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10 biggest Oscar snubs ever, ranked

The Joker and Batman sit across from one another at a table.
Warner Bros. Pictures / Warner Bros.

Oh yes, the Academy Awards. Widely considered the pinnacle of Hollywood success this side of a billion-dollar franchise, the Oscars are the business’ most coveted award, the proof that you’ve officially made it. Presented by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the Oscars are an annual event supposedly honoring the “best” in cinema, whatever “best” means. In truth, they’re a political event where the performance matters as much as a well-constructed narrative and a far-reaching campaign.

Thus, throughout the Oscars’ 95-year history, many actors, movies, directors, and behind-the-camera talent have been ignored despite being among the best-reviewed of their respective years. These snubs have gone down in history as some of the Academy’s most egregious mistakes, sometimes even passing the winners themselves in popularity and relevance. And while the Academy will surely keep handing out golden statuettes, they will likely never live down these snubs.

10. Pam Grier — Best Actress 1998

Pam Grier as Jackie Brown behind the wheel of a car in Jackie Brown.
Image via Miramax

The 1998 Oscars were always going to be dominated by the juggernaut that was Titanic. However, the acting categories were pretty much safe from its influence, opening the race to other contenders. And no one gave a finer performance in 1997 than Pam Grier in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.

Best known as the star of the iconic Blaxploitation films Coffy and Foxy Brown, Grier delivered the performance of a lifetime, courtesy of Tarantino’s fast-paced, kinetic film. Grier is simply splendid in Jackie Brown, a magnetic, commanding presence ably supporting Tarantino’s ambitious narrative. This performance acted as both a return to the spotlight for Grier and a subtle acknowledgment of her iconic career.

It was the type of narrative that earns actors Oscars; in any other year, with any other actress, a role like Jackie Brown would’ve showered any actress with award after award. Yet, Grier, a Black woman mainly known for her action roles, was cruelly snubbed in favor of lesser performances. No disrespect to Helena Bonham Carter, Judi Dench, Julie Christie, Kate Winslet, and eventual winner Helen Hunt, but their performances pale in comparison to Grier’s triumphant achievement.

9. Jim Carrey — Best Actor 1998

Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank spreading his arms and looking up in The Truman Show.
Image via Paramount Pictures

Widely considered among the all-time great comedians, Jim Carrey rose to the peak of stardom during the early ’90s with classics like The Mask and Dumb and Dumber. His wild antics and gift for face contortions made him a staple in the genre but also gave him a reputation as a comedian and nothing else. Thus, The Truman Show was the perfect vehicle for him, thanks to its unique blend of comedy and drama that benefitted from his natural gifts while still allowing him to show a new side to his abilities.

Carrey is spectacular in The Truman Show, effortlessly blending lighthearted humor with remarkable vulnerability. It’s the perfect balance between comedy and drama and a deceitfully challenging role that few other actors could’ve pulled off. Carrey won the Golden Globe for his performance, but AMPAS cruelly ignored him, prompting Carrey to acknowledge his snub while presenting Best Editing to Saving Private Ryan. Carrey’s performance has aged beautifully, as has The Truman Show, and considering who actually made the cut in ’99, it’s even more offensive that Carrey didn’t receive a richly-earned nomination.

8. Bette Davis — Best Actress 1935

Bette Davis as Mildred Rogers yelling at the camera in Of Human Bondage.
Image via Warner Bros. Discovery

Now, this one is a doozy. The mighty Bette Davis was the first performer to receive 10 Oscar nominations, but she actually received 11; one was just unofficial. A classically trained stage actress, Davis rose to prominence with her unforgiving, raw performance in the 1934 drama Of Human Bondage, playing the deeply unsympathetic and ruthless Mildred Rogers.

Mildred was a character unlike anything 1930s audiences had seen: she was mean, manipulative, shameless, and self-destructive, and Davis was willing to show her in all her flawed glory. Reviews lauded Davis’ performance, but the Academy didn’t think the same and refused to nominate her for Best Actress. The outcry was such that the Academy actually allowed voters to “write in” votes for their desired nominee while casting their official ballots. To this day, Davis is listed as an official nominee on the Academy’s official site, making it the only time that a snub was so controversial that it led to a nomination post-announcement.

