Home Films Terrible Oscar Winners Who Should Return Their Trophies Right Now

Terrible Oscar Winners Who Should Return Their Trophies Right Now

Darren March 7, 2024

The Oscars are the gold standard of film awards in the Western world. Just about every actor dreams of holding the golden statuette and making a long acceptance speech nobody wants to hear. However, despite this, there’s always some controversy. The Academy can also be very conservative about who they vote for to win the coveted prizes.

In short, the most deserving movies, actors, and directors don’t always get the credit they deserve. Sometimes they don’t even receive nominations. There are many notorious Oscar winners whose victories confused everybody. Meanwhile, some made sense at the time but history isn’t kind to them. Check out the worst Oscar winners now.

Tom Hanks

Hanks made history when he won back-to-back Oscars in 1994 and 1995. The first came when he played an AIDS-afflicted patient in Philadelphia. Then he played the titular lead character in Forrest Gump, a movie that many people think is problematic. Hanks won the Best Actor accolade ahead of Morgan Freeman and John Travolta.

Prime Video

Freeman’s performance as Red in The Shawshank Redemption was phenomenal. However, arguably the biggest miscarriage of justice was that Forrest Gump won Best Picture ahead of Pulp Fiction. Tarantino’s masterpiece remains fresh and cool today while Hanks’ movie is sentimental and bloated (via Movie Web).

Jamie Lee Curtis

Curtis is an acting legend but she shouldn’t have won her first Oscar for Everything Everywhere All At Once. Yes, the movie was a breath of fresh air and had some stunning performances. Curtis was up against her co-star Stephanie Hsu for Best Supporting Actress and won.

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The Hollywood Reporter

The Halloween star plays an IRS agent in the movie and does have one of the most ridiculous scenes ever with Michelle Yeoh. But Hsu also delivered a great performance and had more to do. Some critics said that it felt like the Academy was handing her a Lifetime Achievement Award (via Reuters).


Somehow Avatar won Best Cinematography at the 2010 Academy Awards. It’s one of the worst Oscar winners ever because it doesn’t make any sense. James Cameron’s movie snatched multiple technical awards because it was a revolutionary creation. However, many critics believe that it didn’t deserve praise for cinematography because it was mostly CGI.


Nonetheless, defenders say that Mauro Fiore did a magnificent job blending CGI with real-life cinema. The reality is that it made more sense to give this prize to The White Ribbon. This was visually one of the most arresting films of the year but the Academy didn’t agree (via The Guardian).

Harvey Weinstein

Most people agree that Shakespeare In Love was one of the worst Oscar winners ever. The Academy essentially handed Weinstein’s Miramax production company the Best Picture award. It was one of the biggest Oscar travesties ever because this was also the year of Saving Private Ryan.

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The New York Times

Steven Spielberg’s 1998 epic remains the gold standard for war movies but the Academy didn’t reward it. Reportedly, Weinstein lobbied voters and connived behind the scenes to trash Spielberg’s masterpiece. We’ve seen controversial picks over the years but this was a blatant robbery (via Den of Geek).

Will Smith

Smith remains one of the most vanilla Best Actor winners ever. He played the titular patriarch in King Richard, a movie about Serena and Venus Williams. It was standard Oscar fare and disappointed many film fans because they thought that the Academy moved past this cliche.

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They favored Benedict Cumberbatch’s chilling performance in The Power of the Dog. Denzel Washington and Andrew Garfield also delivered nuanced turns in their respective films. In the end, Smith threw it back in the Academy’s face when he slapped Chris Rock at the ceremony (via USA Today).

Roman Polanski

The conversation about separating an artist from their art is a polarizing one. However, the Academy went too far when they awarded Polanski the Best Director prize for The Pianist. The notorious Polish director wasn’t even able to attend the awards because he is a fugitive from justice in the United States (via AP News).

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He pled guilty to the rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977 so he shouldn’t even be in the discussion. Heavyweights like Pedro Almovodar and Martin Scorsese also received nominations so there were more palatable alternatives. Polanski was one of the worst Oscar winners ever because there was no need to celebrate a remorseless sex offender.

Alejandro González Iñárritu

Sometimes a great director can make a brilliant movie but it can still become one of the worst Oscar winners ever. That’s what happened in Iñárritu’s case because Birdman won Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Orginal Screenplay in 2014. However, this remains a controversial choice (via Vox).

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That’s because many critics believe that Richard Linklater’s Boyhood was a superior movie. The Texan took pragmatic filmmaking to a new level as he made it over an incredible 12 years. His cast aged in real-time in a mesmerizing story. It was an outstanding achievement but in the end, only Patricia Arquette left with an Oscar.

Tom Hooper

Hooper has run hot and cold as a director throughout the years. He’s had success with The Danish Girl and The King’s Speech. However, Cats was one of the worst movies of the century. The Australian won the Best Director Award in 2011 for the second film after it built some momentum in Hollywood.

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It’s a stirring historical movie with an inspiring redemption story so it was perfect Oscar bait. The crazy aspect was that there were two other amazing candidates. Darren Aronofsky captured the imagination with the avant-garde Black Swan while the Coen Brothers directed True Grit (via Canberra Times).

