You would think that a good movie is a good movie, and that good movies just get Oscars, wouldn't you?
Unfortunately, it isn't so. Because Oscars get people to the theater, and because ticket sales increase a studio's bottom line, movie studios and producers have come up with many schemes to get Oscars for their films. Nevertheless, for a long time, the kinds of movies that won Oscars were enjoyed by both the public and the critics, though not all of them have aged well. Often, bigger was better for budgets and box-office receipts.
But the prime years of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, in tandem with the crumbling "New Hollywood" of the 1960s-70s, caused a schism to emerge. Studios started targeting the common man more often with the rise of the Summer Blockbuster. While Spielberg and Lucas's best works were beloved and received many nominations and awards, their perceived "lightweight" nature kept them from winning in "important" categories (acting, direction, writing, picture). On the other side of the coin, audiences became less interested in the weightier fare that did win in those categories; that "serious" fare that has become Oscar Bait.
Oscar Bait is usually a depressing drama because True Art Is Angsty, or some inspiring true story. Comedy has had a hard time at the Oscars from the beginning; this is one reason Tom Hanks Syndrome exists. Other genres doing hard are western, sci-fi and fantasy. If it deals with some form of mental illness or an example of man's inhumanity to man (as noted, the Holocaust is a big draw here), then so much the better. Animation? Pre-2001, forget it, but post-2001, every promising animated feature film has a chance... at their owncategory (with afewexceptions making their way into Best Picture)
Oscar Bait movies tend to run longer than other movies; longer running time means more room for melodramatic pretension.
They aren't all gloom and doom. A heartwarming, inspirational drama or Dramedy or even a Dark Comedy film can easily be positioned as Oscar Bait because there's still room for suffering. If your movie is science fiction or fantasy, however, you might as well not bother; these types of movies usually get the technical awards such as Visual Effects, but not much else. The Oscars tend to pick movies that few people have seen, because it's a common perception that they look down upon the common man.
The act of setting out to create a movie with the explicit intention to cleaning up at the Academy Awards is known as "Oscarbation." Making your movie Oscar Bait is a great way to attract Hype Aversion and especially Hype Backlash: people might be turned off by the over-hype your movie receives and, if they get around to watching it, may not be as impressed by the result as the awards panel was. Deader Than Disco, as noted at that trope entry, may well follow - especially if your movie comes out empty-handed or only picks up technical awards.
Indeed, many of these movies have not done well at the box-office in recent years. The diminishing ratings of recent Oscar telecasts may be related to the dislike the casual viewing public has for the average Oscar-nominated film. Some have argued that it's time the voters started getting back in line with "popular tastes" (though there are a few recent nominees that are blockbusters). But the people who do the nominations are unlikely to change their criteria, so the status quo continues. In extreme cases, this can lead to an Award Snub: movies widely accepted to be genuinely deserving but don't appear to tick the correct boxes are overlooked in favor of less-deserving fare which does.
It's worth noting that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that starting with the 2010 ceremony (honoring the films of 2009) the Best Picture category would be expanded to include ten nominees instead of the long-traditional five. This Roger Ebert piece wonders if successful films that don't conform to Oscar Bait will find a place at the table again this way. This appears to have come true, as the 2010 ceremony's best picture category included the likes of Avatar, District 9, Inglourious Basterds and Up. However, the winner was a war drama that nobody actually saw (being an arthouse limited release in the middle of the summer and all). In 2011, the winner was The King's Speech —a historical biopic about a soon to be king struggling against a speech impediment— winning for Best Picture and Best Director, which subsequently did very good sustained box office business with the general public.
It's also worth noting recent Best Picture winners like The Departed, The Lord of the Rings and No Country For Old Men, along with the large number of depressing historical dramas (read: Oscar Bait) that don't win. The Academy may be able to detect more blatant bait. The fact that Tropes Are Not Bad should also be noted, and the fact that a film is Oscar bait does not necessarily mean it is poor or even pretentious - Forrest Gump, for instance, swept the awards, and is also widely adored, as did The Pianist, which, whilst not necessarily "enjoyed" is often considered a film everyone should watch, especially in Europe. In fact, European audiences tend to be more receptive to Oscar Bait than American ones, partly because it is one of the few ways that European films can compete in America and partly because European cinema is more into weighty dramas than American, largely because European studios don't have budgets larger than the GDP of small African nations, so such films are easier for them to produce.
This can also happen on TV as Emmy Bait, or on Broadway as Tony Bait.
Compare Death by Newbery Medal. See also Award Bait Song. Not something to lure Soviet SSGNs. Also compare Award Snub where films deserving an Oscar don't get one. Contrast Summer Blockbuster, Dump Months.
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Oscar Bait tactics and examples (which have become rather confused) include...
Positioning the film to win awards
Releasing "Oscar-worthy" films in the last two months of the year (sometimes a headlong rush to get a film shown before December 31) to make it a contender for next year's show.
Massive advertising to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the famed "For Your Consideration" ads). These campaigns got so out of hand in recent years that they may or may not have been a reason the Oscar ceremony was moved up to the end of February (instead of March): out of hopes that people would pay more attention to the films than the ads. (The main reason, of course, was to coincide with Sweeps.)
Free "screeners" of films in contention to these same voters, often for "little" movies which may not have been in the theaters long.
What's sort of counter to the whole idea of the Academy Awards is that these "screeners" are usually just DVDs mailed en masse to all the voting members. In fact, very few voting members of the Academy Awards actually go to many theatrical screenings (if any). Some of this is because they almost always have jobs with odd hours (sometimes requiring them to go on location in a different country) and might not have the luxury of being able to catch a film in theaters. And even though some Mexican computer scientist has managed to create a watermarking technology for these screeners, there's always the Academy member who "coincidentally" happens to know the smuggler around the block, and yet the studios insist on giving away these screeners.
