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Award Category Fraud

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"First, let's take a look at our main character of the film... MATTIE! Yeah, 'Best Supporting Actress' my ass! She’s the main character, and we all know it! You’re going first!"
The Nostalgia Critic reviewing the two True Grit movies

Wherein the significance of a person's role (typically in a feature film) is downgraded. This is typically done when an actor or actress has been met with praise for their role, but have some industry shortcoming (e.g. acting newcomer, young, first-time nominee, lots of competition in one category, etc.) that would prevent them from receiving awards. So, in order to increase their chances at winning gold, they are entered into the awards races in (what are for some reason seen as) lesser categories in the supporting roles. It can also be done so a work can win more awards by splitting the leads into separate categories. In the case of the Oscars, the Academy has a rule against the same actor being nominated twice in the same category for two different works; if someone appeared in two well-received films in the same year, they will almost invariably be nominated once for Best Leading Actor/Actress and once for Best Supporting.

May be due to a character being a Supporting Protagonist. Compare Billing Displacement and Protagonist Title Fallacy. Related to Oscar Bait.



  • For ER's first season, all six actors were nominated for Emmys. However, Julianna Margulies was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, despite having just as much screen time and as many storylines as Sherry Stringfield, who was nominated for Lead. Presumably, this was to avoid the two of them canceling each other out, as probably happened to Anthony Edwards and George Clooney (both up for Lead Actor), and Noah Wyle and Eriq LaSalle (both up for Supporting Actor). It paid off, and she won. It wouldn't be until the third season that Margulies was nominated for Lead Actress for the first time, as she had essentially taken over as the central female figure of the series once Stringfield exited (after the eighth episode of Season 3). Incidentally, the two of them were both nominated for Lead Actress that year, losing to Gillian Anderson for The X-Files. One could also argue that Noah Wyle was a co-lead, especially in seasons 3 and 4, but was only ever nominated in Supporting, while Laura Innes was easily one of the more prominent leading characters starting with Season 4 (until being Demoted to Extra years after ER's actors stopped being nominated) but was only ever nominated for Support.
  • Game of Thrones: In a show with a large Cast Herd and Three Lines, Some Waiting, this is perhaps inevitable.
    • Peter Dinklage was the show's top-billed actor for every season except the first (when that spot was filled by Sean Bean playing a Decoy Protagonist). Despite this, every Primetime Emmy nomination he ever received — and he was nominated for every season there was — was for Best Supporting Actor.
    • Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke were nominated for Best Lead Actor and Best Lead Actress during the final season... but their previous nominations (his in Season 6, hers in 3, 5 and 6) were for Supporting, which arguably fits this trope as well.
  • True Detective was pushed, and nominated, in Best Drama Series at the Emmys rather than Best Miniseries, in spite of the fact that similarly constructed Seasonal Anthologies such as American Horror Story and Fargo were nominated as miniseries. Presumably, this was done so HBO wouldn't have to compete with itself with the TV movie The Normal Heart. Enough flak came out of this that the Emmys restructured their rules by clearly defining what constituted anthology or limited series and both are now ineligible for the Drama category.
  • For Big Little Lies, Shailene Woodley was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress, along with Laura Dern, although her character had more time than Dern's, had more storylines, and was considered a lead character. Dern ended up winning the Emmy. This is also strange considering that Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, who were also billed as leads, were nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress. It may have been done to limit the amount of lead characters in the category so no one could get cancelled out.
  • Friends invoked this when the Ensemble Cast decided that they would only ever submit their work for Supporting. David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox, arguably the four most prominent of the six leads (the other two were primarily comic relief), each competed for Supporting categories. Once the show entered the second half of its 10-year run, the agreement may have changed, as Perry, Aniston and Matt Le Blanc all received Leading nominations, and Aniston won. (The sixth cast member, Lisa Kudrow, also won Supporting in '98. Cox was never nominated.)
  • Similarly, the cast of Modern Family agreed to never submit to Leads. This resulted in numerous instances of all four lead actors nominated in the Outstanding Supporting Actor category at the same time, and both lead actresses nominated in the Outstanding Supporting Actress category. (Ty Burrell and Eric Stonestreet each won twice for Supporting Actor, and Julie Bowen won twice for Supporting Actress.)
  • Variation: Eric Jacobson was nominated for Outstanding Character Voiceover Performance in 2019 for his performance in Sesame Street: Once Upon a Pickle despite being a puppeteer (for which no such Emmy category exists). Up until that point, the nominations for that category were strictly animation voice actorsnote .


