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The Academy Awards are around the corner, and all signs point to a near-clean sweep by the fan-favorite critical darling Everything Everywhere All at Once. Still, not every movie can be such a success with the Academy, and Everything Everywhere is the rare film that connected with AMPAS despite its maximalist and absurdist nature. However, many other films failed to achieve the same success despite sticking to the rules of a would-be “Oscar bait.”
These movies visited familiar subjects and followed similar routes, yet failed to earn the Academy’s favor. Many infamous contenders inhabit the pantheon of doomed Oscar baits, but Reddit fans have strong opinions about which are the very worst.
1 ‘Diana’ (2013)
In 2013, Naomi Watts was coming off her second Oscar nomination and at the height of her career. A movie about Diana, Princess of Wales, made perfect sense, especially with Watts playing the tragic figure. Alas, the result was less than stellar; Diana received scathing reviews, with critics praising Watts’ efforts but criticizing everything else. Needless to say, the film received zero Oscar nominations.
Reddit user hatefilled_possum called out Diana for being “so blatantly Oscar bait” and failing “so hard and unanimously,” while Dark_Vengence lamented Watts’ involvement with the film. Indeed, the actress’ career suffered because of Diana, even receiving a Razzie nod for Worst Actress.
2 ‘J. Edgar’ (2011)
J. Edgar seemed like a perfect recipe for Oscar success. The film had Clint Eastwood as director and Leonardo DiCaprio starring as the infamous Hoover, with a supporting cast including Judi Dench and Naomi Watts. Hoover, one of the US’ most polarizing figures, seemed like a showcase for the still Oscar-less DiCaprio; could this movie finally give him a win?
The result was a resounding “no.” J. Edgar attracted mixed-to-negative reviews, with critics taking issue with the film’s treatment of Hoover, the horrible makeup, and the messy screenplay. Redditor MaximumsRickimus called J. Edgar “desperate for an Oscar,” while Horus_Krishna_2 criticized it for “(playing) it too safe.” Contemporary critics agreed with both Redditors, explaining why the film received no Oscar nominations.
3 ‘Amelia’ (2009)
If the Oscar curse is real, Hilary Swank is the biggest proof. The actress’s post-Oscars career has been dire, alternating between starring in mediocre flops to mediocre Oscar vehicles; Amelia is the latter. The 2009 biopic stars Swank as celebrated pilot Amelia Earhart, chronicling her career and ending with her mysterious disappearance. Critics lamented Amelia‘s by-the-numbers nature, criticizing its cold approach to its larger-than-life subject.
Fans on Reddit aren’t Amelia fans, either. User mi-16evil called it “the worst kind of Oscar bait,” while Fuzz_Tightbeard mocked “how insincere Hilary Swank’s accent is.” Amelia was a critical and commercial flop that the Oscars unsurprisingly ignored.
4 ‘Cats’ (2019)
Oscar-winning director? Check. A well-known and successful musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber? Check. An all-star cast including two Oscar winners and an Oscar nominee? Check. Tom Hooper‘s Cats had everything to score with the Academy. However, the team behind the film confused the musical’s infamy for fame, trying to translate its admittedly campy formula into prestige cinema and failing miserably.
Cats is the cinematic butt of the joke, a film so bad that it’s good, great even; however, it was never going to get any Oscar love. Redditors often turn to Cats when referring to an Oscar-bait movie, with orangenormal pointing out how Universal had an FYC site up and running “before widespread ridicule got them to realize it was a lost cause.” At least Cats has a promising future as a cult classic.
5 ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ (2016)
Once upon a time, Ang Lee was one of those directors who could do no wrong. The acclaimed Taiwanese filmmaker followed his Oscar-winning epic Life of Pi with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a war drama based on the eponymous novel by Ben Fountain. Lee’s name was enough to put Billy Lynn in the Oscar conversation, but the result was a tonally-uneven movie with a high frame rate that never feels at home in what is supposedly an intense character study.
