15 Great Movies That Somehow Didn’t Get Any Oscar Nominations

Oscar snubs are one thing, but how did the Academy Awards completely ignore these all-time great movies?

Jack Nicholson in The Shining
Photo: Warner Brothers/Getty Images

The one thing that Academy Award haters and lovers can agree on is the long and fascinating history of Oscar snubs. It’s the “Predator handshake” topic that brings us all together. It happens every year: the wrong movie wins a certain award or fails to secure the nomination it deserves. Some would say it’s a big part of the awards show experience.

Every now and then, though, the Academy Awards go above and beyond by implementing a “blanket snub.” It’s one thing for a great movie or actor to not get the win or nomination they’ve earned in the eyes of theater audiences. It’s quite another to realize that there have been numerous all-time great films throughout history that didn’t even get a single Oscar nomination, much less an Oscar win.

But let’s go one step further than that. We’re not going to talk about movies like The Thing, which arguably deserved numerous Oscar nominations but never had a chance of getting one. Instead, let’s look at 15 films that are generally agreed to be true classics yet somehow didn’t get a single Academy Award nomination.

King Kong (1933)

On the one hand, it’s not that surprising that King Kong was snubbed at the Oscars. The Academy Awards haven’t exactly been kind to special effects-heavy genre films over the years, so why should you expect voters in 1933 to be more open-minded? Furthermore, some of the technical awards that King Kong would have almost certainly been nominated for simply didn’t exist at that time. Indeed, nobody would have thought to even honor films in some of those categories before King Kong came along and changed everything.

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Still, we’re talking about one of the most important movies ever made. Even most critics at the time recognized that King Kong was a technical triumph and one of the most entertaining movies ever made up to that point. Given that the first-ever Academy Awards included a special award for the best “Unique and Artistic Picture,” it’s surprising that Academy Award voters didn’t find some way to honor this movie in its day.  

Modern Times (1936)

Modern Times is one of the oldest films I regularly recommend to people without hesitation. It is a comedic critique and exaggerated approximation of then-modern life that is still shockingly relevant and poignant nearly 90 years after its release. Modern Times is a powerful and hilarious work that showcases Charlie Chaplin’s generational talents as a performer, writer, and director. 

The only justification for this snub that I’ve heard that makes any sense is that Modern Times was a mostly silent film released a little too late into the “sound era.” Perhaps voters at that time saw it as a relic. A stunning relic, but a relic nonetheless. Even still, there were 10 movies nominated for Best Picture that year, and Modern Times wasn’t one of them. That’s to say nothing of the numerous other categories that Modern Times apparently wasn’t good enough for. For whatever reason, Academy voters just refused to recognize Chaplin for much of the ’30s.

The Searchers (1956)

By virtue of being one of the best and most significant Westerns ever made, The Searchers is also one of the best and most significant quintessentially American movies ever made. Perhaps more importantly, it’s an undeniable career achievement for John Ford, a director whom Academy voters had practically tripped over themselves to honor in previous years. On paper, The Searchers should have absolutely received numerous nominations on its way to several wins.

Yet, The Searchers didn’t receive a single Academy Awards nomination. While it’s true that this movie grew in acclaim in the years following its release (especially among filmmakers), it’s difficult to imagine the mentality of the voters who snubbed this film the same year that Around the World in Eighty Days controversially won Best Picture. For what it’s worth, some have theorized that The Searchers “indie’ status doomed it at a time when the Oscars were dominated by the studio system (not that a lot has changed since then, mind you).

High and Low (1963)

Arguably Akira Kurosawa’s greatest film, High and Low tells the story of a wealthy man who is forced to navigate a moral dilemma following the apparent kidnapping of his son. Much like Parasite, High and Low strikes a nearly perfect balance between gripping thriller sequences and sly social class commentary. It’s an undeniable accomplishment that holds up 60+ years later and was also well-received in its time.  

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So why the snub? Well, this was the year that 8 ½ won Best Foreign Film, so the competition was certainly intense. Yet, it’s surprising that Noboru Nakamura’s Twin Sisters was Japan’s representative at the Academy Awards that year rather than High and Low. Twin Sisters was also well-reviewed, but High and Low received significantly more buzz and came from a legendary Japanese director. Perhaps it was just too much of a “thriller” for voters at the time.