Specifically creating Oscar Bait Movies — historical costume dramas, of the kind mentioned above mostly — and releasing them one after the other in order to appear to be the studio that "gets the most Oscars." (Miramax was notorious for this — following up Shakespeare in Love with Chocolat, Chicago and Cold Mountain.)
The drive to create Oscar Bait may have been part of the undoing of the Disney Animated Canon revival. According to insider Jim Hill, when the Animation Age Ghetto worked against Beauty and the Beast winning Best Picture in 1991 (the first animated feature to achieve a nomination in that category, before Pixar's Up), Pocahontas was reworked to emphasize an interracial romance with a Bittersweet Ending and Anvilicious Aesops - in part to appeal to the Academy (and more adults in general). The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Don Bluth's Anastasia have similar serious elements. But, unwilling to cut loose entirely from the ghetto, they came across as odd mixes of Tastes Like Diabetes and Oscar Bait. Pocahontas won the music Oscars anyway, the others got nominations, but they played to audiences and critics with diminishing returns. The mega-irony? 1995 was also the year of Toy Story, which eschewed this and wound up getting a screenplay nomination, something no Disney canon film has accomplished while getting a special Oscar in appreciation of its breakthrough status in computer animation. In fact, several subsequent Pixar films have pulled off the feat...
Let's not forget, we now have Paramount Vantage, a subdivision devoted to "arthouse style films". Translation, Oscar Bait. Case in point, Paramount Vantage in association with (what else) Miramax films released both No Country for Old Men, AND There Will Be Blood within two months of each other. Combined Academy Award nominations, 16. Both period pieces, both big name directors (The Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson respectively), critically acclaimed stars (Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Daniel Day-Lewis), and both...truly excellent films deserving of their status. Perhaps there is an upside to Oscar Bait after all.
Oscar Bait Movies can also be low-budget dramas aimed more at the age group of the Academy voters, as in Away From Her and Steel Magnolias.
Including newMovie Bonus Songs to a Broadway musical score when that musical is made into a movie — whether the score needed it or not — to ensure the movie gets an additional "Best Original Song" Oscar nomination. The movie versions of A Chorus Line, Little Shop of Horrors, Evita, Chicago, The Phantom of the Opera and Dreamgirls all got original song nominations this way, though "You Must Love Me" from Evita was the only song among these to actually win the award. (RENT didn't have any because the writer/composer of the original musical had died just before the show opened off-Broadway.)
However, the tradition of film adaptations of Broadway musicals commissioning brand-new songs from the original songwriters dates back to the earliest movie musicals, before the "Best Original Song" category existed. New songs helped differentiate the movie from the play, giving a reason for those who had already seen the play to see the movie.
If nothing else works, make a movie set in a WWII concentration camp. It's like printing money. Even if it's a comedy (like Life Is Beautiful).
Over 1995-2000, three of the Best Documentary Feature winners directly involved the Holocaust (Anne Frank Remembered, The Final Days, and Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport), and one (The Long Way Home) was about post-WWII Jewish refugees.
Queer Duck: "And the nominees for Best Documentary are: Before the Holocaust, After the Holocaust, The Legend of Sleepy Holocaust, and The Story of How Bees Make Honey During the Holocaust."
It took Steven Spielberg until 1993 to win the Best Director Oscar that he so coveted. I repeat: it took Steven Spielberg 19 years and 14 movies to win his first Oscar for Best Director. The movie that finally put him over the top? Schindlers List.
William Goldman commented on this phenomenon, saying he didn't think Angelina Jolie should win Best Supporting Actress for Girl Interrupted because "It's easy to win a Oscar playing someone mentally ill."
Rain Man arguably kicked off the mental health/capacity boom in 1988. Dustin Hoffman won Best Actor, and the film also won for Picture, Direction, and Original Screenplay. Other leading man examples include Shine (won Best Actor) and I Am Sam (Best Actor nomination).
It's the only Best Actor Oscar in a science fiction film, with drama plus mental health overcomes the sci-fi background. There's only one other acting Oscar in sci-fi, Don Ameche in Cocoon won in the Supporting Actor category. No victories for actresses.
Olivia De Havilland won Best Actress for playing a mental patient in "The Snake Pit" 20 years before Robertson won.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time, and one of only three films to win all of the "Big Five" Oscars (Picture, Screenplay, Director, Actor, and Actress — the other two films, for those keeping score, are It Happened One Night and The Silence of the Lambs). The acting awards, though, were given to actors who played non mentally ill characters (McMurphy and Nurse Ratched).
Peter Sellers was nominated for playing Chance the Gardener in Being There (1979) — a mentally challenged character; as well, he gained weight for the part (see below). But while he always wanted to win an Oscar, and had been nominated before, he did not want to make this film because it was Oscar bait but because of its inherent challenge and extremely personal Reality Subtext. And in part due to the Comedy Ghetto, he didn't win the Oscar; it's now regarded as a snub. Ironically, years later Sellers himself became awards bait. Geoffrey Rush — who won for Shine! — played him in 2004's The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (and a deleted scene on the DVD reveals an in-joke about mentally handicapped characters when the story gets to Being There). It played theatrically overseas, on TV in the U.S., and it and Rush near-swept that year's Emmy and Golden Globe awards.
This trend was mercilessly spoofed by Tropic Thunder, in which action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) previously made a transparently Oscar Bait movie called Simple Jack, about a mentally challenged farm hand. The film-within-a-film was a total box office bomb, and called one of the worst films of all time. Robert Downey, Jr..'s character later explains to him that the successful Oscar Bait films described above worked because the actors didn't go, in his words, "full retard", instead playing their characters as more mildly challenged in order to fish for awards without alienating the audience.
Kirk Lazarus: Everybody knows you never go full retard.
Tugg Speedman: What do you mean?