Redditor Volcarocka considers Billy Lynn a bad Oscar-bait movie but ironically mentions how they wouldn’t know for sure because “like everyone else, (they) haven’t seen it.” Meanwhile, the_other_other_guy_ criticizes the “mediocre script made worse by inexplicably bad directing choices.” Suffice it to say, the Academy agreed with everything bad that’s been said about Billy Lynn, bestowing it with zero nominations.
6 ‘The Goldfinch’ (2019)
Director John Crawley followed his multi-Oscar-nominated period romance Brooklyn with an adaptation of the 2013 Pultizer Price-winning novel The Goldfinch. Ansel Elgort, hot off Baby Driver, led an impressive cast, including Oscar darling Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, and Sarah Paulson.
The Goldfinch crashed and burned at the box office and received universally negative reviews from critics, who considered it a disappointing adaptation of an engrossing novel. Redditor giovannisguillotine called it “an absolute failure,” while wekilledkenny11 mentioned how “the trailer was the best part of the movie.”
7 ‘The Monuments Men’ (2014)
George Clooney directs himself alongside a truly spectacular cast in the 2014 historical war film The Monuments Men. Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin, and Cate Blanchett co-star in a story based on real-life events about a group of experts tasked with saving valuable art pieces during World War II.
The Monuments Men received negative reviews, with critics taking issue with its plot and tone despite praising the cast. Redditors had similar reactions, with MandolinMagi calling it “a waste of talent and good source material,” while a now-deleted account called it “the most average movie (they’ve) ever seen.”
8 ‘Lucy In The Sky’ (2019)
Noah Hawley achieved universal acclaim on television with projects like Fargo and Legion. His feature film directorial debut, Lucy in the Sky, had everything going for it, including Natalie Portman playing a female astronaut loosely based on NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak. The film even premiered at TIFF, signaling how much Fox Searchlight believed in it.
However, Lucy in the Sky never took off. The film earned overwhelmingly negative reviews, with critics commending Portman’s efforts but criticizing Hawlye’s script and direction. Lucy in the Sky was also a notorious box office flop, with Redditor neoshinok commenting how they’ve “never seen a movie so completely stuffed into a drawer immediately after a limited release.” The Academy also ignored it, although perhaps it never acknowledged it in the first place.
9 ‘Collateral Beauty’ (2016)
Few Oscar bait failures are more infamous than David Frankel’s 2016 disaster Collateral Beauty. Will Smith stars alongside an impressive supporting cast of previous Oscar winners and nominees, including Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Naomie Harris, and Helen Mirren.
However, it was all for naught; to say Collateral Beauty received bad reviews would be an understatement. The film was lambasted by critics, who criticized its plot, performances, and manipulative nature. A since-deleted Reddit account called the film “the real version of that Oscar Gold movie from American Dad,” while user Shillforbigusername called its widely-panned screenplay “cringe-worthy.”
10 ‘The Son’ (2022)
Talk about falling from grace. Following the universally acclaimed The Father, now Oscar-winning writer/director Florian Zeller delivered The Son. With a promising cast including Oscar nominees Hugh Jackman and Vanessa Kirby and Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Laura Dern, and a screenplay that promised to be as insightful and heartbreaking as The Father‘s, The Son seemed too big to fail.
Fial it did. The Son was destroyed by reviewers, who considered it among the worst pieces of Oscar bait from 2022. Zeller’s screenplay and newcomer Zen McGrath‘s performance received scathing reviews, and the film died a slow death. Redditor Outside-Meaning-9957 criticized The Son‘s blatant attempt at awards’ glory, calling Zeller out for “cast(ing) Jackman (because) he thought he could win him an Oscar.” Alas, Jackman remains Oscar-less. He’s a great actor who deserves better than this.
NEXT: Andrea Riseborough & 8 Other Biggest Oscar Controversies Of The 21st Century