For all the films that the Academy showers praise on, there are just as many that are left in the dust. What’s surprising is how many of these unappreciated movies end up being some of the most classic films you can think of. In honor of this weekend’s pageantry, we’ve decided to highlight some of these cheated classics. It would be very easy to include films that didn’t get the nomination for Best Picture, but that list could potentially get up to a hundred entries. Instead, we’re going to take a look at films that the Oscar ignored completely by not receiving a single nomination. These are the truly scorned that rose up and became cornerstones of cinema in their own right. Enjoy.
Dracula & Frankenstein (1931)
We’ll see a running theme on this list when it comes to horror and genre outings, but these two stick out pretty hard due to their classy nature. Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff helped define both of these literary monsters for all time, and their portrayals are easily the ones everyone thinks of when you mention these two titles. It doesn’t hurt that both of the films are solid (Frankenstein is better) and have withstood the test of time. Even though these two films helped save the entirety of Universal Studios, the Oscars took no notice.
King Kong (1933)
By a wide margin, King Kong is considered one of the first true epics of American cinema. The film was an enormous hit and has continued to influence filmmakers for generations. This story of a giant ape who is captured and taken to the big city is filled with the kind of spectacle and adventure that the Oscars just didn’t really get behind back then. Nowadays, movies like Star Trek Into Darkness and Transformers: Dark of the Moon end up getting some technical awards, but no such luck for Kong. All he gets are two remakes that nobody remembers as fondly as the original.
Night of the Hunter (1955)
Actor Charles Laughton only directed one feature in his life, but what a feature it is. The Night of the Hunter — which has a stellar release from Criterion — is like a southern Gothic take on To Kill a Mockingbird. Littered with stunning imagery that is as lyrical as it is haunting, Hunter was utterly dismissed by both critics and audiences upon release, and its failure discouraged Laughton from ever directing again. It’s a shame he never got to see his film receive the enormous amounts of praise it gets today, particular for leading villain Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum). It’s a chilling performance that ranks up there with the likes of Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
This paranoia classic — adapted from a novel by Jack Finney — is so beloved that it’s been remade at least three times. While each of the remakes have their merits, the original is the one worth seeking out. The story is so simple — aliens are invading by creating duplicates of humans — that it lends itself to different interpretations throughout the years. What makes the original so special is that it manages to work as either a critique or support of insidious Communism. It doesn’t hurt that leading man Kevin McCarthy gives a fantastic lead performance that will stick with you for days. Still, no one at the Academy even gave this a look.
The Searchers (1956)
Do a search for John Wayne on IMDb and you’ll see that the number one movie he’s known for is John Ford’s The Searchers. An obsessive adventure that flirts with genuine horror, The Searchers features a career-best performance from John Wayne as Ethan Edwards, a vicious man on a quest to find his kidnapped niece. Was The Searchers just too ugly and difficult for the Academy in 1956? It’s by no means an easy movie, but its one of the most rewarding and powerful westerns ever made. Considering it’s the film that Wayne will be most remembered for, it’s a bummer that the Academy didn’t notice greatness when they saw it.
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Those who only know Andy Griffith from his time in Mayberry or his role as elderly lawyer Ben Matlock are in for a surprise when they watch A Face in the Crowd. Featuring Griffith’s cinematic debut as the despicable and piteous Lonesome Rhodes, this is a prescient tale about the cult of personality and the destructive power of mixing politics and entertainment. Directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg — the same team that crafted the Oscar sensation On the Waterfront — A Face in the Crowd is the kind of biting satire that plays like a statement of fact nowadays. Headlined by a truly transformative performance by Griffith, this is a must-see for fans of films like Network and (appropriately) The Social Network.
Once Upon a Time in the West & Once Upon a Time in America (1968 &1984)
Italian director Sergio Leone had already perfected the spaghetti western with his Dollars trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad,, and the Ugly), but he wasn’t quite ready to leave the genre. With Once Upon a Time in the West, Leone delivered the quintessential spaghetti western. With turns from Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, and a steely-eyed Charles Bronson, this epic tale of revenge and the rise of the American empire is the epitome of cool.
Leone’s similar approach to the gangster film, Once Upon a Time in America, was unjustly hacked to pieces by the time it made its way to U.S. shores, and the entire ordeal was so devastating that Leone swore off filmmaking because of it. With a sweeping score by Ennio Morricone — who is up for an Oscar this year for his Hateful Eight score — and an unflinching look at the self-destructive nature of greed, Once Upon a Time in America can stand toe-to-toe with The Godfather as one of the great American gangster epics.
