It would be naïve to think filmmakers always make movies according to whatever story they want to tell, and that a prestigious award like an Oscar, if they're lucky enough to be honored with one, is just icing on the cake.
An Oscar is a big deal. It enhances the studio's reputation and boosts future ticket sales. Since around the early 1980s, instead of expecting an Oscar to be a natural side-effect of a film being exceptionally good, studios and producers have often tried to engineer certain films specifically to attract Oscar nominations. Typically, the results are more serious, depressing, or "artistic" films. They're called Oscar Bait, and the practice is also derisively known as "Oscarbation".
The trend started in the 1980s in the wake of the emergence of the Summer Blockbuster, and as New Hollywood ended. Before then, it was a pretty good bet that the most popular movies were also the best ones and thus the likely Oscar winners. But as directors like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas hit their stride, they made beloved and well-received movies which were nevertheless seen as too lightweight to win the "important" categories (acting, direction, writing, and picture) if/when they were nominated. At the same time, the "serious" fare that did win those categories slowly became less popular. While into the mid-'90s it was common for at least one major, mainstream hit to make it to the highest categories when it came to Oscar nominations, and sometimes they even won (Rain Man and Forrest Gump were the highest-grossing films of their respective years, for instance), there was a growing focus from studios on targeting younger audiences with simpler Summer Blockbusters that didn't deal with realistic concerns of people over the age of 30. With fewer and fewer opportunities for "serious" films to get made and widely released at all since the Turn of the Millennium, what ones are made tend to focus on going for the gold and making their studios at least look like they care about True Art.
Such films are usually depressing dramas, Glurgey inspirational films, and examples of mans inhumanity to man an abnormally large proportion of Oscar Bait films have been set during The Holocaust. There's also a big focus on mental illness or Inspirationally Disadvantaged characters. It's rare for a comedy film to do well at the Oscars (in fact, one of the biggest cliches of this trope is a comedic actor starring in a heavy-handed drama to be Taken Seriously); sci-fi and horror don't do much better, and animated films were given their own categories once they flirted with pushing into the big leagues. These aren't hard and fast rules; you might see a Dramedy or Dark Comedy get a nomination, mostly because theres still room for suffering.
The cost of all this is that most Oscar Bait movies dont do well at the box office. Hype Backlash and Hype Aversion play into that — the heavy campaigning to win an Oscar can be a big turn-off. Furthermore, many Oscar Bait films are released around December or January (as a direct lead-in to the Academy Awards show in late February), so its easy to tell them apart from Summer Blockbusters. Perhaps because the Academy can actually tell the difference between a good, honest movie and an Oscar Bait attempt, and partly because sometimes they respect the general publics opinion of a movie and will try to reflect that, there are many movies that are obviously gunning for awards that don't get nominated at all much less win. (This can mean an Award Snub.) And no matter how genuinely good these kind of films can be, depressing films about people suffering through tragedy, alienation, physical and mental disability and the horrors of the worst periods in human history don't often have the makings of a fun night out at the movies.
The phenomenon isn't exclusive to the Oscars, either; on TV it's "Emmy Bait", on Broadway it's "Tony Bait", and in music it's "Grammy Bait". See also Death by Newbery Medal and Award-Bait Song for the literary and musical equivalents, respectively. Contrast It's Not Supposed to Win Oscars.
Oscar Bait tactics and examples:
- 1978's The Deer Hunter was a game-changer. After a disastrous preview screening the studio brought in Allan Carr, a flamboyant producer (he was just coming off of Grease) and party-giver, as a consultant. He didn't expect much but loved the movie once he saw it. Still, he knew that it was so grim and depressing that people would only watch it if they had heard that it had been nominated for Oscars. Before then, it was the other way around — films (usually) got Oscar nominations based on their popular reception. Carr turned the system on its head and gave the film only a short run of screenings in New York and Los Angeles near the end of the year; the audience was mostly limited to film critics and Academy members. The former raved about the film, and the latter nominated it for multiple Oscars; it ultimately won Best Picture and Director among other honors. Only then was it put into wide release to the general public.
- Oscar-worthy films tend to be released in the last two months of the year, to get them in before the December 31 deadline but as close to the February ceremony as possible to ensure that the film hasn't fallen out of the public consciousness. Sometimes this results in rushed productions. Specifically, to be considered for an Oscar a film must shown in a theater for at least one full week in the year of nomination in either Los Angeles or New York (more often L.A., due to it being, you know "Hollywood"). So to push it as close to that deadline as possible, studios will do two things: 1) release the film on/around the Christmas weekend, the last week of the year, and compound that with 2) only giving it in limited release to start. In this, they can technically qualify, letting the limited release period build up word-of-mouth as well as early nomination talk, then go into a wide release that will take the film, should it have legs, well into February and right up against the Oscars.
- Long before Oscar Bait became a thing, studios would and still do shamelessly lobby the judges directly by:
- Massive advertising directly to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (i.e. the famed For Your Consideration ads). These campaigns got so out of hand at the Turn of the Millennium that people speculated that it may have been a reason the Oscar ceremony was moved from March to February to get people to pay attention to the films and not the ads. (The main reason, of course, was to coincide with Sweeps.)
- Widespread distribution of free screeners, often for little films which may not have been in theaters for long. These were typically just DVDs mailed en masse to all the voting members (which are so pervasive that many Academy members never even go to theatrical screenings, although they often dont have the time to). Academy members have also been known to accidentally leak these screeners to smugglers, although that never dissuaded the studios (and a Mexican scientist did invent a watermarking technology for them). However, starting in The New '20s this was done away with in favor of special streaming sites made for voting members, due to environmental initiatives.
- Studios will sometimes vie to be the one to get the most Oscars in a given year, which leads them to release several Oscar Bait films in a row. One of the most notorious for this was Miramax, who hit us with Shakespeare in Love, Chocolat, Chicago, and Cold Mountain within a few years. At the turn of the millennium, virtually all of the major studios set up subdivisions specifically for arthouse-style films, like Paramount Vantage, but most of these went out of business in The New '10s due to studio downsizing as more attention was paid to Summer Blockbuster tentpoles.
- The typical Oscar Bait film is a Period Piece or Costume Drama with serious subject matter. This often leads them to be Biopics (or at least Based on a True Story) as well. But they dont always follow this pattern. Some Oscar Bait films can be lower-budget dramas aimed more at the age group of the Academy voters, such as Away From Her and Steel Magnolias.
- From about 1993-2008, kicked off when Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List finally got him proper attention from the Academy, The Holocaust was a go-to setting for films gunning for Oscars. It checks all the boxes: historical, dramatic, mans inhumanity to man, Downer Ending, True Art Is Angsty; it also helps that a large number of Academy voters are Jewish. It even worked if you made it a comedy (Life Is Beautiful did it); this was basically a license to print money. (One winner was about people in a concentration camp printing money!) However, for every film of this type that made it to the nominations there was at least one that didn't (i.e. the American remake of Jakob the Liar). Over 2008-09, there was a major backlash to The Reader being nominated for Best Picture in 2008 over more acclaimed but less "serious" fare like The Dark Knight and WALLE, and another film using the setting, Defiance, couldn't get anything more than technical nods. More details on those can be found in the next folder. (Two Holocaust-set films completely lost in this particular awards season shuffle were The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Adam Resurrected.) After this, the setting became less popular and more recent films that have used it (such as the 2013 adaptation of The Book Thief) have largely been brushed off or at least viewed with suspicion by critics and commentators, some of whom have complained about creatives exploiting and/or trivializing the subject matter for awards glory and/or Glurge purposes.
- It was particularly prominent in the Best Documentary Feature category from 1995 to 2000: three of the five winners directly involved the Holocaust (Anne Frank Remembered, The Final Days, and Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport) and another winner, The Long Way Home, was about post-WWII Jewish refugees. See also the 1981 winner, Genocide.
- Holocaust-themed foreign language films that have won the Foreign Language award include The Shop on Main Street, the aforementioned Life is Beautiful, The Counterfeiters, and Son of Saul. There's also Nowhere in Africa, about a Jewish couple that fled to Africa before the war started, but have family members back in Germany that fall victim to the Holocaust.
- Short films about the Holocaust that have won the Short Film prize include Visas and Virtue and Toyland.
- This phenomenon was referenced in Extras, where Kate Winslets character notes that the best way to win an Oscar was to play in a Holocaust movie. Amusingly, Winslet herself later won an Oscar for Best Actress for The Reader.
