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Oscar Bait

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"The diseased/addicted/mentally impaired character always gets the Oscar."
"Hollywood Rule Book", Vanity Fair

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 reputation of the actor, director, and studio and boosts future ticket sales for projects involving them. 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—though they're more likely to clean up in the technical categories. At the same time, the "serious" fare that did win the artistic 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 domestically in their respective years), 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 man's inhumanity to man – an abnormally large proportion of Oscar Bait films have been set during The Holocaust. There's also a big focus on racism, mental illness, and Inspirationally Disadvantaged characters. It's rare for a comedy film to do well at the Oscars; in fact, one of the biggest clichés of this trope is a comedic actor starring in a heavy-handed drama in an attempt to be Taken Seriously. Sci-fi, fantasy, 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 major nominations, mostly because there's still room for suffering.

The cost of all this is that most Oscar Bait movies don't 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 it's 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 public's 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/or the horrors of the worst periods in human history don't often have the makings of a fun night out at the movies.

This trope is far more common with the Oscars than the top honors in other media. With theatre, "Tony Bait" is less discernable because theatre naturally lends itself to melodrama, while the Emmys and Grammys have the brilliant idea to give awards based on genre. On one hand, this allows a sitcom to be judged on its merits as a sitcom, but a Very Special Episode is often blatantly gunning for an Emmy. The Award-Bait Song, by the way, is not the Grammy equivalent, as that trope refers to the lead single from an Oscar Bait movie soundtrack that's thirsty for an Oscar just as much as the rest of the movie (though they'll hardly complain if they snag a Grammy or four along the way). See also Death by Newbery Medal for the literary equivalent. Contrast It's Not Supposed to Win Oscars.

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Oscar Bait tactics and examples:

    Positioning the film to win awards 
  • 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 don’t 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.

    Subject matter and characters 

Films (or otherwise) that come across as particularly obvious in their ambitions:

