Great Films That Didn’t Win The Oscar For Best Picture

The Oscars have become more and more predictable, right? Well, they’ve certainly followed script recently, but they’ve still managed to spring a few surprises in the Best Picture category.

The Moonlight mix-up has gone down in Oscar history but last year, when Roma and The Favourite were seen as the front runners, they were pipped at the post by Green Book.

Then there was 2016, where The Revenant looked like it would be walking away with all the big trophies and was overtaken in the final furlong by the quiet dignity of Spotlight.

There’s nine contenders for the Academy’s biggest award this year, and some sizzling hot tips among them, but which one will triumph? And will any of them turn out to be greats that didn’t win Best Picture? Here’s some classics which didn’t, believe it or not…

The Graduate

United Artists

Easily one of the best films not to win the ultimate prize – it scooped Best Director for Mike Nichols at the 1968 ceremony, but Best Picture went to crime drama In The Heat Of The NightThe Graduate remains a classic to this day.

That sharp script, unforgettable Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack, stylish cinematography, pitch-perfect direction and the breakout role that turned a certain Dustin Hoffman into a star, they all added up to make one of the masterpieces of modern cinema. Not that the eventual winner wasn’t a fine film in its own right.

The Academy must’ve had a hard job choosing between the two. Who’d be an awards judge!

Apocalypse Now

United Artists

Francis Ford Coppola’s fearless exploration of war and its multiple horrors was in the running for eight Academy Awards at the 1980 ceremony, but came away with only two – for Cinematography and Sound.

Not that those technical achievements didn’t play an important part in making the film a landmark but, by themselves, they don’t reflect the impact it had at the time, and still has today.

Ask anybody who saw last year’s magnificent final cut in 4k. With scenes that have become cinematic legends – those helicopters swooping to the sound of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries – to indelible lines like ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’, it set a new standard for war and anti-war films alike.

The 1980 Best Picture winner was Kramer v Kramer, a divorce drama which had the distinction of landing Meryl Streep her first Oscar.


Warner Bros.

The 1991 Oscars saw two classic genres go head to head. Martin Scorsese’s mob movie, Goodfellas, came up against Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves, a western from the Native American perspective.

Costner’s movie took the Best Picture trophy, but it’s Scorsese’s Mafia saga that’s stood the test of time, and is now regarded as one of the classics of its type of the 20th century.

The development of the Goodfellas script, much of which was down to improvisation by the main members of the cast (Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta), is the stuff of movie making legend and that, together with the performances – Pesci won the film’s only Oscar – has given the film its longevity.

Scorsese had to wait until 2007 to see one of his films land the coveted trophy. That was The Departed. He won Best Director as well.

Pulp Fiction


Quentin Tarantino’s daring crime tour de force had already won the Palme D’Or at Cannes and, with seven Oscar nominations in 1995, looked to be a strong contender.

But its only win was in the Original Screenplay category, with the Academy showing its sweet tooth by giving the Best Picture statuette to Forrest Gump and his metaphorical box of chocolates.

Yet it’s Pulp Fiction that’s the near-permanent fixture on just about every list worth reading of great films. Why? Non-linear storytelling, blistering humour and violence, whip-cracking performances from Travolta, Thurman and Jackson. It was like nothing anybody had seen before, paving the way for future filmmakers and cementing Tarantino’s reputation as a director to be reckoned with.

Brokeback Mountain

Focus Features

Ang Lee won Best Director for this heartbreaking love story about two people in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it looked odds on to take Best Picture as well in 2006.

But Jack Nicholson’s look of surprise said it all when he announced Crash as the winner in one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history.

Brokeback Mountain had been praised for its direction, script, performances and overall sensitive treatment of what was then, for some at least, a difficult subject, and its loss in the Best Picture category – it won for Adapted Screenplay and Original Music, as well as Director – was so controversial that in 2018 the Academy held a symbolic re-vote, when it finally took the top spot.

The Social Network

Sony Pictures

David Fincher’s thriller-style depiction of the founding of Facebook didn’t leave the 2011 Oscar ceremony empty handed, winning Adapted Screenplay, Editing and Original Score.

But the top award slipped away, going to The King’s Speech. A good film and with an excellent performance from Colin Firth, over time it’s The Social Network which has shown more staying power, with its rising star cast and portrait of the boundaries of friendship and the lengths people will go to for success.

A gripping and tense experience with a less than sympathetic central character, it’s since acquired a reputation as one of the best films of the early 21st century, one that’s still growing.

The 92nd Academy Awards ceremony will take place on 9th February. In the UK you can tune at 1am Monday morning.

You can shop our range of the nominated films now.

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Freda Cooper

Freda Cooper

Contributing Writer

Freda can't remember a time when she wasn't a film fan, so it's no surprise that her natural habitat is a darkened room in front of a big screen. When she emerges blinking into the daylight, she can also be heard on the radio - inevitably talking about all things movies. Favourite film? The Third Man. Top ten? Don't get her started...