14 Oscar-winning movies that haven’t stood the test of time

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“Dallas Buyers Club” was nominated for best picture in 2014.
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Focus Features/”Dallas Buyers Club”

  • The 91st annual Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, February 24.
  • In preparation, INSIDER looked back at the most glaring missteps in Oscars history.
  • The 14 movies listed here did not deserve at least one of their golden men.
  • Some are radically whitewashed or include problematic characters and storylines.

For every well-deserved award earned at the Oscars, there’s another tiny golden man sitting on the wrong shelf.

Each and every year, much is said and written about which movies didn’t deserve their Oscar nominations or trophies. But hindsight is a much more accurate indicator of whether an awarded film belongs amongst the greats.

Here are 14 of the most glaring missteps in Oscars history.


“The Shape of Water” won best picture in 2018.

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Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer star in “The Shape of Water.”
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Fox Searchlight

Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” was instantly beloved amongst critics and Academy members. It was the most-nominated film at the 2018 Oscars and won four out of 13 awards, including best picture and best director.

While the strange and sometimes wonderful film doesn’t deserve its slanderous reputation as “the fish-sex movie,” it also didn’t deserve to beat masterfully topical, instant classics like Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” or Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.”

As Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson noted at the time, “The Shape of Water” simply seems like “a safe choice for an industry that wants to signal its values.”


“The Imitation Game” won best screenplay in 2014.

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Benedict Cumberbatch stars in “The Imitation Game.”
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The Weinstein Company

“The Imitation Game” was little more than a straightforward biopic. It followed the story of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a British war hero who decrypted German intelligence codes during World War II. He was also a queer man who eventually died by suicide because of the British government’s homophobic laws – a fact the film bizarrely refused to portray.

“It’s especially galling that this movie specifically won for its screenplay,” writes Complex’s Matt Barone, “which is half Benedict Cumberbatch saying ‘Eureka!’ and half British government officials spouting typical World War II dialogue.”


“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” won best picture in 2015.

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Michael Keaton and Edward Norton star in “Birdman.”
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Fox Searchlight

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” racked up nine Oscar nominations in 2015 and won four. It certainly deserved its best picture award over “American Sniper,” “The Imitation Game,” or “The Theory of Everything” – especially since the performances from stars Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone are all excellent.

But, as INSIDER’s Jacob Shamsian points out, “it’s pretty clear that ‘Boyhood’ was the best movie of 2014 and should have won best picture, best director, and best screenplay instead.” Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was similarly more deserving. “Birdman” simply doesn’t have the same re-watch value and is far too easily forgettable.


Jared Leto won best supporting actor for his role in “Dallas Buyers Club” in 2013.

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Jared Leto stars in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
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Focus Features/”Dallas Buyers Club”

Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar-winning performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” is about the only part of this movie that still feels praise-worthy (despite the apparent straightwashing of his character, who was reportedly queer in real life).

“Dallas Buyers Club” is essentially a practice in exploitation and harmful LGBTQ stereotypes, particularly when it comes to Jared Leto’s role as a transgender woman.

The straight, cisgender actor should never have been cast as Rayon, but the way the character is written makes this offensive misstep far worse. The film depicts trans women as shallow and romantically tragic, which serves to undermine the real danger these women face.

As Time’s Steve Friess wrote, awarding Leto was “another moment when liberals in Hollywood, both in the industry and in the media, showed how little they understood or empathized with the lives of a minority they imagine they and Leto are honoring.”


“Argo” won best picture in 2013.

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Ben Affleck stars in “Argo.”
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Warner Bros.

“Argo” was generally an interesting and enjoyable film, but hindsight tells us that we should have cast a more critical eye on its blatant whitewashing.

White actors Ben Affleck and Clea DuVall both play inspiring, real-life people: CIA agent Tony Mendez, who’s half-Mexican, and Cora Lijek, who’s Japanese-American.

The characters were written to be white, so there were no offensive accents, stereotypes, or makeup mishaps in the film. But the sin in “Argo” is exactly what Emma Stone’s role in “Aloha” has been repeatedly criticized for. Somehow, Affleck and DuVall – not to mention, most unsettlingly, the reputation of “Argo” – have carried on unscathed.


“The Artist” won best picture in 2011.

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Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo star in “The Artist.”
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Warner Bros

“The Artist” is another fine yet forgettable film. It was characterized as an unlikely frontrunner, thanks to its shtick as a black-and-white film without dialogue, but it’s also a tribute to the power and glory of cinema, which the Oscars habitually love to honor.