The Greatest Show On Earth

Here’s another example of when the Academy forgot about merit and turned the ceremony into a Lifetime Achievement prize. Cecil DeMille was a phenomenal director but he is also one of the worst Oscar winners ever. He shouldn’t have received his gong for The Greatest Show On Earth ahead of the likes of Seven Samurai (via The Guardian).

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Rotten Tomatoes

They handed him the award for Best Picture because they felt guilty he hadn’t won before. It went down as one of the dumbest decisions in Oscars’ history. Meanwhile, he returned in 1957 with The Ten Commandments. The Bible epic was one of his greatest movies but somehow lost to Around The World In 80 Days. It doesn’t make sense.

Woody Allen

Some people still love Annie Hall and think that it’s one of the ’70’s best movies. Others can’t bring themselves to watch it because of Allen’s dubious personal history and the way the film mirrors it. But let’s forget about the latter for a moment and judge the movie in the context of its time. Unlike Polanski, people didn’t think Allen was a creep when he won.

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Page Six

Allen got Best Director for Annie Hall while it also claimed Best Picture amongst a clutch of awards. Somehow the Academy overlooked George Lucas and the breathtaking ambition of the first Star Wars movie. They didn’t take it seriously despite the reality that it revolutionized the genre (via CBC).


Sylvester Stallone won hearts when he played Rocky in 1977. The big-hearted boxer with an inspiring underdog story was one of the box office successes of the year. However, it remains incredible that it won the Best Picture award ahead of the competition. We’re not saying Rocky is a bad picture but it’s not a masterpiece like Taxi Driver.

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Meanwhile, there were two other excellent movies that year in All The President’s Men and Network. Somehow the Academy didn’t even give Martin Scorsese the Best Director gong. Instead, they handed it to Rocky Director John G. Avildsen, one of the worst Oscar winners ever (via EW).

Meryl Streep

There are two guarantees in this world. The first is that the sun will rise while the second is that Streep will receive an Oscar nomination every year. But that doesn’t mean that she always delivers the best performances. She starred as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady in 2011 (via Screen Rant).


This was a typical Oscar-winning role but there were more deserving contenders. Many critics favored Glenn Close for her excellent work in Albert Nobbs. Others thought that Viola Davis’ brilliance in The Help was enough to earn her the prize. Streep was an unpopular winner because it was a generic role.

Al Pacino

There were any number of years when Pacino could have won the Best Actor Award. He gave outstanding performances in Scarface and The Godfather trilogy. But somehow he became one of the worst Oscar winners ever. This was another case of the Academy rewarding longevity instead of critically analyzing the year’s movies.

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Page Six

Denzel Washington played Malcolm X and should have won. However, the weak Academy didn’t want to cause controversy so they gave it to a safe choice. Pacino had a decent turn in 1993’s Scent of a Woman but it wasn’t in the same class. History wasn’t kind to this pathetic decision (via Roger Egbert).

Rex Harrison

The only thing longer than Dr. Strangelove’s full title is the list of reasons why Peter Sellers should have won Best Actor in 1965. However, the Academy decided not to reward the British actor even though he played three different characters. Instead, they handed the prize to My Fair Lady’s Rex Harrison.

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Time Out

Harrison was a fine actor and this was a good performance. But it was bog-standard compared to Sellers’ efforts. Meanwhile, Kubrick’s masterpiece stands the test of time as one of the greatest satires ever. Unfortunately, the Academy didn’t reward him for his magnificent achievement (via Metaflix).

Out of Africa

Here’s another of the worst Oscar winners ever. The Academy traditionally loves a white savior movie and Out of Africa was the peak of this. Meryl Streep and Robert Redford starred in this Kenya-set picture. They were up against the likes of Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple but this was too divisive for voters.

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Meanwhile, Akira Kurosawa’s incredible period war movie Ran didn’t even receive a nomination. If there’s one positive change over the past few years it’s that foreign-language movies are finally receiving the recognition they deserve. However, there was no chance of this in 1986 (via USA Today).

Kevin Costner

If we’re fair, 1990 wasn’t the greatest year for cinema in the U.S. That’s why Kevin Costner had an opportunity to stand out with his directorial debut, Dances With Wolves. This is a decent movie but detractors say that it’s a bloated mess at three hours long. Nonetheless, the Academy loved it and it won Best Picture.

Slant Magazine

This meant that Martin Scorsese went without a gong again for his brilliant Goodfellas. Most film critics agree that it’s one of the greatest gangster movies ever. However, it didn’t get the recognition that it earned. Costner somehow won the Best Director Award, too, but we don’t know how (via Screen Rant).


It remains a travesty that Crash won the Best Picture prize ahead of Brokeback Mountain. But this says a lot about the traditionally conservative nature of the Academy. Ang Lee’s masterpiece about cowboys in love was one of the most beautiful movies of the decade. But the voters went for the safe option and annoyed everybody.