- Over at the Cannes Film Festival, the most famous of the international festivals, Palme d'Or-winning films that center around the Holocaust include the feature The Pianist and short film With Hands Raised.
- Broadway musicals adapted to films might pick up a Movie Bonus Song purely to snag a Best Original Song Oscar nomination. This was a common strategy even before that category existed, just as a way to differentiate the film version from the play (and get people to see both). But with the Oscar incentive added on, studios will add songs whether or not the score needs it. The movie versions of A Chorus Line, Little Shop of Horrors, Evita, Chicago, The Phantom of the Opera, Dreamgirls and Les Misérables all got original song nominations this way; the only one of these to win was You Must Love Me from Evita.
- Make it about mental illness or disability. Its been a consistent Oscar winner over the years:
- The first actor to win an Oscar for playing such a character was Cliff Robertson in 1968, for playing the mentally handicapped hero of Charly (an adaptation of the short story Flowers for Algernon), after a massive For Your Consideration campaign.
- John Mills won Best Supporting Actor in 1970 for playing a mentally deficient, mute, and crippled character in Ryan's Daughter, baffling his costar Sarah Miles.
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is one of only three films to win all of the Big Five Oscars (Picture, Screenplay, Director, Actor, and Actress).note Oddly, though, the acting awards were given to actors who played non-mentally ill characters.
- Peter Sellers was the subject of an infamous Award Snub when he was nominated but didnt win an Oscar for playing the mentally-challenged Chance the Gardener in 1979s Being There. He was hit by the Comedy Ghetto and his insistence on treating the film not as Oscar Bait, but rather the roles inherent challenge and extremely personal Reality Subtext. When people later found out how much Sellers put himself into that role and how badly he wanted that Oscar, Sellers himself became the subject of award bait in 2004s The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (where he was even played by Geoffrey Rush, who had himself won an Oscar for playing a mentally disabled character in Shine) that film, released on TV in the U.S., nearly swept that years Emmy and Golden Globe awards. Amusingly, Being There is something of an Unbuilt Trope version of the modern trend, since the central joke of the story is that Chance has nothing profound to say about the world or to teach others but has those things projected onto him by people who don't know he's handicapped.
- Rain Man gets a lot of credit for kicking off the modern trend. The film won Best Picture, Best Direction, and Best Original Screenplay in 1988, and Dustin Hoffman won Best Actor for his portrayal of the autistic savant Deuteragonist (the protagonist is played by Tom Cruise). It was also a huge box-office hit, unlike some of the films that followed it.
- Leonardo DiCaprio got his first Oscar nomination for playing a mentally handicapped boy in What's Eating Gilbert Grape. He kept up acting in typical Oscar Bait films, often to genuine acclaim, but wouldnt win for another 22 years!
- Forrest Gump won four of the Big Five (Actor, Director, Screenplay, and Picture) plus two more in 1994, and it centered around a mentally handicapped man. Its considered a textbook example of how to win an Oscar because of its historical setting and social commentary. It was also a gigantic box-office hit long before the awards started rolling in, being released in the middle of the 1994 Summer Blockbuster season.
- Live-action shorts about disabilities that have won the Oscar include I'll Find a Way (spina bifida), Board and Care (Down syndrome), Stutterer, and The Silent Child (deafness).
- The female equivalent of the mental health angle is having an attractive actress play an ugly character. But Hollywood Homely isnt good enough; you would have to drastically change your physical appearance to do it. Actresses who have won Oscars this way include Charlize Theron, who put on 30 pounds and thinned her hair and eyebrows for Monster; Nicole Kidman, who wore a number of prosthetics to play Virginia Woolf (a character with mental illness, to boot) in The Hours; Anne Hathaway, who played a bald, emaciated, filthy, and apparently toothless Broken Bird in Les Misérables (2012); and Allison Janney, who played a heavily aged abusive mother living in the backwoods area in I, Tonya.
- Physical disability can get you an Oscar. This is what got Jamie Foxx a win for Ray, Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, and Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot. Even John Wayne got his only Oscar this way, by playing the half-blind Marshall Rooster Cogburn in True Grit; he joked he would have put on an eyepatch sooner if he'd known it would net him one! The Trope Maker for this sub-category is probably Jane Wyman, winning the gold statuette for playing a deaf woman in Johnny Belinda.
- White Man's Burden is a common trend; a privileged white character will take it upon himself to help an underprivileged minority and thus show his nobility. It earns nominations like for Gran Torino, The Blind Side, Freedom Writers, Glory Road, The Soloist, and Dangerous Minds but of these, only The Blind Side won anything (with Sandra Bullock winning Best Actress). Green Book went all the way to a Best Picture win for 2018...but many critics and commentators were upset by this, especially as it won over films that made minority characters the center of their stories (such as Black Panther, Roma, and BlacKkKlansman).
- An oddly specific recurring theme related to that is the subject of abused, often illiterate, black women. It's more or less "Oscar Bait: Black Edition". The Ur-Example of this trend is The Color Purple, which got eleven Oscar nominations but didn't win any (it was controversial in the black community for its portrayals of abusive black men and lesbianism, and other commentators felt director Steven Spielberg's approach to the original Alice Walker novel was too sentimental — this was his first attempt at Oscar Bait). Monster's Ball featured a black woman whose husband is on Death Row, has to deal with a problematic, overweight son who later dies as well, and then enters a relationship with a similarly troubled white man before she finds out that he's her late husband's executioner. Halle Berry earned an Oscar for it. Precious was about an almost implausibly depressing character an illiterate black teenager who's raped by her father, abused by her mother, has a child called "Mongo" (short for "Mongoloid"), and whose uplifting ending to the film is just getting the chance to take the GED test. It garnered six Oscars nominations and won two, one of them going to Mo'Nique (who played the abusive mother).
- A more recent phenomenon is playing a gay, lesbian, or transgender character and outlining the injustices or tragedies they face. Examples include Sean Penn in Milk; Tom Hanks in Philadelphia; Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote; Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry; Christopher Plummer in Beginners; and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club. It wasnt always a winning formula; films like Transamerica and Brokeback Mountain are considered Award Snub victims (although the latter did win Best Director). This trend began losing credibility at the dawn of the 2020s as many of these actors aren't LGBTQ+note , meaning that actual LGBTQ+ performers are not getting opportunities to tell their stories — and are not often nominated when they do. (For similar reasons there are increasing complaints about able-bodied/neurotypical performers playing disabled characters.)
- Dyeing for Your Art is a common way to win, but only if its bad for you; actors tend to do better by losing weight, gaining body fat, or otherwise becoming uglier as opposed to adding muscle mass or becoming more attractive. Actors who have won by punishing their body to look less attractive include:
- Robert De Niro is credited with starting this trend by training and bulking up to become a convincing boxer, then binge eating for months on end to portray the same boxer as a washed-up has-been, and winning Best Actor for Raging Bull.
- George Clooney, who gained 35 pounds for his Oscar-winning role in Syriana;
- Philip Seymour Hoffman, who lost 40 pounds for his winning role in Capote;
- Tom Hanks and his generally downtrodden and disheveled look in Cast Away;
- Charlize Theron, who gained 30 pounds and underwent an extreme Beauty Inversion to win for Monster;
- Heath Ledger, whose extreme Method Acting to play The Joker in The Dark Knight may have contributed to his untimely death but won him an Oscar anyway;
- Natalie Portman, who did it twice first slimming down to 97 pounds and undergoing intense ballet training to win for Black Swan, and second for shaving her head in V for Vendetta to win the Best Actress Saturn;
- Christian Bale, who lost a lot of weight to win Best Supporting Actor for The Fighter;
- Anne Hathaway, who lost 25 pounds, had her head shaved, and picked up the general look of a tuberculosis-stricken prostitute to win Best Supporting Actress for Les Misérables (2012);
- Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, both of whom lost a lot of weight to earn Oscars for Dallas Buyers Club (Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively); and
- Leonardo DiCaprio, who broke his long losing streak by doing extreme things for his role in The Revenant, including putting on weight, eating raw bison, and sleeping in animal carcasses. Observers joked that the Academy should give him the Oscar right away before he kills himself trying.
- If youre going to make it more lighthearted, at least have it star an underdog. Winning examples include Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Erin Brockovich, On the Waterfront, and Cinderella Man.
- Make it foreign. If nothing else, Europeans are very responsive to Oscar Bait films. And the Academy likes films set in interesting foreign locations. Films like Slumdog Millionaire, City of God, and Babel are successful examples.