“The King’s Speech” won best picture in 2010.

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Colin Firth stars in “The King’s Speech.”
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Momentum Pictures

“The King’s Speech” is the perfect example of a film that seemed to make Oscar-winning sense at the time, but doesn’t carry intrigue over time. Nobody is in a rush to re-watch this too-long retelling of King George VI’s public-speaking woes.

As Business Insider’s Jason Guerrasio points out, the film’s best picture award is especially frustrating when you consider how “The Social Network” should’ve won.


“Crash” won best picture in 2006.

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Thandie Newton and Matt Dillon star in “Crash.”
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Lionsgate

We hardly needed hindsight to tell us that “Crash” is an overhyped and condescending film. Despite its star-studded cast, noble social message, six nominations, and three wins at the 2006 Oscars, The Atlantic named it “the worst movie of the decade” in 2009.


Roman Polanski won best director for “The Pianist” in 2003.

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Adrien Brody stars in “The Pianist.”
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Focus Features

In 1977, Roman Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor after he was indicted by a grand jury on six criminal counts, including sodomy, sex with a minor, and rape by drugs. He then fled the country before his official sentencing and has never returned.

Whatever your feelings on “separating art from the artist,” the seven Oscar nominations for Polanski’s 2002 film “The Pianist” certainly did not need to include its nomination – or subsequent win – for best director, an explicit celebration of Polanski himself.

In 2018, the academy announced it expelled Polanski from its membership.


“Chicago” won best picture in 2003.

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Catherine Zeta-Jones stars in “Chicago.”
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Miramax

The Oscars tend to obsess over stylish musicals with ensemble casts, but “Chicago” is the most unfortunate winner in this category. Unless you have a friend who’s a Broadway aficionado, can you think of one person who’s watched this film in the last 16 years?


“The Last Emperor” won best picture in 1988.

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“The Last Emperor” is a biographical drama film about the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China.
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Columbia Pictures

Did Bernardo Bertolucci’s basic biopic truly deserve a clean sweep, winning nine out of nine nominations at the 1988 Oscars? Probably not. It’s visually gorgeous, yet rarely remarkable in other ways.

Additionally, as The New York Times noted, the film is concerningly propagandist.

“It seems to accept the official Chinese Communist version of the facts,” Richard Bernstein wrote at the time. “Based largely on the approved autobiography of Pu Yi himself, and filmed from a script formally sanctioned by the Chinese Government, ‘The Last Emperor’ glides smoothly through one of the most horrific episodes of recent history, the effort to remake wayward individuals by remolding them through education and labor in vast, northern prison camps.”


“Gandhi” won best picture in 1982.

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Ben Kingsley stars in “Gandhi.”
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Columbia Pictures

Ben Kingsley as Gandhi is one of the most egregious – and celebrated – instances of brownface in cinematic history. His makeup sessions reportedly took seven hours each, which is plenty of time to realize how wrong it is. Many have seemed to accept the casting decision since the British actor is part Gujarati, but by no account was an Indian actor even considered for the role.

The biopic was also peppered with obvious inaccuracies and ignored problematic reports about Gandhi, including that he was reportedly a vocal anti-black misogynist and allegedly forced underage girls to sleep next to him naked in order to test his own impulses.


“Lawrence of Arabia” won best picture in 1963.

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Peter O’Toole stars in “Lawrence of Arabia.”
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Columbia Pictures

Alec Guinness portrays Prince Faisal in “Lawrence of Arabia,” yet another example of Hollywood’s radical whitewashing.

“David Lean’s film is one of the greatest films ever made, but despite a prominent subplot about the rights of an indigenous people to govern their own region, some politically questionable casting decisions were made,” IndieWire’s Jessica Kiang writes. “Guinness is terrific, but it’s hard to ignore that Obi-Wan is in brownface here, not to mention that Mexican actor Anthony Quinn also plays an Arab.”


“Around the World in 80 Days” won best picture in 1956.

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Cantinflas and David Niven star in “Around the World in 80 Days.”
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United Artists

Despite its big budget and intricate filming schedule, “Around the World in 80 Days” is widely considered one of the worst best picture winners in history. At the time, its massive cast and 13-country backdrop was impressive. But, to the modern eye, it leans hilariously hard on cameos and dramatic spectacles that never quite pay off.