Top 10 Best Picture Oscar Upsets of All Time

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The history of the Academy Awards is littered with upsets that with the perspective of history can only make the victory for the underdog movie seem all that more improbable. The 2012 Oscars will be handed out February 26 with The Artist a strong favorite. There could be an upset on that evening, but it is unlikely. Then again, we’re sure that is what the Best Picture losers felt when yielding the victory to the following Top 10 Best Picture Oscar Upsets of All Time.

10. The English Patient over Fargo and Jerry Maguire
The Coen brothers and Cameron Crowe, filmmakers of Fargo and Jerry Maguire respectively, had to feel pretty good heading into their Oscar night. The English Patient was their competition, yes, but critics and movie fans each had pointed out much of the film’s faults. You can imagine their surprise when the phrase was uttered: The Oscar goes to... The English Patient. Time hasn’t exactly been the kindest to that winning film either as both Jerry Maguire and Fargo are held in higher esteem.

Ralph Fiennes and Kristen Scott Thomas in The English Patient

9. An American in Paris over A Streetcar Named Desire
Heading into the 1951 Academy Awards, there were few who thought that the powerful A Streetcar Named Desire would not walk away with the Best Picture trophy. How wrong they were as the Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron-starring musical took the top prize that night. Marlon Brando gave what is largely considered the performance of his career, but it wasn’t enough to convince voters that he was in the best film of that year.

8. The Hurt Locker over Avatar
Although Avatar earned more nominations than any other film for the 2009 Oscars, it walked away without the Best Picture trophy that went to James Cameron’s ex-wife and her war drama The Hurt Locker. Kathryn Bigelow also made history that night by being the first female to score a Best Director Academy Award.

7. Rocky over All the President's Men, Network and Taxi Driver
What a defining year for film it was in 1976. Network spoke to our ever-expanding media. All the President's Men chronicled the Watergate scandal and starred two of the biggest actors in Hollywood with Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. Then, there was Martin Scorsese’s classic Taxi Driver that gave the world Robert De Niro. Yet, when all was said and done at the 1977 Oscars, it was Sylvester Stallone’s boxing heart-warmer Rocky that won Best Picture. Go figure.

6. Crash over Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain was not only the sentimental favorite to win Best Picture, Vegas oddsmakers had it running away with the prize. It is rare that an Academy Awards audience so vocally gasps as they did when it was announced that Crash had won Best Picture. Some have said that it was because of the gay love story at the heart of Brokeback Mountain. Movie Fanatic thinks it has more to do with the race relations story at the heart of Crash.

Thandie Newton and Matt Dillon in Crash

5. How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane
The American Film Institute, many years ago, named Citizen Kane the best movie in history. Did it win Best Picture? No! It was defeated on that night in the 1930s by a family film called How Green Was My Valley. Now, that is shocking!

4. Chariots of Fire over Raiders of the Lost Ark., Reds and On Golden Pond
Like 1976, 1981 was a stellar year for filmmakers making astounding films. Steven Spielberg had hit his stride with Raiders of the Lost Ark, Warren Beatty brought the Russian Revolution to light in Reds and Henry Fonda starred with his daughter Jane in the touching On Golden Pond. So, how did a little British film about real life Olympians manage to snag the trophy? Experts are still trying to figure this one out.

3. Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan
The Shakespeare in Love victory over Saving Private Ryan has been largely explained by the emergence of the Oscar campaign, as championed by then chairman of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein. He waged an all-out war on Spielberg’s war epic and the result was not only a Best Picture win over the favorite Saving Private Ryan, but a Best Actress Oscar for the film’s lead, Gwyneth Paltrow.

2. Ordinary People over Raging Bull
Once again, Scorsese gets the shaft at the Oscars. The Robert Redford-directed Ordinary People hit home for sure with American audiences dealing with a rash of teenage suicides. The film portrayed an average American family and how they dealt with the attempted suicide of their son. But, we’re talking about Raging Bull here! De Niro in one of his finest roles, in one of Scorsese’s great moments… but no Oscar for you Martin (again).
Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves

1. Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas
Yes, once again the Academy failed to award a Scorsese picture that deserved Best Picture. For this writer, Goodfellas is not only Scorsese’s best, but my favorite film of all time. Dances with Wolves is a great film, don’t get me wrong. But, is it better than Goodfellas? You have to be kidding. This is one where history has not been kind to the Best Picture winner as pundits across the board have admitted that this was one Oscar win that was an epic fail.

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Mickey: You're a bum, Rock. You're a bum.
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Rocky: No, what?
Mickey: A tomato.
Rocky: A tomato?
Mickey: Yeah, and I'm running a business here, not a goddamn soup kitchen.

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