Forgotten Oscar Nominees and Winners

This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon 2018, hosted by Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen. Read the rest of the posts in this event HERE!

The aura around the Academy Awards is pretty strong. Not only the belief that those who merit the awards win them, but that it elevates the nominees and winners into some rarefied group above others in the film industry.

Realistically, we know that’s not the case. Not only because of the many, many absurd snubs that occur during nearly every year’s nomination process, but because who or what will or won’t stand the test of time is not easy to predict.

Some of the winner/nominees I will discuss aren’t exactly forgotten (at least by film and obscure trivia buffs) but for one reason or another never achieved the classic status or career success indicated by their Oscar aura.


The Racket (1928) was nominated for Best Picture by the Academy for its first awards ceremony. Directed by Lewis Milestone and produced by Howard Hughes, the history of The Racket is quite interesting, as it was both a banned picture (for its portrayal of police as “corrupt”) and considered lost for some time. A copy was eventually found in Hughes’ collection after his death and restored. It has since been shown on TCM.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1956): this isn’t exactly a forgotten film, but a lot of people wish it had been forgotten by the Academy. Inexplicably winning Best Picture against competition such as High Noon, Moulin Rogue and The Quiet Man, it is easily one of the most controversial picks for Best Picture in the Academy’s history.

Doctor Dolittle (1967): remember the Sesame Street segment, “One of these things is not like the other”? In a year when the film industry experienced a massive creative shift and nominated controversial films such as The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and Best Picture winner In the Heat of the Night, Doctor Dolittle seems like a bizarre inclusion.

The Emigrants (1972): this is a Swedish film from the 1970s starring Liv Ullmann and NOT directed by Ingmar Bergman that is pretty much forgotten today. The director, Jan Troell, had a brief and spectacularly unsuccessful Hollywood career, though a later film, Flight of the Eagle, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.


It’s only recently that film directors have gained almost the same name-recognition as actors, but here are a few who slid away into semi-to-total obscurity after an Oscar nomination:

Hugh Hudson: he burst on the scene in 1981 with Chariots of Fire. (I happened to have the opportunity to see the film the night it debuted at the New York Film Festival and the crowd went nuts for it.) However, his subsequent career was mostly a bust, with Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), which was controversial because he had actress Glenn Close dub over star Andie MacDowell’s voice, and Revolution (1985). The failure of Revolution demoralized actor Al Pacino so much he took a four-year hiatus from making films.

Michael Cimino: few films gain as much critical acclaim as The Deer Hunter, which won both Best Picture and garnered its director Cimino a Best Director Oscar. Then Cimino’s career cratered with the famous bomb Heaven’s Gate. His career never recovered, and some critics have even reassessed their initial positive view of The Deer Hunter in light of his inability to create another successful film.

Richard Rush: nominated for The Stunt Man (1980), a film that is highly regarded to this day, his subsequent directing career also tanked. He was forced to walk away from directing the 1990 film Air America, and directed the erotic thriller Color of Night in 1994, considered by many critics one of the worst films of that year.


Alexander Knox: nominated for Best Actor in 1944 for Wilson, Knox’s Hollywood career derailed when he was blacklisted during the 1950s. Though he had a successful career in Great Britain, he never achieved leading man status in Hollywood.

Brad Dourif: nominated for Best Supporting Actor in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dourif’s career had some odd blips (including the Chucky horror movie franchise). He became type cast in roles of disturbed young men. His film career might have revived if Tim Burton had remained as director of Batman Forever. Burton wanted to cast him as The Scarecrow, but Joel Schumacher took over and decided not to include the character in the film. Dourif had a lengthy career in television work and was featured in the HBO series Deadwood.

Haing S. Ngor: winner of Best Supporting Actor for The Killing Fields, Ngor was a Cambodian refugee who experienced the Cambodian prison camps, eventually escaping. He remains to this day the only actor of Asian descent to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. While he continued acting afterwards, he was mostly forgotten until he was tragically murdered during an apparent burglary attempt.


Luise Rainer was the first Academy Award recipient to win back-to-back awards (for The Great Ziegfeld and The Good Earth). She is often cited as one of the winners to suffer from the “Oscar curse.” The death of Irving Thalberg, her champion, and bad career advice from her then-husband Clifford Odets, lead to her abandoning Hollywood. It is also believed that Louis B. Mayer resented her demands for better parts and more money and may have helped to destroy her Hollywood career. She only acted sporadically afterwards.

Maggie McNamara was nominated for Best Actress in the controversial film The Moon is Blue (1951). The film is notable because it broke barriers put up by the Hays Code, with frank talk about sex. She was not comfortable with fame and suffered from depression. Her film career was virtually over by 1955, though she continued to do theater and television work. Sadly, she died at the age of 49 from a barbiturate overdose.

Diane Varsi: nominated for her first film appearance as Allison MacKenzie in the film Peyton Place, Varsi was very much an up-and-coming star. Like McNamara, she found sudden fame very difficult to deal with and suddenly abandoned her Hollywood contract a few years later. She later picked up her acting career during the 1960s and seemed to find more satisfaction out of the limelight.

Catherine Burns: nominated as Supporting Actress for Last Summer (1969), a brutal coming-of-age story. The film was originally rated X and released in an edited R rated version. Burns made few films afterwards, but worked in prime time television and daytime soap operas. Eventually she became a writer.

(I could go on listing forgotten actresses who were nominated—there are many, many more. Actresses generally have a shorter career span than actors and as we have been finding out recently through the #MeToo movement, some had their careers curtailed by powerful men in Hollywood.)


6 thoughts on “Forgotten Oscar Nominees and Winners

  1. The Oscar – a gift or a curse.

    When I was a teenager there were fewer Oscar winners and it was easier to remember at least the big 5 winners from the classic era. Now I’m just a grumpy gal eligible for senior’s discounts and I can’t remember who won last year!

    1. I don’t remember recent winners, either, even though some very talented folks have won. Speaking only for myself, I think it’s because many of these films don’t resonate as much with me. Overall, I just don’t enjoy them as much as films from the classic era.

  2. Wow, just wow, I forgot, or just didn’t know, about so many of these. THE RACKET is rarely mentioned, it’s always WINGS that grabs the spotlight. And to this day, cops-and-robbers are not often nominated. Brad Dourif and Haing S. Ngor in the acting category, and yes, many more women than men. Thanks for this!

  3. What an interesting list. I had forgotten or never heard of many of these. However, I adore Maggie McNamara and it always grieves me that her life and career were cut short. And it’s sad to learn that after Ngor survived refugee camps that his life had such a tragic end.

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