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Best Picture Oscar Winners That Nobody Remembers

Best Picture Oscar Winners That Nobody Remembers September 30, 2019Leave a comment

Some Best Picture winners have stood the test of time. Others have been forgotten in the annals of history. Are you one of the few who remembers these forgotten pictures?

'The Last Emperor' (1987)

Columbia Pictures

Two of the films it was up against, "Fatal Attraction" and "Moonstruck" are referenced to this day. "The Last Emperor", however, doesn't have that same staying power. This epic biographical drama runs only 17 minutes short of three hours, which makes it a much harder re-watch. Also, while the phrase "epic biographical drama" is primed for an Oscar, it isn't necessarily as primed for people's hearts.

'Out of Africa' (1985)

Universal Pictures

If someone were to stop you in the street and say, "Quick! Which film starred Meryl Streep and Robert Redford?" would you even be able to think of the name? It doesn't help that the film hasn't aged well. It would be hard in this day and age to make a film about Africa starring two white people. It would be doubly hard if it were based on a book by someone with racist views. While Sydney Pollack addressed that head-on in 1987, it would likely have a different reception today, and so has been stuck into the "let's just leave this one alone" pile.

'Ordinary People' (1980)

Paramount Pictures

Roger Ebert said of this movie that it had an "understated matter-of-factness." While its understatement is its brilliance, it's also its downfall. When compared to "Raging Bull" or "The Elephant Man", other nominees in the same year, this domestic drama is a much quieter film. Unfortunately, that's made it somewhat more forgettable than its counterparts with their larger-than-life stars.

'The Sting' (1973)

Universal Pictures

The issue with "The Sting" was not the size of its stars. It starred two juggernauts, Paul Newman and Robert Redford. It was not a domestic drama, but a caper film. In this case, the quietness of the film itself isn't to blame for being forgotten, but its place in history. Unfortunately, the winners the year before and after were both "Godfather" films, and it's hard to be remembered when you're sandwiched between two such huge classics.

'The French Connection' (1971)

20th Century Fox

This was the first R-Rated film to win Best Picture. Also in the category, however, was "A Clockwork Orange". When it comes to memorable films, "A Clockwork Orange" is somewhere in the top, if anything for the eyeball scene alone. And while "The French Connection" is a solid film, it would be tough to say it's as viscerally memorable as "A Clockwork Orange". Though given how disturbing "A Clockwork Orange" is, that isn't necessarily a knock on the film.

'In the Heat of the Night' (1967)

United Artists

Let's review the other nominees that year, shall we? There was "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner". There was "Bonnie and Clyde". There was "The Graduate". All of those films get lampooned so regularly today that even if you weren't alive to see them released, you know them. While "In the Heat of the Night" certainly isn't lacking those moments, it can't compare to the frequency of the others in the category.

'A Man for All Seasons' (1966)

Columbia Pictures

Any guesses why a period drama about a religious man's philosophical principles isn't the most-remembered movie of all time? Brilliantly written, acted, and directed, it's not quality this film is lacking. It's more that it's unable to occupy a cultural zeitgeist. While the staunch refusal of Sir Thomas Moore to bend to King Henry VIII made for a great movie at the time, it's hard to sell your friends who haven't seen it on a movie when your description is: "One church guy doesn't want to join another guy's new church and things get ugly."

'Tom Jones' (1963)

United Artists

"Tom Jones" can best be described as a romp. When you think of ways to describe Oscar-winners, generally "a romp" isn't one of them. The adventure-comedy film was both critically acclaimed and popular. Unfortunately, its trailer now looks like a parody of what a bad 1960s movie is, or a Monty Python skit.

'The Apartment' (1960)

United Artists

"The Apartment" isn't one of those films that doesn't hold up. If you watch it, much of the witty banter from the film could still be used today. Unfortunately, it suffers from being a product of its time. This movie about extramarital office affairs was absolutely scandalous in its day, but now seems utterly tame in comparison to even outtakes from the latest HBO shows. What made it memorable then makes it easily forgettable now.

'Gigi' (1958)

Metro-Goldwyn Mayer

This musical gave us the memorable song "Thank Heaven for Little Girls". The film itself, however, is far less memorable. While musicals like "West Side Story" are still being remade, "Gigi" doesn't have the same distinction. The story and music are much more quaint, and quaint just doesn't have a lot of staying power. Also, in retrospect, "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" is downright creepy.

'Marty' (1955)

United Artists

"It's the story of a Saturday night in a man's life," boasts the trailer, and you're already yawning. It was based on a television play, originally inspired by making an ordinary love story. Featuring ordinary, everyday people on screen was novel at the time, but given cinema's subsequent ability to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, the film has lost the novelty that made it so special. Sadly, ordinary isn't something that sticks in our minds.