- An interesting trend is to subvert the typical Oscar Bait film by creating a "quirky" independent dramedy - among the winners and nominees in the field of such movies are Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, Silver Linings Playbook, Sideways, The Big Sick, Lady Bird and Happy-Go-Lucky. These films always feature hip dialogue, eccentric characters, and many a Snark Knight.
- Don't make it sci-fi, fantasy, or to a lesser extent action; the Sci Fi Ghetto is very much in effect at the Oscars. They usually only get nominated for Visuals, Sound, or Makeup rather than the Big Five categories. The only way they get one of those nominations is if they are more cerebral or philosophical, like The Dark Knight, Avatar, Inception, Gravity, Arrival and Black Panther. If you actually want to win with a sci-fi or fantasy film, it should be based on a highly acclaimed previous work (no, not Star Trek, older than that) this was a big reason The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won Best Picture (because it was a big-budget groundbreaking adaptation of a highly acclaimed work of literature). Mad Max: Fury Road notably bucked both trends - it was neither cerebral nor based on a particularly critically acclaimed work - but was nominated for Best Picture regardless.
- Horror movies have it even harder; very, very few actors have been nominated, much less won, for films of this type — especially if they're not seen as sufficiently arty. (See Exceptions below for ones that beat the odds.)
- Animated movies have an equally hard time, with no actors being recognized, and the Academy had to create an entirely new category to try and make sure an Animated movie didn't get nominated for Best Picture after Beauty and the Beast was nominated in 1991. It didn't entirely work, but it has blocked most animated films from any category besides Best Animated Feature. Actors doing mo-cap fit in here as well, since they're not technically on screen. A good example is Andy Serkis for his roles in Lord of the Rings and Rise of Planet of the Apes.
- Horror movies have it even harder; very, very few actors have been nominated, much less won, for films of this type — especially if they're not seen as sufficiently arty. (See Exceptions below for ones that beat the odds.)
- An unusually specific type of Oscar Bait is the movie about a troubled country singer. Robert Duvall (for Tender Mercies), Jeff Bridges (for Crazy Heart), and Sissy Spacek (for Coal Miner's Daughter) all won Oscars this way. And Reese Witherspoon won hers for Walk the Line, where she plays a troubled country singer helping an even more troubled country singer (played by Joaquin Phoenix, who snagged a nomination).
- Actors have had success playing previously celebrated actors (or big stars in general). Examples include Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin; Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood; Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator; Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn; and Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. Ironically, of these older famous actors, only Hepburn ever won Best Actor or Actress herself.
- Variation on the above: Films about film-making and acting or who include Hollywood and the film industry as a part of their setting such as The Artist, Argo, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Trumbo (a Biopic whose plot includes three historical Academy Awards ceremonies) and La La Land. And those are just from The New '10s!
Films (or otherwise) that come across as particularly obvious in their ambitions:
- 1990's Come See the Paradise was identified by a UCLA study as the most blatant Oscar Bait in film history! It's a period drama that spanned The Great Depression and World War II; touched on Japanese internment despite having a safely white, clean-cut male protagonist; included a Maligned Mixed Marriage between the hero and a Japanese woman; and ends with the main character returning to his family after serving prison time for a years-old crime he was an unwitting, innocent accomplice in. The story also managed to shoehorn Academy-pleasing elements like labor unions and cinema itself (the protagonist is a film projectionist). Apparently out of disdain for the sheer shameless pandering, it received no Oscar nominations whatsoever. It's also exceptionally historically inaccurate as Japanese women married to white men and mixed-race children born to white fathers were spared of internment so the protagonist's wife and mixed-race daughter would never have had to deal with the problem of internment in the first place. On the other hand, white women married to Japanese men were interned along with their husbands and mixed-race children. However, such couples are rare in Hollywood films as white audiences express discomfort with Asian men being portrayed as romantic leads.
- The Lovely Bones was based on a critically acclaimed book about a murdered girl watching her family from the afterlife. It was directed by Oscar winner Peter Jackson and pushed to the end of the year into Oscar Bait time. The film received mediocre reviews, and the only nomination it got was for Stanley Tucci for Best Supporting Actor.
- Nell: This drama film about a woman born and raised in a cabin in the woods of North Carolina, with almost no contact with other humans and who speaks her own hybridized language was widely seen, upon its release, as a vehicle for Jodie Foster, who plays the protagonist , received another Oscar. Foster's portrayal of Nell has strongly divided opinions. She only got the nomination, losing to Jessica Lange, for Blue Sky.
- After Disney scored a surprising Best Picture nomination with Beauty and the Beast (see below), they tried twice more to get another one. Neither film was successful and actually contributed to derailing the company's "Renaissance" era when audiences also didn't embrace them, though both are seen a little more favorably nowadays.
- Pocahontas had begun pre-production and was planned to be a mostly historically accurate retelling of Pocahontas meeting John Smith - with Pocahontas actually being twelve as she was in real life, speaking Powhatan for the majority of the film and learning English the normal way. Jeffrey Katzenberg had the filmmakers turn it into a tale of Star-Crossed Lovers, muting all the talking animal characters to make the story more serious and tackling themes about xenophobia and racism. Critical reception was So Okay, It's Average, was an Acceptable Target on This Very Wiki for years and the only Oscars it got were for its music.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame was similarly Darker and Edgier than the typical Disney movie, adapting a historical classic and tackling themes like religious bigotry and justice for the oppressed. The songs were also written to be more pop operatic, in the vein of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables.
- This seems to be a trend among the later oeuvre of Clint Eastwood:
- Million Dollar Baby is about a disadvantaged woman who makes a place for herself in a traditionally male-dominated occupation — boxing. It has Morgan Freeman as the Narrator and stars Eastwood himself as a character who faces an intense moral dilemma near the end. It won four Oscars in 2004, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Hilary Swank, and it was also a sleeper box office hit. It may be saying something that the studio didn't plan to push the film for awards, but when they realized their awards season slate that year was unusually thin (initially, it looked like The Phantom of the Opera (2004) was going to get the big push) its release date was bumped up to take advantage of the season, suggesting it competed more on its own merits than campaigning.
- Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima are both set during World War II.
- Changeling was a 1920s-era Period Piece conspiracy film about a missing child, which starred Oscar-baity actress Angelina Jolie.
- Gran Torino was a film about a bigots redemption, starring Eastwood himself. It didnt get nominated for an Oscar, but it did win Eastwood a special Palme dOr at Cannes.
- Invictus had Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela, trying to unite South Africa after The Apartheid Era with The Power of Rugby.
- J. Edgar was a Biopic of famous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, as played by Leonardo DiCaprio in one of his many unsuccessful bids at an Oscar.
- American Sniper was a rather controversial Biopic which starred Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, a Navy Seal noted for racking up a high kill count during the Iraq War.
- The film adaptation of Jersey Boys, itself a multiple Tony-winning musical, was a biopic of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons with an All-Star Cast.
- David Fincher has tried this off and on ever since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. His next film was The Social Network, which got pretty badly out-baited by The King's Speech. Then he did The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which he backed out of campaigning out of his belief that the film has too much anal rape (not that this stopped other films, like Pulp Fiction or Deliverance). And he followed that up with Gone Girl, which got a single nomination for Rosamund Pike in spite of it being one of the most praised films of 2014.
- Charly, based on Flowers for Algernon in which Cliff Robertson plays a mentally handicapped man who takes a drug that makes him intelligent. Vincent Canby called the film a "self-conscious contemporary drama, the first ever to exploit mental retardation for... the bittersweet romance of it"; he called Robertson's performance "earnest" but points out that "we [the audience] are forced into the vaguely unpleasant position of being voyeurs, congratulating ourselves for not being Charly as often as we feel a distant pity for him." Robertson won the Oscar (defeating Peter O'Toole in The Lion in Winter) and arguably launched the trend of "going partial retard" to win an Oscar.
- The Cider House Rules is a serious drama about a disadvantaged orphaned main character during WWII who suffers several tragedies. He encounters another character who becomes disabled, has a crisis of morality, and is eventually forced to discard his traditional ethics. It won two Oscars and was nominated for many more.
- Doubt started as total Tony Bait and moved into Oscar Bait with its film adaptation. Its about the Catholic altar-boy pedophile abuse scandal, which was Ripped from the Headlines. The young victim is also the first black student in an otherwise white school, who may or may not be gay as well (and his father is not happy). It won multiple Tonys, including Best Play and Best Actress. The film version stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Meryl Streep — an Oscar-winning machine if there ever was one.