  • Jethro Tull won the 1989 Grammy for "Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental". Their competitors included Metallica, Jane's Addiction, Iggy Pop and AC/DC. Tull frontman Ian Anderson, who didn't attend the ceremony, said later that Tull likely won because they'd never won a Grammy before despite being around and well-regarded for so long, and that there was "no way I could have accepted it under those circumstances." Controversy over this award led to the separation of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal into two separate categories.
  • Taylor Swift's album Red was nominated for the Grammy for "Best Country Album," even though it contained songs like "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," and "I Knew You Were Trouble," which sounded about as Bubblegum Pop as you could get. It may have influenced Swift's choice to officially change her music genre of choice from Country to Pop.

Oscars - Leading actors demoted to supporting

  • A writer for entertainment website Gold Derby maintains a meticulous database of the screen time of every Oscar-nominated performance for the purpose of pointing out category fraud. The vast majority are lead roles that are demoted to supporting. That said, screen time isn't the end-all indicator of supporting vs. lead, and narrative importance also plays a part. It's certainly possible for a supporting character to be given a hefty amount of screen time, or for a leading character to have relatively little.note 
    • It's very common for a film with two actors who could be considered co-leads, especially if they're the same gender, to have one bumped down to supporting to avoid having them compete in the same category. Often, the actor playing the role with less power and influence, or the junior of the two, is the one bumped down to supporting.
  • While Bette Davis was billed first, Mary Astor was essentially a co-lead in The Great Lie. She plays the new bride of George Brent, who leaves her for his first, and true, love (Davis) not knowing his new bride is pregnant. The rest of the movie concerns Davis and Astor conspiring to pass off the baby as Davis's so that it won't be considered illegitimate. Astor was ultimately nominated for Supporting Actress, and won.
  • 1941's The Devil and Miss Jones starred Charles Coburn as a corporate executive who decides to see how working conditions are on the bottom rung of his department store, and hires himself under an alias as salesperson. He's the lead character under any definition of the term. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
  • Lana Turner was nominated for Best Actress for Peyton Place in 1957 (her only Oscar nomination ever), while Diane Varsi, who played her daughter and the main character, received a Supporting Actress nomination (competing with Hope Lange's nomination for the same film) despite having far more screen time. This was likely due to Turner's star power at the time, and being the biggest name in the film.
  • It’s very common for juvenile performers, e.g. anyone under 21, to be demoted to supporting even if they are the clear lead, especially if an adult acts aside them as their co-lead:
    • Mary Badham was nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as "Scout" Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, despite being the clear main character of the film. Gregory Peck as her father won for Best Actor.
    • Tatum O'Neil won Best Supporting Actress for Paper Moon, even though she's in almost the whole film and is clearly a co-lead. O'Neal's performance is in fact the longest to ever win a "Supporting" Oscar, with 1:06:58 of screen time and appearing in 65.49% of the film.
    • Timothy Hutton is the clear protagonist of Ordinary People, with his character's suicide attempt setting off the film's plot and his character development serving as its emotional crux. Because he was a young unknown, however, he was relegated to Supporting Actor at the Oscars and won (making him the youngest male winner of a competitive award in the Academy's history). This is despite Mary Tyler Moore earning a Best Actress nomination as his mother and Donald Sutherland getting a Best Actor nomination at the Golden Globes as his father. Both are important to the plot, but aren't given quite as much focus as Hutton's character. If anything, all of the family members should have been campaigned in Lead, leaving the Supporting category to Judd Hirsch (who was also against Hutton). The discrepancy between Hutton and Moore is the largest any supporting nominee has over a lead nominee from the same film in Oscar history, with Hutton appearing on screen for over half an hour longer than Moore (or more than a quarter of the film's runtime).
    • Hailee Steinfeld's role as Mattie Ross in The Coen Brothers' adaptation of True Grit was demoted by almost every single film awards association to "Best Supporting Actress". This is despite Mattie being the main character (aside from Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn), with her actions driving the plot, most of the film being told from her perspective and being in virtually every scene.
  • Laurence Olivier's cinematic version of Othello received supporting nominations for Frank Finlay as Iago, Maggie Smith as Desdemona, and Joyce Redman as Emilia, as well as a leading nomination for Olivier in the title role. Few would argue with Olivier and Redman's placements, but Smith's role is regularly seen as that of a leading lady, and while Desdemona is the tertiary protagonist, she's still typically nominated a lead when played onstage. Meanwhile, Iago is the true protagonist of the piece rather than Othello, being the one who drives the story's drama and having the most lines of any character by a fairly decent amount. It is worth noting though that Olivier reportedly had more screen time, but only by just a few minutes.
