Doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of the Oscars or not – there is always a scandalous win or two that causes a massive outcry for years to come. For months, its beat into one’s head why a certain film or actor/actress is going to win. So imagine everyone’s surprise when it doesn’t happen. Maybe surprise isn’t the right word here but let’s keep it PG. Just take a look at the 20 biggest Oscar upsets in history, but brace yourself, it’s a bumpy ride.
Marcia Gay Harden wins best supporting actress for “Pollock” (2001)
An easy way to know who will snag an Oscar is down to the nominations compiled so Harden’s win is definitely a head-scratcher. Harden’s portrayal of Lee Krasner in Pollock didn’t even earn recognition at the SAG Awards, Golden Globes, or BAFTAs. Yet, she walked away with the biggest award of the night. Beating out Kate Hudson’s charming portrayal of Penny Lane in Almost Famous.
Anna Paquin wins best supporting actress for “The Piano” (1994)
It’s not often that children walk away with an Oscar to their but Anna Paquin is the exception. At just 11 years old, Paquin beat out the likes of Emma Thompson (In the Name of the Father), Winona Ryder (The Age of Innocence), Rosie Perez (Fearless), and Holly Hunter (The Firm).
“The King’s Speech” wins best picture (2011)
Just about everyone knew that The Social Network and The King’s Speech would walk away with awards galore – however no one could have predicted by how much. While no one doubted for a second that Colin Firth would walk away with the award for Best Actor, everyone was certain that The Social Network would emerge victorious in the Best Picture field – but boy, were they wrong. From 12 nominations, The King’s Speech walked away with nine awards that night – beating out The Social Network by just one.
Grace Kelly beats Judy Garland for best actress (1955)
Ahem, it doesn’t get classier or more iconic than the likes of Judy Garland. Especially when discussing her performance in A Star Is Born. Heck, critics and press alike were absolutely smitten – NBC even sent a crew to chat with Garland after her son was born. No one could have anticipated that Judy Garland wouldn’t walk away a winner that night. Instead Grace Kelly snagged the Best Actress award for her role in The Country Girl. Guess you never know what’s round the bend!
Juliette Binoche beats Lauren Bacall for best supporting actress (1997)
From one legend to another. Lauren Bacall was meant to earn an Oscar that night for her role in The Mirror Has Two Faces but alas it went to Juliette Binoche and her role in The English Patient. Unfortunately Bacall never got over her loss, and even wrote in her autobiography that she really wanted the Oscar. In fact, she blamed the aggressive campaigning by the “Patient” distributor Harvey Weinstein for her loss.
Geoffrey Fletcher wins best screenwriting for “Precious” (2010)
Screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher pretty much defied all pre-Oscar expectations when his Precious script won — mind you, it was his first nomination too. A lot of people assumed that Up in the Air by Walter Kirn would win that night. However, Fletcher stunned everyone, including himself, when he became the first ever African-American to win a screenplay Oscar.
Art Carney beats Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson (1975)
Just about everyone believed that Oscar was awarded to honor someone’s career rather than their performance. There is no other way to explain how Art Carney’s role in Harry and Tonto went on to win Best Actor over the likes of Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II and Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. No other explanation, folks.
“The Greatest Show on Earth” beats “High Noon” for best picture (1953)
High Noon is regarded as one of the greatest Westerns of all time and yet it lost out to Cecil DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth in 1953. To this day, many critics believe that this is the worst film to have ever won the Academy’s top award. Yikes.
Bob Fosse beats Francis Ford Coppola (1973)
Despite the fact that The Godfather won Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay, Francis Ford Coppola didn’t walk away with the Best Directing award. That oddly went to Bob Fosse and his work in Cabaret.
Adrien Brody wins for “The Pianist” (2003)
Now Adrien Brody was up against the greats including Jack Nicholson, Nicolas Cage, and Daniel Day-Lewis when he earned the Best Actor award for The Pianist. Then, Brody was 29 when he became the youngest ever Best Actor winner – a record he still holds to this day.
Marisa Tomei wins Oscar for “My Cousin Vinny” (1993)
For those readers who were around back in 1993 then you probably remember ~this~ Oscar moment. Marisa Tomei’s role in “My Cousin Vinny” would win her the Best Supporting Actress award, even though she was up against the legendary Judy Davis and Vanessa Redgrave. Many people believe that the presenter Jack Palance incorrectly read the card, that Tomei got the Oscar by accident. However the Academy insists that Tomei was the winner which PricewaterhouseCoopers, an accounting firm, has long backed.
Beatrice Straight wins for “Network” (1977)
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any weirder or more shocking, we wind up here. With none other than Beatrice Straight’s startling Oscar win for her role in Network. Why so startling, pray tell? Because Straight only appeared on screen for a grand total of FIVE MINUTES. That’s right, she basically won an Oscar for THE shortest screen time ever.
“Rocky” wins best picture (1977)
1977 brought us epic flicks like Network, All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver, and of course Rocky. So imagine everyone’s surprise when Rocky emerged victorious out of that amazing line up – guess it was the ultimate tribute to the underdog.
Three 6 Mafia wins best original song for “Hustle & Flow” (2006)
First of all, Dolly Parton’s song “Travelin’ Through” from Transamerica was the favorite to win in the Best Original Song category. However Three 6 Mafia, who were then unknown, and their song “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” from Hustle & Flow surprised absolutely everyone when they snagged the win in that category! Oh, this was also the first time a hip-hop song won an Oscar.
Roberto Benigni wins best actor for “Life Is Beautiful” (1999)
The 1999 category of Best Actor included the epicness of Edward Norton (American History X), Nick Nolte (Affliction), Ian McKellen (Gods and Monsters), and Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan). Be that as it may because it was Roberto Benigni from Life Is Beautiful who stunned audiences everywhere.
“Crash” wins best picture (2006)
Critics everywhere believed that Brokeback Mountain would win Best Picture in 2006. So when the racial drama Crash won that accolade, needless to say, everyone was beyond stunned. Heck, many believed that most voters were just far too homophobic. Lastly, Crash became the second film in history to have won Best Picture (other than The Sting) without having been previously getting nominated for a Best Picture award at the Golden Globes.
“Shakespeare in Love” beats “Saving Private Ryan” for best picture (1999)
Let the shock roll off of you when you realize that a romantic film beat the legendary war film that is Saving Private Ryan. Oh yeah, this was especially surprising as the Academy typically favored war films over romantic ones. While Steven Spielberg, the cast, and Saving Private Ryan earned various Oscars’ in different categories, Best Picture wasn’t one of them.
“How Green Was My Valley” beats “Citizen Kane” for best picture (1942)
Citizen Kane is considered by many (by many we mean EVERYONE) as one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time, i.e. one of THE greatest films ever made. However it still failed to win the coveted Best Picture honor. As the film closely resembled the media mogul William Randolph Hearst, many believed that’s why How Green Was My Valley won.
Kevin Costner beats Martin Scorsese for best director (1991)
When Martin Scorsese didn’t win the Oscar for Best Director in 1991, it went down in history as the moment best remembered as the “best director not to win an Oscar.” And if that wasn’t a mouthful for you, don’t worry, we’ll keep it short. Kevin Costner walked away with the coveted award for his work in Dances with Wolves.
“Forrest Gump” beats “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption” for best picture (1995)
Truth be told, but Forrest Gump was up against some intense competition for Best Picture in 1995. Yeah, we’re talking to you, The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction. In any case, Forrest Gump was recognized thanks to its digital effects which broke new technical ground.