcock, Chaplin was and is one of the greatest filmmakers to be “virtually” ignored by Oscar. BEST FILM of 1931: Cimarron

Still image from "City Lights"


Tie: Dracula and Frankenstein (1931)

Still image from "Frankenstein"


Still image from "Frankenstein"

Horror, comedy and westerns generally get short shrift during Oscar time, until decades later, when the Academy’s dim view of genre films began to broaden. Both Tod Browning’s Dracula and James Whale’s Frankenstein put Universal and these characters on the map. Both are atmospheric and creepy – and although there is a creakiness to Dracula’s acting, if it wasn’t for Bela Lugosi donning the cape and the “enigmatic” accent, who knows what the most famous vampire in history would look and sound like today? Gary Oldman? And Boris Karloff’s monster, while radically different in design from Mary Shelley’s rendering, created the mold that all movie monsters would either follow or reject. Boy, 1931. They really missed the mark that year. Again: Cimarron?

King Kong (1933)

Still image from "King Kong"

Speaking of monster movies, they never seem to get a break. For this iconic tale of monster love – nada, zip, nothing. My parents and grandparents and their contemporaries found it to be a revelation. It was Star Wars for the Depression-age, and it’s one of the great Oscar snubs to realize this groundbreaking “horror” film got passed over like a goat bloodied doorway, without a single nomination in any category. ‘Twasn’t beauty killed the beast, ‘twas Oscar. BEST FILM: Cavalcade

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Still image from "The Shop Around the Corner"

The Lubitsch “touch,” the indefinable “something””that pervaded Ernst Lubitsch’s best films (including deft storytelling, vivid characters, brilliant and funny dialogue, simple but effective staging) was never more apparent than in this lovable romantic comedy that sadly begat that bloated and confused modern offspring “You’ve Got Mail.” It’s known as the Christmas tale of two store employees who despise each other, but are each others unknowingly “in love” pen pals. It is so much more than that, as all the fleshed out and believable characters of Matuschek and Company are an unofficial little family. It’s all the more shocking when a 12th hour suicide attempt gives the heretofore light comedy greater resonance and brilliance. Not an Oscar peck? Even for screenplay? A shame. BEST FILM: Rebecca, BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: The Philadelphia Story (I really can’t argue those, but at least nominate the film!)

My Darling Clementine (1946)

Still image from "My Darling Clementine"

When most people think of Henry Fonda and John Ford together, they immediately go to THE GRAPES OF WRATH, definitely one of the greatest social dramas from classic Hollywood. But this, the strongest film version about Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the OK Corral, stands out as another of John Ford’s great westerns. Each scene is rendered with depth, subtlety, and power. And the director’s ability to seamlessly change tone from drama, action, comedy to romance is only matched by the ensemble of actors who could work flawlessly within those confines. While the showcase is the final gunfight, the scenes that always resonate in my memory are the quiet ones; Henry Fonda perched on the porch chair on a Sunday morning, playing a balancing act with a wood beam, drunk Victor Mature fishing a bullet out of Linda Darnell while far in the distance; drunks howl, or the quiet march of Wyatt Earp and his brothers before the gun storm. BEST FILM: The Best Years of Our Lives

Night of the Hunter (1955)

Still image from "The Night of the Hunter"

For his only outing as director, lauded actor Charles Laughton decided upon this warped fable of good vs evil, the story of an insane “preacher” who marries and murders a widow and chases her children down for $10,000 in hidden treasure. Sporting “HATE” and “LOVE” tattooed across his knuckles, Robert Mitchum is frightening, hilarious and seductive as the psychotic religious fanatic, a character whose shadings would turn up again in Martin Scoresese’s remake of Cape Fear, when DeNiro reprised Mitchum’s role from the original Cape Fear, but chose to create a strange melding of two performances. His sing-songy calling out to Nick Nolte’s “Counselor? Counselor?” is done with the same chilling menace of Mitchum’s “Children? Children?” in Night of the Hunter. Laughton’s obsessive specificity supposedly made this great piece of art too much of a spiritual burden for the actor turned director, and he never made another film. Which is a pity, because his eye and ear for moviemaking were pitch perfect. BEST FILM: Marty