- Cold Mountain is an epic historical drama, based on a bestselling book which was in turn based on the letters passed between the author's ancestors, featuring death, racism, and philosophical musings... nominated for seven Oscars and won for Best Supporting Actress (Renée Zellweger as Ruby.)
- The Hours checks all the boxes. Its a Costume Drama. It references homosexuality, AIDS, and the oppression of women. It has Nicole Kidman undergoing severe Beauty Inversion. And it has Meryl Streep in it.
- Dreamgirls was designed to be Oscar Bait, and it got nominated for eight awards (including three for Movie Bonus Songs) — but failed to get nominations for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, or Director. On the big night, it was shut out in many of the categories it was nominated in. Its often speculated that Eddie Murphy would have won for Best Supporting Actor, were it not for the poor timing of Norbit coming out two weeks before that years Oscars; the film was a major Creator Killer for him. Just as astonishingly, it didnt win Best Original Song either (although having three nommed songs might have split the vote). In the end, the only Oscars Dreamgirls won were for Best Supporting Actress and Best Sound Mixing.
- The Reader is a Holocaust-themed drama, complete with promotion from master Oscar Baiter Harvey Weinstein. It supplanted both WALLE and The Dark Knight for Best Picture, despite most people feeling both those films were better; and it couldnt even beat out the big winner Slumdog Millionaire. That experience was enough that Hugh Jackman was already lamenting the Batman films snub during the ceremony, and it is also often seen as the impetus for doubling the number of Best Picture nominations to ten.
- The same year's Defiance was one of the most shameless Oscar grabs in recent memory: Its Based on a True Story and follows a community of Belarussian Jews hiding in the forest from the Nazis. It has a brooding Anti-Hero (played by frequent winner Daniel Craig) who is forced into cruel, angsty moral dilemmas. It took a page from Schindler's List and ended with a Photo Montage of the real-life survivors and their descendants as a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue. But this one totally bombed at the Oscars, only getting music nominations. Between this and the backlash against The Reader, the trend of Holocaust-set films doing well on the awards circuit might have run its course.
- 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 films last scene), was the most legendary in show business.
- 2011 saw two Younger and Hipper hosts who had previously been in Oscar-baity movies, Anne Hathaway (who played a woman falling in love and dying of a disease in Love & Other Drugs) and James Franco (who played a hiker who gets in a Life-or-Limb Decision in 127 Hours, which was Based on a True Story). Both were willing to lampshade their situations as they related to this trope; Franco actually was up for Best Actor (but didnt win), and as for Hathaway:
I thought getting naked would get me an Oscar nod.
- Johnny Belinda is Based on a True Story of a deaf-mute girl who gets raped, has her rapists baby, gets declared unfit to raise the baby and has to fight to keep it, and is put on trial for her rapists murder — all while struggling to pay the bills on the family farm. Jane Wyman won Best Actress for playing her.
- Danish director Susanne Bier has this reputation:
- Hævnen (Danish for revenge, but released internationally as In a Better World) had everything: a failing marriage, vicious school bullies and attacks, Troubling Unchildlike Behavior, dead parents, and a doctor in an African refugee camp terrorised by a man who cuts pregnant women open. It won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.
- Serena is a bleak Period Piece set during The Great Depression, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper (fresh from the success of Silver Linings Playbook) as a morally dubious timber tycoon and his increasingly unstable wife. It bombed critically and commercially and sat on the shelf for a year and a half.
- The Help checks many boxes. Its a Period Piece set in The '60s whose main character is a white female reporter who helps out black maids, and its also based on a best-selling novel.
- War Horse, a 2011 film by Steven Spielberg, was widely accused of being Oscar Bait — even on the sole basis of its bombastic, overwrought trailer, which basically resulted in massive Hype Backlash.
- The Iron Lady, a biopic of Margaret Thatcher, is clear Oscar Bait, and not just because Thatcher is played by Meryl Streep. It didnt shy away from controversy, addressed Thatchers struggle with dementia, is technically a Period Piece, and its initial release was in select theaters in Los Angeles and New York on December 30, 2011 — barely meeting the requirements to be eligible for the next years Oscars. Observers joked that the Academy must have had a whole box of Oscars with Streeps name on them and was looking for an excuse to give them to her.
- Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock who try to raise a child with an Ambiguous Disorder in the aftermath of 9/11, as he struggles to deal with the attacks. It was also made by a number of people with big Oscar Bait credentials; it was directed by Stephen Daldry (The Hours, The Reader); written by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button); and produced by Scott Rudin (second only to the Weinsteins in influence over the Academy). It got a Best Picture nomination, but it had mixed critical reviews.
- Ron Howards A Beautiful Mind is a loose account of the life of John Nash, pioneer economist, Nobel laureate, and paranoid schizophrenic. The film controversially whitewashed some of the potentially unsavory details of his life (like his bisexuality) and suggested he was cured by The Power of Love.
- Green Zone is a Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie which tried to have an Anvilicious anti-war message but only really proved that Truffaut Was Right. It starred Matt Damon and was directed by Paul Greengrass, so it had the star power, too. But it got pushed back and was panned by critics when it was released.
- 12 Years a Slave, a visceral depiction of a man tricked into slavery in the South and the abuses he faced there, was also prime Oscar Bait material. It won Best Picture in 2014 (although it lost many others to Gravity). This was seen as so inevitable that Ellen DeGeneres addressed this at the start of the ceremony:
Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility number two: youre all racists.
- David O. Russell had a string of four films in the early to mid-2010s (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and Joy) that were all basically designed to win Oscars. Their premises were all based on Oscar-proven subject matter (either Based on a True Story or a best-selling book), they all had popular actors in showy roles, and they all touched on serious subject matter. Russell may also have been trying to prove that he was a serious director (as he had had issues with his cast and crew in previous films). Russell himself didnt win Oscars for any of these films (only three actors did), none of them won Best Picture, and American Hustle went 0-for-10 at the ceremony.
- Selma is a 2014 biopic of Martin Luther King Jr., depicting Dr. Kings march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 in support of the Civil Rights Act. It was released in the fallout from 12 Years a Slave and tried to tick the same boxes, with the added element of being directed by a woman of color, Ava DuVernay. But the Academy didnt take the bait; it won only Best Original Song, and it was nominated for but didnt win Best Picture.
- Get On Up stars Chadwick Boseman as James Brown, in a musical biopic/dramedy about the musicians complicated life and career. It bombed at the Oscars, in spite of observers feeling that at least Boseman's performance should have gotten him a Best Actor nomination. The same could be argued for another one of Boseman's movies, Marshall, about the career of Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, the only Oscar nod it got being best original song. Both movies bombed financially as well, Get On Up barely making its budget and Marshall not making its budget.
- The Hundred Foot Journey is a joint project from Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey about two chef families — one from France, the other from India — who work to reconcile their differences, while the Indian son has to choose between his family and his dream of becoming a great Parisian chef. It received no Oscar nominations.
- Argo was Very Loosely Based on a True Story of a group of American diplomats who escape the siege of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Ben Affleck plays a CIA agent who smuggles them out by having them pretend to be Canadians making a fake movie. It won three Oscars in 2013, including Best Picture.
- The Imitation Game was a biopic about Alan Turing, famous World War II-era codebreaker and later computer scientist, as played by Benedict Cumberbatch. It had the one-two punch of Turing being a genius, Inspirationally Disadvantaged, and gay in an era when that was very bad. It got plenty of nominations, but only won one Oscar for Best Screenplay. Ultimately, people pinned this on Artistic License History and the choice to exaggerate Turings mental problems and downplay his homosexuality.
- Alejandro González Iñárritu believes so hard in True Art Is Angsty that Rolling Stone dubbed him Hollywoods King of Pain. And hes raked in the Oscars, for such films as 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, and The Revenant (yes, hes angsty enough to get Leonardo DiCaprio his elusive Oscar). Even Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), his least Oscar-baity film, won four Oscars, including Best Picture.
- Mommie Dearest is a biopic based on Joan Crawford (herself an Oscar winner) and her abusive relationship with her adopted daughter — its even based on the daughters autobiography. The film was meant to be total Oscar Bait, and Faye Dunaway was convinced that she would win an Oscar for playing Crawford. But she botched it, Chewing the Scenery so hard that it made the film a veritable Narm fountain. The studio even resorted to a Parody Retcon to try and claim that it was a campy comedy. The film saw the decline of Dunaways career as an A-list star.