Kirk Lazarus: Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man, look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho'. Not retarded. You know Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump. Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain't retarded. Peter Sellers, Being There. Infantile, yes. Retarded, no. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don't buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, I Am Sam. Remember? Went full retard, went home empty handed...
Ironically, Robert Downey Jr.'s next film was The Soloist, which features a Real Life paranoid schizophrenic savant musician played by previous Best Actor winner Jamie Foxx (RDJ played the LA Times reporter who befriends him) - no Oscars for either of them, though.
Even more ironically, Downey Jr. was nominated for "Best Supporting Actor" for playing Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder. He lost to Heath Ledger though, 'cause everyone knows the level of insanity Heath's role reached...
And also the movie Sling Blade, which made Billy Bob Thornton into a movie star.
It doesn't stop with being mentally challenged. Being physically challenged Works fine as well.
Actually, in The HoursNicole Kidman's character did suffer from a severe case of depression, hearing voices, and eventually suicide (Virginia Woolf); to boot, she won Best Actress. Conversely, Gwyneth Paltrow played the same card in the biopic based on Sylvia Plath's life only a year later and didn't receive any nominations.
Lampshaded in a comedy bit during the 2006 Oscars that was a spoof of political campaign ads and narrated by Stephen Colbert. It claimed that Charlize Theron once again resorted to looking homely to get a "Best Actress" award in North Country while her competition Keira Knightley was content to not only stay pretty in Pride and Prejudice but also having "Cheeks flecked with God Dust"! The voice over ended by stating: Keira Knightley, Acting while beautiful.
Danced with by Anne Hathaway, who won an Oscar after looking terrible- emaciated, near-shaven headed, filthy and apparently toothless (though still with good diction, naturally) in Les Miserables (2012), although her character started off beautiful before poverty destroyed her.
Then, consider the infamous 2006 Oscars where Brokeback Mountain got snubbed for Best Picture. It still won Best Director. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively, as well as Felicity Huffman for playing a trans woman in Transamerica.
Punishing your body for the role is frequently rewarded, though it's medically unwise to do so. Of note is a (perhaps justified) Double Standard at play here however: Of the three basic methods of non-surgical body modification (namely losing weight, gaining weightnote In the form of body fat, or building muscle mass) the first two of these are much more commonly lauded as achievements worthy of recognition, regardless of the amount of effort put into the last. This is presumably because they require an actor to worsen his or her appearance rather than enhance it, the attainment of a fit or muscular body being seen as a prize in itself.
Though in City of God's case, it didn't the run for Best Foreign Film the year before it went up for the major awards (then again, the AMPAS wing responsible for that category is considered the most conservative of all).
A trend in recent years is to give nominations and awards to what is almost a sub-genre of independent films which can best be described as 'quirky'; often featuring "hip" dialogue with an emphasis placed on irony and / or the seemingly trivial, eccentric characters and a primary theme being an often sarcastic, scathing expose of the hollow, boring and pointless emptiness of everyday modern society and those who inhabit it. See movies such as American Beauty, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno etc. With some of these movies, there can also be a sense that the filmmakers are striving hard to appear edgy and radical without actuallybeingedgy and radical.
An unusually specific type of Oscar bait is to make a movie about a troubled country singer. For some reason, the Academy loves giving acting awards for this kind of movie: Robert Duvall and Jeff Bridges both won Oscars for playing a troubled Country singer, while Reese Witherspoon won hers for playing a Country singer who assists another troubled Country singer (played by Joaquin Phoenix, who also snagged a nomination).
Also Sissy Spacek, who won an Oscar for Coal Miner's Daughter.
Historically, sci-fi and fantasy films, especially those with a lot of action, don't do well in the Academy Awards. Most sci-fi films that receive nominations are usually nominated for awards in Visuals, Sound, Makeup, and the like rather than Directing, Acting, or Best Picture. One example is Star Trek. However, this has changed in recent years.
In recent years, sci-fi and fantasy films with deeply philosophical undertones like The Dark Knight, Avatar, and Inception either winning or being nominated for awards like Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor despite being action-heavy.
Films (or otherwise) that come across as particularly obvious in their ambitions include...
Oscar Bait examples
Subverted with The Lovely Bones: Why not, Oscar Winner Peter Jackson directed this story of a murdered girl watching her family from the after life based on the critically acclaimed book. The studio even pushed it back to later in the year for it to have a better chance. In reality, while Stanley Tucci was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, the film ended up being widely panned.
Million Dollar Baby: Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the story has a disadvantaged woman (Hilary Swank, who won her second Best Actress Oscar for this film) making a place for herself in a traditionally male-dominated occupation — boxing. The other major character, played by Clint Eastwood, has an internal morality struggle and ultimately discards his traditional ethic and does the unthinkable in a Downer Ending. It won a total of four Academy Awards including Best Picture of 2004, but was also a box office hit (that the ads didn't give away what happened in the third act may well have helped). In fact, Warner Brothers didn't plan to release the movie in '04, much less push it for awards — but when execs realized that the studio's intended Oscar bait for the year wasn't going to pan out (initially, they were going to give the movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera a big push), they took another look at it and figured it could probably do as well as anything else...
Its partner in Oscar glory Slumdog Millionaire (exotic location, a Film of the Book, ethnic orphans, Real Life slum kid actors, triumph over huge amounts of adversity, a heartwarming love story, lush/gritty real locations, and even a dance number) "pottered" (utterly dominated) the 2009 Oscars (though neither in the acting categories). Benjamin Button won the visual effects Oscar over The Dark Knight and Iron Man with make-up generally considered to plunge into the Uncanny Valley, while Slumdog took the sound Oscar from WALL•E, a movie whose first half is nothing but sound. To Slumdog's credit, it really was an underdog film that no one thought would even get made (the director had to finance it himself), let alone win Best Director and Best Picture.