The Searchers (1956)

Still image from "The Searchers"

Beautiful, majestic, exciting and tragic, John Ford’s widescreen, Technicolor examination of vengeance, obsession, and racism has made it onto many top ten lists. It is also considered one of John Wayne’s most multi-layered and sensitive performances. A dishonored Civil War vet goes on a years long trek to find and rescue (or kill?) his niece, kidnapped by Indians after his last remaining relatives are slaughtered. Ethan Edward’s catchphrase “That’ll be the day,” not only inspired Buddy Holly, but generations of filmmakers. Perhaps again, it was the public’s inability to see the forest for the trees when it came to westerns, considering The Searchers one of many “oaters” and “horse operas” of the period. But from the opening shot, bursting through a door out to Ford’s Monument Valley, to the final image of Wayne in the same doorway, posed in honor of early cowboy Harry Carey, then turning and facing an unknown future as the door shuts behind him, this is one of the most rich, stirring and powerful films of all time. BEST FILM: Around the World in 80 Days

A Face in the Crowd (1957)


As crowning an achievement as On the Waterfront is, my favorite Eliza Kazan directed film is A Face in the Crowd. A profoundly prescient prediction of things to come, the movie follows a “man of the people,” Lonesome Rhodes, from relative obscurity into the eye of a media hurricane. From radio to television and finally politics, this modern day messiah has an unquenchable lust for power, and the true evil nature of Rhodes, and of all men, comes to a nauseating and realistic conclusion. The real revelation, however, is that Andy Griffith, known today as the sheriff of Mayberry and even more benignly, as lovable, cuddly Matlock, is this film’s demon-like antagonist. A Face in the Crowd remains a parable for the ages, and a cautionary tale for those who blindly follow the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs today. BEST FILM: The Bridge on the River Kwai, BEST ACTOR: Alec Guinness

Touch of Evil (1958)

Still image from "Touch of Evil"

This one’s exclusion is really no surprise, but it’s one of my favorite films and for sheer gall and insanity alone, it should be mentioned. I came home from school one day and flipped on “Z” Channel (for those who grew up in the 70s & 80s in L.A., you’ll remember this was the first and only movie pay channel for film lovers) and my eyes and ears were immediately assaulted midscene as a “Mexican” Charlton Heston destroys a barroom, shouting over and over again, “Where’s my wife?” as psychotic, amped up rock and roll blares. I was in love. As the end-all and be-all film noir, nothing compares to this border town tale of police corruption and lurid violence. The master Orson Welles directs with his most assured hand since Citizen Kane, while also playing a giant, heaving, shambling pile of garbage. Such twisted pieces of exploitation rarely make it into Oscar’s crosshairs, but for sound design and cinematography alone, this film should’ve been a contender. BEST FILM & CINEMATOGRAPHY: Gigi, BEST SOUND: South Pacific

The Shining (1980)

Still image from "The Shining"

As we’ve seen, Oscar don’t like horror, but this unsettling and groundbreaking retelling of Stephen King’s bestseller transcended the genre as master storyteller Stanley Kubrick brought something altogether new and beautiful into the genre’s pantheon. Is the Overlook hotel haunted? Is Danny Torrance opening doors that should best remain closed? Or is Jack Torrance just slowly going insane? The answer is all of the above, but the real question is how could Jack Nicholson not get nominated for this career changing and madly iconic performance? BEST FILM: Ordinary People, BEST ACTOR: Robert DeNiro (Raging Bull)

(also worth mentioning: Scarface (the original), The Scarlet Empress, Duck Soup, The 39 Steps, The Big Sleep, Sullivan’s Travels, A Night at the Opera, Winchester ’73, The Sweet Smell of Success, Paths of Glory, The Wrong Man, Mean Streets, The Big Lebowski)

What are your best films that didn’t even get nominated? Tell us in the comments!

