The Academy Awards seem so arbitrary to me. Sometimes they completely forget to acknowledge performances that turn out to be iconic genre changers in retrospect. Here are nine particularly egregious examples of actors who should have not only been nominated for an Oscar, but they should have beaten that year’s winner. They’re listed by year from oldest to newest.
1. James Dean (Jim Stark) in Rebel Without a Cause – Best Actor, 1955
Can you believe this? James Dean didn’t even get nominated for Best Actor for his role in Rebel Without a Cause. True, he did get a nomination for his role in East of Eden that same year and Giant the next year, but that doesn’t excuse this slight. Ernest Borgnine won for his endearing titular role in the film Marty. But Borgnine’s role is nowhere near as legendary as Dean’s. Sadly, Dean will always be a rebel without an Oscar.
2. Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman) in Superman: The Movie – Best Actor, 1978
Have you ever seen the movie Coming Home? It’s supposed to be a serious drama about a Vietnam War veteran, but it’s so dated now that it’s hard to take seriously. The performances are okay, but Jon Voight definitely did not do a better job than Christopher Reeve that year. Reeve nails both roles as Superman and Clark Kent, making you believe both that a man can fly and be unrecognizable behind a pair of glasses and in between a pair of slumped shoulders. He had to go through a grueling exercise regimen to bulk up for the part, and it shows. Everything he does comes across as charming and effortless. We’ll be talking about Reeve’s performance as the Man of Steel long after we’ve forgotten about… wait, what was Voight’s character name?
3. Henry Thomas (Elliott) in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial – Best Actor, 1982
Gandhi is a decent movie, but it’s completely overshadowed by all of the other amazing films that came out in 1982, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial being chief among them. The same is true of the main actors in those two films. Ben Kingsley did a solid job portraying the selfless Mahatma Gandhi, but 10-year-old Henry Thomas infused more emotional power into his performance as a little boy who befriends a lonely alien. There’s simply no question that Thomas should have won Best Actor that year.
4. Ricardo Montalban (Khan Noonian Singh) in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Best Supporting Actor, 1982
I made a joke about this “i-KHAAAN-ic” role a while back, but I really do believe that Ricardo Montalban’s Khan deserves to be honored as one of the best villains of all time, right alongside Heath Ledger’s Joker. Khan is completely insane and yet dangerously intelligent. I love how he rarely raises his voice, and he can actually come across as disarming and even friendly when he wants to. I have no problem with Louis Gossett, Jr.’s performance in An Officer and a Gentleman, but let’s be honest – which of these roles has really stood the test of time?
5. Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly) in Back to the Future – Best Actor, 1985
I cannot believe how much the Academy Awards snubbed Back to the Future. That movie has so many memorable performances and yet none of them got a single nod. I’d like to rectify at least one of those injustices. There is no question that Michael J. Fox should have gotten the Best Actor Oscar in 1985. He worked for weeks on practically no sleep, staying on set well into the night and on weekends to shoot crucial scenes in order to meet the film’s production deadline. And yet, when watching the film you never get the feeling that he’s tired, except when his character is supposed to be, of course. His comedic timing is perfect and he carries the film flawlessly. He definitely shows more of a dramatic range than William Hurt did in Kiss of the Spider Woman.
6. Peter Weller (Alex Murphy/RoboCop) in RoboCop – Best Actor, 1987
Michael Douglas won Best Actor mainly because of his famous “Greed is good” speech. That’s all. Peter Weller never gave a speech as RoboCop, but he spoke volumes with his simple words, body language, and facial expressions. You completely buy the movie’s premise that he is mostly robotic. His movements look remarkably mechanical. Weller had to wait for hours just to get the suit on and then he had to suffer dehydration and overheating in the hot summer heat while filming. But the performance he gave was worth all of that effort and pain. I know the Academy tends to be biased against science fiction films, but they should have made an exception in this case.
7. Paige O’Hara (Belle) in Beauty and the Beast – Best Actress, 1991
Am I seriously suggesting a voice actress should have earned a Best Actress Oscar? Absolutely! Belle is a fascinating character who goes through a lot of changes through the course of Beauty and the Beast. She sacrifices her happiness for her father’s, stands up for herself to more than one monster, and finally learns to love. At the film’s climax, the animation and voice work blend to such an incredible degree that you no longer feel like you’re watching a cartoon. You’re watching a woman losing the love of her life, and it’s heartwrenching. You never get a corresponding feeling from Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. She does a great job being terrified and naïve, but she’s just not as captivating as Belle.