- The 1992 Spike Lee film Malcolm X is an epic biopic about the eponymous icon of the civil rights movement (portrayed by Denzel Washington, who had recently won an Oscar for Glory), with an inspirational cameo from none other than Nelson Mandela himself. It was nominated for two Oscars, winning neither. Subverted, though, in that Lee was more concerned with doing justice to the life of Malcolm X than actually winning anything, but the cynics among us will say that the film was calculated Oscar Bait.
- Millennium Actress is a unique anime take on Oscar Bait. It's a weeper movie that opens with an old woman recalling her past through flashbacks, heavily features Been There, Shaped History-type period piece, and has a tragic ending. It failed to receive any nominations, even in Best Animated Feature, which had only three nominations that year (though it would have likely lost anyway to Finding Nemo).
- Following his well-reviewed performance as Muhammed Ali in the 2001 biopic Ali, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, Will Smith has taken to making these, from the biopics The Pursuit of Happyness and Concussion to glurge-filled Seven Pounds and Collateral Beauty. While Happyness earned him another Best Actor Oscar nom, he finally won the Best Actor Oscar for King Richard.
- In 2016, you had La La Land, in which an acclaimed young writer-director, whose previous film garnered an acting Oscar win, stretched his artistic muscles by doing a fresh take on The Musical, in a manner reminiscent of one of the great names in French New Wave cinema, Jacques Demy. Oh, did we mention that it's all about how awesome Hollywood is?note So, can't miss for Best Picture, right? Then along came Moonlight, which Honest Trailers summed up thusly: "a young [checkmark], black [checkmark], gay [checkmark] man struggles to escape from poverty [checkmark] and drug addiction [checkmark] told across three decades [checkmark]. Based on a play [checkmark] based on the life story of its author [checkmark]." Yes, Moonlight won Best Picture (though, thanks to an envelope mixup and ensuing confusion on the part of presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, it took a few minutes to establish that for certain).
- Angelina Jolie's 2014 World War II biopic, Unbroken, was a shamelessly heavy-handed example. It was Based on a True Story, had an All-Star Crew and even came out on Christmas Day. However, while most critic reviews praised the actors (especially Jack O'Connell), they were all too aware of Jolie's intentions with the film and strongly criticized her for taking too long to tell the story, focusing on the blatant pandering for Oscar potential rather than the film, and drawing too many parallels between Zamperini and Jesus Christ. It only received three nominations in total: Cinematography, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.
- Her films By the Sea and In the Land of Blood and Honey also qualify, and neither fared as well as Unbroken did. Both were box office bombs that were destroyed by critics, with the latter only earning one Golden Globe nomination.
- Many of David Cronenberg's fans were disappointed when his films (which had previously been based overwhelmingly on Body Horror, violence, and insanity narratives) seemed to became this trope starting with A Dangerous Method — a period drama involving Sigmund Freud which received positive reviews but did poorly at the box-office and received no attention from the Oscars. His follow-up film Cosmopolis bombed in its limited release, making less then a million dollars in the U.S. (and only averaging $5 million worldwide) and was criticized for being overly pretentious (with Robert Pattinson's performance in particular being derided for being wooden); it too was ignored by the Oscars. However, these films were likely intended less for awards attention and more as means for Cronenberg to tackle humanity's dark side in different settings/genres.
- Joker is, on its surface, a comic book movie, being inspired by Batmans iconic arch-nemesis. However, it discards the bulk of the Batman mythos and associated tropes — including any fantastical content — in favor of a stylistic throwback to New Hollywood and the work of Martin Scorsese especially. It's an early 1980s Period Piece that presents Gotham City as an alternate version of The Big Rotten Apple, and the title character is seen in his pre-supervillain state as a pathetic, mentally ill would-be stand-up comic constantly crushed underfoot by "The Man" until he snaps and accidentally starts a class war. Joaquin Phoenix lost a ton of weight to play the lead, too (so much that there were no opportunities for reshoots). Finally, despite its box office success, the film is not a blockbuster, having a very meager budget for an ostensibly comic book movie ($70 million) and being released during the award-baiting month of October. It was nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor, and won many other awards, including the Venice International Film Festival's Leone d'Oro. Notably, after its release, virtually none of the media referred to it as a comic-book/superhero movie, instead referring it solely as Psychological Thriller or the like.
- Aloha is a melodramatic comedy, in the vein of the various "quirky" indie films that have been featured in Oscars categories, about a white military contractor who falls in love with an half-Asian, half-Hawaiian Air Force Captain while arranging the blessing of a pedestrian gate for a nearby space center under construction. The film's All-Star Cast and poster also reek of Oscar bait. It ended up bombing with critics and audiences (especially due to the whitewashing accusations coming from the casting of lily-white Emma Stone as said Air Force captain), it was dismissed by the Oscars, and the only awards love it received came in the form of three Teen Choice Award nominations. It was also ignored by the Razzies.
- Cats comes across as Universals attempt to create the formula for the perfect Oscar-baiting musical adaptation, with the most blatant inspiration being Universals own Les Misérables (2012). Based on one of the most popular and successful musicals ever? Check. Hiring the same Best Director winner as Les Mis and Best Picture winner The King's Speech, Tom Hooper? Check. Making it live-action to appeal to the Academys notorious anti-animation bias? Check. Inevitable Movie Bonus Song written by the shows legendary creator Andrew Lloyd Webber and multi-Grammy winner Taylor Swift? Check. All-Star Cast to ensure more locks in the acting categories? Check. Having previous Best Supporting Actress winner Jennifer Hudson sing Memory, one of the most iconic songs in the history of show business, in a similar manner to fellow Supporting Actress winner Anne Hathaway with I Dreamed a Dream? Check. Even the much-touted digital fur technology would probably be worth a win for Best Visual Effects, or at least a nomination. Then the first trailer dropped and it was all downhill from there. Outside of its six Razzie wins, the only positive awards attention it got was a Golden Globe nomination for Best Song and a Kids Choice Awards nomination for Favorite Movie Actress for Swift (which probably had more to do with Swifts general popularity than the actual quality of her performance (or lack thereof)).
- Dear Evan Hansen came from the same studio as Cats and is not only based on a popular and well-liked Tony-winning musical, but has a considerable All-Star Cast of industry vets and up-and-comers, baity themes related to teen suicide and mental health, a well-suited director for said themes in Steven Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), not one but two Movie Bonus Songs, much of the vocals for the songs being sung live on set (as with Les Misérables (2012)) and to top it off, Ben Platt reprising his Tony-winning role as Evan. But it was Tainted by the Preview (much like Cats), with many unflattering comments being made towards Ben's Dawson Casting and the musical's generally poor translation to film, and came out in the Dump Month of September, meaning it would be all but forgotten by awards voters by December.
- The film adaptation of the stage play August: Osage County, a heavy family drama about a dysfunctional family with a stellar cast that included Oscar winners (Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts), was billed as Oscar-bait turned to 11" by a headline in the British newspaper The Guardian. The presence of Meryl Streep in the cast, the themes covered and the fact that it was produced by Miramax certainly weighed in such an assessment.
- House of Gucci: Lady Gaga seemed to be wanting to build on the momentum of her nomination at Best Actress for A Star is Born, and Jared Leto is downright unrecognizable as Paolo Gucci, possibly seeking Best Supporting Actor. Not only were they both snubbed at the Oscars, Leto actually won a Razzie for Worst Supporting Actor
- The West Wing episode The Long Goodbye was painfully obviously designed to score Allison Janney an Emmy nomination. It did so by omitting most of the regular cast to show her character battling her fathers Alzheimers disease. This was particularly strange because Janney won four Emmys on her own over the course of the series, so she didnt need a weepy Emmy-bait episode.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "The Body" is a massive tearjerker episode where the cast deals with Joyce's death and seems to be pushing all the Emmy Bait buttons. It didn't get a nomination, but the No-Dialogue Episode "Hush" did.
- Baywatch tried several times to net itself an Emmy with various Very Special Episodes dealing with death or another weighty topic. Despite all their efforts, it never worked and the show failed to even get nominated during its entire run (in fact, it actually held a record for being the longest running show to never recieve an Emmy nomination until it was broken by Supernatural).
- American Son, a Netflix film (based on a play) that deals with racial tensions in America, is similar to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close in that it was critically drubbed upon release for its heavy-handed dealing with the topic, but managed an Emmy nomination for Outstanding TV Movie.
- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983): Animator Tom Tataranowicz, who came up with the idea for the Unexpectedly Dark Episode "The Problem With Power", openly admitted in the DVD commentary that he did so to enforce this trope, as episodes in which someone died always won Emmys. It didn't work, though the episode is considered to be one of the very best of the show.
