10 of the Worst Oscar Winners in History

Sometimes the Oscars get it right. You can’t really argue with Gone with the Wind or The Godfather winning Best Picture awards, or Star Wars winning Best Special Effects, or Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster taking acting honors for Silence of the Lambs. But then there are other times when award winners are not so clear-cut and people argue endlessly about the merits. Here are some of the Academy’s more egregious offenses.
Elizabeth Taylor, ‘Butterfield 8’ – Best Actress, 1960

© Warner Home Video
This may be the only time an Oscar winner so openly dismissed the quality of the film she won for. Taylor called Butterfield 8 “a piece of obscenity” and only made the film to fulfill her contract at MGM. After her nomination she still felt “it stinks… I have never seen it and I have no desire to see it.” But Taylor may have won less for her performance than for her near fatal bout with pneumonia that made her a sentimental favorite.

Tom Hanks, ‘Forrest Gump’ – Best Actor, 1994

© Paramount
Tom Hanks won an Oscar for Philadelphia the year before he won for Forrest Gump so he already had a gold statue when he stole the award from John Travolta (Pulp Fiction), Paul Newman (Nobody’s Fool), and Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption). So sometimes it’s not just who wins and for what but who wins over whom. In this case there were three far more worthy nominees.
More on Tom Hanks
Marisa Tomei, ‘My Cousin Vinny’ – Best Supporting Actress, 1992

© 20th Century Fox
Here’s another case of a winner causing raised eyebrows. When Jack Palance read Marisa Tomei’s name for the comedy My Cousin Vinny people were shocked she had beaten such vets as Judy Davis (Husbands and Wives), Joan Plowright (Enchanted April), Vanessa Redgrave (Howard’s End), and Miranda Richardson (Damage). Adding to this is the rumor that presenter Palace couldn’t read the winner’s name or was drunk, and misread it and that Redgrave was the actual winner but the Academy didn’t know how to ask for the award back. Although there’s nothing to support the rumor, it’s remained a tainted win.
More on Marisa Tomei
‘Driving Miss Daisy’ – Best Make Up, 1989

© Warner Home Video
Unless Jessica Tandy is a 20 year old and Morgan Freeman is white, there’s no explaining how Driving Miss Daisy won for make-up effects over films such as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

John Mollo and Bhanu Athaiya, ‘Gandhi’ – Best Costumes, 1982

© Sony Pictures
Gandhi wears a sheet. How could that win best costumes over La Traviata, Tron, Sophie’s Choice, and Victor/Victoria?

“Chim Chim Cher-ee,” ‘Mary Poppins’ – Best Song, 1964

© Walt Disney Video
Well picking the worst best song was tough. There was stiff competition from “The Morning After” (The Poseidon Adventure), “You Light Up My Life” (You Light Up My Life), and “You’ll Be in My Heart” (Disney’s Tarzan). But really “Chim Chim Cher-ee”? Even “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is better. But then this category is the worst Oscar category there is. It only encourages saccharine songs tagged on at the end of movies, and then at the awards show the need to perform all the nominated songs prolongs the night.

Glenda Jackson, ‘A Touch of Class’ – Best Actress, 1973

© Turner Home Entertainment
Sometimes an award is annoying because it is given to a performer for what is so obviously the wrong role. Glenda Jackson has played British queens, starred in daring films by Ken Russell, and done subtle work in art house films. But what does she win for? A ridiculous romantic comedy. Plus she beat out Ellen Burstyn for The Exorcist and Joanne Woodward for Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams.

Al Pacino, ‘Scent of a Woman’ – Best Actor, 1992

© Universal Studios
And here’s another intolerable win. Al Pacino has done amazingly subtle work in films such as The Godfather and Panic in Needle Park, and he’s been dazzling in films like Dog Day Afternoon. But does he get honored for any of those? No. Instead he chews up the scenery in Scent of a Woman and gets rewarded with the gold statue. Ho-ah!

Mary Pickford, ‘Coquette’ – Best Actress, 1928–1929

© Image Entertainment
Mary Pickford was America’s Sweetheart but her performance in Coquette was criticized as testing her range. Yet she won over actresses that most felt were more deserving by actively campaigning for the award. She reportedly had members of the Academy over for tea. And it didn’t hurt that she was a founding charter member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science.
More on Mary Pickford
‘What Dreams May Come’ – Best Visual Effects, 1998

© Universal Studios
There should be a rule that a bad film should never be allowed to win in a technical category. This is just one of many inferior titles that managed to nab an Oscar even though the film as a whole was a piece of crap.

Bonus Baddies
Here are some Best Picture winners that simply didn’t deserve it: Greatest Show on Earth, The Great Ziegfield, Around the World in 80 Days, Forrest Gump, and Chicago.


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