About Wade Sheeler

TV Producer & Director, Writer, Frustrated lover of film and obscure music. I still make mixed tapes if I like you enough.

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There are 19 Comments

  1. - February 20, 2013
      -   Reply

    Nice start on the list, def makes it challenging but here goes:

    1. The Bride of Frankenstein
    2. Show Boat (1936)
    3. Vertigo
    4. the Big Sleep
    5. Wild at Heart
    6. Mulholland Drive
    7. Safe (haynes)
    8. Drive, He Said
    9. Deconstructing Harry

    • - February 20, 2013
        -   Reply

      Great list, Ken. But “Bride of Frankenstein” was nominated for one lonely Oscar, for Best Sound Recording. It should have gotten more. 🙂

      • - February 20, 2013
          -   Reply

        I thought it was only a BP nom that we were counting.. I do think the sound design of BoF is masterful.

        • - February 20, 2013
            -   Reply

          Hmmm..maybe you’re right. I don’t think the rules are all that strict here, anyway. 🙂

          • Brandy Dean
            - February 20, 2013

            As far as rules go, just don’t be a jerk. Otherwise, it’s a cinemaniac duel to the death. 🙂

  2. - February 20, 2013
      -   Reply

    Great list. I love your inclusions of “City Lights” and “King Kong” especially, but I think “Frankenstein” is a MUCH better film than “Dracula.” Others I would include are “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (The omission of which is understandable seeing as it had a limited release in the US, but it was eligible for the 1928/29 Oscars), “To Be or Not to Be” and “Twentieth Century” (when John Barrymore – who was never nominated for an Oscar – was overlooked for this, he supposedly said “They’re afraid that I’d show up drunk. And I just might!).

  3. - February 20, 2013
      -   Reply

    I think the land rush scene in “Cimarron” bedazzled the Academy so they had no eyes for tramps or monsters.

    It’s difficult to understand the snubbing of “Touch of Evil”, particularly Joseph Calleia for a supporting actor nod. For shame.

    My number one snubbed movie is “His Girl Friday”. It certainly has the pedigree, after all, “The Front Page” was nominated for BP in its day and this reworking is brilliant. Again, for shame.

    • - February 20, 2013
        -   Reply

      Great points, Patricia. “His Girl Friday” is a GREAT addition to this list. I think it’s Cary Grant’s finest performance, although 1940 was a particularly competitive year for Best Actor. To have overlooked Rosalind Russell was a crime.

    • - February 20, 2013
        -   Reply

      I actually enjoy Cimarron, as creaky as it is it’s still a much more authentic film than say “How the West was Won”..

    • Brandy Dean
      - February 20, 2013
        -   Reply

      Oooo… I’m totally with you on His Girl Friday! I love that movie!

  4. - February 20, 2013
      -   Reply

    We should be careful about critizing the exclusion of “touch of Evil” because it was the studio mutilated version that was in release and eligible that year- not Welles’ film.

  5. JNFilms
    - May 21, 2013
      -   Reply


  6. Victoria
    - May 21, 2013
      -   Reply

    I’m so glad someone mentioned [SAFE]. It has to be one of the most underrated, ignored films of all time.

    • - May 21, 2013
        -   Reply

      And definitely Julianne Moore should’ve been nominated for SAFE. She was transformed.

  7. Jon Mullich
    - May 22, 2013
      -   Reply

    If we’re talking about performances that were snubbed, the line begins at Humphrey Bogart in “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” Among the stellar work the Academy nominated over him that year was Dan Daily in the Betty Grable musical “When My Baby Smiles at Me.”

  8. - June 1, 2013
      -   Reply

    How can you forget, Peeping Tom and Psycho…

  9. - August 17, 2013
      -   Reply

    Duck Soup
    Horse Feathers
    Monty Python and the Holy Grail
    His Girl Friday
    Sullivan’s Travels
    The Wrong Box
    All Of Me
    A Shot in the Dark
    The In-Laws (1979)

  10. tim tipton
    - April 15, 2014
      -   Reply

    Bride of Frankenstein and Showboat
    were products of James Whale.

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