Since Benjamin Button, David Fincher has had an up-and-down relationship with the Oscars. His next film, The Social Network, was heavily campaigned for the Oscars but lost Best Picture (and more astonishingly, Best Director) to the bait-ier The King's Speech. The disappointment with that led to him backing out of campaigning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, saying the film has "too much anal rape" to appeal to Academy viewers (though that hasn't stopped otherfilms from getting Oscar attention, so who knows? specially as the anal rape victim got a Best Actress nom!).
The Cider House Rules: Serious drama featuring a disadvantaged main character (orphan), who suffers several tragedies. Also features WWII. Another major character becomes disabled. Finally, the major character encounters a situation in which he has a morality struggle and eventually discards his traditional ethics. Serious ending, albeit perhaps not a downer as such. Two Oscars and numerous additional nominations.
Doubt. It won multiple Tonys on Broadway, including Best Play and Best Actress for Cherry Jones. The film's cast is Oscar Bait in itself... Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams take the lead roles. Then there's the actual plot... it focuses on the Catholic altar-boy scandal, with the added benefit of the boy in question being the school's first black student. Streep has already secured a nomination, and if she delivered anywhere near what she's capable of, she's virtually guaranteed a win as well.
It managed acting nominations for all four principal actors, and an Adapted Screenplay nod as well.
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Body" has been accused of being Emmy bait for pretty much the same reasons that movies are seen as Oscar bait.
Intrestingly, that episode didn't get nominated for a Emmy, but "Hush" got nominated for Best Writing in a Drama Series.
The Hours. Costume drama? Check. Meryl Streep? Check. Fashionable message? Check, check, check (something about AIDS, something about homosexuality, something about oppression of women). Nicole Kidman's nose? Probably not related (although given the note above regarding female actors and the amount of publicity that surrounded said nose, it probably didn't hurt and could only have helped).
An interesting example is the DreamWorks/Paramount movie Dreamgirls. It was Oscar bait from the moment it was announced and the award hype only increased during production. Sure enough, come Oscar time it was nominated for eight awards (including three nominated Movie Bonus Songs). Shockingly, however, it was not nominated in the Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress or Best Director categories. That "failure" was actually a minor scandal in Hollywood; the movie was created to win Oscars, and in that it failed. And, hilariously, it didn't win for Best Original Song (some believe that having three songs nominated might have split the vote.)
And the feeling in Los Angeles is that it would have won Eddie Murphy a deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, were it not for the hideous, ten-story posters emblazoned all over the city for the movie Norbit, starring Eddie Murphy and... Eddie Murphy. Ouch.
The Reader, a Holocaust-themed drama complete with Oscar Bait Master Harvey Weinstein pimping it out to voters. Actually, probably all of the class of '09 Best Picture nominees. Oddly, compared to the other four, Slumdog almost seems the least Oscar-baity, and it turned out to be the big winner.
Reader will go down in infamy for supplanting both The Dark Knight and Wall-E for the best picture nomination, despite only getting a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to their 94% and 96%, among other measurements of critical acclaim. That double snub is in turn almost certainly the driving factor behind expanding the Best Picture Nomination category to 10.
The nomination snub was mercilessly spoofed by Hugh Jackman's glorious opening number: while riding a cardboard Batmobile, he sang, "How come comic book movies never get nominated? How can a billion dollars be unsophisticated?". Later on, while dancing robotically with strobe lights (in lieu of an actual dance routine based on The Reader), Jackman admitted to not seeing the film, singing, "I was going to see it later but I fell behind; my Batmobile took longer than I thought to design."
What makes Winslet's win even funnier is that Waynes World's Oscar-clip spoof with Wayne tearfully admitting "I never learned to read!"
The Great Ziegfeld, Best Picture winner of 1936, was three long hours of big Broadway musical and angsty melodrama. This lavish Biopic starred William Powell as the producer whose name, four years after his death (depicted in the film's last scene, of course), was the most legendary in show business.
Precious is such a painfully obvious example of Oscar Bait. It's a Film of the Book story about an illiterate black teenager who is raped by her father and emotionally, physically, and mentally abused by her mother. Her first child is called "Mongo" (short for mongoloid). The story ends with Precious having a new lease on life and trying to improve her life and the lives of her children as she plans to take the GED test. Honestly, the screenwriters should have just called it Black Oscar Bait or Oscar Bait: Black Edition. 30 Rock brilliantly summed it up by naming a satire Hard To Watch: Based on the novel "Stone Cold Bummer" by Manipulate.
It worked: the movie got 2 Oscars for Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay, the first for an African-American.
While we are on the subject of abused, illiterate Black women, The Color Purple should be considered the FIRST Oscar Bait: Black Edition movie, even though it failed when Oscar night arrived. Film of the Book, big stars, big director, period piece, 2 excellent musical numbers, well received at the box office. It was nominated for all the major Oscars, but didn't win a single one. What's notable about the movie is that while it managed to get eleven Oscar nominations, including many in major categories, and failing to win any of them, it also failed to get a nomination for Steven Spielberg as Best Director, which was considered a major snub at the time. The snub was even more significant in that Spielberg won the Directors Guild of America Award for The Color Purple, the winner of which almost always goes on to win the Oscar. It was no surprise since The Color Purple was a very controversial film even before its release. There were mass boycotts by Black churches because the novel dealt with lesbianism, and all the black male characters were abusive. The Academy did not want to be seen as bigots.
A third attempt at "Oscar Bait: Black Edition" came in the form of Beloved, a vehicle being produced by Oprah Winfrey, which was basically more-or-less The Color PurpleWITH GHOSTS!. However, it bombed massively at the box office, killing any chances of getting an award.
The Blind Side, although one gets the feeling they originally didn't dare dream that big: an inspirational true story, and the role that won Sandra Bullock an Oscar was originally meant to be a reprise of the tough tsundereErin Brockovich (also an inspirational true story)-type for Julia Roberts (seriously, the original thinking was "Julia Roberts as Leigh Anne Touhy or nothing. Maybe it can be a father-son bonding story...").