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Crash is a weird movie with too many characters and uncomfortable racial undertones. It was one of the most polarizing movies of 2004. This isn’t inherently a bad thing because different reviews will have varying perspectives. But it remains one of the worst Oscar winners in history (via Movie Web).

Rami Malek

Bohemian Rhapsody was a decent movie but it’s hardly the greatest biopic ever made. Some films inexplicably become a hit with Academy voters and this was one of them. Malek won the Best Actor statuette for his performance as Freddie Mercury but many people think he was one of the worst Oscar winners ever.

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USA Network

He tried his utmost to give a good showing but the script didn’t help him. Meanwhile, Christian Bale was incredible in Vice as he ballooned in weight. Willem Dafoe also gave an inspired performance as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate. Dafoe is one of the most underrated actors of his generation (via Far Out).

Driving Miss Daisy

These days everybody knows that Driving Miss Daisy was one of the worst Oscar winners ever. The worst aspect of this is that it came out in 1989, the same year as a Spike Lee masterpiece. He made the brilliant Do The Right Thing, one of the best modern American movies and an unflinching examination of race relations.

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Warner Bros

However, he didn’t even receive a nomination. Instead, the Academy awarded Driving Miss Daisy the Best Picture despite being distinctly average. The best we can is that it’s a reflection of aging and how societal perceptions can change. However, it remains one of the dumbest choices in Oscar history (via Pop Dose).

Ben Affleck

It’s weird how some movies gain momentum and become the flavor of the month. That’s exactly what happened when Ben Affleck’s Argo won the Best Picture Award in 2013. The conventional wisdom was that the Academy decided to make it up to Affleck because they didn’t give him the Best Director statuette.

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Most people think that the Oscars are all about politics and that was the case here. This was a year when The Master and Moonrise Kingdom didn’t even receive nominations for the category. In the end, Argo surprisingly won against Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty (via IndieWire).

Renee Zellweger

Here’s another example of a consolation Oscar. Zellweger won the Best Supporting Actress Award for Cold Mountain in 2003. Many movie buffs couldn’t believe it because it wasn’t even one of Zellweger’s best performances. She plays a grumpy farmer with aplomb but she’s much better in Bridget Jones and Chicago.

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Context is important because we should compare it to the other nominees and snubbed stars. Patricia Clarkson was superb in Pieces of April while Shoreh Agdashloo also received praise. However, neither woman convinced the Academy that they deserved to win an Oscar (via Time Out).

Gary Oldman

Everybody knows that Oldman is one of the greatest actors of his generation. The man is a chameleon because he is capable of the most incredible performances. He was also one of the most talented stars without an Oscar win but that changed in 2018. The Academy finally rewarded him for playing Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.

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The Telegraph

Once again, this felt like a lifetime achievement award rather than merit. This was one of Oldman’s hammiest performances in a typical Oscar-bait movie. His recent performance as the disgusting Jackson Lamb shows he’s capable of much more. Somehow, he claimed the statuette ahead of Daniel Day-Lewis and Timothee Chalamet (via Insider).

Ron Howard

Howard is one of Hollywood’s longest-serving directors. He’s always had a reputation for being a safe pair of hands without being a brilliant visionary. Maybe this seems harsh but it’s true as his Best Director win shows. Somehow his 2002 movie A Beautiful Mind earned him this prestigious prize.

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Even more unforgiveably the film won the Best Picture award ahead of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The Academy made up for this a few years later when they gave Jackson all of the awards for the third LOTR movie. But the average A Beautiful Mind remains one of the worst Oscar winners (via Empire).

Sean Penn

Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation was one of the most beautiful and poignant movies of 2003. It also saw Bill Murray deliver a career-best performance as a forlorn actor in Tokyo. This was a perfect example of quiet acting where he allowed his expressions and subtle mannerisms to do the work.

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The Hollywood Reporter

But Penn won the Best Actor Award for an emotional role in Mystic River. He gave it his best shot but it wasn’t as classy as Murray’s offering. Meanwhile, Coppola’s masterpiece holds up well today with many relatable themes. It’s a shame that Murray didn’t get the prize he deserved (via People).

Green Book

This was one of the most notorious movies of recent years. Green Book isn’t a bad film but it’s full of cliches and it was an example of the Academy trying and failing to read the room. There were so many other options they could have chosen for Best Picture but they went with one of the worst Oscar winners ever.

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The New Yorker

Many people wanted Black Panther because it represented an iconoclastic moment in cinema with its predominately Black cast. Some critics said no to having a superhero movie but there was another alternative. Alfonso Cuaron’s gorgeous Mexican drama Roma was the film that should have won.

John Ford

Everybody knows that Orson Welles was one of the best directors and actors of his era. He was also a victim of one of the biggest robberies in the history of the world. How Green Was My Valley won the Best Picture Award in 1941 while Ford also captured the Best Director accolade.


This was the same year that Citizen Kane was in the conversation. We all know that it’s arguably the greatest movie ever, even if we haven’t watched it. It has stood the test of time but the Academy rewarded Ford for continuing to make pictures throughout the war period. However, it became one of the worst Oscar winners (via The Guardian).