'From Here to Eternity' (1954)

Columbia Pictures

Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, and Montgomery Clift all star in this forgotten classic. Based on a novel of the same name, the film follows three soldiers stationed in Hawaii leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It's got everything you want in a memorable movie - stars, and WWII. However, so many memorable WWII movies have followed, this one faded into history.

'The Greatest Show on Earth' (1952)

Paramount Pictures

Starring a young Charlton Heston, the movie is about - you guessed it - the circus. Sometimes it's not the film itself that makes something memorable, but its remake. Also nominated in 1952 is the original "Moulin Rouge". Its remake rekindled the spark of the original into our collective conscious. The same hasn't happened for "The Greatest Show on Earth", sadly.

'Gentleman's Agreement' (1947)

20th Century Fox

The film stars Gregory Peck. In it, he plays a journalist who goes undercover to show widespread antisemitism in New York City. While certainly an important subject, especially in 1947, the film seems a little clunky compared to other films that have followed that explore discrimination. When Gregory Peck "goes undercover," he changes his name to a Jewish name and tries to get a job. While the message still stands, the method does not.

'The Best Years of Our Lives' (1946)

RKO Radio Pictures

In the sunset of WWII, Samuel Goldwyn was inspired to make a movie about soldiers readjusting to civilian life. While at the time it was the highest-grossing film since "Gone with the Wind," it doesn't remain in our cultural memory the same way. Though it may seem like that might have to do with age, there's another film that year that we all still recall with ease. Also nominated was "It's a Wonderful Life".

'The Lost Weekend' (1943)

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Billy Wilder, "The Lost Weekend" stars Ray Milland and Jane Wyman. It features an alcoholic writer hitting rock bottom. Along with "Marty", they share the distinction of being the only two films to win both Best Picture and the Palme D'Or at Cannes. Also nominated that year was "Gaslight", which is the origin of the term "gaslighting," a form of psychological abuse.

'Going My Way' (1944)

Paramount Pictures

This musical comedy-drama starred Bing Crosby. While the film may be forgotten, its music is not. The movie features Bing Crosby singing "Swinging on a Star", with the classic lines, "Would you like to swing on a star? Carry moonbeams home in a jar?" The song won Best Original Song.

'Mrs. Miniver' (1942)

Loew's Inc.

This is another film that probably suffered due to its quietness. The romantic war drama follows a British housewife in rural England during WWII. The film was meant to be a happy inspiration during a tough time of war. In 2009, American Film Institute ranked it 40th on the most inspirational films of all time. But 40th is still a long way down.

'How Green Was My Valley' (1941)

20th Century Fox

What could be more memorable than a film about life in the South Wales coalfields? This film has more notoriety for its role at the Oscars than its plot. It beat 'Citizen Kane' for Best Picture. It also beat 'The Maltese Falcon'.

'Rebecca' (1940)

United Artists

There is one way this film is remembered. If you're one of those Alfred Hitchcock fans who's gone through his entire catalogue, you've probably seen "Rebecca". That isn't the case for the rest of us. Despite being the only film for which Hitchcock won a Best Picture, it's far less memorable than many others in his catalogue.

'You Can't Take it With You' (1938)

Columbia Pictures

If you look through the list of Best Picture winners to see which are cultural icons and which have fallen by the wayside, generally the comedies fare worse. Comedy struggles to hold up over time the way that drama does. "You Can't Take it With You" fits that pattern. It's a comedy of manners about a rich family having to deal with a poorer family when they're drawn together via an engagement.

'The Great Ziegfeld' (1936)


Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, this film is a musical drama. It's a fictionalized movie about the Ziegfeld follies, a Broadway theatrical revue. Though the great Irving Berlin provided the music, it unfortunately doesn't have an enduring song either. Hell, it's difficult to even find a link for "Yiddle on the Fiddle".

'Cavalcade' (1932/1933)

Fox Film Corporation

This epic drama really lives up to the term 'epic'. It covers English life from 1899 to 1933. Though the film may not be memorable, the events it covers are. It covers everything from the death of Queen Victoria to the sinking of the Titanic to the First World War.

'Cimarron' (1930/1931)

RKO Radio Pictures

Here's a type of movie you didn't expect to see this far back - a Western. Another epic, it covers 1889 to 1929. It's one of the only two films to win Best Picture by famed studio RKO Pictures, which is better remembered for such animated classics as "Pinocchio" and "Snow White". "Cimarron" did not hold up as well.

'The Broadway Melody' (1928/1929)


This was the first film with sound to win Best Picture. It also had a sequence in Technicolor, which became a popular technique in musicals, to do some sequences in Technicolor. Unfortunately, the Technicolor sequence has been lost. Only the black-and-white version remains.