    Oscar Bait 
  • 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. While white women married to Japanese men were interned along with their husbands and mixed-race children, 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 is a 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. It was widely seen, upon its release, as a vehicle for Jodie Foster, who plays the protagonist, to receive her third Best Actress Oscar after winning for The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs. Foster's portrayal of Nell received strongly divisive opinions from critics, yet she eventually got a nomination, losing to Jessica Lange for Blue Sky.
  • After Disney scored a surprising Best Picture nomination with Beauty and the Beast, they tried twice more to get another one. Neither film was successful and actually contributed to gradually 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. Then-head of Walt Disney Studios 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. It received a tepid response from both critics and audiences, and the only Oscars it ended up getting were for its music.
    • The Hunchback of Notre Dame is 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 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:
  • 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, from getting nominated). 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 of The New York Times 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 launched the trend of "going partial retard" to win an Oscar.
  • Phenomenon is a dramatic fantasy film directed by Jon Turtletaub and starring John Travolta, about an ordinary man who, for reasons that remain mysterious until near the end of the film, acquires unusual intelligence and telekinetic powers. The film garnered some controversy from critics who saw it as alleged propaganda for the Church of Scientology (of which John Travolta is a longtime follower), but Travolta's performance was widely praised and considered by some to be Oscar-worthy. Ultimately, he ended up not being nominated for an Oscar for the film.
  • Courage Under Fire is a war drama directed by Edward Zwick, which revolves around an investigation conducted by a Lieutenant-Colonel (Denzel Washington) aimed at deciding whether a medical officer (Meg Ryan) killed in a battle in the Gulf War should receive posthumously the Medal of Honor. Inspired by Rashomon, the film shows several versions of what would have happened, all played by Ryan. Considered by many to be an "Oscar film" before its release, it ended up not getting any nominations.
  • 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.
  • A review of The Truman Show published in The New York Times said: "Peter Weir's must-see new film is guaranteed Oscar bait and delectably clever entertainment, but hosannas and cartwheels are over the top." Similar to the paper's aforementioned review of The Lion in Winter, the term was used with a positive connotation.
  • Snow Falling on Cedars is a 1999 American legal drama film directed by Scott Hicks, and starring Ethan Hawke, James Cromwell, Max von Sydow, Youki Kudoh, Rick Yune, Richard Jenkins, James Rebhorn, and Sam Shepard, based on David Guterson's PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel of the same name, with a screenplay by Hicks and Ronald Bass (who won an Academy Award for writing the screenplay for Barry Levinson's Rain Man and who is associated with films are regularly nominated for multiple motion picture awards). The movie tells the story, set in the 50s, of a trial of a Japanese-American accused of murdering a white man. It ended up getting nominated solely for Best Cinematography.
  • Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Michael Bay, with a screenplay by Randall Wallace (responsible for the screenplay for Braveheart), Pearl Harbor was produced with the clear ambition of being a mixture of Saving Private Ryan and Titanic, uniting all the appeals of these two films, with the war epic of the first and the romance of the second. The film, however, received very negative reviews from critics, who complained about the dialogues and the historical inconsistencies. The film received four Oscar nominations, most of them being technical categories, and won one for Best Sound Editing.
  • The film adaptation of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, directed by John Madden (of Shakespeare in Love) and starring Nicolas Cage, Penélope Cruz, John Hurt and Christian Bale, acquired a reputation as an Oscar bait long before it hit the screen. The theme, mixing romance and war (a forbidden love on a Greek island occupied by Axis troops during World War II) and the fact that it was a Miramax production contributed strongly to the label. The film received negative reviews and had no Oscar nominations.
  • Doubt started as total Tony Bait and moved into Oscar Bait with its film adaptation. It's 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. It was nominated for seven Oscars and won for Best Supporting Actress (Renée Zellweger as Ruby).
  • Mona Lisa Smile, directed by Mike Newell, and starring Julia Roberts, featured a charismatic teacher as protagonist, and addressed themes such as female emancipation and pursuit of personal freedom versus old-fashioned social conservatism, thus ticking some boxes; however, the film suffered from comparisons to its more notorious predecessor Dead Poets Society, and it came to be dubbed the "Dead Housewives Society". The movie received mixed to negative reviews from film critics, and received no Oscar nominations.
  • When Nine began production by the infamous Harvey Weinstein, there was strong anticipation that this adaptation of a hit Broadway musical, with an all-star cast that included several Oscar winners and nominees (Daniel Day-Lewis, Sophia Loren , Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Kate Hudson), directed by fellow Oscar nominee Rob Marshall, would not only be a huge critical and box office success, but also receive a large number of Oscar nominations. However, the film turned out to be a huge failure with audiences and critics, and it only received Oscar nominations in the categories for Best Supporting Actress (Penelope Cruz), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design and Best Original Song, winning none of those awards.
  • The Hours checks all the boxes. It's 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. It's 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 year's Oscars; the film was a major Creator Killer for him. Just as astonishingly, it didn't 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 WALL•E and The Dark Knight for Best Picture, despite most people feeling both those films were better; and it couldn't even beat out the big winner Slumdog Millionaire. That experience was enough that Hugh Jackman was already lamenting the Batman film's snub during the ceremony, and it is also often seen as the impetus for doubling the number of Best Picture nominations to ten.
  • Defiance is a particularly shameless Oscar grab. It's Based on a True Story and follows a community of Belarussian Jews hiding in the forest from the Nazis and has a brooding Anti-Hero 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 bombed at the Oscars, only getting nominated for its score. 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 Good German is a period drama directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Tobey Maguire, shot in black and white using only technical resources available in the 1940s, and with a plot set in Berlin newly occupied by the Allied forces in 1945, about a Navy correspondent helps his ex-girlfriend search for her missing husband during World War II. It was considered by many viewers to be a near-parody of Oscar Bait tropes, and it ended up receiving only one nomination for its score.
  • Jakob the Liar is a Dramedy directed by Peter Kassovitz and starring Robin Williams, based on a book of the same name written by Jurek Becker and published in East Germany, whose story is set in a Polish ghetto in 1944, where a shopkeeper tries to preserve the hopes of the inhabitants by claiming who hears on a clandestine radio set news about the advances of Allied troops. The film received unfavorable comparisons to Life Is Beautiful, and Williams was even nominated for Golden Rasperry Award for his performance as Jakob.
  • Valkyrie is a historical drama directed by Bryan Singer that portrays the failed plot of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, played by Tom Cruise, to assassinate Hitler. In addition to Cruise, the film boasts an All-Star Cast composed of Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, Carice Van Houten, Thomas Kretschmann, Terence Stamp and Tom Hollander, among many others. The film came under fire for casting the non-German Cruise in the role of von Stauffenberg, and it did not obtain Oscar nominations.
  • The Great Ziegfeld, Best Picture winner of 1936, was three long hours of big Broadway musical and angsty melodrama. This lavish Biopic starred William Powell as the producer whose name, four years after his death (depicted in the film’s last scene), 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 didn't 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 rapist’s baby, gets declared "unfit" to raise the baby and has to fight to keep it, and is put on trial for her rapist's 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:
  • The Help checks many boxes. It's a Period Piece set in The '60s whose main character is a white female reporter who helps out black maids, and it’s 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 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 didn't shy away from controversy, addressed Thatcher's 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 year's Oscars. Observers joked that the Academy must have had a whole box of Oscars with Streep’s 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 unspecified mental condition 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, as well as a Best Supporting Actor nod for Max von Sydow, but it had mixed critical reviews.
  • Ron Howard's 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: you’re 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 seemingly 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 didn't win Oscars for any of these films (only three actors didnote ), 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. King's 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 didn't take the bait; it won only Best Original Song, and it was nominated for but didn't win Best Picture.
  • Get On Up stars Chadwick Boseman as James Brown, in a musical biopic about the musician's complicated life and career. It bombed at the Oscars, though observers felt 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 much disfavoured. 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 Turing's mental problems and downplay his homosexuality.
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu believes so hard in True Art Is Angsty that Rolling Stone dubbed him Hollywood's "King of Pain", and he's raked in the Oscars, for such films as 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, and The Revenant (yes, he's 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 — it's even based on the daughter's 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 Dunaway's 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 Celebrity 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 Muhammad 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. It seemed like a lock for Best Picture. 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]." Surprising absolutely nobody, Moonlight won (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 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 Louis Zamperini and Jesus Christ. It only received three nominations in total: Cinematography, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.
  • 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 Batman’s 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 comedian who is 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.
  • Although it is a movie about a comic book superhero, Wonder Woman generated significant expectation in the press that, given its female empowerment message, its epic tone and its massive public and critical success, it would benefit from a great Warner Bros.' campaign for Oscars and receive several nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Gal Gadot and Best Director for Patty Jenkins. However, the film ended up receiving one of the biggest snubs in Oscar history, not even receiving nominations in the technical categories, which generated a notable wave of internet outrage.
  • 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 Universal's attempt to create the formula for the perfect Oscar-baiting musical adaptation, with the most blatant inspiration being Universal's own Les Misérables. It's based on one of the most popular and successful musicals ever, directed by Les Mis director Tom Hooper, who won the Best Director Oscar for directing Best Picture winner The King's Speech. It's live-action, appealing to the Academy's notorious anti-animation bias. It features an inevitable Movie Bonus Song written by the show’s legendary creator Andrew Lloyd Webber and multi-Grammy winner Taylor Swift, plus an All-Star Cast to ensure more locks in the acting categories. To top it all off, previous Best Supporting Actress winner Jennifer Hudson sings "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". 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 Swift’s general popularity than the actual quality of her performance (or lack thereof)).
  • Dear Evan Hansen came from the same studios as Cats and is not only based on a popular and well-liked Tony-winning musical, but has an established producer in Marc Platt (La La Land, Bridge of Spies, The Trial of the Chicago 7), stars his son Ben Platt reprising his Tony-winning role as Evan amongst a considerable All-Star Cast of industry vets and up-and-comers, has baity themes related to teen suicide and mental health, a well-suited director for said themes in Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), not one but two Movie Bonus Songs, and much of the vocals for the songs being sung live on set (as with Les Misérables). 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 adaptation to film, and it 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 tragicomedy 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 Streep in the cast, the themes covered and the fact that the film was produced by The Weinstein Company certainly weighed in such an assessment.
  • My Sister's Keeper checks several boxes: terminal illness, family conflict culminating in legal dispute. Cameron Diaz was criticized for not accepting to shave her hair for the role, preferring to wear a bald cap. The film did not receive any Oscar nominations, but was awarded at the Teen Choice Awards (Choice Summer Movie Drama), the ALMA Awards (Outstanding Actress in Motion Picture, or Diaz) and the Young Artist Awards (Best Performance in a Feature Film – Leading Young Actress, for Abigail Breslin, and Best Performance in a Feature Film – Supporting Actress, for Sofia Vassilieva).
  • Welcome to Marwen was a drama loosely based on a true story, about an artist who suffers brain damage and mental trauma, resulting from physical aggression motivated by hatred, and who builds an imaginary world set in World War II Europe. Even before its release, it generated strong speculation about a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Steve Carell. Still, the film was released just ten days before the nominations closed on December 31, 2018. Unfortunately, it ended up being a box office failure and was critically panned, and the Academy didn't take the bait.
  • 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.
  • Eternals is viewed as the rare attempt to make Oscar bait out of a blockbuster superhero film. For its director, Marvel Studios signed on Chloé Zhao, whose prior experience was in low-budget films with novice actors and who even won Best Director for Nomadland. The resulting film was an eclectic product, with long stretches of philosophical discussion about the nature of humanity, war and genocide, the ethics of free will and utilitarianism, and stunning vistas shot on location and with natural light amidst sudden massive CGI superhuman battles. Ultimately, it received underwhelming reviews and wasn't nominated at any major awards shows. To date, Marvel Studios' only Best Picture nomination has been for Black Panther, which was a smash hit with both audiences and critics despite Marvel having so little faith in it they rushed it out for Black History Month 2018 with underbaked VFX.