"The Long Goodbye" was an episode of The West Wing obviously - perhaps painfully - designed to score Allison Janney an Emmy nomination. It omitted the rest of the regular cast and pitted her character against her character's father's Alzheimer's. While Janney delivered her usual spectacular performance, she certainly didn't need a weepy Emmy-bait episode... she was taking care of winning Emmys just fine by herself, thank you very much, seeing as how she scored four over the course of the series.
The winner of the Golden Bear award in 2010 is the Turkish movie Bal (Honey). It's about a six year old boy wandering through a forest looking for his father, who is a beekeeper and disappeared after all his bees vanished. Of course the father dies in an accident. There's few dialog or music in the film (and probably not much of a plot as well), and all the characters seem not to be quite right.
A different sort of Oscar-bait took place in 2011 with Younger and Hipper hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco, who both happen to be in the Oscar-bait-tastic movies Love and Other Drugs (in which she plays a woman falling in love with a guy played by Jake Gyllenhaal while dying of a disease) and 127 Hours (in which he plays a Real Life hiker who gets trapped by a boulder and cuts off his own hand to escape).
Anne Hathaway: I thought getting naked would get me an Oscar nod.
Johnny Belinda is based on the true story of a deaf-mute girl who is raped. Then she has her rapist's baby. Then she has to fight to try to keep her baby when she is declared "unfit" to raise it. Then she is put on trial for the murder of her rapist. All while struggling to pay the bills on the family farm. Jane Wyman some how managed to get the Best Actress Oscar.
Susanne Beir's Hævnen (In a Better World, though the Danish title means Revenge), which won for Best Foreign Film, features a failing marriage; vicious school bullies; one boy attacking another with a bicycle pump and threatening him with a knife; a doctor working in an African refugee camp terrorised by a man who cuts pregnant women open; and a 12-year-old boy whose mother has just died, who nearly kills three people — a mother, her small daughter and the boy's also 12-year-old friend — with an improvised bomb meant just to blow up a car, and who then comes close to suicide.
Several reviews use the term itself in reference to Steven Spielberg's 2011 film version of War Horse. The film's bombastic, overwrought trailer provoked a similar reaction from many moviegoers even before its release.
A rather obvious example of the "December release" bait is the 2012 film The Iron Lady, getting a limited release on December 30th, 2011 in only Los Angeles and New York, barely above the bare minimum needed for Oscar eligibility.
Of course, that's not counting the bait revolving around the movie itself. Technically, it's a period piece, controversial, biopic, Inspirationally Disadvantaged (they show Thatcher's struggle with dementia), Meryl Streep, need we go on? When the rumors first started that Streep was playing Thatcher in a film, a few people joked that there must be a box of awards with Streep's name already on them, and they were just making the movie as an excuse to finally give them to her.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, basically the new Reader. Despite getting mixed reviews by critics (47% on Rotten Tomatoes), it got a best picture nomination. Why? The reasons are many. It deals with the September 11 attacks and an Ambiguous Disorder child who has to deal with them and their effect on his family. It stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, both powerful figures in the film industry. Directed by Stephen Daldry, who directed other Oscar Bait films such as The Hours and The Reader, written by Eric Roth, who wrote Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and produced by Scott Rudin, second only to the Weinsteins in influence over the Academy.
Invictus. A bio pic featuring Nelson Mandela helping inspire South Africa's underdog rugby team.
Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind, (loosely) about Real Life paranoid schizophrenic (and Nobel Laureate in Economics) John Nash. Cured by The Power of Love? Check. Whitewashes potential unsavory details, such as Nash's bisexuality? Check. Special mention goes to winning an Best Screenwriting Oscar for the man who wrote Batman & Robin.
Green Zone. Academy Award nominated star and director? Check. War movie? Check. Themes Ripped from the Headlines? Check. Supposed anti-war message? Check. However, the film got pushed back and was panned by critics when it was released.
From a sufficiently cynical (or simply trope-saturated) point of view, Hawking looks like stereotypical Oscar (or in this case BAFTA) Bait. It's a historical biopic about a disabled genius's efforts to accomplish something significant before his health issues kill him. The narration even works in a few Holocaust references, since a supporting character had to flee Nazi Germany with his family when he was a child.
The Broadway musical In the Heights seems to have been created as Tony bait, getting nominated for thirteen categories (though only winning four of them, none of which were for writing), as well as to try and prove once and for all that True Art Is Angsty. The show pretty much consists of the characters angsting over various things, including, but not limited to: all of their Unresolved Sexual Tension, the American Dream (Flavor 2), the protagonist's conflict over whether or not he should give up on the American Dream and instead follow his Immigrant Grandmother back to her birth land, the barrio and whether or not to stay in it, and finally, the death of the protagonist's grandmother, which actually forms the climax of the story (even though it's pretty obvious that it's going to happen from early on). Sprinkle in some modern, albeit catchy infusions of hip-hop and salsa music, and you have a Tony-winning musical.
From 1988 till 1996 all but one of the leading actors awarded won by playing a mentally and/or physically handicaped character. The list: 1988 Dustin Hoffman (playing an autistic patient); 1989 Daniel Day Lewis (paralitic); 1990 Jeremy Irons (the exception on the list, playing a real life British aristocrat); 1991 Anthony Hopkins (playing a literally insane criminal); 1992 Al Pacino (blind man); 1993 Tom Hanks (AIDS patient); 1994 Tom Hanks (mild retard); 1995 Nicholas Cage (alcoholic); 1996 Geoffrey Rush (mental patient).
You may argue that even 1997's Jack Nicholson ought to be included on the list depending on wether you believe that he was actually handicapped or not.
