The Oscar Quest: Best Pictures That Didn’t Win Best Picture

I think the title is pretty self-explanatory. This is about as close to Santa Claus Conquers the Martians as I’m gonna get.

People talk all the time about what won Best Picture, but no one really spends any time talking about what didn’t win. There are a lot of great pictures that didn’t win Best Picture. Remember when Steven Spielberg presented Best Picture this past year? He said the film that won Best Picture would “join a list that includes On the Waterfront, Midnight Cowboy, The Godfather and The Deer Hunter,” and that the rest would “join a list that includes The Grapes of Wrath, Citizen Kane, The Graduate, and Raging Bull.”

Here is that second list. A list of all the films that didn’t win Best Picture (but were nominated) that are legitimately great films. This list DOES NOT take into account whether or not they should have won, or any of that conjecture. It’s simply what I consider the best films that were nominated for Best Picture but didn’t win. I want to give some press to the bridesmaids. Some of these films are practically forgotten today.

Some of them are classic films that we all know are great, some of them are great films that nobody knows about. Some of them are just amazingly good films to watch. Put it this way — if a film is on this list, you should check it out. I tried to restrict it to only the very best or the most entertaining. You’ll see what I mean. I don’t think you can go wrong with anything you find here. (Though some are personal choices.)

I’ve decided to limit the list to what I consider the top 100 films. (I’m also keeping the pas decade (2002-2011) off the list. I like letting a decade pass before making any decisions on the films). Another 50 films will also be at the bottom.

(The one note to make here is that I’m including BOTH Best Picture categories from the 1st Academy Awards in 1927-1928. I’ve always included them in all my Quest articles, and I’ll continue to do so here.)


Seventh Heaven (1927. dir. Frank Borzage. Starring: Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell. Fox.)

The Crowd (1928. dir. King Vidor. Starring: Eleanor Boardman, James Murray. MGM.)

Skippy (1931. dir. Norman Taurog. Starring Jackie Cooper. Paramount.)

Bad Girl (1931. dir. Frank Borzage. Starring James Dunn, Sally Eilers. Fox.)

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932. dir. Mervyn LeRoy. Starring: Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell. Warner Bros.)

42nd Street (1933. dir. Lloyd Bacon/Busby Berkeley. Starring Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels. Warner Bros.)

The Thin Man (1934. dir. W.S. Van Dyke. Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy. MGM.)

The Gay Divorcée (1934. dir. Mark Sandrich. Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers. RKO Radio.)

The Informer (1935. dir. John Ford. Starring Victor McLaglen. RKO Radio.)

Top Hat (1935. dir. Mark Sandrich. Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers. RKO Radio.)

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936. dir. Frank Capra. Starring: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur. Columbia.)

A Star is Born (1937. dir. William A. Wellman. Starring: Janet Gaynor, Frederic March. Selznick International, United Artists.)

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938. dir. Michael Curtiz, William Keighley. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland. Warner Bros.)

Grand Illusion (1938. dir. Jean Renoir. Starring: Jean Gabin, Erich von Stroheim. R.A.O., World Pictures.)

Pygmalion (1938. dir. Anthony Asquith. Starring: Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller. MGM.)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939. dir. Frank Capra. Starring: Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur. Columbia.)

Ninotchka (1939. dir. Ernst Lubitsch. Starring: Greta Garbo, Melyvn Douglas. MGM.)

Stagecoach (1939. dir. John Ford. Starring: John Wayne, Claire Trevor. United Artists.)

The Wizard of Oz (1939. dir. Victor Fleming (et al). Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan. MGM.)

The Grapes of Wrath (1940. dir. John Ford. Starring: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell. 20th Century Fox.)

The Great Dictator (1940. dir. Charlie Chaplin. Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard. Chaplin, United Artists.)

Citizen Kane (1941. dir. Orson Welles. Starring: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton. RKO Radio.)

The Maltese Falcon (1941. dir. John Huston. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor. Warner Bros.)

Sergeant York (1941. dir. Howard Hawks. Starring: Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan. Warner Bros.)

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942. dir. Orson Welles. Starring: Joseph Cotton, Tim Holt. RKO Radio.)