  • 1970's I Never Sang for My Father is about Gene Garrison (Gene Hackman) trying to negotiate his difficult relationship with his father Tom (Melvyn Douglas) after his mother dies. No one seeing the film would dispute Gene being The Protagonist. But Douglas got top billing and a Best Actor nomination, while Hackman got nominated for Supporting Actor despite being on screen for about 24 more minutes than Douglas. Screen Time Central lists Hackman as appearing in three-quarters of the film's run time, the second-highest percentage for any nominated Supporting performance.
  • Marlon Brando won Best Actor for playing Vito Corleone in The Godfather, even though the lead character is Michael, played by Al Pacino, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Pacino refused to attend the ceremony because of this.
  • Jason Miller was nominated in supporting for The Exorcist, even though he's pretty equal to lead nominee Ellen Burstyn in terms of focus, and his character is the true protagonist and title character.
  • Haing S. Ngor won Best Supporting Actor for The Killing Fields, despite the fact that a large portion of the movie follows him and not Best Actor-nominated Sam Waterston.
  • Kevin Spacey won Best Supporting Actor for The Usual Suspects, even though Verbal Kint's clearly the main character. Some suspected this was because nominating him for his performance that same year in Se7en would have been considered a spoiler.
  • William H. Macy was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for Fargo, even though it's hard to argue he's supporting anyone, and he's the lead and primary driving force of the plot in his mostly self-contained storyline. He appears onscreen slightly longer than Frances McDormand, who won Best Actress (albeit in one of the shortest performances to win that award).
  • Jamie Foxx was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Collateral, a film where he was the viewpoint character and clear lead, because he was already up for Best Actor in Ray, which he ended up winning. He was also second-billed to Tom Cruise who must headline almost any movie he makes, even if in this case he was the clear antagonist and at best second lead. If the part had been played by, say, Ray Liotta, it would easily have been considered the supporting performance.
  • Jennifer Connelly won Best Supporting Actress for A Beautiful Mind, even if the SAG Awards nominated her for Best Actress - showing the discrepancy of a leading actress in what could be called a supporting role (the protagonist's wife) that sometimes gets blurry in the nominations (see the next section for the much more common inversion).
  • Brokeback Mountain gives a lot of screen time to both Heath Ledger's and Jake Gyllenhaal's characters, as the film covers their romance and how their lives drift off in parallel fashion during their years apart. As such, one could argue that the two characters are equally important to the story as protagonists (with Ledger's performance perhaps getting just a bit more emphasis). However, Gyllenhaal was put in the Supporting category all through the awards season (despite him actually having more spoken dialogue in the film). In fact, it was Gyllenhaal's Supporting nomination that led to the creation of the Screen Time Central website.
  • Jennifer Hudson, who played Effie White in the 2006 film version of Dreamgirls, won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for that role, which is seen as a lead on stage and had earned Jennifer Holliday a Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. Ironically, Hudson was not mentioned in the promotional material until after the movie was released.
  • Cate Blanchett's Supporting Actress nomination for Notes on a Scandal. This came even though some believed her to be just as vital to the story as Judi Dench's character.
  • Djimon Hounsou in Blood Diamond, nominated for Best Supporting Actor (while Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated as Lead), despite the fact that the entire story revolves around Hounsou's Solomon Vandy going on a quest to rescue his son.
  • Casey Affleck plays the main character of Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford but he received second billing behind Brad Pitt, who was playing the much better-known role of James, and thus was nominated mainly as the supporting role.
  • Some argued that Christoph Waltz's performance as King Schultz in Django Unchained was very much a co-lead with Jamie Foxx's as Django. While Schultz is relegated to the background in a number of scenes and is largely absent from the climax, his character has a proactive presence initially and a lot of the first half of the film focuses on his attempts to build Django up as a bounty hunter. A very arguable case, but Waltz was briefly campaigned as a co-lead in the awards season (including at SAG) when Harvey Weinstein thought he could get Leonardo DiCaprio a Supporting Actor nomination. After Leo's chances started to fade and Waltz won a few critics prizes, the latter was put back in the Supporting category and won the Oscar.
  • In The Master, while Joaquin Phoenix is the clear protagonist, Philip Seymour Hoffman has a dominant presence and is the titular character, and a case could be argued that they were actually co-leads, given how the film's central conflict comes from the dynamics of their relationship and how there are several scenes where the viewer sees things from Hoffman's perspective. However, to get both actors nominated, Hoffman was put in the Supporting Actor category.
  • Nebraska featured Bruce Dern and Will Forte as Father/Son deuteragonists, but Dern was the one to receive a Best Actor nomination and while Forte wasn't nominated, he was submitted as a supporting actor - invoked, though, as the producers didn't want to split the votes between the two.