The Shining (1980)

You may know that The Shining wasn’t exactly a hit in its day, but it’s shocking to look back at just how despised this movie was in certain circles. Forget not getting any Oscar nominations. What else do you expect from an awards show that has historically snubbed horror movies? The Shining was so hated in 1980 that it was nominated for two Razzie awards, one of which has since been retracted by the organizers of one of the most reprehensible “awards shows” in the entire entertainment industry. 

Between those who felt this movie was cruel, those who felt it was soulless, and those who hated the ways Stanley Kubrick changed the book it was based on (everyone wave at Stephen King), The Shining bounced off nearly everyone with a substantial critical voice at that time. What’s amazing in this case is that the revaluation of The Shining began just a few years after the movie’s debut. By the mid-’80s, a lot of people realized that a massive collective mistake had been made. 

Groundhog Day (1993)

Like many of the other movies on this list, Groundhog Day has certainly grown in acclaim in the years since its release. At the very least, people in 1993 didn’t widely recognize this as a nearly perfect screenplay that helped usher in a revolutionary storytelling concept. However, Groundhog Day was still well-received in its day, was fairly successful at the box office, and even grabbed a few award nominations leading up to the Academy Awards. For that matter, Columbia Pictures even included Groundhog Day in their then-substantial Academy Awards campaign. 

The Groundhog Day snub feels like a tragic example of the bias towards comedy films that the Academy was sadly exhibiting at that time (and in the many years since). You get the sense that voters were hesitant to award a Bill Murray comedy after such comedies spent the better part of a decade being the low-brow scourge of the industry. Still, there was some hope that the Academy’s former love of the genre would be resurrected by this generational classic. 

Heat (1995)

Some will argue that Michael Mann’s Heat is not just the greatest crime film ever made but one of the best movies in film history. That’s obviously a big (and perhaps slightly too bold) claim, but when you sit down and watch this movie…well, it’s pretty much impossible to not get caught up in its craft, scope, and the sheer joy of watching Robert De Niro and Al Pacino give it their all before their careers would take some rather interesting turns. 

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As for why it was snubbed, your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps voters saw this as little more than another action film, or maybe The Usual Suspects soaked up all the crime thriller love that year. Perhaps the lesson here is to not get attached to awards that you are not willing to walk away from in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.

Rushmore (1998)

In some ways, Rushmore perfectly represents the long (and, shockingly, ongoing) history of the Academy largely ignoring Wes Anderson films. It’s not just that his movies are regularly snubbed for Best Picture (The Grand Budapest Hotel being the notable exception) but rather that Anderson’s films are also regularly snubbed for even the technical awards they should be favorites to win. It’s a troubling trend that arguably began with Bottle Rocket but certainly became a talking point with Rushmore.

Mind you, Rushmore received a ton of love at pretty much every other major award show that year (Bill Murray, in particular, seemed like a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actor nomination based on his award-season successes). Maybe you could argue that Academy voters are among those who are tired of the Wes Anderson style (or just don’t vibe with it), but that doesn’t explain the cold shoulder toward the director’s breakout movie. It’s not only one of the more “muted” Anderson movies for those opposed to his distinctive style, but it’s an intelligent coming-of-age comedy with a fantastic boomer-friendly soundtrack and wall-to-wall great performances. What didn’t they love?

Kill Bill (Volumes 1 and 2) 

When Kill Bill: Volume 1 failed to receive any Oscar nominations, people had plenty of theories as to why. Perhaps it was too violent, too stylish, or just too much of an “action” film. Some hoped that voters were saving a couple of technical nominations for the sequel. When Kill Bill: Volume 2 also failed to secure any nominations…well, the theories started to run dry. 

Though he hasn’t always won the Oscars he arguably deserved to win, Quentin Tarantino’s films have historically been pretty well-represented at the Academy Awards in at least some categories. Yet, voters couldn’t find it in their hearts to give either of Tarantino’s most significant releases a single nomination. It hardly hurts the legacy of either movie, but it is a baffling oversight in the history of the Oscars. 

Grizzly Man (2005)

Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man may be the best documentary ever made. Mind you, that’s not a controversial opinion. Even at the time of its release, this story of a man who chose to live among the bears was seen as a masterpiece and a prime example of the power of the medium. Yet, it somehow wasn’t nominated for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards.