The 2008 documentary Young@Heart is about a pensioners' choir going on tour. It's also a pretty blatant button-pushing exercise with a constant subtext of "give me an award!". (In fact, it's so blatant, it's almost surprising it didn't fall victim to Hype Backlash). For various reasons it wasn't eligible for either an Oscar or an Emmy, but it did win its main target, the Rose d'Or, and prizes at a bunch of festivals, only occasionally losing out to Man on Wire.
This category itself can be an exception if you take a look at the winners: 10 out of 10 of them are box office blockbusters, at least in their home countries (Wallace & Gromit was a lesser sucess, but still).
Silence of the Lambs swept the major Oscars (Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Leading Role, and Picture), and is certainly dark and dealing with mental illness and man's inhumanity to man. It's also a rollicking good horror movie, a genre that, if it ever gets awards, gets them for technical and production categories like makeup and special effects.
Silence of the Lambs was also released in January of 1991...a full 14 MONTHS before it won all those awards at the 1992 Oscars ceremony.
The last horror film to win one of the top awards (and only one prior to Silence) was Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, for which Fredric March won Best Actor...in 1932!
Consider that the one other film among the 1991 Best Picture nominees that compared in terms of critical praise and box-office popularity was Beauty and the Beast, which had the Animation Age Ghetto working against it — to the point that jokes were made during the telecast about how a film consisting of "movable paintings" (as Billy Crystal put it in his opening number as host) was up against movies with live actors.
The Lord of the Rings and Titanic were about trying to get dream projects on screen, not about winning Oscars. Yet one got a sweep, and the other got almost all of its awards, though the former did not do so until the entire trilogy was finished (it's suggested the awards for Return of the King apply to the whole trilogy as the Academy didn't want a three-year shutout). Both films were widely praised and made a ridiculous amount of money and remain excessively popular to this day, even factoring in the usual Hype Backlash.
Star Wars (the original 1977 film) got Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (for Sir Alec Guinness) and Best Screenplay. It didn't win any of them, of course, but still. Raiders of the Lost Ark also managed to get nominations for Best Director and Best Picture.
Likewise, 2010's ceremony saw best picture nominations for sci-fi films Avatar and District 9. Both were nominated, without winning, in other major categories: the former was nominated for directing, the latter for adapted screenplay. On the other hand, the Star Trek franchise got its first Oscar, for makeup. It only took eleven films and 30 yearsnote Of course, it doesn't help that half of those movies were universally agreed to be awful.
Annie Hall: Despite being a comedy (which rarely win and when they do it's usually just for screenplay or maybe acting), it won Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. That said, it was a notably bittersweet comedy and close to a drama at times, which possibly helped sooth the Academy's conscience about awarding it.
The Shawshank Redemption: Period piece? Check. Prison piece? Check. Magical Negro? Check. Morgan Freeman is the Magical Negro? Check. Redemption in the Rain so iconic that it's the Trope Namer? Check. "Brooks was here"? Check. Zero Oscars? Yup. Actually widely considered one of the all-time greatest films ever made? Damn straight it is. Tropes are not bad when they are done this well. Then again, remember what it was upagainst.
The next Darabont direction of a King adaptation was The Green Mile... another prison piece with the Magical Negro (getting Michael Clarke Duncan a Best Supporting Actor nod), and was nominated for three others, including Best Picture... but whiffed itself. Probably why the next time Darabont directed a King adaptation, they went as far from Oscar Bait as humanly possible with The Mist...
The Dark Knight, the first comic-book movie to win an acting nomination (for Heath Ledger), with three acting nominations for films based on graphic novels (or in one case, a comic strip) preceding this win note For those keeping score at home, these were Al Pacino for Dick Tracy, Paul Newman for Road to Perdition and William Hurt in A History of Violence. Not to mention being one of the very few comic-book movies to be nominated in any of the non-technical categories (Though it's debated how likely its win would have been if Ledger were still alive.)
It was still HEAVILY snubbed, as it didn't receive a nomination for Best Picture, Director or Screenplay (all Christopher Nolan contributions by the way). It should be noted that many critics believed this film was great enough to even win Best Picture.
The Departed along with its immediate successor to the Best Picture throne No Country for Old Men is one of the grittiest, most violent (non war related) movies to ever take the Best Picture Oscar. It also notably has the most profanity of any film to win Best Picture. Other than Martin Scorsese's involvement there's not really anything about it that screams Oscar Bait. People can't really agree on whether it won on the basis of it being good or because Martin Scorsese had been denied the Oscar numerous times before. One thing is for certain though, The Departed is nowhere near the Oscar Bait levels reached by The Aviator and Gangs of New York, Scorsese's two previous films both period pieces and one a biopic. Neither won Best Director or Picture (plus, the latter got shut out of 10 noms!).
The two "dinner scenes" in The Nutty Professor, which featured Eddie Murphy playing all the members of his family, were widely credited with giving the film the Best Makeup award over the favorite, Star Trek: First Contact. Thing is, this was completely accidental - the director hated the idea and didn't want to film the sequences, but Eddie Murphy and Rick Baker managed to persuade him to keep them in.
Eddie Murphy also won a Best Actor award from the National Society of Film Critics for his multiple performances.
The Hurt Locker subverts most of the conventions of Oscar Bait, yet it won the big prize. Super low budget, No big studio to promote it or campaign for it, no political message despite being about The War on Terror, no major stars in key roles, it came out in June and the lowest box office numbers of any Best Picture winner ever.
Not only does Tropic Thunder mercilessly spoof and lampshade this trope, the film itself was responsible for an aversion of sorts when Robert Downey, Jr. was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, as the film is an out and out comedy.
In the wake of the nominations for that year, more than a few people thought that the Best Supporting Actor nominations were intentionally underdogs, so as to give Heath Ledger a better chance at winning.