Dirty Harry (1971)
Though he had already become a breakout star thanks to his work with Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood became a true icon in 1971 with his portrayal of Detective Harry Callahan. Dirty Harry set the standard for all the “loose cannon cop who plays by his own rules” movies that would follow, but the original film is a much grimmer examination of violence than its four heightened sequels would lead you to believe. Taken some inspiration from the actual Zodiac Killer, Dirty Harry draws parallels between its protagonist and antagonist that paint a cruel picture of Harry Callahan. Even with an a carrer-defining performance from Eastwood, the Academy just didn’t feel lucky, punk.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Comedy is something that the Academy often seems to struggle with, especially when it ventures into the outright silly. You can’t get much sillier than Monty Python. This spot somewhat belongs to all of the Python films (Life of Brian is one of the best films about Christianity ever made), but fans will be most familiar with their unhinged spoof on Arthurian legend, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Filled to the brim with quotable irreverence and gut-bustimg gags, you’ll find more people who know about this film than they do The Sunshine Boys (the Golden Globe winner for Best Comedy in 1975. Okay, so it’s not the Academy, but the point has been made! Moving on).
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
Director John Landis crafted what many consider to be the only college comedy you’ll ever need to watch. National Lampoon’s Animal House is a ribald gem that solidified the ideal college lifestyle for an entire generation. On top of that, you have John Belushi turning in the most iconic role of his career as John “Bluto” Blutarsky. Filled with juvenile delight and youthful spirit, this was a film that probably flew over the heads of the typically older Oscar voters. Oh well, more toga parties for the rest of us.
The Shining (1980)
It’s hard to find people who don’t acknowledge what a triumphant piece of horror cinema Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is. Entire documentaries have been devoted to picking apart this claustrophobic nightmare, and people for decades onward will continue to be transfixed by the steady erosion of Jack Torrance’s sanity. Featuring a performance that would become a staple of his career, Jack Nicholson is a force of nature as the mad caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Unnerving and gorgeous all at once, the film failed to catch on at the time of its release. It’s now considered one of the greatest horror films of all time.
The Thing (1982)
This spot could have also gone to John Carpenter’s simple but sure-handed slasher Halloween, but the Academy ignoring The Thing feels even more egregious. Yes, the film is a masterclass in tension and distrust, but its Rob Bottin’s groundbreaking effects work that deserves particular notice. His creatures are abstract nightmare beasts that feel spawned from untethered imagination. As we’ve said before, the Academy tends to ignore horror films for the most part (The Exorcist and The Silence of the Lambs being two enormous exceptions), and Bottin’s work surely deserved the golden statue.
Brian De Palma’s 1983 remake of Howard Hawks’ classic gangster tale set the standard for excess. The level of violence and profanity was something that blew audiences away, and probably offended more than a few Oscar voters. Regardless of its reception at the time, Scarface has gone on to be one of the most influential gangster films of all time, influencing tons of artists in both the music and video game world. Is it over the top? Yes, but it’s also thrilling and undeniably enjoyable. What more could you ask for from a movie with a coked-out Al Pacino firing a grenade launcher?
The Terminator (1984)
James Cameron exploded onto the scene with this genre-blending masterpiece of unprecedented madness. Deftly blending together action, sci-fi, and horror into something truly original, The Terminator is a pure adrenaline ride of ultra violence. The Academy has opened itself up to more fantastical cinema in years past — mostly out of necessity due to fantastical cinema becoming the norm — but in 1984 it just wasn’t ready to accept the unbridled excellence of The Terminator. Besides being the defining role of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career, the movie has great turns from Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn as well. An inarguable classic that doesn’t have an Oscar to its name.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
If we didn’t have This Is Spinal Tap, we may never have had The Office. This defining mockumentary about a rock band and their misadventures is one of the most ingenious comedies ever made, and its relevance remains to this day. The fictional band is so beloved that they’ve actually gone on tour before. You don’t see that kind of longevity and love from a lot of other Oscar winners. The patented stupidity and lovable oafishness of the band has created something that will last long after every Oscar statue in the world has been melted down.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Quentin Tarantino burst onto the indie scene with this talky gangster flick that helped influence a wave of pretenders in the mid-’90s. Though his next film, Pulp Fiction, would be something of an Oscar darling, this initial outing went unnoticed by the bigwigs at the Academy. Though its certainly a little rough, Reservoir Dogs is assured and proud of the voice its bringing to the screen. Michael Madsen and Tim Roth certainly could have done with some Best Supporting Actor nominations, but seeing as how live readings of the show and tons of fan art persist to this day, I think Reservoir Dogs is going to be sticking around for a long time.