- Hawking, a biopic of famously disabled genius astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, was saturated with topics that were basically designed to warrant nominations from the BAFTA and not just about Hawking struggling with his ALS or his efforts in science. It even managed to include a few Holocaust references; a supporting character had to flee Nazi Germany with his family as a child.
- In the Heights centers around an inspirational Fourth of July where impoverished immigrants in Washington Heights win the lottery and struggle with issues of college debt, gentrification, and American identity. The characters angst over everything, including (but not limited to): boatloads of Unresolved Sexual Tension, the hypocrisy of The American Dream, the expenses of living in the heights, and the death of a beloved community member. Sprinkle in some modern, catchy infusions of hip-hop and salsa music, and you have a Tony-winning musical. It was nominated for thirteen categories, winning four (but none for writing).
- Hamilton, which centers around the titular character during the Revolutionary War, and has the special honor of being one of the only shows with an entire cast made up of people of color. It won 11 Tonys, and had 16 nominations in total. Basically if you weren't Hamilton in the 2016 Tonys, there was no point in showing up.
- Special note that both of these shows were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
- Young@Heart was not eligible for either an Oscar or an Emmy (for various reasons), so it set its sights on international film festivals, particularly the Rose dOr. Its a documentary about a pensioners choir going on tour, and it hit so many of the Oscar Bait buttons that its a surprise that it didnt fall victim to Hype Backlash. It won almost everything it ran for (only Man on Wire could beat it in anything).
- The Last of Us Part II has been accused by its detractors of being Oscar Bait in Video Game form, featuring a female lesbian protagonist in an extremely bleak and realistically violent revenge story set in a Zombie Apocalypse where the real focus is on human cruelty. While fan reception was divisive to say the least, it certainly wowed critics by sweeping The Game Awards 2020 and becoming the most awarded game of all time. Some critics even went so far as to (in a positive way) call it gaming's Schindler's List moment.
- 1931 film Skippy was an unexceptional little family movie about a nine-year-old boy who gets into mischief. Somehow it got four nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Jackie Cooper (the youngest nominee ever), and it won Best Director for Norman Taurog. Even more amazing? It was based on a newspaper comic strip. It wasn't until the 2019 Oscars that another film based on a comic strip, comic book, or graphic novel (Black Panther) was nominated for Best Picture.
- The 1934 film It Happened One Night was a small, low-budget romantic comedy Road Movie, in an era when Oscar Bait meant elaborate musical and dancing showcases. It gained a cult following and swept the Big Five awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Frank Capra), Best Actor (Clark Gable), Best Actress (Claudette Colbert), and Best Screenplay. This has only been done twice more in all the years since: by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1976 and The Silence of the Lambs in 1992.
- The Silence of the Lambs is dark, deals with mental illness, and addresses mans inhumanity to man. Its also a horror film, a genre that usually gets no love at the Oscars. (The producers were aware of that and billed it as a Psychological Thriller.) It the first horror film to win any of the Big Five since Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1932 and (as noted above) was only the third film of any kind to sweep all of the Big Five categories.
- Beauty and the Beast, against all odds, found its way out of the Animation Age Ghetto and wound up being nominated for Best Picture in 1991. It didnt win, but this in itself was an incredible feat (which Disney would futilely try to replicate). It remains the only animated feature to ever get nominated from when the field was five movies (Toy Story 3 and Up got nods after the field was expanded to 8-10 movies).
- Star Wars broke out of the Sci Fi Ghetto and got Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Alec Guinness), and Best Screenplay. It didnt win any of them, but it showed that a hugely popular sci-fi film might catch the Academys attention. It opened the door for such films as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Avatar, Aliens, and District 9 to get nominations as well, and even non-sci-fi films in the same vein (like Raiders of the Lost Ark). That said, the fact that they didnt win anything big pointed towards Oscar Bait becoming an end in and of itself in years to follow.
- Titanic was unusual in that it wasnt meant to be Oscar Bait — just a dream project that was supposed to be committed to the screen, and was originally being positioned as a Summer Blockbuster. People latched onto it, and it won almost everything.
- The Lord of the Rings is a strange case; although it is fantasy, it was also adapted from one of literatures most important and ground-breaking fantasy works, and it was also a huge spectacle that changed the game in epic filmmaking. But what was truly unexpected was for The Return of the King to sweep its Awards. Perhaps its wins were meant to be for the trilogy as a whole — it was filmed as one project, so it might have been unfair for it to eat up all the important awards for all three years it was released over — but that is still a phenomenal accomplishment for a fantasy film series. More cynical explanations involve the series' great commercial success: either the Academy felt unable to ignore such a big hit, or it wanted to reward the series for helping the cinema industry by getting so many people through the door.
- Annie Hall won Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. It was unusual in that it was a comedy (although one with a Bittersweet Ending. It beat out Julia (a biopic about sticking it to the Nazis) and Star Wars to Best Picture as well.
- The Dark Knight was the first comic book movie to win an acting nomination (for Heath Ledger) and only the fourth film based on a comic book or graphic novel to earn an acting nomination.note With the pervasiveness of serious Oscar Bait fare, the idea that friggin Batman can win an Oscar was unreal. Then again, Ledger may have had the advantage of sadly being dead.
- The Departed was gritty, violent, and serious, but it was also not a war movie, very profane (relative to most Oscar Bait), and otherwise didnt touch on Oscar-baity subjects. And it won Best Picture. It was directed by Martin Scorsese, who had previously whiffed on the more baity The Aviator and Gangs of New York — although this led some observers to believe that its win was a lifetime achievement Oscar to make up for Scorsese not winning for previous line of work.
- No Country for Old Men followed up on The Departed and won Best Picture the very next year with the same formula. This, though, was a relentlessly cynical film which won very big — rather than most Oscar Bait, it presents humanitys failure as inevitable and comments on the meaninglessness of the material world. It was also kind of an upset winner over There Will Be Blood — an even bleaker film.
- There Will Be Blood was a Period Drama about the oil boom in Southern California during the early 20th century, but that's where the Oscar Bait qualities end - the movie's main character is a ruthless and sociopathic oilman who descends further into madness, greed, and cruelty the more successful he gets throughout the film, and eventually culminates in him driving away all of his loved ones, with his main rival being a weaselly False Prophet.
- The Hurt Locker, other than being a Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie, had very little going for it on the Oscar front; it had a low budget, no big stars, no big studio to promote it, and not even a political message. It wound up winning Best Picture in 2010, in spite of having the lowest box office numbers of any Best Picture winner ever. One thing that did work in its favor was the narrative of Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first female director to win Best Director — over her ex-husband James Cameron. (But some suggest that this was why she wasnt nominated for Zero Dark Thirty a few years later.)
- The French Connection, the 1971 Best Picture, is a gritty and suspenseful genre film with a nihilistic tone. But unlike most Oscar winners, it has a morally ambiguous protagonist and an ending where The Bad Guy Wins and most of the other villains receive a Karma Houdini. Some speculate that the Academy gave the win to a film this dark to distance itself from the saccharine musicals that won in The '60s.
- The Artist won Best Picture in spite of it being a Silent Movie from 2011. Its not often that Le Film Artistique (or something vaguely resembling it anyway) gets nominations beyond Best Foreign Film, but this one won the whole thing. It helped that it was also an unashamed love letter to Old Hollywood, which probably appealed to Academy viewers.
- Quentin Tarantinos films Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained certainly seem like Oscar Bait at first glance, the first being set in World War II and the second tackling American slavery. They wound up getting seven and five nominations respectively. Theyre also quintessential Tarantino films — fictional and bizarre, so never feeling like Oscar Bait.
- Mad Max: Fury Road is arguably one of the least Oscar-friendly movies ever made. It's the fourth film in a franchise that never saw any Oscar attention before, and had its last installment all the way back in 1985. It's a loud, explosive, and unapologetic pure action movie. It has very little dialogue and is essentially a nonstop two-hour car chase scene. And it was released all the way back in May. But it got critical acclaim for its action sequences, Show, Don't Tell storytelling, and hidden themes and was regarded as one of the best movies of 2015, topping more official Top 10 lists than any other. It ended up being an unexpected Oscar contender, being nominated for ten awards (including Best Picture) and winning six, the most of that year.
- In the same vein and in the same year as Fury Road, there was The Revenant, an ultraviolent pulp western, which got nominated for many Oscars and won three, including Best Director (Alejandro González Iñárritu's second consecutive win after Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)) and Best Actor (Leonardo Dicaprio's first).