The Pride of the Yankees (1942. dir. Sam Wood. Starring: Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright. Goldwyn, RKO Radio.)

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943. dir. William A. Wellman. Starring: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews. 20th Century Fox.)

Double Indemnity (1944. dir. Billy Wilder. Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck. Paramount.)

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946. dir. Frank Capra. Starring: Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed. RKO Radio.)

Miracle on 34th Street (1947. dir. George Seaton. Starring: Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn. 20th Century Fox.)

Johnny Belinda (1948. dir. Jean Negulesco. Starring: Jane Wyman, Lew Ayres. Warner Bros.)

The Red Shoes (1948. dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger. Starring: Anton Walbrook, Moira Shearer. Rank, Powell/Pressburger.)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948. dir. John Huston. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt. Warner Bros.)

Battleground (1949. dir. William A. Wellman. Starring Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalbon. MGM.)

Sunset Boulevard (1950. dir. Billy Wilder. Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson. Paramount.)

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951. dir. Elia Kazan. Starring: Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh. Warner Bros.)

High Noon (1952. dir. Fred Zinnemann. Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly. United Artists.)

The Quiet Man (1952. dir. John Ford. Starring: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara. Republic.)

Roman Holiday (1953. dir. William Wyler. Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck. Paramount.)

Shane (1953. dir. George Stevens. Starring: Alan Ladd, Brandon de Wilde. Paramount.)

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954. dir. Stanley Donen. Starring: Jane Powell, Howard Keel. MGM.)

Giant (1956. dir. George Stevens. Starring: Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor. Warner Bros.)

12 Angry Men (1957. dir. Sidney Lumet. Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb. United Artists.)

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958. dir. Richard Brooks. Starring: Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor. MGM.)

The Defiant Ones (1958. dir. Stanley Kramer. Starring: Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier. Kramer, United Artists.)

Anatomy of a Murder (1959. dir. Otto Preminger. Starring: Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick. Columbia.)

The Diary of Anne Frank (1959. dir. George Stevens. Starring: Millie Perkins, Shelley Winters. 20th Century Fox.)

The Sundowners (1960. dir. Fred Zinnemann. Starring: Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr. Warner Bros.)

The Hustler (1961. dir. Robert Rossen. Starring: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason. 20th Century Fox.)

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961. dir. Stanley Kramer. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster. United Artists.)

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962. dir. Robert Mulligan. Starring: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham. U-I.)

America, America (1963. dir. Elia Kazan. Warner Bros.)

Cleopatra (1963. dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton. 20th Century Fox.)

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964. dir. Stanley Kubrick. Starring: Peter Sellers. Columbia.)

Mary Poppins (1964. dir. Robert Stevenson. Starring: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke. Disney, Buena Vista.)

Doctor Zhivago (1965. dir. David Lean. Starring: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie. MGM.)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966. dir. Mike Nichols. Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton. Warner Bros.)

Bonnie and Clyde (1967. dir. Arthur Penn. Starring: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway. Warner Bros., Seven Arts.)

The Graduate (1967. dir. Mike Nichols. Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft. Embassy.)

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967. dir. Stanley Kramer. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn. Columbia.)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969. dir. George Roy Hill. Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford. 20th Century Fox.)

Love Story (1970. dir. Arthur Hiller. Starring: Ali MacGraw, Ryan O’Neal. Paramount.)

A Clockwork Orange (1971. dir. Stanley Kubrick. Starring: Malcolm McDowell. Warner Bros.)

Deliverance (1972. dir. John Boorman. Starring: Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight. Warner Bros.)

The Exorcist (1973. dir. William Friedkin. Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair. Warner Bros.)

Chinatown (1974. dir. Roman Polanski. Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway. Paramount

The Conversation (1974. dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Starring: Gene Hackman, John Cazale. Paramount.)

Barry Lyndon (1975. dir. Stanley Kubrick. Starring: Ryan O’Neal. Warner Bros.)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975. dir. Sidney Lumet. Starring: Al Pacino, John Cazale. Warner Bros.)

Jaws (1975. dir. Steven Spielberg. Starring: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss. Universal.)