Groundhog Day (1993)
The brilliance of Groundhog Day is so immense that it’s impossible to summarize in so few words. Its brilliant decision to treat a science fiction story like a regular comedy is deceptively simple. Bill Murray gives what might be his most nuanced and lovable performance ever, and it’s a testament to his ability that we never tire of the misanthropic Phil Connors. Again, the Academy just couldn’t wrap its head around such an existential bit of fun and Groundhog Day was left to languish in slight obscurity until video helped it find its audience. Bing!
Léon: The Professional (1994)
Luc Besson’s gritty film about a lonely hitman and his young ward is one of the best action movies of the ’90s. It introduced the world to a stunningly talented Natalie Portman and showed off one of the most manic performances of Gary Oldman’s entire career, and that guy played Sid Vicious! Léon is certainly thrilling, but it anchors its entire story with incredible heart. A little too intense for Academy voters perhaps? We may never know, but considering that people to this day are still clamoring for a sequel featuring Natalie Portman’s character should tell you something about the film’s legacy.
Nobody tells a down-to-earth crime story like Michael Mann, and his magnum opus may very well prove to be Heat. As methodical and cold-hearted as the cops and crooks at the center of its story, Heat pulses with unchecked machismo and tragic strength. Not only do you get Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino giving some of the best performances of their long and storied careers, but you get to see the two of them face off in the greatest of ways: over a cup of coffee. Heat‘s famous street shootout would be enough to qualify it for some kind of award, but the entire piece is easily one of the best crime films of the ’90s.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Coen brothers got some vindication when No Country for Old Men swept a bunch of the Oscars in 2007, but many fans would side with the Dude before they would share a white Russian with Anton Chigurh. This wonderful blend of slacker comedy and Chinatown-esque mystery is definitely a “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter” scenario. The cast alone is worthy of countless accolades, but the smile-inducing dream sequence alone is worth a few shiny statues. So the Academy didn’t want to give The Big Lebowski any nominations. Well, that’s just, like, their opinion, man.
Wes Anderson certainly creates a dividing line for viewers, and in 1998 the Academy was on the wrong side of that line. Rushmore took the promise that was seen in Anderson’s first feature, Bottle Rocket, and amplified it. The assured direction and amplified resources gave us a director who was destined for greatness. Add to the mix a breakout showing from Jason Schwartzman and a career-turning performance from Bill Murray, and you have a bittersweet tale of romance, friendship, and stage plays.
Casino Royale (2006)
Not only is Casino Royale one of the best James Bond films, but it may very well be the best reboot of a franchise character ever. Mimicking the blunt object that Bond sees himself to be, Casino Royale doesn’t pull any punches as it reestablish a dark and more brutal Bond than we’ve ever seen before. Daniel Craig brought the ruggedness back to Bond as well as an icy cynicism that was more in line with Ian Fleming’s original incarnation of the super spy. An Oscar should have been awarded to someone for the opening parkour chase scene at least. That sequence alone is one of the greatest action set-pieces of the 21st century so far.
David Fincher is one of our greatest living directors, and Zodiac may very well end up being his masterpiece. Though many would argue for Fight Club, Zodiac showcases a filmmaker with nothing but cold confidence. The story of America’s most famous unsolved crime — the U.S.A.’s own Jack the Ripper — is told with such surgical precision and attention to detail that it really does feel like you’re right in the thick of the mystery. With an unbelievably talented cast consisting of Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo (hey, two Avengers are in this!), this should have been an obvious Oscar contender. Not a single statue in sight for Fincher’s ode to obsession.
There are plenty more films we could highlight, but twenty-five sounded like a nice number to stop at. It just goes to show that a tiny statue does not make a classic film. So when the Best Picture winner is announced, whichever film it may be (*cough*The Revenant*cough*), remember that there will be a plethora of greater films that will live on much longer than it.