While moviegoers and reviewers may agree on the superiority of one movie or another, it’s not always clear which way the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will vote, occasionally leading to huge upsets compared to predictions.
Some snubs are obvious immediately, while others only look worse in hindsight, when a losing picture ages better than a winning one. Here are the biggest Academy Awards upsets of all time.
The 92nd Academy Awards air Sunday, Feb. 9 at 6:30pm EST on ABC.
'Moonlight' Beats 'La La Land'
Perhaps the most stunning moment in Oscars history, Barry Jenkins’ film lost and then won Best Picture at the 2017 awards show almost in the same breath. Presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong envelope when presenting the award, first saying “La La Land” had won. Only after the cast took the stage to accept did producer Jordan Horowitz correct the mistake, leading to massive confusion. Horowitz quickly invited the cast and crew of “Moonlight” to take their rightful place on stage, making for an exciting and embarrassing close to show.
'How Green Was My Valley' Defeats 'Citizen Kane'
Orson Welles’ epic about a media mogul long held the top spot on the AFI’s list of best movies, but in 1942 it actually lost the Best Picture award to a movie few remember today. The lesser known film, which follows a family of Welsh coal miners, swept the show, picking up six awards, but Welles ultimately got the last laugh with enduring prestige.
Art Carney Bests Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino
1974 was a great year for actors, with Nicholson giving an astonishing performance in “Chinatown” and Pacino arguably reaching his pinnacle in “The Godfather: Part II.” But the two men weren’t recognized for those roles, with the Best Actor award going instead to Art Carney for “Harry and Tonto,” which is a road trip movie about a man and his cat (no, really).
Marisa Tomei Wins for 'My Cousin Vinny'
No one would argue Tomei gave a poor performance in “My Cousin Vinny” in 1993, but the fact that the young actress beat out Judy Davis, Vanessa Redgrave, Joan Plowright, and Miranda Richardson to win Best Actress for a wise-cracking Brooklynite -- well that’s still a shocker.
Robert Donat Tops a Trio of Actors
“Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” the cutesy, pre-war flick about a schoolteacher, doesn’t seem like a shoo-in for any of the 12th Annual Academy Awards in 1940, given stiff competition from “Wuthering Heights,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” and “Gone With the Wind.” While that last picture swept many of the other awards, winning Outstanding Production, Best Director for Victor Fleming, Best Actress for Vivien Leigh, and Best Screenplay for Sidney Howard, it was Robert Donat in “Mr. Chips” who won for Best Actor. Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Laurence Olivier all went home empty handed.
'Rocky' Proves a Knockout
The 49th Annual Academy Awards welcomed nominees for Best Picture including “All the President’s Men,” “Network,” and “Taxi Driver,” but it was Sylvester Stallone’s sportsy “Rocky” that walked away with the championship title.
Adrien Brody Wins for 'The Pianist'
No one seemed more surprised that Brody became the youngest man to win Best Actor than the star himself. The young actor won in a crowded field including Michael Caine, Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis. After he was announced the winner at the 2003 awards, Brody could be seen mumbling “holy sh*t” as he stood up from his seat, stumbled up to the stage, and planted a primetime kiss on presenter Halle Berry.