    Emmy/BAFTA Bait 
  • 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 father's Alzheimer's disease. This was particularly strange because Janney won four Emmys on her own over the course of the series, so she didn't 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.
  • 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 to earn an Emmy nomination for Outstanding TV Movie.
  • The Good Place: Episode 3x09, "Janets" was the last episode to air before the mid-season break, meaning only three episodes were left at the start of 2019. According to the show's official podcast, part of the reason they split the season up this way was so D'Arcy Carden's performance would be fresh in the minds of awards groups like the Golden Globes and SAG awards. The episode involves the other main characters transforming into a likeness of Janet, meaning Carden had to essentially play every character. Despite receiving praise for her performance(s), Carden failed to be nominated at any of the major groups. (The Emmys did nominate her for the following season, however.)
  • 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 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.
  • Stranger Things dropped the first volume of Season 4 on May 27, 2022, four days before the 2022 cutoff. The most notable episode was "Dear Billy", a Max-focussed episode that deals with depression, suicidial ideations and survivor's guilt, giving Sadie Sink a lot of angsty material, before ending in massively emotional style via the use of the Kate Bush song "Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)". The show was nominated for Best Drama Series (losing to Succession) and got twelve Creative Arts nominations, winning five. Two of the wins, for music supervision and prosthetic make-up, were for "Dear Billy". Sadie Sink, however, failed to get an Emmy nomination despite the trades predicting one, although won a HCA award and ended 2022 with a much bigger profile.