All the President’s Men (1976. dir. Alan J. Pakula. Starring: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman. Warner Bros.)

Network (1976. dir. Sidney Lumet. Starring: Peter Finch, William Holden. MGM, United Artists.)

Taxi Driver (1976. dir. Martin Scorsese. Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster. Columbia.)

Star Wars (1977. dir. George Lucas. Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford. 20th Century Fox.)

Midnight Express (1978. dir. Alan Parker. Starring: Brad Davis, William Hurt. Columbia.)

All That Jazz (1979. dir. Bob Fosse. Starring: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange. 20th Century Fox.)

Apocalypse Now (1979. dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Starring: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando. United Artists.)

Raging Bull (1980. dir. Martin Scorsese. Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci. United Artists.)

The Elephant Man (1980. dir. David Lynch. Starring: Anthony Hopkins, William Hurt. Paramount.)

On Golden Pond (1981. dir. Mark Rydell. Starring: Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn. IFC Films.)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981. dir. Steven Spielberg. Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen. Paramount.)

E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982. dir. Steven Spielberg. Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore. Universal.)

Tootsie (1982. dir. Sydney Pollack. Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange. Columbia.)

The Verdict (1982. dir. Sidney Lumet. Starring: Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling. 20th Century Fox.)

The Right Stuff (1983. dir. Philip Kaufman. Starring: Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn. Warner Bros., The Ladd Company.)

The Color Purple (1985. dir. Steven Spielberg. Starring: Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey. Warner Bros.)

Field of Dreams (1989. dir. Phil Alden Robinson. Starring: Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan. Universal.)

My Left Foot (1989. dir. Jim Sheridan. Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Brenda Fricker. Miramax.)

Goodfellas (1990. dir. Martin Scorsese. Starring: Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro. Warner Bros.)

Beauty and the Beast (1991. dir. Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise. Walt Disney Pictures.)

JFK (1991. dir. Oliver Stone. Starring: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman. Warner Bros.)

A Few Good Men (1992. dir. Rob Reiner. Starring: Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson. Columbia, Castle Rock.)

Pulp Fiction (1994. dir. Quentin Tarantino. Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson. Miramax.)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994. dir. Frank Darabont. Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman. Columbia, Castle Rock.)

Apollo 13 (1995. dir. Ron Howard. Starring: Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton. Universal, Imagine.)

Fargo (1996. dir. Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy. Gramcery.)

L.A. Confidential (1997. dir. Curtis Hanson. Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe. Warner Bros.)

Saving Private Ryan (1998. dir. Steven Spielberg. Starring: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon. DreamWorks, Paramount.)

The Insider (1999. dir. Michael Mann. Starring: Russell Crowe, Al Pacino. Touchstone.)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001. dir. Peter Jackson. Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen. New Line.)

Best of the Past Decade: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), Gangs of New York (2002), Lost in Translation (2003), The Aviator (2004), Atonement (2007), There Will Be Blood (2007), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Up (2009), Up in the Air (2009), Black Swan (2010), The Social Network (2010), Toy Story 3 (2010), True Grit (2010).

Other Really Great Films That Didn’t Win: The Love Parade (1929),  The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), One Hour with You (1932), The Awful Truth (1937), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Heaven Can Wait (1943), The More the Merrier (1943),  The Yearling (1946), The Snake Pit (1948), The Heiress (1949), The Caine Mutiny (1954), The Country Girl (1954), Mister Roberts (1955), The King and I (1956), The Ten Commandments (1956), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), The Lion in Winter (1968), Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), American Graffiti (1973), Lenny (1974), The Goodbye Girl (1977), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Reds (1981), The Big Chill (1983), Hope and Glory (1987), Mississippi Burning (1989), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Bugsy (1991), Scent of a Woman (1992), The Fugitive (1993), Quiz Show (1994), Babe (1995), Jerry Maguire (1996), The Thin Red Line (1998).

Also check out:

Best Directors Who Didn’t Win Best Director

Best Actors Who Didn’t Win Best Actor

Best Actresses Who Didn’t Win Best Actress

Best Supporting Actors Who Didn’t Win Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actresses Who Didn’t Win Best Supporting Actress

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