Sometimes, the Academy sets out to right an Oscar mistake, finally giving top awards to the most deserving of actors and directors… but not for their best work. Which stars have won Academy Awards, but a few years too late? For actors and directors who’ve made it big in Hollywood, there’s no award like an Academy Award. No accolade is more prestigious than the Oscar: it is the high water mark of a career and no actor is the same after a win or even a nomination. Unfortunately sometimes the Academy gets it wrong.
This occasionally results in make up Oscars – honoring the great work of top actors or directors, for a film that maybe wasn’t their best outing. Other times, the Academy might give a farewell Oscar to an iconic actor who is retiring and hasn’t yet won. From Scorsese to Elizabeth Taylor, the Oscars have honored some questionable films and roles, in an effort to make the Oscar dreams of film legends finally come true.
Whatever the case these are the actors and directors who won an Oscar… but for the wrong film. Vote up the directors and actors who should’ve won Oscars for other films in their bodies of work, but got consolation Oscars instead.
The Film He Won For: Million Dollar Baby
The Film He Should Have Won For: Shawshank Redemption
Million Dollar Baby is a wonderful film, but it’s not Shawshank Redemption. Shawshank is currently sits atop many a best movies of all time list and Morgan Freeman is the heart of that film. He should have won Best Actor for Shawshank, long before he won Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby.
The Film He Won For: Scent of a Woman
The Film He Should Have Won For: The Godfather
This almost goes without saying. Scent of a Woman is a great dramedy, but The Godfather is universally agreed upon as nearly perfect. Pacino not winning for that powerhouse performance is one of the worst snubs of all time.
The Film He Won For: The Departed
The Films He Should Have Won For: Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Taxi Driver, The Color of Money
And the legacy Oscar goes to… Sure, The Departed was great. But how is it possible this was Scorsese’s first and only Oscar win? This man made many of the greatest films in history, all well before he made The Departed. Martin Scorsese should not be one-time Best Directing award winner.
The Film He Won For: As Good as It Gets
The Films He Should Have Won For: Chinatown, The Shining
Sure, Jack Nicholson was great in the sugary sweet As Good as It Gets. But that performance pales in comparison to both Chinatown and The Shining, each a cinema classic. He is in literally every scene in Chinatown and Roger Ebert cites his performance as being the thing that keeps it “from becoming just a genre crime picture”.
The Film He Won For: The Color of Money
The Films He Should Have Won For: The Hustler, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Butch Cassidy, Hud, The Sting
In The Hustler Paul Newman delivers a legendary performance as Eddie Felson. 25 years later the Academy gave Paul Newman an Oscar for his supporting role and a reprisal of his role as Eddie Felson in The Color of Money. This felt like more of an award for missing that initial performance.
The Film He Won For: The Revenant
The Film He Should Have Won For: Catch Me If You Can, The Departed, The Aviator, Gangs of New York
Leo has been in so many great films that it was beginning to get awkward when he still didn’t have an Oscar in 2016. While The Revenant was a beautiful film, many wondered how much of that was due to Le’s actual acting. He has shown far more range and acting chops in other roles – the above mentioned films are just four examples.
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The Film She Won For: Ghost
The Film She Should Have Won For: The Color Purple
Ghost serves as the ultimate make up award film. It was somehow nominated for Best Picture, and won for both Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (for Whoopi). Five years earlier (in her big screen debut) she delivered the performance of her career in The Color Purple, which was nominated for a whopping eleven awards… but didn’t win a single one.
The Film He Won For: Crazy Heart
The Films He Should Have Won For: The Big Lebowski, The Contender, The Fisher King
The entire Crazy Heart Oscar campaign felt like a legacy run. “This is Jeff Bridges! He’s been great for decades!” Sure, Crazy Heart was fantastic, but was it better than his other excellent work?
The Film He Won For: Training Day
The Film He Should Have Won For: Malcolm X
Denzel’s Oscar for Training Day came at a time when he was known for playing the respectable, ethical, intelligent, articulate lead. In short: the good guy. He earned the Oscar by playing very well against type, but 25 years earlier his brilliant portrayal of Malcolm X should have received much more love.
The Film She Won For: Butterfield 8
The Film She Should Have Won For: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
You know it’s bad when your lead actress publicly ridicules the film, saying, “I still say it stinks!” They gave her the Oscar for it anyway. She was at her prime in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which earned her a nomination but no win.