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More than a simple snub, Grizzly Man’s lack of an Oscar nomination can likely be attributed to the often bizarre rules that govern the Best Documentary category. In this case, it’s widely believed that Grizzly Man may have featured too much archival footage to be considered eligible for the Best Documentary award. It doesn’t make sense, but hey, that’s the Oscars for you. 

Zodiac (2007)

Nowadays, it’s pretty easy to find someone who will argue that Zodiac is the best movie of the 2000s as well as one of the greatest films ever made. While Zodiac wasn’t nearly as popular in 2007, it still found its way near the top of most critics’ “best of” lists. Naturally, it seemed exactly like the kind of movie that the Academy would honor. A moody drama based on true crime events with a stacked cast and a ton of critical/industry love? You would have gotten great odds if you bet the “Under” on its presumed Oscar nominations. 

This is a rare case where a snub feels directly related to the quality of a particular movie’s competition. In a year where No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were locked into a tight Best Picture race, there just seemed to be no more room for another bleak and moody masterpiece at the top of the awards. Indeed, some at the time found Zodiac to be a bit too bleak, dry, and perhaps even “boring” (an awful bit of criticism) compared to the competition. Even still, this is one that you can bet Academy Award voters would love to have back.

The Handmaiden (2016)

There are few movies I wish I could go back and watch again for the first time more than The Handmaiden. I love director Park Chan-wook, but even his incredible prior works didn’t prepare me for this twisty crime thriller that regularly deviates into shocking new territory without ever losing momentum. Without getting into spoilers, I will also say this isn’t a movie you want to watch with your parents or anyone else you’re not comfortable watching frequent and elaborate sex scenes with.

Given how well-received The Handmaiden was, I have to attribute its lack of Oscar nominations to the sometimes prudish nature of the Academy voters. If the Oscars haven’t always been prudish, the show has certainly grown more hesitant towards awarding, celebrating, or even acknowledging overtly sexual works. Unfortunately, that means that Park Chan-wook’s greatest film was thoroughly snubbed. 

Paddington 2 (2017)

Do you know that running gag in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent that sees Pedro Pascal and Nicolas Cage bond over Paddington 2 being one of the greatest movies ever made? It’s funny, but it’s not a joke. This Paul King sequel really is one of the loveliest and most intelligent family films ever made. I have bawled my eyes out every time I’ve watched this movie, and I can make myself tear up just thinking of its final moments. 

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If nothing else, Paddington 2 exposes a blind spot that the Academy Awards have never really found a way to address. Paddington 2 was seemingly ineligible for the Best Animated Feature Film award, which was probably the only place it had a chance of securing a nomination. It didn’t matter that Paddington 2 was one of the best-reviewed films of all time at the time of its release and an instant classic in the minds of many theatergoers. Historically, the Oscars just don’t know what to do with non-animated family-friendly films.

Hereditary (2018)

As mentioned above, the Oscars hate horror movies. At the very least, Academy Awards voters need a generational horror movie to come along and break genre boundaries before they will even acknowledge its existence. Even then, there are no guarantees. Once you make peace with that fact of life, it’s easier to accept why Hereditary, a brutal and divisive work of pure horror, was ignored by the Oscars.

But what about Toni Collette? Even those who did not like Hereditary had to wonder if the Academy would be so bold as to let their genre bias overshadow Collette’s tour-de-force performance. After all, they had previously given her an Oscar nomination for a much smaller role in another horror movie (The Sixth Sense), so why wouldn’t they honor her for a performance that is as powerful and important as any horror performance we’ve ever seen? For some reason, though, the Academy decided to commit one of the most notable acting snubs in the show’s history. 

Uncut Gems (2019)

Uncut Gems felt like a layup for the Academy Awards voters. Sure, they regularly overlook films that come out of nowhere and make massive cultural waves, but Uncut Gems was a seemingly obvious chance for those voters to show they weren’t entirely out of touch. It was successful, it was incredibly well-received, and it even featured a well-known Hollywood comedy star turning in a shockingly great dramatic performance. Its wins were in doubt, but its nominations seemed inevitable. 

So what can we take away from Uncut Gems getting zero nominations? Well, it certainly says something about the Academy’s unwillingness to bestow too many nominations to too many “outsider” favorites. If Parasite was going to get so many nominations (and eventual wins) that year, they couldn’t exactly give a lot of love to movies like Uncut Gems, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and The Farewell, now could they? Perhaps more importantly, Uncut Gems reminds us that movies that make people uncomfortable (even intentionally so) will often struggle during award season.