While many assert that awards are a symbol of greatness, this is actually an inaccurate argument considering that some of cinema’s greatest directors never received their own Oscar for direction. Ironically, these directors made films throughout their careers that continue to be popular, iconic and beloved. This is a testament that legacy and greatness do not need to be intermixed with winning the most coveted award in the film industry. Below are four directors who never won an Oscar, yet their films continue to be watched and praised.
Nominated: 5 Oscars
Best chance of a win: Best Director for Network (1976)
Cinema owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Sidney Lumet for providing moviegoer audiences with some of film’s most iconic and memorable films. Lumet is most famous for his 1976 film, Network, which was a satire focused on the television industry and society’s abandonment of morals and ethics in favor for high television ratings. Network, to date, stands as one of the greatest films ever made. It held a gritty mirror up to society, exposing audiences for being blindly angry, obsessed with celebrity, and giving television stations the ability to manipulate their understanding of the world. Forty years later, Network still holds tremendous relevance in today’s society.
Lumet was also famous for his 1975 film, Dog Day Afternoon, which was based on the failed bank heist by John Wojtowicz, who sought to rob a bank in order to provide his lover a sex change operation. The film perfectly fused drama with comedy, crafting one of the best police-and-robber films ever made. Lumet also received praise from murder-mystery author Agatha Christie in 1974 when he perfectly directed her novel, Murder on the Orient Express, into a iconic all-star film that set the standard for all future murder-mystery films. Most important, Sidney Lumet grounded himself in cinema history with his career-defining film, 12 Angry Men (1957), which is still regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. The court-drama was famously directed with Lumet’s decision to have the deliberation room, which the entire film occurs in, to be gradually shrunk as filming progressed to give the film a more claustrophobic atmosphere. This was effective filmmaking that aided the moviegoer in experiencing the same feeling of suffocation that the film’s characters felt, while also being effective in increasing tension in the film’s narrative. While Lumet was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 2005, he was unjustly robbed of at least one Oscar win that should have been his own.
Nominated: 13 Oscars, winning 1 for Special Effects
Best chance of a win: Best Director for Barry Lyndon (1975)
Stanley Kubrick was a groundbreaking director, yet a highly controversial one, which may have greatly contributed to having never won a directing Oscar or even being awarded an Honorary Oscar during his lifetime. Ironically, Kubrick was awarded an Oscar during his career, but in an unlikely category; Known for producing, writing, and directing the majority of his films, Kubrick won his only Oscar for Special Effects for his complex science-fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Film historians attribute his lack of Oscar wins to Kubrick’s candid and brutal directing style, most notable with his 1971 dystopian film A Clockwork Orange, which graphically depicted scenes of shocking violence and rape.
Kubrick first wowed audiences with his direction of Spartacus (1960), but despised the final product since studios largely reedited his film away from his vision. In response, Kubrick assumed total control of his future movies, writing, directing, and producing them all. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) was a stunningly brilliant film that took a serious topic, nuclear annihilation, and made it into a hilarious satire of political incompetence, madness, and ridiculous political rivalries. It can be said that Kubrick was well ahead of his era, with many of his films being grossly under-appreciated, such as his 1980 horror film based on the Stephen King novel, The Shining (1980), which was a commercial bomb at the time of its release, but is now regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made. Contemporary critics and audiences now see Kubrick as one of the greatest writer/directors of all time, which reinforces that oftentimes the Academy Awards fails to recognize those most deserving of the award.
Nominated: 7 Oscars
Best chance of a win: Best Director for Gosford Park (2001)
When it came to defying the standard conventions of filmmaking, Robert Altman continually challenged the constraints of what made a proper film narrative. His 1970 film MASH lacked a linear plotline, but was rather a series of comedic sketches that were broadly linked together, yet effective in portraying a satirical portrayal of the Korean War, with instances of crude reality regarding war. His 1974 film Nashville featured over 20 different characters, many of whom were portraying successful or aspiring country singers. Altman’s brilliance with Nashville fell in that he required his actors to write and compose their own songs for scenes in which they sang in. This directing tactic gave tremendous authenticity to the film, giving actors the ability to truly make the characters their own. In his 1993 film, Short Cuts, Altman also relied on a multiple-character narrative arc, focused on 22 different characters that were successfully adapted and based upon nine Raymond Carver short stories. Short Cuts was a highly cynical film that faithfully adapted Carver’s short stories that heavily focused on social themes, such as the disintegration of the family and relationship complications, to which Altman highlighted the perverse, weak, and hypocritical attributes of society.
Altman’s films were progressive and heavily focused on the social interactions between people, such as Hollywood elitism and arrogance in his 1992 film, The Player, which famously featured over 100 notable celebrity cameos, adding to the authenticity of the film’s Hollywood environment. Altman’s films also tackled historical social themes with his 2001 murder-mystery, period-piece, Gosford Park, which heavily focused on the interactions between the European rich elite and their servants, who tended to their every need. Gosford Park was especially noteworthy for being a movie deeply rooted in subtext. The film portrayed the rich elite as not only hypocritical, but glaringly disjointed from the real world. In contrast, the servants were the individuals who carried the true burdens and sacrifices of life, but even their troubles were secondary to the happiness of their employers. Gosford Park was a stunning film that contrasted the mannerisms and world of the rich versus the working class. Yet despite these groundbreaking films that pushed what a director was capable of in regards to cast and narrative, Altman never won his own Oscar. He was fortunate to have been awarded an Honorary Oscar in 2006, a mere 8 months before he passed away.
Nominated: 5 Oscars
Best chance of a win: Best Director for Rebecca (1940)
Considered to be one of the greatest, most influential directors of all time and still holds the label of “the King of Suspense,” Alfred Hitchcock was highly regarded during his lifetime. Many of his movies were instant classics, such as North by Northwest (1959) or Strangers on a Train (1951). Hitchcock was an immediate success with his first American film, Rebecca (1940), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Hitchcock was the king of suspense due his ability to challenge the constraints of film by filming his movies many times from the vantage of his protagonists. For example, in Rear Window (1954), Hitchcock filmed the entirety of the film from the vantage of the protagonist’s window that overlooked the open apartment courtyard. Hitchcock also liked to challenge the concept of space within his films, such as his directing style in Lifeboat (1944), to which the entire film occurred and its characters interacted in a confined lifeboat.
Hitchcock even challenged film editing with his 1948 film, Rope, which was filmed in long, unedited, continuous shots that were cleverly weaved together to create the impression that the entire film was shot in one take. Incidentally, Hitchcock wasn’t even fully recognized by the Academy for many of his films that forever changed cinema. Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo was critically panned and ignored by the Oscars, which was ironic considering the film is now considered by contemporary critics to be one of the greatest films ever made. Yet it was Psycho (1960) that has forever immortalized Alfred Hitchcock, specifically due to the film’s famous “shower scene” that frightened and confirmed Hitchcock’s name would have a place in history. Yet despite Hitchcock’s revolutionary directing resume, he never won his own Oscar. His was fortunate enough to be awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968, but contemporary critics still argue Hitchcock’s lack of an Oscar win is one of the Academy Award’s most egregious mistakes.