  • The film adaptation of August: Osage County was criticized by some for an egregious case of this, with Meryl Streep being pushed in the Lead category and Julia Roberts for Supporting, despite the fact that the two characters had previously competed against each other in Lead at the Tonys when it was a play on Broadway.
  • At the 2016 Oscars, Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander are leads in their respective movies (Carol and The Danish Girl), but they were nominated in the Supporting Actress category (and Vikander actually won). The fact that their co-leads (Cate Blanchett and Eddie Redmayne respectively) were nominated in the lead category makes it even more noticeable.
  • Dev Patel received a Supporting Actor nomination for Lion when he is very clearly the sole lead character. However, they probably got away with this because he's only in the second half of the film, with a different actor playing his younger self in the first half (even though Geoffrey Rush won Best Actor for Shine in practically the same situation).
  • Viola Davis' Supporting Actress nomination for Fences drew controversy from some who felt she was a co-lead with Denzel Washington (who got a Best Actor nom). She's in almost every scene in the movie, and was one of the main attractions of the film. Some feel she probably would've even won Best Actress over the actual winner (Emma Stone for La La Land) had she been nominated. As expected, Davis swept the award all season, and easily won the Oscar. Davis also received a Best Actress Tony Award for the same role when she played it on Broadway. However, it's worth noting that Mary Alice received a "Featured Actress" Award (the Tony equivalent of Supporting Actress) for playing Rose in the original Broadway production. There are certainly critics who agree with her categorization as supporting, as Troy is almost the singular narrative focus of the film. Davis herself considered the role supporting after viewing the final film.
  • The Favourite is a film about three women, at least two of whom could be considered leads. When awards season came around, it was decided to submit Olivia Colman in the Lead Actress categories while Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone had to settle for Supporting Actress. All three received Oscar nominations in those respective categories. In terms of screen time, Stone appeared in 48% of the film (and much of it is from her perspective), Colman in 42%, and Weisz in 36%. Colman likely got priority because she played Queen Anne, whose life is ultimately the main subject and setting of the story. This ended up working out as Weisz and Stone both lost Supporting Actress to Regina King, while Colman pulled off an upset victory over the heavily-favored Glenn Close for the Oscar.
  • Green Book portrays the relationship between Dr. Don Shirley and his driver Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga as they travel through the 1960s Deep South. Despite sharing similar screen time, Viggo Mortensen was nominated for Best Actor at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, while Mahershala Ali was nominated for (and ultimately won) the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
  • Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins were nominated as lead and supporting actors respectively for The Two Popes, even though many argued that Hopkins was more of a lead, since the majority of the film is just the two of them acting opposite one another. Granted, Pryce's character is given more focus and screen time, but for many, the film is a two hander.
  • Brad Pitt's work in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood won him a Supporting Actor Oscar despite the fact that pretty much everyone agrees he was a co-lead with Leonardo Dicaprio. The two spend most of the film apart, driving their own separate storylines.
  • One of the strangest examples of all time happened with Judas and the Black Messiah, which starred Lakeith Stanfield as Bill O'Neal, a petty crook turned FBI informant who gets in deep with the Chicago Black Panther Party in order to spy on its leader, Fred Hampton, played by Daniel Kaluuya. It's difficult to say what really happened here. Both men played the title character (O'Neal the Judas while Hampton was the Black Messiah). Both men had roughly equal screentime, with Stanfield perhaps leading there by a hair. Both were protagonists. Both had their own arc and character growth. Kaluuya was a slightly bigger star, having made a name for himself a couple of years earlier with Get Out!, but Stanfield had headlined other films himself. Kaluuya took top billing, but both men had their names above the title. Kaluuya, who was considered the showier performance and the main draw, was campaigned for Best Supporting Actor, due to his far greater likelihood of winning, which paid off, while Stanfield was campaigned for Best Actor, but was expected to be snubbed. Possibly, enough voters nominated Kaluuya for Lead and Stanfield for Supporting to allow Stanfield to break into the fifth supporting slot, while the majority of votes for Kaluuya were for supporting, and those voters may not have nominated Stanfield at all.
  • Ke Huy Quan was a co-lead with Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once by almost any objective standard and he was onscreen, and received more character growth and motivation, than several of the Lead Actor and Actress roles of that year. But he was nominated for, and won, Best Supporting Actor. This was not only a "make sure he wins" move, as throughout award season he was only ever nominated or awarded in Supporting categories.

