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Biggest Best Director Oscars Snubs, Ranked

15 Most Shocking Best Director Oscar Snubs, From Denis Villeneuve to Kathryn Bigelow
15 Most Shocking Best Director Oscar Snubs, From Denis Villeneuve to Kathryn Bigelow

Before Greta Gerwig’s highly publicized Oscar snub for “Barbie” in best director, along with her leading lady Margot Robbie in best actress, there have been dozens of shocking snubs in Academy Awards history.

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From the double-hitter of Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow in 2012 to the recent jaw-dropper of Denis Villeneuve and any of the many Christopher Nolan absences, there have been many notable names who haven’t heard their names called on nomination morning during the modern era of Oscar.

Casual cinephiles and the general public tend to forget how tough it is to make the top five of anything. Acknowledging that the Directors Branch has consistently overlooked women and people of color, there has been some improvement over the years. The stone-cold fact remains: We’re not there yet.

As of 2024, comedies and horror films are still criminally underrepresented, while animated and documentary filmmakers have yet to be noticed. There have been non-fiction films worthy of attention throughout the years, such as Werner Herzog’s devastating look at two bear activists killed in Alaska in “Grizzly Man” (2005) and Joshua Oppenheimer’s reenactment of mass killings in Indonesia with “The Act of Killing” (2012). Andrew Stanton’s gorgeous exploration of love between two robots in “Wall-E” (2008) might be the closest we’ve ever come to an animated director landing a nom, while Lee Unkrich’s “Toy Story 3” shows how you elevate beloved characters despite being a third outing in a franchise.

While many of us can share the name of a filmmaker who has truly grinded our gears, the ones reflected in this piece were heavily favored on multiple prediction lists during their respective years.

Here, Variety looks back at the 15 biggest director snubs of the last 25 years.

Honorable mentions: Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”); Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me by Your Name”); Joseph Kosinski (“Top Gun: Maverick”); Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”)

15. Dee Rees – ‘Mudbound’

15. Dee Rees – ‘Mudbound’
15. Dee Rees – ‘Mudbound’


One of the first significant pushes by Netflix when it entered the film awards game was Dee Rees’ racial and class drama “Mudbound.” Coming after her stunning debut “Pariah,” she shines a light on two families in post-World War II Mississippi, bringing an evocative and powerful story to life. The film made history in various ways — Rachel Morrison became the first woman nominated for cinematography, star Mary J. Blige was the first person nominated for acting and song in the same year, and Rees herself was the first Black woman nominated for adapted screenplay (which she shared with co-writer Virgil Williams). The directing effort couldn’t get enough traction, leaving her luscious work on the outskirts.

Who got nominated instead: Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”), Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”), Jordan Peele (“Get Out”)

14. Peter Jackson – ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’

14. Peter Jackson – ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’
14. Peter Jackson – ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’


People tend to forget that despite the epic “Lord of the Rings” trilogy receiving three consecutive best picture nominations for each of its entries, that wasn’t the case for director Peter Jackson. The New Zealand native constructed “Helm’s Deep,” the 40-minute battle sequence that set the record for the most extensive and extended in film history. Author J.R.R. Tolkien’s story is fully realized with over 200,000 fighting characters that keep viewers on the edge of their seats. The DGA recognized the merits of his vision, but the smaller directors’ branch looked elsewhere.

Who got nominated instead: Pedro Almodóvar (“Talk to Her”), Stephen Daldry (“The Hours”), Rob Marshall (“Chicago”), Roman Polanski (“The Pianist”), Martin Scorsese (“Gangs of New York”)

13. Shaka King – ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’

13. Shaka King – ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’
13. Shaka King – ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’


The Academy extended its eligibility year in 2020 to accommodate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Hollywood industry. Many may recall “Nomadland” sweeping the awards season, eventually going on to win best picture. Oscar observers might not know that Shaka King’s period thriller, which looks at how the F.B.I. hunted and murdered Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton, was the likely runner-up. One of the final films to release in February 2021, it went on to win supporting actor for Daniel Kaluuya and a surprise trophy for the original song “Fight for You” by H.E.R.

While it was disappointing to not hear King’s name on nomination morning, it made history as the first all-Black producing team to be recognized by the Oscars, including his fellow producers Charles King and Ryan Coogler.

Who got nominated instead: Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”), Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”), David Fincher (“Mank”), Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”), Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”)

12. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – ‘Little Miss Sunshine’

12. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – ‘Little Miss Sunshine’
12. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – ‘Little Miss Sunshine’


Comedies always finish last. Married filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ heartwarming comedy about a quirky family en route to a beauty pageant still resonates years later. Their direction expertly navigates the dysfunctional dynamics of the Hoover family, making intricate choices on when to focus on any of the ensemble members, including Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette and Oscar-winner Alan Arkin. The characters and clever humor (thanks to Michael Arndt’s script) allow Dayton and Faris to show off their skills in bringing a unique and endearing story to life. The PGA and SAG winning film, which also garnered a DGA nom, came up short in the end.

