17 films that should never have won Oscars, from The Danish Girl to Shakespeare in Love

Any belief that the Oscars award the right films, directors and performances has faded over the years.

While every ceremony has a smattering of correct decisions – trophies handed to the right people for the right films – more often than not, the pervading feeling is one of pessimism caused by a deluge of undeserving recipients.

The Oscars are a far cry from what they claim to be – a celebration of the previous year’s cinematic offerings. But his does not stop people from trawling the internet the following morning in the hope that maybe, just maybe, the winners list impresses rather than disappoints.

With the 2023 ceremony taking place in March, we have highlighted 17 films that really should not have been awarded Oscars.

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A Beautiful Mind is one of the mustier Best Pictures winners of the century so far. While its win was a coup for DreamWorks – the film was the studio’s third victor in a row– it was far from a deserving recipient, especially considering Ron Howard won Best Director over Robert Altman and David Lynch for Gosford Park and Mulholland Drive, respectively.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

While Chariots of Fire is precisely the type of film the Academy usually takes under its wing, the fact it won was a big surprise, considering everybody present had expected Reds to win the top prize. The Warren Beatty film would have been a far worthier winner, too.

CODA (2021)

The first half of CODA probably ranks as the worst 45 minutes of any film that has ever won Best Picture. It’s filled with frustrating characters who commit frustrating actions, and it makes for – you guessed it – an immensely frustrating watch. The final half improves, but it’s too little too late. CODA meant well, but it could have been so much more if it had a bit more clout to it. It was lucky to win.

Cold Mountain (2003)

Cold Mountain lucked out by being nominated in what was a particularly weak year for Best Supporting Actress. Renée Zellweger recovered from failing to win for Chicago the previous year and, in doing so, earned the unremarkable drama its “Oscar-winning” tag.

 (Miramax Films)
(Miramax Films)

Crash (2004)

Viewers of the Oscars have grown used to unexpected victories, but none was more famously ill-judged than when Paul Haggis’ drama Crash beat Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain to Best Picture.

Dances with Wolves (1990)

It’s less that Dances with Wolves is a bad film – more that Kevin Costner’s epic scooped a total of seven Oscars in the same year that Goodfellas was nominated. It won just one – Best Supporting Actor for Joe Pesci.

The Danish Girl (2015)

Alicia Vikander’s performance in The Danish Girl is by no means weak, but it was nothing on Rooney Mara’s affecting turn in Todd Haynes’ film Carol. Had Tom Hooper not won five years before for The King’s Speech, it seems unlikely that the drama would have picked up many, if any, nominations.

 (Universal Pictures)
(Universal Pictures)

Going My Way (1944)

The musical Going My Way may have been the biggest cinematic hit of its year, but it certainly wasn’t better that classic noir Double Indemnity, which it beat to win Best Picture. In fact, it’s nowhere near director Leo McCarey’s greatest film; he won six years before for The Awful Truth and would be nominated again for The Bells of St Mary’s two years later.

Grand Hotel (1932)

There’s a reason why Grand Hotel is the only film to ever win Best Picture without receiving a nomination in any other category. A film that’s worth a watch, sure, but nothing more.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

It’s ironic that a film with the word “greatest” in its title has gone down as one of the worst winners in Oscars history. A prime example of when the Academy voted for spectacle over quality.

Green Book (2018)

To those who don’t care about awards ceremonies, Green Book is a crowdpleaser that boasts decent performances from Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. To everyone else, it’s the damp squib that somehow came out of nowhere to snatch Best Picture from under Roma’s nose.

The Imitation Game (2014)

The Imitation Game won Best Adapted Screenplay, which begs the question: what the hell was this extremely average film doing having any nominations at all?

The Iron Lady (2011)

Meryl Streep has won enough Oscars for the world to know she’s evidently one of the finest actors who’ll ever live. Her win for The Iron Lady, though, was one Oscar too many. Although Viola Davis has since spoken out against the film she was nominated for that year – The Help – it was easily the better performance.

 (20th Century Fox)
(20th Century Fox)

Out of Africa (1985)

Sydney Pollack’s drama boasts decent performances from Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, but remains interminable in stretches.Thankfully John Barry’s score and the beautiful scenery saves it from being a complete waste of time, but it’s a far cry from being the best film of 1985. Out of its fellow nominees, Witness would have been the worthy winner.

The Pianist (2002)

It might finally be accepted that disgraced film director Roman Polanski shouldn’t be handed accolades, but back in 2003, this was still what the Oscars were doing. He won Best Director for The Pianist, an award the French-Polish filmmaker could have done without.

A Place in the Sun (1951)

A Place in the Sun is a fine little film, but fine little films shouldn’t be winning Oscars – especially when they see off competition from more deserving opposition. In this case, director George Stevens beat John Huston (The African Queen), William Wyler (Detective Story) and Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire) to the Director prize.

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

You have to hand it to Shakespeare in Love; it played the Oscars campaign trail perfectly, overtaking war favourites Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line to win the evening’s biggest prize. However, this doesn’t mean its success has gone down as anything more than evidence of poor judgement from the Academy.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

It’s often good to hold your hands up and admit that a film is nowhere near as good as you recall. Sadly, Slumdog Millionaire is one of those. While the win no doubt put smiles on the faces of commuters reading the morning papers the next day, the shine has worn off its success in recent years. The rightful winner – The Dark Knight – wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, an omission that led to the Academy increasing the number of Best Picture nominees.