No Country for Old Men is a starkly minimalistic, ruthlessly violent film that pegs the extreme end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism (the cynical end, obviously) with such cheery themes as the nature of absolute evil, the inevitability and unpredictability of death, the violent nature of humankind, and the meaninglessness of the material world. It won several awards including a richly deserved Best Supporting Actor to Javier Bardem for playing Anton Chigurh, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for The Coen Brothers, and Best Picture, all on the basis of being really good.
It should be noted that No Country was considered by many an upset pick over There Will Be Blood - a movie that somehow manages to be even more bleak and misanthropic.
Drive is a graphically violent thriller (with arthouse/experimental tendencies) about a getaway driver that was originally intended to be a B-movie released in the summer. The final film was near-unanimously acclaimed and has been racking up many critics' awards... only to get a single Oscar nomination, for Best Sound Editing.
The Artist and Hugo, a pair of Playing Against Type projects about the early days of cinema designed solely to entertain their audiences and teach film history (both films also uses interesting technologies, The Artist is silent while Hugo was shot in 3-D). They have gone on to become the two favorites to win Best Picture of 2011 at the Academy Awards.
The Artist eventually came out on top for Best Picture (being an unashamed love letter to the glories of Old Hollywood probably helped), and Hugo swept the rest of the nominations, and winning 5. Plenty of people are happy about this.
The 1992 Spike Lee film Malcolm X seems like an Oscar bait film if ever there was one: an epic biopic about an icon of the civil rights movement, even managing to work in an inspirational cameo by none other than Nelson Mandela... which ultimately got nominated for two Oscars (Best Actor for Denzel Washington and Best Costume Design), winning neither. Turns out, since Lee was more concerned with fulfilling his vision of doing justice to the life of Malcolm X than raking in awards, he wasn't actually too bothered by this.
The Mask, where after dodging a series of gunshots in several comedic forms, the Mask finally turns into a cowboy, allowing himself to be shot, and proceeds to die in another character's arms with a heartfelt Final Speech - at which point the audience cheers, prompting him to get up and tearfully accept an award. The hilarious part is that the mobsters that were shooting at him also react to the audience, checking their hair and straightening their suits like they were on television.
This particular joke has been around since the days of the original Looney Tunes. Given the Mask's personality, that's most likely where he got the idea.
Waynes World has Wayne give a tear-filled speech with the words "Oscar Clip" emblazoned over the shot.
At the end of Road to ... Morocco, Bob Hope's character has accidentally blown up the ship, leaving the main cast stranded on a raft. Bob Hope chews up the scenery, acting crazy and as if they've been stranded for weeks and are dying. When the camera pans up to reveal the New York City skyline, and another character tells him to calm down, they'll be rescued in a few minutes, Bob Hope bitterly remarks that they've ruined his chance for an Academy Award.
In Road to Bali, when Bing Crosby finds the Oscar Humphrey Bogart received for The African Queen, Bob Hope snatches it away from him, tells him he already has one. Hope then begins making his acceptance speech. (He never was nominated for a competitive one, but he would receive 4 Honorary Oscars and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award - plus, he frequently appeared at the show, often as the host.)
The trope is referenced and mocked in Bowfinger by black action star Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy):
Kit Ramsey: White boys get all the Oscars — it's a fact!
Manager: I know that, but look...
Kit Ramsey: Did I get nominated? No, and you know why? 'Cos I haven't played any of them slave roles, where I get my ass whipped — that's how you get the nominations! A black dude plays a slave role and gets his ass whipped, they get the nomination; a white boy plays an idiot, they get the Oscar. Maybe I'll split it: get me a five-minute script as a retarded slave, then I'll get the Oscar!
Manager: (awkward pause) Uh, I'm gonna go schmooze. I'll be right back. (starts to leave)
Kit Ramsey: Yeah, and go find that script. "Buck the Wonder-Slave"!
Villain Hedley Lamarr announces near the climax of Blazing Saddles that he is "risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor."
Amusingly enough, while part of the joke was (presumably) that a whacked-out cowboy farce laced with racial humour and fart jokes was ill-positioned for acting nominations, the film was in fact nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Madeline Kahn).
Since an Oscar speech kicks off the plot of the comedy In And Out, the first 15 minutes of the movie has a field day with this trope. First, Matt Dillon's character wins for playing a gay soldier unfairly discharged from the military in a movie called To Protect And Serve, which is a hilariously hammy pastiche incorporating elements of A Few Good Men, Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Second, the other nominees in the category are listed as follows: "Paul Newman for Coot, Clint Eastwood for Codger, Michael Douglas for Primary Urges and Steven Seagal for Snowball in Hell."
The Naked Gun 33 1/3. The films nominated at the Oscars were all ridiculously High Concept ("the story of a woman coming to terms with the death of her dog during the Hindenburg disaster).
Lewis: You don't want to shoot anyone... except that would make a good dying scene.
Drew: Shoot me!
Lewis: No, shoot me!
Lets not forget Lewis snapping at people and then taking an aside monologue to question why he does so, Oswald starting to steal so he can feel close to his imprisoned father and Mr. Wick developping an eating disorder.
French & Saunders' take on Cold Mountain, where the Oscar Bait scenes immediately segue into "Zellweger" actually receiving it.
The Fast Show spoof 'Cute Disabled Man' won an award for "Best Portrayal of a Disabled Person by a Fit and Healthy Young Actor Who Wants to Win an Oscar'. "I love you, black man."
A Kids in the Hall sketch shows the best actor nomination at an Oscar show, where we see three clips of three actors playing handicapped (from deaf to having a spike in the head) giving the exact same speech, standing up to their detractors (you know, guys who hate the deaf, and such) with the same appropriately stirring music - and a fourth clip of a guy playing Hamlet. The winner? "Omigod - everyone but the Hamlet guy!"
Married... with Children had at least one episode that ended with a heartwarming scene and the subtitle: "For your Emmy considerations."