7. Wall-E and The Dark Knight — Best Picture 2009

The title character in Wall-E holding a rubiks cube.
Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

And speaking of a snub being so controversial that it led to reformations within the Academy, it’s time to talk about the 2009 Oscars. Two of the biggest films from 2008 were Wall-E and The Dark Knight. Critically acclaimed and commercially successful, both films were touted as modern classics by critics and audiences, who expected to see them justly rewarded come awards season.

It wouldn’t have been the first time an animated movie received a Best Picture nomination–Beauty and the Beast achieved it in 1992. However, The Dark Knight would’ve been the first superhero movie to be anointed by AMPAS. Alas, the Academy was too short-sighted and snubbed both movies, instead going for safe and largely forgettable Oscar bait for Best Picture (The Reader and Frost/Nixon).

Batman brooding over a wreckage in The Dark Knight.
Warner Bros. Pictures / Warner Bros.

The outcry was swift and loud, leading the Academy to expand its Best Picture nominees from five to 10 at the 2010 ceremony. To AMPAS’ embarrassment, Wall-E and The Dark Knight have become modern cinematic triumphs widely regarded as 21st-century masterpieces, proving that sometimes, Oscar voters truly have a lack of vision.

6. Amy Adams — Best Actress 2002

Amy Adams as Louise Banks with her hands on her head standing in a field looking up in Arrival.
Paramount Pictures

This one still stings. Perennial nominee Amy Adams was on a hot streak in the mid-2010s, starring in hit after hit, earning Oscar nominations left and right. 2016 saw her deliver arguably her finest performance to date in Denis Villeneuve’s monumental sci-fi movie Arrival, quite possibly the best entry into the genre in the new millennium. Arrival earned eight much-deserved nominations at the 2017 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Villeneuve. However, to the shock of many Oscar fans, Adams was snubbed in the Best Actress category.

The 2017 Best Actress race was indeed a close one, with Natalie Portman, Isabelle Huppert, Annette Bening, and Ruth Negga delivering great performances. However, Adams is just as worthy as any of them, with a quiet, reflexive, and subtle performance that remains as astounding today as it was in 2016. Adams did not only deserve the nomination, she should’ve been a strong contender for the win; were it not for Huppert, she should’ve actually won the damn thing.

A woman in a blue dress stares in La La Land.

Listen, I like Emma Stone as much as the next guy, but her victory came out of La La Land fever, nothing more. And did Meryl Streep really need another nomination for what is arguably her worst performance from the 2010s? Adams’ snub is still egregious, especially considering she has yet to win an Oscar.

5. Marilyn Monroe — Best Actress 1961

Montgomery Clift, Marilyn Monroe, and Clark Gable standing next to each other in The Misfits
Image via United Artists

One of the greatest and most enduring icons of the silver screen, Marilyn Monroe reached the peak of success during the 1950s. Although showcased as a dumb blonde, Monroe’s performances in films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like It Hot show an actress of remarkable versatility who was always more capable than anyone gave her credit for.

Monroe’s best on-screen work came in what would turn out to be her final film, John Huston’s The Misfits. A neo-Western co-starring Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift, The Misfits is a striking and sorrowful look at loneliness elevated by a spectacular cast. Gable and Clift were never better, but it’s Monroe who steals the movie.

Her Roslyn Tabor is a brave, daring, uneven, and mesmerizing achievement, a flawed yet powerful portrayal of melancholy and solitude from one of classic Hollywood’s most vulnerable and untapped talents. Monroe’s wonderful performance was snubbed for an Oscar nomination, and The Misfits would be her last completed film. Still, the performance, much like Monroe herself, lives on, an enduring testament to her unique talent.

4. Do the Right Thing — Best Picture 1990

Rosie Perez and Spike Lee embrace in Do the Right Thing.
Universal / Image via Universal Pictures

At the 1990 Oscar ceremony, the overrated Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture. Elsewhere, Daisy‘s Jessica Tandy won Best Actress, Oliver Stone won his fourth and last Oscar for Born on the Fourth of July, and Daniel Day-Lewis won his first for My Left Foot. Yet, there was a film shining for its absence in the Best Picture category: Spike Lee’s groundbreaking comedy-drama Do the Right Thing.