Oscars - Supporting actors promoted to leading

  • The Oscars, like most major awards, have a tendency to treat acting like track and field and sometimes bump an actor up to leading simply because they're the most important character of their gender. (Terms like "male lead" or "female lead" are basically meaningless.)
    • Greer Garson was nominated for Best Actress for Goodbye, Mr. Chips, even though she only appeared in the second act (of four) of the film. Garson herself was even disappointed that she was playing such a small role.
    • Teresa Wright played Lou Gehrig's wife for the second half of The Pride of the Yankees, and in total was probably on screen for about a third of the film, but received a nomination for Best Actress. Campaigning her in that category was likely done so that she wouldn't compete against herself (and likely lose out entirely) for her performance in Mrs. Miniver. It worked; she was nominated for that film in Supporting, and won.
    • Speaking of Mrs. Miniver, Walter Pidgeon received a nomination for Best Actor, despite spending most of the film away fighting in WWII, and when he is around he plays second fiddle to the women of the film.
    • Anne Bancroft was nominated for Best Actress for The Graduate even though her character Mrs. Robinson doesn't have much narrative function other than pushing Benjamin's arc, the film doesn't track her emotional story and we almost never see her outside his perspective. She falls into the background in the second half of the film, taking a backseat to him and Elaine.
    • There was some grumbling about Louise Fletcher's Best Actress win, since it's a bit of stretch to call Nurse Ratched a lead character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; she's more of a recurring Antagonist. Fletcher only appears in 17% of the film, a record low for either leading category. Still, 1975 had a fairly weak crop of Best Actress nominees,note  and Fletcher's performance was iconic.
    • Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs was easily the most memorable character in the film, but as a character his only narrative function is to support Clarice Starling. He also appears in only 21% of the film, a record low for a Best Actor winner.note 
    • Sharon Stone was nominated for Best Actress for Casino, and while she's the most prominent female character in the film, it's hard to call her a lead since she never anchors her own story and the viewer only sees her actions from the perspective of other characters, mainly her husband, Ace.
  • Spencer Tracy was onscreen for about 16 minutes of San Francisco (1936), yet received a Best Actor nomination for it. The two leads are Clark Gable and Jeannette McDonald, with Tracy just a mutual friend trying to help gangster Gable become a better man. How anyone could consider this a leading performance is a real question.
  • 1940's The Philadelphia Story won James Stewart his only Oscar, for Best Actor. He was billed third, and his character was the third of a Love Triangle, with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant the main couple. Stewart's nomination here, and win, was broadly considered, even by Stewart himself, to be an attempt to make up for his loss the previous year for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where he is the clear lead.
  • Walter Huston plays one of the two title characters in The Devil and Daniel Webster, but the actual plot focuses on poor farmer Jabez Stone whose soul is on the line after a deal with the Devil. Huston is the Devil, and on screen for about 20 minutes. He was nominated for Best Actor.
  • Meryl Streep was nominated for Best Actress for The Devil Wears Prada. It was a very important role but difficult to call a lead since she's a static character without any real arc and is almost never seen outside the perspective of the film's main character Andy.
  • The 2002 Oscars were seen as a significant achievement for black actors, as Halle Berry became the first black woman to win Best Actress for Monster's Ball, Denzel Washington became the second black man to win Best Actor (behind Sidney Poitier, who was coincidentally given an Honorary Award at the same ceremony) for Training Day, and the two became the first (and thus-far only) pair of black leads to win in the same year. However, the main character of Training Day is the one played by Best Supporting Actor nominee Ethan Hawke, as the story is entirely centered around his point of view. Denzel's character is eventually revealed to be the film's antagonist.
  • It's still unknown why the producers behind Gangs of New York decided to campaign both Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor, with Day-Lewis getting the much stronger push. Day-Lewis is on screen for less than 25% of the film, and portrays the antagonist. Di Caprio plays the main protagonist and as such is on screen for nearly half the film, and received top billing. It's true that critics were more wowed by Day-Lewis's performance, but if he had been campaigned for Supporting, where he belonged, he would have walked away with an easy win, while the worst that could have happened for Di Caprio was no nomination at all (which is what ended up happening anyway). As it was, Day-Lewis, despite still being the favorite to win, lost to Adrien Brody in The Pianist. Most considered this a worthy outcome, but still, both men could have been winners if Day-Lewis had been nominated where he belonged.
  • Michelle Williams was considered a frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress when The Fabelmans premiered in the fall of 2022. However, she decided to campaign in the Lead category, where she didn't have much chance against frontrunners Michelle Yeoh and Cate Blanchett. While Williams does have the largest female role as Mitzi in the film, its point of view dominantly belongs to Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle). Mitzi is almost entirely absent from the third act, but she does have her own defined story and arc when she is on-screen. There were reports that Williams was concerned that a Supporting nomination for a borderline role would damage her ability to bargain for larger salaries.