Spoofed in a late-2007 episode of The Soup with a trailer for a fictional film called The Oscar Movie. The voiceover discusses almost every Oscar-film cliché, using clips from that year's movies as examples. Such clichés include: "women distraught, crying, and/or screaming," comedians in serious roles, Meryl Streep (mentioned at least three times), and "Johnny Depp doing something weird" (with clips from Sweeney Todd).
Mr. Show did a sketch about "The Dewey Awards," awards given to actors who play mentally challenged characters. It also features a film called "The Bob Lamonta Story," about one man's struggles with... his own mentally challenged parents. Following the film, the actual Bob Lamonta at the awards lists everything that wasn't factual, revealing the whole film was made up.
In the UK The Kevin Bishop Show did a spoof trailer for a new TV drama series. It consisted of characters all repeating the phrase "gritty BAFTA". The characters all delivered this with a pained, serious expression, or whispered the phrase. This would be a UK equivalent of Emmy Bait.
On Castle, one of the suspects is an actor who says he's playing Matt Damon's "half-wit" father and that "It's got nominations written all over it."
In season 4 of Arrested Development, Isla Fisher discusses the possibility of playing Michael's deceased wife in a movie. After learning that said wife died of a terminal illness, Fischer states that all she needs now is to have her be mentally-challenged as well, and she'll be guaranteed an Oscar for her performance.
There's a monthly online contest called "Bait an Oscar" where contestants write film pitches to be voted on as if they were Oscar contenders. Oddly enough, this is a subversion of the parodies listed below as almost all of the entires are sincere attempts to create good ideas for movies and the contestants tend to be fans of the Oscars rather than people who attack them.
See also this article offering further proof that the Oscars exist solely to shit the bed.
Kickassia has this in every scene regarding Spoony's attempts to avoid "giving in to the madness," ie his evil split personality Dr. Insano. He's a quite uncharacteristic Large Ham about having to constantly surpress his evil urges, and occasionally gets into Ham-to-Ham Combat over people wanting him to let Insano out.
In the 3rd segment of Linkara'sHistory of Power Rangers series, he shows a clip of Bulk and Skull trying to save a bunch of kids from drowning in a lake (they turned out to be playing, not drowning, as the lake was knee deep at that part), running down the pier on slow motion with inspirational music as they strip from their cadet uniforms into their swimsuits. At one point Linkara puts "Oscar clip" at the bottom of the screen.
Nerd to the Third Power host Dr. Gonzo swore up and down that Precious would win best picture, because "It's about an underprivileged black rape victim who gives birth to an incest baby with down syndrome. I haven't even SEEN the movie and I already want to kill myself! It HAS to win!" Those keeping score will know the The Hurt Locker won Best Picture that year.
One Bugs Bunny short, The Wabbit Who Came to Supper, had Bugs pleading with Elmer Fudd to let him into his house, complaining in a very dramatic fashion about how cold he was. He suddenly perked up and said, "Hey, this scene oughta get me the Academy Award!" Then he finished "dying", complete with mournful violins. He's probably done this a few other times, too. The plot of What's Cookin', Doc? has him attending the ceremony and demanding he receive the Best Actor award.
On at least one occasion he is actually handed an Oscar statue in the middle of an overwrought, melodramatic display.
Animaniacs did a somewhat Anvilicious spoof of even the animated awards they'd be qualified to compete for. Saving a beached whale was the start of the short.
They also did a more standard gag earlier: in a Thanksgiving episode, Miles Standish was out hunting turkey and the Warners were playing Native Americans raised by turkeys. This allowed Dot to wax eloquent over their hardship all while "ACADEMY MEMBERS VOTE NOW!" flashed on the screen.
There's also a brief, but blunt reference during "Jokahontas" their Take That against Disney movies in particular. During the song "Same Old Heroine" (a parody of Pocahontas' "Colors of the Wind"), which is ALREADY a brutally mocking song about Disney recycling practically the same script for every movie, we hear these lines:
"The Schloscar it will win / with the same old heroine / it worked once, why not again?".
Parodied in The Simpsons with Burt Reynolds new film "Fireball And Mudflap".
"I play Jerry "Fireball" Mudflap, a feisty supreme court justice who's searching for his birth mother while competing in a cross-country firetruck race. It's... garbage."
In another episode, an entry form for Best Documentary is shown to read "Holocaust related" and "Non-Holocaust related".
Spoofed on The Boondocks on the episode "The Color Ruckus," where Ruckus tells his depressing life story, while Grandpa Riley and Huey can't help but listen, especially because it's so sad.
Huey: That's like, Academy Award winning sad.
Tiny Toon Adventures: In "Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow", when Buster pretends to suffocate in the cage Elmyra put him in, Hamton shows up to him an award for "Best Death in Daytime Television".
A hilarious musical performance actually took place at the 79th Academy Awards, featuring Will Ferrell and Jack Black lamenting about how they never win Oscars for their comedy. They sing about beating up serious actors in the audience until John C. Reilly joins them on stage and tells them that they should also do serious films from time to time like he does.
John C. Reilly: "Fellas! This madness must stop, there is no need to fear, you can have your cake and eat it too, just look at my career! I didn't cry when I would lose, I didn't pick silly fights, I chose to be in both Boogie and Talladega niiiights! Don't just be clowns, 'cause then you're just bores, mix it up and Oscars shall be yoooours!"
Jack Black: "He's right! I'm gonna re read that script about the guy who gets lead poisoning and then sues a major corporation, there's not a laugh in there!
Will Farrell: "And I'm gonna take that project about the guy with no arms and legs who teaches gangbangers Hamlet!"
On fanfiction sites like fimfiction.net, there is a similar phrase called "feature bait". It is different from oscar bait, in that it tends to be "fun" stories, often erotic or completely insane. Oscar bait type stories tend to not do so well with reader popularity.