When it comes to defining quality in the film industry, the Oscars are the ultimate status symbol. Winning an Oscar is considered a huge accomplishment and defines that film as the best in its category for that given year. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences usually chooses films that deserve the awards they are given. They are the ones that deserve to be remembered as classics for years to come. However, the Academy has also made some pretty horrible decisions, resulting in films winning Oscars that maybe should not have. Many movie critics assert that some Oscar-winning films did not deserve the accolades they received.

“Shakespeare in Love”

In the film industry, you'll hear many tell the tale of heavy lobbying by “Shakespeare in Love” producer Harvey Weinstein to secure the win for the 1999 Oscar for Best Picture. With the epic World War II saga “Saving Private Ryancoming out that same year, many are left scratching their heads how it lost to, what many see as, a forgettable romantic comedy period piece. The Steven Spielberg masterpiece, starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, provides a glimpse into the horrific realities of World War II. What makes the Academy's error so obvious is that “Shakespeare in Love” is a faded memory, and “Saving Private Ryan” remains one of the greatest war films ever made. It’s a film that stood the test of time.

“The Pianist”

The award for Best Director at the 2003 Oscars went to Roman Polanski for “The Pianist.” The fact that Polanski was indicted by a grand jury in 1978 and found guilty of statutory rape was not uppermost in society’s consciousness at the time.

Polanski has never returned to the U.S. after fleeing the country before his sentencing. In 2003, the Academy felt it was important to separate the art from the artist, and Polanski received this great honor anyway. The film itself was a moving story about a Jewish musician in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Does this mean the Academy should nominate a known statutory rapist and fugitive of the law, let alone celebrate with a win? Times change, and what was acceptable then is no longer. In today’s current cultural atmosphere, the answer is a resounding no.

“Suicide Squad”

The Oscar for “Suicide Squad” was for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. However, it was up against two other films, “Star Trek Beyondand the foreign film “A Man Called Ove.” However, "Suicide Squad" was not a hit with critics, carrying a score of just 40 (out of 100) from the reviews aggregate site Metacritic.

The “Suicide Squad”character Harley Quinn had an interesting and memorable look, but the rest of the cast’s makeup was sloppy for Oscar nominee standards. This DC Comic superhero film was a failure on many accounts, including in the styling department. Just see Jared Leto’s character covered in mall tattoos with “Damaged” written across his forehead for further proof.


“Brokeback Mountain” would have won Best Picture in 2006, but the Academy was still wary of giving its highest honor to a tale of gay love, or so the story goes. Instead, “Crash” won.

Critics will tell you that the characters in “Crash” consisted of undeveloped ideas rather than actual individuals. This ultimately provided a simplistic view of race relations when the topic deserved so much more. Despite its attempt at a noble message, we’re left with racial stereotypes that don’t explore the complexity therein.

In other words, some critics feel "Crash" was a shallow portrayal of a serious issue that had the potential to express something great but failed. It's quite possible that the environment of the day was too biased against a film like “Brokeback Mountain” winning the Oscar instead, and therein lies the controversy.

Forrest Gump”

Forrest Gump won six Oscars in 1995, including the most coveted of them all, Best Picture. It’s still a movie that many know and love today. However, are endearing characters and quotable lines enough to call a film the best of the year in the most prestigious film competition that exists?

Critics say no.

Many point to other 1995 Best Picture nominees “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption” as deserving the honor far more. “Forrest Gump” was sentimental and relied on nostalgia to drive the film emotionally. Conversely, both “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption” were inspired, creative, innovative, and moving both from the perspective of plot and character development.

The Academy has biases

Close-up photo of an Oscar statue
Credit: VK Studio/ Shutterstock

No one claims that any of the films above are outright bad, but an Oscar is an exalted award that carries great honor. Just because a movie makes you feel good or laugh or say “wow” does not mean it deserves to win an Oscar. In addition, when there’s steep competition between films and one clearly comes up short on multiple counts, it should not prevail. However, the Academy always has and will have its biases, and there’s nothing the rest of us can do about it.