Who got nominated instead: Clint Eastwood (“Letters from Iwo Jima”), Stephen Frears (“The Queen”), Paul Greengrass (“United 93”), Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Babel”), Martin Scorsese (“The Departed”)

11. Joe Wright – ‘Atonement’

11. Joe Wright – ‘Atonement’
11. Joe Wright – ‘Atonement’


Joe Wright’s sophomore directorial feature effort after the beautiful adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” (2005) was the visual stunner known as “Atonement.” Wright’s directorial prowess in the period drama that stars James McAvoy and Keira Knightley sees him assuredly stitching together the delicate narrative penned by Christopher Hampton. However, his team of artisans, most notably seen in a five-minute tracking shot with breathtaking cinematography by Seamus McGarvey, remains the most memorable. Seven Oscar noms later, the British auteur was left on the outskirts.

Who got nominated instead: Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”), Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”), Jason Reitman (“Juno”), Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”)

10. Barry Jenkins – ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’

10. Barry Jenkins – ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’
10. Barry Jenkins – ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’


Aside from the animated feature “Up,” I can’t recall a movie that made me shed tears in the first 10 minutes. Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to his best picture winner “Moonlight” (2016) depicts Black love sincerely and deliberately. Against the backdrop of Nicholas Britell’s all-time original score and one of the finest ensembles of 2013, the movie has only grown in estimation as time has elapsed. The Oscars did give Regina King her overdue and deserved Oscar for supporting actress, so I must recognize what they did right.

Morever, the film was not nominated for best picture, so it’s hard not to still be bitter about the Academy passing over what I feel is the finest film of the 2010s. Yes, I said it.

Who got nominated instead: Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”), Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Favourite”), Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman”), Adam McKay (“Vice”), Pawel Pawlikowski (“Cold War”)

9. Spike Jonze – ‘Her’

9. Spike Jonze – ‘Her’
9. Spike Jonze – ‘Her’


Listen, I could write a dissertation on why Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis” was virtually shut out of the Oscars, but it’s hard to ignore that the same year Spike Jonze brought originality and emotion to the screen with “Her,” the response wasn’t more pronounced.

The futuristic romantic drama looks at a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who develops a relationship with an artificial intelligence assistant (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and builds a world grounded in reality in an upgraded version of Los Angeles. With Hoyte van Hoytema’s memorable camera work, Jonze’s direction stands out in a year that got most items right but left one colossal name on the table. That was Jonze.

Who got nominated instead: Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity”), Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), Alexander Payne (“Nebraska”), David O. Russell (“American Hustle”), Martin Scorsese (“The Wolf of Wall Street”)

8. Regina King – ‘One Night in Miami’

8. Regina King – ‘One Night in Miami’
8. Regina King – ‘One Night in Miami’


At the height of the global pandemic in 2020, the precursors and the industry pundits were all indicating Regina King’s directorial debut in “One Night in Miami,” the story of a real-life meeting between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke, would make King the first Black woman nominated for best director. However, the stars failed to align with the film, only mustering noms for supporting actor (Leslie Odom Jr.), adapted screenplay (Kemp Powers), and original song. Although the Golden Globes and the DGA’s first-time directing category highlighted her achievements, the Oscar-winning star of “If Beale Street Could Talk” faced a similar fate that many actors-turned-directors encountered. Can’t wait for her next joint.

Who got nominated instead: Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”), Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”), David Fincher (“Mank”), Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”), Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”)

7. Baz Luhrmann – ‘Moulin Rouge!’

In 2002, the Academy dropped a pair of enormous directing snubs. One was Todd Field for his outstanding debut “In the Bedroom,” and the other was Baz Luhrmann for his jukebox musical “Moulin Rouge.” Bold colors, beautiful costumes and a remarkable ensemble headlined by Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor should have made the Australian auteur a shoo-in.

Who got nominated instead: Robert Altman (“Gosford Park”), Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”), Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”), David Lynch (“Mulholland Drive”), Ridley Scott (“Black Hawk Down”)

6. Bradley Cooper – ‘A Star is Born’

6. Bradley Cooper – ‘A Star is Born’
6. Bradley Cooper – ‘A Star is Born’


Many “A Star Is Born” fans were shocked when debut director Bradley Cooper didn’t earn an Oscar nod for the film, something Cooper admitted he was “embarrassed” by. Perhaps the Academy should be as well. Racking up eight nominations, the multiple-time acting nominee became one of the latest actor-turned-directors passed over by the branch, including Ben Affleck, Angelina Jolie and Ron Howard.