Oscars - Writing

  • Writing example: if it's based on a previous work, the Academy only considers it for Adapted Screenplay. Sequels are almost always considered adapted because they're based on existing characters (Toy Story 3).
  • Biopics are an iffy case: generally, any biographical film based on a book, which most of them are, will get an Adapted Screenplay nomination, while any of them that doesn't credit anything as source material will get an Original Screenplay nomination, even though all biopics are technically adaptations in the loosest sense of the word.
  • Perhaps the iffiest Writing call was O Brother, Where Art Thou? as an "Adapted Screenplay" for supposedly being based on The Odyssey. Its writers admitted that they'd never read the Odyssey and any similarities were due to Popcultural Osmosis.
  • Another controversial Writing example was Whiplash, with the Oscars classifying it as an Adapted Screenplay due to Damien Chazelle's short film of the same name having premiered one year prior. However, the short film was made based on scenes from the feature film's screenplay as a way of attracting investors, and as such was not the basis for the film. The announcement that the film would be treated as an adaptation came as a surprise to Chazelle, who had expected it to compete for Original Screenplay.
  • In another very iffy case, Gangs of New York was submitted for, and ultimately nominated for, Best Original Screenplay, despite its very credits admitting it was based off the eponymously titled non-fiction novel by Herbert Asbury. On what grounds could it be considered "original", then? Well, according to writer Jay Cocks, "This is a world we conjured out of whole cloth, out of a whole lot of unassimilated historical research.” He said that Asbury’s book, which Cocks and Martin Scorcese discovered in the late ‘70s, served primarily as an introduction to the history of the draft riots depicted in the film, and that he borrowed only a few particularly pungent gang names (including the Dead Rabbits and the Plug Uglies), the sketchy outlines of two key characters (Bill the Butcher and Monk Mc Ginn), and Asbury’s “great title” from the book. The rest, he says, was original, with guidance from about 50 historical sources. It's hard to tell how seriously to take that claim.
  • Another issue is when a screenplay nomination goes to the credited screenwriters, which, because of the arbitrary nature of the Writers Guild rules and appeals process, may not always reflect who actually wrote the screenplay. The Original Screenplay award for Coming Home went to Nancy Dowd, Robert C. Jones and Waldo Salt, but Dowd just wrote an early unused version of the screenplay (she's officially credited with "story"), while significant input into the story and dialogue had been given by director Hal Ashby, stars Jane Fonda and Jon Voight, and even cinematographer Haskell Wexler.
  • Warner Bros. submitted Barbie for Best Original Screenplay consideration, despite it falling into the Academy's standards for what's considered as an adaptation (being based on a well-established franchise), though speculation abounds that it's to avoid fierce competition from Oppenheimer and Killers of the Flower Moon and to give Barbie a winning chance. What category it'll ultimately be nominated for is up to the Academy to decide, however.


Unless the producers ask the committee otherwise, leading actors always have their name above the title and featured actors always have their name after the title. This can lead to odd situations.

  • Robert Alda and Isabel Bigley each won a Tony award for playing Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown in the original production of Guys and Dolls. Despite Sky and Sarah being a couple in the show, being billed after Vivian Blaine (Miss Adelaide) put Isabel Bigley in the "Best Featured Actress" category, whereas Robert Alda was "Best Actor."
  • Similarly, Yul Brynner won Best Featured Actor for his role in The King and I, despite playing the titular King, because he was billed below Gertrude Lawrence. Brynner received top billing after Lawrence's death early in the run, and he subsequently won an Oscar as Best Actor for the film version.
  • From 2013-14, a show ran on Broadway called Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, about the last performance that Billie Holiday ever gave. Although it had lots of music (since it was about a concert), it was designated as a play rather than a musical, netting its star, Audra McDonald, a Tony for Best Lead Actress in a Play (her record-breaking seventh acting Tony). This was met with some criticism, with some invoking this trope.
  • Unlike the film version of Amadeus where both leads were nominated together, it varies with the stage show, as the role of Mozart has been nominated as lead at the Tonys and supporting at the Oliviers. The correct placement for the part onstage is a bit more unclear, given that while Mozart is by far the second largest and most central role, it is also undeniably secondary to Salieri, who remains onstage for the entire show, even when he's not present for some Mozart centric scenes. When transitioning the story from stage to screen, playwright Peter Shaffer made many alterations, with one of them being Mozart and Salieri now being roughly equal leads.