Speaking of which, some people say that Belle suffers from Stockholm syndrome, but that’s nonsense. She refuses to even have dinner with the Beast until he shows kindness to her, and she only returns to him because she feels responsible for her village wanting to kill him. She just wants to warn him, not stay with him again, until she realizes that he’s changed so much that he’s worthy of her love. That doesn’t sound like Stockholm syndrome to me at all.
8. Val Kilmer (Doc Holliday) in Tombstone – Best Supporting Actor, 1993
This is a tough one because Tommy Lee Jones deserved his Oscar for his tough-as-nails performance in The Fugitive. But I think Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday in Tombstone has a slight edge over Jones for one simple reason: We’ve never seen anything else like this from Kilmer while we’ve seen Jones do the same character so many times it’s gotten to the point of self-parody. Kilmer lost a lot of weight to play the sickly Holliday, and his mannerisms and catchphrases are equal parts funny and melancholy. He’s a walking contradiction: a conman who’s also a lawman, a narcissist who’s a loyal friend, and a man dying of tuberculosis who is eager to join gun battles. All of this easily makes for Oscar material.
9. Jim Carrey (Truman Burbank) in The Truman Show – Best Actor, 1998
Jim Carrey’s dramatic role in The Truman Show came after he had already established himself as one of the greatest comedians of all time. He was playing against type, like Denzel Washington did when he played a villain in Training Day after so many heroic roles, and Tom Hanks did with his serious role in Philadelphia after years of comedic characters. Both of those turned into Best Actor Oscars, but Carrey didn’t even get a nomination. Why? I don’t know. But one thing is certain: Carrey should have won over one-hit wonder Roberto Benigni.
Any other heinous examples you know of? I’d love to hear them in a comment below.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Terrific list! I especially agree with Reeve, Montalban, and Weller.
Brad Pitt – Fight Club
Did a ten year old write this? What an awful list. Virtually NONE of these apart from I guess James Dean should have been nominated,
A ten-year-old with valid opinions and great writing skills, perhaps. You can share your own opinion without being demeaning of others.
There’s nothing more valid than “Well, people remember this performance more so that obviously means that it’s better” or “I can’t remember the name of a character, so that means it wasn’t that good”
“great writing skills”
Yeah, move over Roger Ebert.
“You can share your own opinion without being demeaning of others.”
How do you not see the irony of this? You attack a bunch of actors just because they weren’t on par with your ridiculous picks.
Michael Shannon in TAKE SHELTER is some of the best acting you will ever see.
John Goodman – Best Supporting Actor and Jeff Bridges – Best Actor in “The Big Lebowski” (1998)
I’ve always thought it odd that Rebel Without A Cause didn’t give James Dean a nod because I’ve always viewed it as my favorite role of his.
While deserving the oscar may be a stretch for some of these performances, it makes them none the less memorable!
Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter and The Friends of Eddie Coyle.
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Great list, here are some others you could add:
Clint Eastwood- The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Malcolm McDowell- A Clockwork Orange (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
George Sanders- Rebecca (Best Actor In A Supporting Role)
Jack Nicholson- The Shining (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Anthony Perkins- Psycho (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Leonardo DiCaprio- Titanic (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Arnold Schwarzenegger- Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Al Pacino- Scarface- (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Leonardo DiCaprio- The Departed (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Matthew Broderick- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Harrison Ford- Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Robert Shaw- Jaws (Best Actor In A Supporting Role)
Paul Newman- Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Robert Redford- Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Orson Welles- The Third Man (Best Actor In A Supporting Role)
Judy Garland- The Wizard Of Oz (Best Actress In A Leading Role)
Dustin Hoffman- All The President’s Men (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Robert Redford- All The President’s Men (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
James Stewart- Vertigo (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
James Stewart- Rear Window (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Marilyn Monroe- Some Like It Hot (Best Actress In A Leading Role)
Cary Grant- North By Northwest (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Henry Fonda- 12 Angry Men (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Gene Hackman- The Conversation (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Tony Curtis- Some Like It Hot (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Robert Walker- Strangers On A Train (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Leslie Howard- Gone With The Wind (Best Actor In A Supporting Role)
Alec Guinness- Kind Hearts And Coronets (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Jeff Bridges- The Big Lebowski (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
John Goodman- The Big Lebowski (Best Actor In A Supporting Role)
Paul Dano- There Will Be Blood (Best Actor In A Supporting Role)
John Wayne- The Searchers (Best Actor In A Leading Role)
Also try to make your reasoning a bit more valid next time.
That is all.