First a disclaimer: All of the films mentioned here are fantastic. The winners and the losers. This is simply a look at moments where the most broad and safe film won the Oscar rather than films which represent more of what the Oscars are meant to be about.
It’s Oscars week at Fandom and every day from here on out will feature an article of some kind about the yearly event that thrills, infuriates, or causes massive fits of indifference to us. Sometimes within seconds of one another. Today we look at five instances where the most mainstream film took home the gold, sometimes at the expense of movies whose legacy has only solidified over time.
Around the World in 80 Days beats Giant and The King and I
It’s not a total tragedy that the Jules Verne adaptation won the big award that night all those years ago. And The King and I was definitely more commerce than art. But even back then it was obvious which of the two was a work of more merit and timelessness. And Giant is in a league all its own. Of all the films of that era, Giant stands high and carries a weight that crosses demographics and appetites. It’s a required bit of viewing for anyone serious about film. Around the World in 80 Days for lack of a better word, is fluff.
The Greatest Show on Earth beats High Noon and The Quiet Man
There’s no one comparing movies to The Greatest Show on Earth in pitch meetings in Hollywood. High Noon on the other hand, is still relevant as it was back then. Even more so. Outland is High Noon in space. Three O’Clock High is High Noon in a school. The Quick and the Dead is High Noon in Sam Raimi’s wacky mind. High Noon is an all-timer in the Western genre or any other that applies. It’s almost become a genre all its own. The same sort of praise should go to the immortal The Quiet Man, possibly the one John Wayne film that speaks to everyone regardless of sex, age, or other. It’s shown in elementary schools and for all the right reasons. The Greatest Show on Earth was a big event film. It’s not comparing apples to oranges. It’s comparing apples to roadkill.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King beats Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Lost in Translation
Few people love Peter Jackson’s original J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy as much as me but if any film in the trilogy deserved the award, it would have been the first in the series. By the time the third film came around there had been billions of box office dollars and runner-up awards for the franchise. This was simply too easy. It spelled unfortunate timing because Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a masterpiece that people will be discovering for many decades and falling in love with cinema because of. In fact, had the film been given the award the proposed follow-up films might have happened and the world would be a better place. Lost in Translation is also a very special film that snuck a lot of audience members into an art film without even knowing it. And they survived just fine.
Forrest Gump beats Quiz Show, Pulp Fiction, and The Shawshank Redemption
This one still stings. Almost as much as American Beauty beating The Insider or Dances with Wolves telling Goodfellas to get its shinebox. Forrest Gump is a fun little movie and a great showcase for director Robert Zemeckis and his trickery. But Pulp Fiction changed the business. Quiz Show was Robert Redford at the absolute peak of his game and The Shawshank Redemption is one of the top ten movies ever made, an instant classic whose very mention brings waves of emotion over those who have been touched by its grace. This was a year in which fear played a part in Oscar voting. And in many ways, though very different from one another, the remaining films suffered from how unique they were.
Rocky beats All the President’s Men and Network
Rocky is a wonderful movie and one of the great stories in American cinema. But Network and All the President’s Men are at least the Sylvester Stallone film’s equal, if not much finer, cuts of meat (which Rocky would inevitably punch in his workout). It’s rather fitting that the two films that define the gold standard for which broadcasting and journalism films are judged against came out the same year. It’s also to their detriment because they may have canceled one another out in the eyes of voters. But time has given all three films considerable weight and though Rocky has gotten a little love this year with Creed, the franchise certainly took a long path away from the Academy Awards. Network is still considered a classic and All the President’s Men is just as seminal today as it was then.
Artsier is not a synonym for better. And which film wins the Oscar ultimately doesn’t really affect the lives of us regular folk who just buy tickets and watch on television. But it’s always fun to think of how it could have been or to ruminate on the times in which the tide swelled and possibly took the outcome someplace a little too safe.