Golden Globes

Because the ceremony splits its awards across specific genres, there is an added layer where the category in question doesn't match the content of the work.

  • In a case of a winner calling this trope out, Jim Carrey said in his acceptance speech for Best Actor — Musical or Comedy for Man on the Moon that he regarded the film as a drama. While the movie is about Anti-Humor pioneer Andy Kaufman and has a lot of humorous moments and even diegetic music, it still has a final third that's deeply bittersweet as it chronicles Kaufman's fall from public grace and terminal illness.
  • At the Golden Globes in 2013, Connie Britton was nominated for Best Actress In A TV Drama for Nashville while Hayden Panettiere received a Best Supporting Actress nomination (as she would the following year as wellnote ) - since Britton and Panettiere play the show's main characters, this was clearly done to keep from cancelling each other out.
  • In a decision that left many people scratching their heads, The Martian won the 2015 Golden Globe in the category "Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy." (As anyone who has seen the film knows, it has light-hearted moments but overall remains a serious adventure drama, and contains much disco but no diagetic singing.)
    • This happened again in 2017 when Get Out (2017) (a horror film dealing with racism, albeit one quite heavy on the Black Comedy) was nominated in the same category.

SAG Awards

  • Unlike Frank Finlay, Kenneth Branagh's performance as Iago in his version of Othello was not nominated for an Oscar, but he was nominated at SAG, and much like Finlay, he was placed in supporting. And unlike Finlay, who can be explained in supporting thanks to having a far more famous costar playing the title role, Branagh was a bigger name than his film's Othello; Laurence Fishburne. So the only explanation for his placement is just that Branagh wasn't playing the titular role and his character is the main villain.
  • Keisha Castle-Hughes, the lead in Whale Rider, was nominated in the SAG Awards for Best Supporting Actress. Fortunately, she was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars.
  • Although he didn't receive an Oscar nomination, Dev Patel was notably nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the SAG awards for his work in Slumdog Millionaire, even though he was clearly considered to be the film's primary character. However, he was nominated for Best Actor by the BAFTAs.
  • Although he ultimately failed to receive an Oscar nomination, Daniel Brühl's performance in Rush received several precursor nominations in the Best Supporting Actor category. This is despite the fact that Bruhl's character, Niki Lauda, received just as much focus in the film as Chris Hemsworth's James Hunt, with the film clearly framed to show them as equal rivals.
    • Lauda even serves as the film's narrator which means that if one has to be considered lead and one supporting the lead character is Brühl's while Hemsworth plays the supporting.
  • Jacob Tremblay's performance in Room received a SAG nomination in the Supporting Actor category, despite the fact that the film is told from his character's perspective, and he has notably more screen time in the film than Brie Larson, who swept the Best Actress race that year. Ironically, some have speculated that if he had been submitted in Lead Actor, he could have been Oscar nominated, because that category was less competitive than Supporting Actor.
  • Emily Blunt is a lead character in A Quiet Place, yet she won the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was only submitted in that category so as not split noms\votes with Blunt's other performance, Mary Poppins Returns (which was up for Best Actress). The entire cast of A Quiet Place was actually submitted in the supporting categories during awards season because the film had more of an ensemble than any clear lead.