The Film He Won For: On Golden Pond
The Film He Should Have Won For: Grapes of Wrath
Henry Fonda is one of the most legendary actors of all time and he was only been nominated for two Academy Awards. His 1982 win for On Golden Pond came just a year after he was given the Honorary “Consummate Actor Award” from the Academy, clearly making it a make up award for his decades long career. Sadly he died months after receiving the award for On Golden Pond.
The Film He Won For: Save the Tiger
The Film He Should Have Won For: The Apartment
For years Jack Lemmon was a full-on comedic actor. In Save the Tiger Lemmon gives a fantastic, but almost purely dramatic performance. It was his role in The Apartment that required him to use both his dramatic and comedic brilliance, which should have earned him Oscar gold.
The Film She Won For: The Reader
The Film She Should’ve Won For: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Even Kate Winslet admits that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the role that got critics and casting directors beginning to see her as a more versatile performer. Coincidentally Eternal Sunshine is the performance she credits with getting her roles like the one she had in The Reader.
The Film He Won For: True Grit
The Films He Should Have Won For: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Quiet Man, Red River
John Wayne’s Oscar for True Grit is one of the most definitive legacy Oscars. After a career defining an entire genre, he was given an award for a comedic turn nearly spoofing the genre he was known for. The Western was dying out and the Academy knew this may be the last time to honor the man who made it what it was… but they were a bit too late.
The Film He Won For: Yankee Doodle Dandy
The Films He Should Have Won For: The Public Enemy, White Heat
James Cagney spent much of his career playing villains the viewer can’t help but root for. He went on to spend the rest of his career trying to escape that for happier roles. The Academy tried to help by honoring him for the most “song and dance” of them all: Yankee Doodle Dandy. But everyone still preferred his villainous turns, which he should have won for.
The Film She Won For: Dead Man Walking
The Film She Should Have Won For: Thelma and Louise
Dead Man Walking is an incredible film, no question. But it’s much more of an obvious Oscar bait movie. The now iconic, and quite progressive, Thelma and Louise is much more worthy of a Best Actress award for Sarandon. Both she and Geena Davis were nominated, but the film only took home for Best Screenplay.
The Film She Won For: The Accused
The Film She Should Have Won For: Taxi Driver
Jodie Foster was nominated in 1976 – at just 14 years old – for her performance in Taxi Driver. After a string of lesser roles she was finally back in full force, locking in a nomination and eventual win for her turn in The Accused. But many saw this as more of a comeback award, and a long-delayed Oscar for her original glory in Taxi Driver.
The Film She Won For: Silver Linings Playbook
The Film She Should Have Won For: Winter’s Bone
In this situations she really should have won both times. Before she was a franchise darling she tore through the indie circuit with one of the most critically acclaimed performances by a young actress in years in Winter’s Bone. Two years later she won for Silver Linings Playbook, which felt more like a win for both performances.
The Film He Won For: Reversal of Fortune
The Film He Should Have Won For: Dead Ringers
The only thing better than a near perfect performance in a film, is two near perfect performances in a film. In Dead Ringers Jeremy Irons plays twins brilliantly, often acting opposite himself. The film earned plenty of other awards, but was completely ignored by the Academy.
The Film She Won For: The Danish Girl
The Film She Should Have Won For: Ex Machina
Alicia Vikander transcended humanity with her portrayal of an artificial, intelligent life form named Ava in 2015’s Ex Machina. Her portrayal of a pseudo-intellectual being on the verge of a nail-biting, near-human breakthrough is beautifully haunting. However, she didn’t win an Oscar for the role. Instead, she won for a different film that same year: The Danish Girl, alongside Eddie Redmayne (who didn’t win). Vikander’s Gerda isn’t bad by any means; she was brilliant. But Gerda felt far outshone by Ava, and the award should have gone to Ex Machina.
What Film He Won For: Kramer vs Kramer, Rain Man
What Film He Should Have Won For: Midnight Cowboy
Hoffman has been nominated a whopping seven times and won twice. But one of his best and boldest performances, Midnight Cowboy, only earned him a nomination. He lost due to John Wayne’s career Oscar for True Grit.
The Film He Won For: Gladiator
The Film He Should Have Won For: The Insider
Gladiator was a roaring success and Crowe turned in a great performance but at that point it felt like a career award. He was, after all, nominated for four Golden Globes over the course of six years. The role that should have won him the Academy Award was his incredible turn in The Insider, keeping up with Al Pacino.
The Film She Won For: Walk the Line
The Film She Should Have Won For: Election
Walk the Line was Reese Witherspoon’s first nomination and first Oscar win, but that’s largely due to the Academy’s love of biopics. There’s no denying she was fantastic in Walk the Line, but she should have won years earlier for Election.