- Black Swan is a horror movie, and the director never denied that. (The producers, on the other hand, marketed it as a Psychological Thriller). It also features a lesbian sex scene, just to get eyeballs on it. It still got five Oscar nominations and was regarded as one of the best films of the year.
- Get Out is a horror movie about a black man in a white suburb and was released in February. It earned acclaim for not only its storyline, but its hidden social commentary, and was nominated for dozens of movie awards, winning quite a few, including the Best Screenplay Oscar, and in doing so became the first horror movie to win a Big Five Oscar since The Silence of the Lambs (see above).
- The Shape of Water, from the same year as Get Out, is similarly unusual: it's a love story between a mute woman and a fish person. It won Best Picture and Director.
- Black Panther, the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a solo film about one of the most popular black superheroes. At first glance, it still feels like your typical superhero movie and the plot is about the hero inheriting the throne of his kingdom only to be challenged by an adversary who wants to lead a global revolution, which is not a common topic for an Oscar Bait. But Black Panther had an edge over the other solo superhero movies because the film touches on social and political issues that have significant cultural importance to the African and African-American community. It earned many accolades and became the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. And like Get Out, it was also released during the dump month of February.
- Being (technically) a non-technical category, the Best Animated Feature category is a good place to subvert traditional Oscar Bait, as the following winners and nominees have shown:
- Shrek was a subversive, Toilet Humor-involving Fractured Fairy Tale released when most animated movies were Strictly Formula. It was warmly received by critics and not only did it win the inaugural Best Animated Feature Oscar, but it also managed to be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.
- Big Hero 6, which won in 2015, heavily touches on death and revenge, two very common Oscar Bait themes... and it's still a superhero movie where one of the main characters is a huggable robot. It ended up the first Marvel-related movie to win any major non-technical category.
- Four years later, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse repeated the trick, having themes of loss and redemption, though its main achievement is its artstyle. It earned Sony an Oscar among many other accolades.
- Wreck-It Ralph deserves special mention purely for the fact that it's basically a video game movie, in an industry not well known for producing quality video game movies. Beyond that, it's about a video game bad guy who wants to prove he can actually be good. No Oscar (it lost to the more Oscar-baity Brave), but several other awards and nominations anyway, including the Best Animated Feature Annie Award over Brave.
- Parasite is an interesting case. While it was a South Korean film (let alone the country's first showing for even the now-renamed Best International Film category) against established directors with credbility like Martin Scorsese, Sam Mendes and Quentin Tarantino and ostensible lockins like Joker (see above). it also dealt with Capitalism Is Bad and Eat the Rich themes that made it popular with critics and audiences alike, even netting it a Palme d'Or win (notably one of the few unanimous wins of that prize). Still the supposed odds against it had many people predicting wins for the aforementioned directors and their films, which wasn't helped by Director Bong Joon-ho making a critical comment toward the Academy by comparing them to "local film festival" for exclusively recognizing only "safe" movies. Which is why it shocked everyone by setting historical wins by:
- being not just the first South Korean film but the first foreign language film note to win Best Picture
- having Bong also win for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay
- making Bong the second person in Oscar history to win four Oscars (together with an aforementioned International Picture win, the only category it was considered a lock for caveat ) in one night, a distinction only shared by Walt Disney.
- More impressively, Disney's four wins for four different films, all of Bong's wins were for just this one.
- Speaking of the Palme d'Or, it was also just the third film in history to win both it and the Best Picture Oscar, this last happening back in 1956 with Marty
- Batman Beyond is an odd case of Emmy bait. It won an Emmy for "the Eggbaby". Which is a comedic slapstick romp that is light-hearted in tone and feels very out of place with the rest of the series. And yet, it won, even though superhero cartoons lived in the sewer of the animation ghetto. The producers did it deliberately.
Spoofs of this trope:
- The Mask has a shootout sequence where the Mask, after dodging a ridiculous number of bullets, turns into a cowboy and allows himself to be shot — so that he can give several Final Speeches (all Shout Outs to award-winning movies) and die in another characters arms. Then the audience cheers, and he gets up and tearfully accepts an award. Even the mobsters shooting him check their hair and straighten their suits as if they were on TV.
- In Wayne's World, Wayne gives a dramatic, teary-eyednote speech, while the words Oscar Clip are emblazoned over the shot. He even finished it off by claiming to be illiterate, which he then admitted wasn't true after "Oscar Clip" stopped flashing on the screen.
- From the Road to ... series:
- 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. Hope chews up the scenery, acting as if theyve been stranded there for weeks. Then the camera pans up to reveal the New York City skyline. Bing Crosbys character tells him to calm down, to which Hope bitterly remarks that theyve ruined his chance for an Academy Award.
- In Road to Bali, Crosby finds the Oscar Humphrey Bogart won for The African Queen. Hope points out that Crosby already has an Oscar, snatches the trophy from him, and begins making an acceptance speech. (While Hope was never nominated for a competitive Oscar, he did win four Honorary Oscars and hosted the show a recorded fourteen times.)
- In Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, after parodying one of the dramatic scenes from Boyz n the Hood, the main character tells his girlfriend that hes trying to win the Best Black Actor at the Soul Train awards.
- In Tropic Thunder:
- One of the fake trailers at the beginning of the movie shows Kirk Lazarus and Tobey Maguire playing Irish monks who fall in love with each other in a clearly Oscar-baity film, Satans Alley.
- Action star Tugg Speedman reflects on the failure of his Oscar Bait film Simple Jack, in which he plays a mentally-challenged farmhand. It was a total Box Office Bomb and called one of the worst films of all time. Kirk Lazarus explains that its because people who won for playing Inspirationally Disadvantaged characters never went full retard:
Speedman: What do you mean?
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 aint retarded. Peter Sellers, Being There: infantile, yes. Retarded, no. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You dont buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, i am sam. Remember? Went full retard, went home empty-handed.
- Lazarus has a lot of experience with these, as he himself is a spoof of Oscar Bait actors. He's a five-time Oscar winner, and that's before Satan's Alley. He mentions having played Neil Armstrong, ticking the "based on a true story" box. His third Oscar was for a Chinese film called Land of Silk and Money, which he prepped for by working eight months in a textile factory. According to supplemental material, one of his five Oscars is for Best Actress, having apparently tackled a Cross-Cast Role, going to extremes with the usual Oscar-worthy physical transformations. In the movie itself, he's attempting that again, having undergone "pigmentation alteration" surgery to play a black man, a move which has generated more in-universe controversy than Oscar buzz. He never breaks character, despite realizing very early on in the film that production is ruined. As the icing on the cake, Robert Downey Jr. actually received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Lazarus.
- At the end of the film, the Oscar for Best Actor is presented. The stills of the nominees include Tom Hanks winning a race in a wheelchair and a blind Sean Penn learning braille.
- In Bowfinger, black action star Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) weighs in on the trope:
Ramsey: White boys get all the Oscars — it's a fact!
Manager: I know that, but look—
Ramsey: Did I get nominated? No, and you know why? Cos I havent 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 Ill split it; find me a 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)
Ramsey: Yeah, and go find that script. Buck the Wonder-Slave!
- In Blazing Saddles, villain Hedley Lamarr announces to his gang of thugs near the climax:
You will only be risking your lives, while I will almost certainly be risking an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
- The first fifteen minutes of In & Out are rife with references to this trope. Matt Dillons character wins an Oscar for playing a gay soldier unfairly discharged from the military, in a film that appears to be equal parts A Few Good Men, Philadelphia, and Forrest Gump. The actors he beat: 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 includes a scene at the Oscar ceremony, where all the films were ridiculously High Concept, like "the story of one woman's triumph over the death of her cat, set against the background of the Hindenburg disaster," and "the story of one woman's triumph over a yeast infection, set against the background of the tragic Buffalo Bills season of 1971."
- Om Shanti Om: Parodied when Om has to play a blind deaf mute with no legs or arms. Sure, critics will love it but his fans will be bored.
- The Drew Carey Show parodies Emmy Bait with its fifth-season finale A Very Special Drew. It includes: a homeless woman giving birth; Kate dying of a terminal disease on her wedding day; Drew battling his heretofore unheard-of lifelong illiteracy; Mimi battling her also heretofore unheard-of obsessive-compulsive disorder; Lewis snapping at people and reflecting on why out loud to the audience; Oswald taking up theft to be closer to his imprisoned father; Drew and Lewis volunteering to get shot so that theyd have a good death scene; and Mr. Wick developing an eating disorder. And a Littlest Cancer Patient, who gets the emmy.
- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award. Its nominally about the gang trying to win a Best Bar award, but is actually a Leaning on the Fourth Wall commentary on the fact the show has failed to garner any recognition from the Emmys by having the bars stand in for shows. The gang is going up against a bar straight out of Cheers (with a Token Minority manager for good measure) where the owners make generic and inoffensive jokes, complete with a Laugh Track. The gang tries to model Paddys Pub after the bar that wins, such as by making sure they don't have too many black guys present so the judges won't think its a "black bar" and trying to create some Will They or Won't They? tension between Mac and Dee. Charlie even decides to write a song for the bar to help them win. Ultimately, as with everything they try, they fail spectacularly.
- The Chaser's War on Everything sketch Oscar Bait spoofs many of the common elements of this trope. Its a fake trailer for a film about a gay, disabled, artistic Jew whos thrown in a concentration camp during World War II, trying to tick as many Oscar boxes at once. The lead actor even apparently killed himself after the film to invoke Dead Artists Are Better.
- The Fast Show spoofs the trope with the film Cute Disabled Man, which wins 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 The Kids in the Hall sketch shows the best actor nomination at an Oscar show. Three of the actors played Inspirationally Disadvantaged (ranging from being deaf to having a spike in their head); their characters give the exact same Rousing Speech with appropriate music. The fourth clip is of a guy playing Hamlet. They award the Oscar to 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.
- In Extras, Kate Winslets character plays in a Holocaust movie in an open bid to win an Oscar. Then in 2008, Winslet did it in real life in The Reader.
- The Soup had a trailer for a fictional film called The Oscar Movie, with a voiceover discussing almost every Oscar Bait cliché using clips from that years actual Oscar nominees. These include: women distraught, crying, and/or screaming, comedians in serious roles, Meryl Streep (mentioned at least three times), and Johnny Depp doing something weird.
- Mr. Show did a sketch about The Dewey Awards, which were specifically given to actors who played mentally disabled characters. One winner is a film called The Bob Lamonta Story, about a man who struggles with his own mentally challenged parents (only for Lamonta himself to show up and claim it was all Based on a Great Big Lie).
- The Kevin Bishop Show had a spoof trailer for a BAFTA Bait TV drama, consisting solely of the phrase gritty BAFTA said with a pained, serious expression.
- Castle had a suspect who was an actor, who says hes playing Matt Damons half-wit father because its got nominations written all over it.
- In season 4 of Arrested Development, Rebel Alley (Isla Fisher) discusses the possibility of playing Michaels deceased wife in a movie. After learning that said wife died of a terminal illness, Rebel says that all she needs now is to have her be mentally-challenged as well, and she'll be guaranteed an Oscar for her performance.
- Mock the Week:
- Late Night with Seth Meyers presents: Oscar Bait: Real Trailer, Fake Movie.
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver has the Warren G. Harding biopic starring a wax sculpture thereof and Oscar-nominated actors.
- Theres 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; most participants tend to be fans of this kind of movie and are genuinely trying to pitch good ideas.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series:
- From "A Very Special, Award-Winning Episode of Zorc & Pals".
- In Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bonds Beyond Time Abridged:
- Parodied in this spoof video done by BriTANicK.com and hosted on Cracked. It was such a spot-on parody that it even got its own page on TV Tropes, A Trailer for Every Academy Award Winning Movie Ever.
- Kickassia has this in every scene regarding Spoonys attempts to avoid giving in to the madness (i.e. his Enemy Within Dr. Insano). He even engages in Ham-to-Ham Combat with it.
- In the third segment of Linkaras History 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 run down the pier in slow motion with inspirational music. Linkara responds by putting "Oscar Clip" at the bottom of the screen. (And it turns out the lake was knee-deep and the children were just playing.)
- Nerd To The Third Power host Dr. Gonzo swore up and down that Precious would win Best Picture (based on his belief that Oscar winners were always the most depressing movie on the docket), 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!" (It didnt; The Hurt Locker did.)
- 11points.com had an 11 Points Countdown webisode about the 11 Least Deserving Best Picture Winners, which claimed that The English Patient and The King's Speech were Oscar Bait. One of the commentators even says that The King's Speech was blatantly pandering to the older Academy voters, saying that it wouldn't have looked out of place winning Best Picture in 1965.
- On Midnight Screenings, Brad Jones says he thinks calling a film Oscar Bait is an overused criticism. But he says he thinks it fits at least the trailer for the film of The Book Thief.
- CollegeHumor made a video on this topic titled 21 Steps to Making an Oscar Movie, including: high-contrast low-saturation lighting, suspenseful piano music, period clothing, disability, drug addiction, low camera angle, suicide, and a lot of other clichés.
- Game Theorist Matthew Patrick on his second channel Film Theory spends fifteen minutes discussing the formula yielding the highest statistical chance of winning an Oscar.
- Super Deluxe released an Oscar contender trailer for Straight Outta Compton, with the joke being that the film was made more appealing to the Academy voters by presenting it as an uplifting White Man's Burden movie about the group's Jewish manager.
- The Nostalgia Critic gives a fierce Take That! to Selma, The Blind Side, 12 Years a Slave, and Django Unchained when Malcom refers to them as "White Guilt Oscar Bait movies" and points out the only reason he likes them is because The Critic always takes him out to dinner after they watch one.
- Honest Trailers mocked Anne Hathaway's role as Fantine in Les Misérables (2012) as this, crediting her as "I Really Really Really Wanted To Win An Oscar".
- American Dad!:
- Greg and Terry decide to film Stan as he searches for Oliver North's gold in "Stanny Slickers 2: The Legend of Ollie's Gold":
- In a James Bond spoof, Roger played the role of Tearjerker, a villain whose Evil Plan is to make a film thats such a tearjerker, it will kill anyone who watches it. That film, Oscar Gold, is about a mentally challenged Jewish boy driven to alcoholism by his puppy dying of cancer during the Holocaust, all while hiding from the Nazis in an attic like Anne Frank. And its Deliberately Monochrome. When that fails, he tries to go even sadder — six hours of a baby chimpanzee trying to revive its dead mother.
- Bugs Bunny has been known to occasionally shill for Oscars with overwrought dramatic performances:
- In The Wabbit Who Came to Supper, Bugs pleads with Elmer Fudd to let him into his house, complaining in a very dramatic fashion about the cold. He suddenly perks up and says, Hey, this scene oughta get me the Academy Award! Then he finishes dying, complete with mournful violins.
- In What's Cookin, Doc?, hes so enamored with his acting that he crashes the ceremony to demand his Best Actor award.
- One short was an Anvilicious spoof of not just Oscar Bait, but also the animated awards the show could actually compete with. It started with saving a beached whale and went on from there. They didnt win, and everything went to Hell after that.
- In a Thanksgiving episode, Miles Standing is out hunting turkeys, while the Warners play Native Americans raised by turkeys. While Dot waxes eloquent over their hardship, the caption ACADEMY MEMBERS VOTE NOW! flashes on the screen.
- During their "Jokahontas" sketch, a Take That! against Disney movies, the song "Same Old Heroine" has this line:
The Schloscar it will win / With the same old heroine / It worked once, why not again?
- Family Guy gives us the self-explanatory "Emmy-Winning Episode." Peter and his family spend the 20 minutes trying to copy the clichés of Emmy-winning shows to try and get one of their own.
- The Simpsons:
- Burt Reynolds describes his 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."
- An entry form for Best Documentary is shown to ask entrants to declare if they are Holocaust-related or "Non-Holocaust-related.
- When Marge Simpson attends the Sundance film festival, she discovers that all the films on display are extremely depressing (including themes like underprivileged transvestites, underprivileged hippies, and Chernobyl) and most of them have ironically upbeat titles.
- Burt Reynolds describes his new film Fireball and Mudflap:
- Spoofed in The Boondocks episode The Color Ruckus, where Uncle Ruckus tells his depressing life story to Robert, Huey, and Riley, who cant help but listen because its 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 give him an award for "Best Death on Daytime Television".
- In another episode, Meryl Streep receives an Oscar for "Best Ordering in a Restaurant". She puts it in a purse full of many other Oscars.
- 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.
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 didnt pick silly fights, I chose to be in both Boogie and Talladega Nights! Don't just be clowns, 'cause then you're just bores, mix it up, and Oscars shall be yours!
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!
Farrell: And I'm gonna take that project about the guy with no arms and legs who teaches gangbangers Hamlet!