The Biggest Oscar Upsets Of All Time (By Category)

The Academy Awards have been around for 85 years, and have seen numerous upsets over the years. Here are the biggest upsets of all time, by category.

1. BEST PICTURE: “Rocky” defeats “All The President’s Men,” “Network,” and “Taxi Driver”

1976 was a loaded year for the Academy Awards. Three of the greatest films of all time — All the President’s Men, Network and Taxi Driver — were expected to battle for Best Picture, along with the good but forgotten Woody Guthrie bio-pic Bound For Glory. However, all were defeated in a shocking upset when Rocky took home the top prize. Sports films rarely win Oscars, and Rocky was the first sports film in history to take home the top prize (Chariots of Fire would follow five years later, itself an upset).

ALSO CONSIDERED: How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon (1941); Ordinary People over Raging Bull (1980); Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas (1990); Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan (1998); Crash over Brokeback Mountain (2005)

ID: 896978

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Everyone beats Martin Scorsese

Plenty of legendary directors have gone home without Oscar gold for their best films, but until he finally won for The Departed in 2006, no one had a better case for a screw job than Scorsese. His first snub came with Raging Bull in 1980, when he lost to Robert Redford’s Ordinary People. He would go on to lose another four times, most notably to Kevin Costner in 1990 (Goodfellas to Costner’s Dances With Wolves) and 2002 (when Gangs of New York fell to The Pianist).

ALSO CONSIDERED: Fred Zinnemann over Mike Nichols (1966); Bob Fosse over Francis Ford Coppola (1972); Oliver Stone over Jim Sheridan (1989); Anthony Minghella over Joel Cohn (1996).

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3. BEST ACTOR: Paul Lukas tops Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine from Casablanca is one of cinema’s most iconic characters in what is considered by many to be the greatest film ever made. So it’s a bit shocking to see that Bogart was topped by Paul Lukas in Watch on the Rhine. While Lukas is an accomplished actor and Rhine is a fine film, neither matches Casablanca’s legacy.

ALSO CONSIDERED: Gary Cooper over Orson Welles (1941); Rod Steiger over Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman, and Spencer Tracy (1967); Cliff Robertson over Peter O’Toole (1968); Roberto Benigni over Tom Hanks and Ian McKellan (1998).

ID: 897017

4. BEST ACTRESS: Gwyneth Paltrow defeats Cate Blanchett

In 1998, Shakespeare in Love was the surprise force that unexpectedly took many of the major categories. Nowhere was that more controversial than when Paltrow defeated Cate Blanchett’s iconic performance in Elizabeth. Blanchett would finally earn an Oscar for Supporting Actress (for The Aviator) a few years later.

ALSO CONSIDERED: Ginger Rogers over Joan Fontaine and Katharine Hepburn (1940); Geraldine Page over Meryl Streep (1985); Cher over Holly Hunter (1987); Julia Roberts over Ellen Burstyn (2000).

ID: 897054

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Tommy Lee Jones upsets Ralph Fiennes

In 1993, Schindler’s List dominated the Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Film Editing. So it came as a shock when The Fugitive’s Tommy Lee Jones bested Ralph Fiennes playing Amon Göeth in Schindler’s List. Finnes still doesn’t have an Oscar, while Jones has a good shot at his second Oscar this year with Lincoln.

ALSO CONSIDERED: Donald Crisp over Sydney Greenstreet (1941); Charles Coburn over Claude Raines (1943); Ed Begley over Omar Sharif (1962); Joel Grey over Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, and James Caan (1972); James Coburn over Ed Harris (1998); George Clooney over William Hurt (2005).

ID: 897079

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Juliette Binoche over Lauren Bacall

1995 was the first year the Oscars were dominated by independent films, and no film was more unexpectedly dominant than The English Patient, which took home nine of the twelve Oscars it was nominated for. No win was more surprising than Juliette Binoche over Lauren Bacall (for The Mirror Has Two Faces). Bacall had been in the industry for 50 years, and she was widely expected to take home the award.

ALSO CONSIDERED: Shirley Jones over Janet Leigh (1960); Lee Grant over Lily Tomlin (1975); Marisa Tomei over Vanessa Redgrave (1992).

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