Nonetheless, with co-star Lady Gaga, the two made magic on the Oscars stage with the rendition of the Oscar-winning track “Shallow.” Cooper went for another swing with his take on famed musician Leonard Bernstein in “Maestro,” duplicating the same results with nominations for best picture, actor, and screenplay but missing out on directing. Next one?

5. Ben Affleck – ‘Argo’

5. Ben Affleck – ‘Argo’
5. Ben Affleck – ‘Argo’


Ben Affleck’s gripping thriller that combines historical events with a Hollywood twist is cemented in the history books as a best picture winner. But Affleck only nabbed one Oscar nom that year as a producer and was ignored for his visceral direction.

In 2012, “Argo” was his third directorial entry following his engrossing features “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” which only nabbed a single acting bid each for supporting players Amy Ryan and Jeremy Renner. His thriller was an across-the-board contender and went on to win statuettes for adapted screenplay (Chris Terrio) and film editing.

His last efforts with “Air” were also worthy but failed to catch on this past season. Will he ever be officially recognized for his directing talents? It’s too soon to tell.

Who got nominated instead: Michael Haneke (“Amour”), Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”), David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”), Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln”), Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”)

4. Kathryn Bigelow – ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” is a riveting depiction of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and also became known for the one-two punch of both her and Ben Affleck being snubbed for best director that year. Bigelow became the first woman to win best director for “The Hurt Locker” (2009) and would have been the first woman to garner two nomination bids. However, a much-publicized smear campaign and controversy surrounding the film’s depictions of torture would derail its momentum. “Zero” star Jessica Chastain spoke about on the Variety Awards Circuit Podcast back in 2022, referring to disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Nonetheless, Bigelow’s visionary work, which led the precursors in 2012, is still a revered and respected piece that should have garnered the nom (and possibly win?) it deserved.

Who got nominated instead: Michael Haneke (“Amour”), Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”), David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”), Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln”), Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”)

3. Ava DuVernay – ‘Selma’

3. Ava DuVernay – ‘Selma’
3. Ava DuVernay – ‘Selma’


OscarsSoWhite became a stain on the Academy’s legacy when voters failed to nominate any actors of color in 2015. Also snubbed was “Selma,” Ava DuVernay’s look at Martin Luther King Jr., who led the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. With a star-making turn from David Oyelowo as the slain figure, the film had Oscar bait written all over it. However, it only managed to break into two categories: best picture and original song for the “Glory” track, which it won. Until today, no Black woman has been nominated for directing, and seeing how DuVernay’s “Origin” was also shut out by the Academy, it’s incredibly disappointing we still haven’t had one break into the lineup.

Who got nominated instead: Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Birdman”), Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”), Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”), Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”)

2. Denis Villeneuve – ‘Dune’

2. Denis Villeneuve – ‘Dune’
2. Denis Villeneuve – ‘Dune’


“Dune” is one of five movies in history to be nominated in every technical Oscar category and the only one of those to not garner a mention for its director. Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic is a testament to meticulous world-building and what you can do when passion and talent coincide. The Canadian auteur was widely expected to land in the best director category after the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and DGA all nominated him. Not only one of the most shocking omissions for a filmmaker, Villenueve’s miss is one of the most notable in any category in the history of the Academy. With two follow-ups on the way, there’s still time for the Academy to recognize Villeneuve.

Who got nominated instead: Paul Thomas Anderson (“Licorice Pizza”), Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”), Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”), Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”), Steven Spielberg (“West Side Story”)

1. Christopher Nolan – ‘The Dark Knight’

1. Christopher Nolan – ‘The Dark Knight’
1. Christopher Nolan – ‘The Dark Knight’


It’s the snub that changed the Academy Awards forever.

Christopher Nolan redefined the superhero genre with “The Dark Knight,” his sequel to the 2005 entry “Batman Begins.” Transcending the boundaries of comic book adaptations, it boasted an iconic performance by the late Heath Ledger, who went on to win best supporting actor. Many believed that the auteur, who had already been passed over for “Memento,” and then later in his career again for “Inception,” would garner the recognition many believed he deserved. The branch had other plans, leaving the film ignored in the top categories of best picture, director and screenplay, despite a hefty eight other noms. Nolan was not among any of them.

The following year, the Oscars expanded the best picture category from five to 10 nominees, but Nolan wouldn’t get his first directing bid until “Dunkirk” before he returned once again with “Oppenheimer” (2023).

Who got nominated instead: Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”), Stephen Daldry (“The Reader”), David Fincher (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), Ron Howard (“Frost/Nixon”), Gus Van Sant (“Milk”)

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