While Do the Right Thing received nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor, it was shut out of Best Picture in favor of the approachable Miss Daisy and well-meaning, sentimental efforts like Dead Poets Society and Field of Dreams. Yet, 35 years since their release, none of those films have aged as incredibly well as Lee’s pioneering achievement.

Spike Lee and Danny Aiello in a scene from Do The Right Thing.
Universal Pictures

A riveting depiction of race relations at a time when the subject was still taboo, Do the Right Thing was a true before-and-after moment for representation. Do the Right Thing is loud, daring, and angry in all the right ways yet undeniably brilliant and strangely cathartic, doing what very few movies do and capturing a distinctive moment in town, thus transcending its own limits and becoming part of the very culture it initially portrayed.

3. Singin’ in the Rain — Best Picture 1953

Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood smiling while holding an umbrella in Singin' in the Rain.
Image via MGM

Singin’ in the Rain is widely considered the all-time greatest musical in cinematic history. The iconic Gene Kelly stars as Don Lockwood, with the film offering an idealized and well-intentioned depiction of 1920s Hollywood. Released in the heyday of movie musicals, Singin’ in the Rain was a massive success, winning big at the box office and quickly becoming an instant classic.

And yet, no Oscar glory came its way. Instead, the Academy rewarded Cecil B. DeMille’s overblown drama The Greatest Show on Earth. In fact, Singin’ in the Rain got only two nominations, for Best Supporting Actress and Best Scoring for a Musical Picture. Of course, the film would later become synonymous with the musical genre and Hollywood’s Golden Age, coming to represent the wonderful splendor of this pivotal cinematic period.

Yet again, AMPAS was too short-sighted and lazy to recognize what was in front of them, especially because Singin’ in the Rain‘s snub and The Greatest Show on Earth‘s win have aged like bad milk, to the point that they are both stains on the organization’s shoddy record.

2. Vertigo — Best Picture 19559

James Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo (1958)
Paramount Pictures

Few directors have left such a mark on cinema as Alfred Hitchcock; the term Hitchcockian is even a thing, signifying just how important his legacy is. Pretty much perfecting the modern thriller, Hitchcock directed multiple classics, from Rebecca, the only of his films to win Best Picture, to Rear Window and Psycho. Yet, Vertigo might be his magnum opus.

Nowadays, Vertigo is often ranked among the best of the best, topping the 2012 Sight & Sound poll and coming in second in the 2022 version. However, Vertigo only received two Oscar nominations for Best Sound and Best Arti Direction; nothing for Hitchcock’s direction, Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor’s screenplay, or James Stewart and Kim Novak’s performances. Vertigo‘s snubs are even more embarrassing considering the god-awful musical Gigi swept the 1959 Oscars, winning all nine of its nominations. Yet, while Gigi becomes a bit worse by the second, Vertigo remains a work of true brilliance from a once-in-a-lifetime talent operating on all cylinders.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey — Best Picture 1969

A close-up of an astronatu with a red light reflecting on his helmet in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Image via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

By now, it’s no secret that the Academy hates any of the so-called “genre” films. If it’s not a drama, chances are AMPAS will turn a blind eye. Thus, films from the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and action often get the short end of the stick and must work twice as hard as the average biopic to get an ounce of recognition from the Academy.

This remarkably stupid approach means the Academy has passed over some of cinema’s greatest efforts. However, no snub has been more questionable, egregious, or outright nonsensical as 2001: A Space Odyssey missing on a Best Picture nomination. Stanley Kubrick’s profoundly influential, thought-provoking masterpiece earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Director for Kubrick; however, it was infamously shut out of Best Picture.

A young boy holds a bowl in his hands in Oliver!

And you know who won the 1969 Oscar for Best Picture? Freaking Oliver!, a mind-numbingly simplistic musical take on the Charles Dickens classic Oliver Twist, whose greatest legacy is a meme that’s not even that funny. The Academy has made some truly stupid miscalculations throughout its history, but ignoring a stunning achievement as 2001 in favor of stuff like Oliver! and Funny Girl is ridiculous to the point of absurdity.

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David Caballero
Freelance Writer
David is a Mexican freelance writer with a deep appreciation for words. After three years in the cold world of Marketing…
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