Other Awards Shows

  • Rosanna Arquette won a Best Supporting Actress BAFTA for Desperately Seeking Susan, even though she (as opposed to Madonna) plays the main character and has top billing.
  • Not even the MTV Movie Awards (since expanded to include television programs as well) are immune from this. The 2015 nominees for Best Shirtless Performance were all guys, except for Kate Upton in The Other Woman (2014) as a sop to equality (or to people who like girls). This was a clear violation of the spirit of the award, since she was wearing a bathing suit, but in fairness to MTV, there was no shirt on her body.
  • At the 2015 Kids' Choice Award, Jessie J was nominated for Favorite New Artist...despite the fact that she had two massive worldwide hits dating back to 2011, which wasn't much of a problem...except that it robbed Sam Smith of a nomination for the category; Smith's nomination in the Favorite Male Singer category wasn't able to wash the hypocritical taint of the awards out — especially with that nomination leading to the shocking snub of Ed Sheeran, who was viewed as an early favorite to win the category.
  • Sweden recently updated their banknotes with new motifs, and the theme that was chosen was "Swedish Artists of the 20th Century". The artists chosen were children's author Astrid Lindgren, songwriter Evert Taub, actress Greta Garbo, director Ingmar Bergman, opera singer Birgit Nilsson and diplomat, politician, General-Secretary of the UN and all-around national hero Dag Hammaskjöld. He was given the spot since a collection of his poetry was found and posthumously published, thus technically making him an author.
  • The TV Week Logie Awards are pretty bad about this when it comes to the New Talent Awards, frequently shortlisting established celebrities (e.g., comedians, singers or radio announcers) who've only recently started regularly appearing in Australian television, or established TV actors who've worked overseas in previous years. There's little indication that the magazine's readers take any of this into consideration when reading the shortlists, so plenty of these people will end up being nominated and then winning. A few standout examples:
    • Lisa Chappell winning for McLeod's Daughters in 2002, despite having been acting in New Zealand since 1987.
    • Carrie Bickmore winning for The 7pm Project in 2010, despite having appeared on Rove Live regularly from 2006-2009 and having been a newsreader on radio for years before that.
    • Firass Dirani winning for Underbelly: The Golden Mile in 2011, despite previously starring in Power Rangers Mystic Force. Similarly, the previous year Anna Hutchison had been shortlisted for Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities despite her role in Power Rangers Jungle Fury.
    • Joel Madden winning for The Voice Australia in 2013, despite being the lead singer of Good Charlotte since 1996.
    • While she didn't win, Kate Bell was nominated in 2010 for a guest spot on Home and Away despite having had regular roles in Blue Water High, another Australian series, in 2005 and 2008. This one was probably a Consolation Award.
  • The Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation was split into "Short Form" and "Long Form" in 2003, with the cut-off point being 90 minutes, but several Doctor Who two-parters have been nominated in the Short Form category despite their combined lengths being over 90 minutes.
  • The Golden Raspberry Award for Remake or Sequel (since appended with Prequel and Rip-Off), as noted by Le Beaus Le Blog's recap series on the "award", often play very loose with what that means (many are Live-Action Adaptation and The Film of the Series). The very first winner was Wyatt Earp, which at most was a story that had been told before. The second was The Scarlet Letter, which is an adaptation of a book, not a remake. And only a few noms had Rule of Funny as an excuse (Showgirls being claimed as a remake of both All About Eve and The Lonely Lady).
  • The short-lived American Anime Awards notoriously nominated Johnny Yong Bosch for Best Actor in a Comedy for his work in AKIRA, despite that the film is most definitely not a comedy. Confusedly, he was also nominated in the other "Best Actor" category for his work on Akira, Bleach, and Eureka Seven.
  • Willem Dafoe was submitted and nominated for several critics awards as a supporting actor for his work in The Lighthouse even though the movie is almost entirely made up of scenes of just him and lead submitted Robert Pattinson. While Pattinson is the larger role, providing the point of view, being in a few scenes without Dafoe, those moments are much shorter than the many extended scenes of him and Dafoe, in which the latter proves to be noticeably more talkative.
  • Alan Kim was campaigned and nominated as a supporting actor at Bafta for his work in Minari while Steven Yeun earned a leading Oscar nod among other nominations for playing his father and Yeri Han was submitted though mostly snubbed in lead for playing his mother. While Yeun and Han's submissions make sense, Kim being put in supporting is questionable since he plays the true main character of the Ensemble Cast.
  • Justin Moore notoriously won the Academy of Country Music's Best New Artist award in 2014, months after the release of his third album. And it's not like his previous albums were obscure flops, either — the first two both went gold and produced a combined three #1 hits.
  • A sports case happened in the lockout shortened 2013 NHL season, when Alexander Ovechkin was NHL First All-Star Team right winger... and NHL Second All-Star Team left winger, his position of origin which he eschewed for all but four games that season. Many noted this screwed poor Taylor Hall, third among left wingers with many more votes than Ovechkin, who would've got a payment bonus had he actually entered the All-Star team.
  • Another sports case revolves around the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, presented since the 1982–83 season to the league's top bench player. The distaff counterpart is the WNBA Sixth Player of the Year Award,note  presented since the 2007 season. To be eligible, players must come off the bench in more games than they start. However, this ignores another possible definition of "bench player"—someone who plays fewer minutes than typical starters. The most extreme example of this (at least in the NBA) was in 2008–09, when Jason Terry won the award with the Dallas Mavericks. While he started in only 11 games out of the 74 he played in the regular season, he averaged 33.7 minutes—more than two-thirds of the standard game length of 48 minutes, and more than three of the team's nominal starters in that season.