15 Failed Oscar Bait Attempts

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The Oscars are a time-honored tradition in Hollywood. Ever since their inception in 1929, the Academy Awards have been the industry standard for measuring the success or failure of a given film’s artistic achievement. A win in any of the major categories, especially Best Picture, can bring an aura of prestige and sophistication. Some films reach this glory, while some never make it far enough to see those golden statues. 

Today, we’ll be looking at films that tried to play as ‘Oscar bait’—a certain kind of prestige film that only exists to win awards—yet still failed to achieve it. These are not all bad films. Some of them are, in fact, quite good. But they are all united in a common failure: losing or not even getting nominated for the Oscars. 

1. Alexander (2004)

Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment.

Oliver Stone’s epic film about the titular warlord is filled with the director’s central preoccupations—men who succumb to great power, temptation, and the nature of violence. Alexander is also historically accurate, which may have been the film’s downfall. Stone’s attention to detail is so great that it renders the movie airless, leaving no room for audiences or Academy voters to latch onto. 

2. Seven Pounds (2008)

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures.

Will Smith’s first go on the Oscar Bait merry-go-round sees him as Tim, an aerospace engineer who kills seven people in a car accident. To redeem himself for his actions, he donates parts of his body to save seven good people. A laughable premise on its surface, the film was a box office smash, grossing $170 million globally. This financial success film, however, did not translate to the Oscars gold this weepie Will Smith was hoping for.

3. Nine (2009) 

Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company.

This big-budget adaptation of the Broadway remake of Federico Fellini’s film 8 ½ is dead on arrival. The film, which follows an embittered film director as he tries to overcome his writer’s block, is a tired rehash of the aforementioned film. Nine squanders its lavish budget and talented cast on what is, ostensibly, a blockbuster high school musical production of Fellini’s classic.

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4. Amelia (2009) 

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Mira Nair’s biopic of the famous pilot Amelia Earhart plays like a greatest hits compilation, jumping around the major details of the woman’s life without giving her room to breathe. The film was rightfully ignored, though the real shame is that Nair and her talented cast and crew failed because of a woefully generic screenplay.

5. I Saw the Light (2015)

Photo Credit: BRON Studios.

This biopic on the tragic life of country star Hank Williams Sr. never feels as substantial as it should. Instead, it jumps around in traditional biopic fashion to squeeze an entire life into the span of two hours. However, Oscar voters saw right through this as the film made no impact and was promptly forgotten.

6. Australia (2008)

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.

Baz Lurhmann’s sweeping romantic about a doomed romance caught in the center of World War II failed to attract awards attention, though it did get an Oscar nomination for Costume Design. The tourism the titular country hoped the film would garner wasn’t enough for the gold. 

7. Diana (2013)

Photo Credit: Ecosse Films.

Naomi Watts soars in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s biopic on the Princess of Wales as the rest of the film crumbles around her. Your time is better spent watching Pablo Larraín’s Spencer.

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8. J. Edgar (2011)

Photo Credit: Imagine Entertainment.

Clint Eastwood’s critical portrait of the former head of the FBI gives audiences a fractured view of its central figure. Leonard DiCaprio stars as the titular man, carrying us through Hoover’s early years in the FBI and Hoover’s later years defending the FBI from accusations of various abuses of power. Eastwood’s sweeping biopic seemed destined to be gifted with every award the Academy had to offer. However, the film would be nominated for zero Academy Awards despite being included in the American Film Institute’s list of the ten best American films of 2011. It is a great and challenging film that was, unfortunately, overlooked by the Academy.

9. I Am Sam (2001)

Photo Credit: New Line Cinema.

Sean Penn stars in this drama about a differently abled man who has to fight for custody of his seven-year-old daughter after the state determines that he isn’t fit to care for her. As a drama, the film is turgid. As an issues film, it’s laughably offensive. To cast Penn as a man with a vague mental disability is, to put it mildly, foolish. No wonder the Academy didn’t latch onto this one.

10. Collateral Beauty (2016)

Photo Credit: New Line Cinema.

Will Smith’s second entry on this list centers on a New York ad executive who retreats from his life after dealing with a great personal tragedy. In his struggle to overcome grief, he writes letters to Life, Death, and Time. The film is an unintentionally hilarious mess, bombing hard with audiences and critics alike.

11. Labor Day (2013)

Photo Credit: Indian Paintbrush.

Jason Reitman’s turgid melodrama follows an escaped convict, Josh Brolin, who takes refuge in the home of a depressed single mother and her thirteen-year-old son. Eventually, the two fall in love while the former tries to live on the lam. The film is filled with the kind of schmaltz the Academy loves to shower with awards. However, this is one sugar pill the Oscar voters refused to follow, with the film flopping at the box office and failing to receive any nominations at the 2014 Academy Awards.

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12. Troy (2004)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Though it was popular with audiences – having grossed $497 million globally – and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design, Troy was ultimately a failure when it came to the lofty awards ambitions it had. A 163-minute epic chronicling the entirety of The Trojan War, this is the type of epic historical fiction that the Oscars usually go crazy for. However, it failed to catch on with Academy voters, leaving it empty-handed. 

13. Emancipation (2022)

Photo Credit: Apple TV+

Round three of “Will Smith Stars in Failed Oscar Bait,” this Antoine Fuqua-directed drama follows Peter, a runaway slave who must battle the Louisiana swamp and the wrath of bloodthirsty slave catchers who chase him around every turn. Released amidst the controversy of Will Smith’s slapping incident at the Oscars, the film went largely unnoticed by the Academy and the general public. 

14. Cats (2019)

Photo Credit: The Really Useful Group.

Tom Hooper’s blockbuster adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway smash is, with as much kindness as possible, one of the ugliest-looking films ever released by a major studio. The calculus makes sense on paper. Hooper’s hot success of his Les Misérables adaptation made him fit to adapt the tenth-highest-grossing Broadway musical of all time. How wrong this thinking was. What Hooper produced cannot be fathomed unless seen with one’s own eyes. This writer can assure you that the Academy didn’t do that.

15. The Boys in the Boat (2023) 

Photo Credit: MGM.

George Clooney dusts off the director’s chair to helm this real-life drama about the University of Washington’s rowing team and their quest to place in the 1936 Olympics. This seems like a recipe for a feel-good smash, but the film went on to make a splash with absolutely no one. Audiences were bored to tears, and Academy voters were ultimately ambivalent.

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Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

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Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

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