    Tony Bait 
  • 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 a cast made up of people of color. It won 11 Tonys, and had 16 nominations in total. If you weren't Hamilton at the 2016 Tonys, there was no point in showing up.

  • 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 d'Or. It's a documentary about a pensioners' choir going on tour, and it hit so many of the Oscar Bait buttons that it's a surprise that it didn't 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 gay female 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 until Elden Ring. Some critics even went so far as to (in a positive way) call it gaming's Schindler's List moment.

    Notable Exceptions 
The Oscar Bait trope is so pervasive that it defines the formula that wins Oscars. When a different kind of film wins big, and no one else can replicate that success, it’s worth noting.
  • 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, released during a time when Oscar Bait meant elaborate musical and dancing showcases. It gained universal acclaim from both critics and audiences 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 man's inhumanity to man. It's 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 was the first horror film to win any of the "Big Five" since Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1932 and 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 didn't 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 (George Lucas), Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Alec Guinness), and Best Screenplay. It didn't win any of them, but it showed that a hugely popular sci-fi film might catch the Academy’s 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 non-sci-fi films in the same vein (like Raiders of the Lost Ark). That said, the fact that they didn’t win anything big pointed towards Oscar Bait becoming an end in and of itself in years to follow.
  • Titanic was unusual in that it wasn't meant to be Oscar Bait — just James Cameron's 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. It does, however, tick a few of the boxes: it's a Period Piece centered around a famous historical event, yet still has a decade-spanning story thanks to said Period Piece story being told by a character in the present, and Forbidden Love between people of different socio-economic classes. Critics who appreciated Cameron's dedication to dutifully recreating many of the details of the Titanic and its sinking, but didn't care for the fictional love story, accused the director of shoehorning it in to increase his chances during awards season instead of letting the true story of the Titanic stand on its own.
  • The Lord of the Rings is a strange case; although it is fantasy, it was also adapted from one of literature's 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 (Diane Keaton), Best Screenplay, and Best Director (Woody Allen). It was unusual in that it was a romantic 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 fifth film based on a comic strip, 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 didn't 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 humanity's 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 at the time 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 wasn't nominated for Zero Dark Thirty a few years later).
  • The French Connection, the 1971 Best Picture winner, 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. It's 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 Tarantino's 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. They're also quintessential Tarantino films — fictional and bizarre, so never feeling like Oscar Bait.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road is 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.
  • The Shape of Water had one of the most oddball premises ever for an Oscar nominee (a love story between a mute woman and a fish person), which you might think would've alienated the Academy. Instead, 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 communities. 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 even 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:
  • 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, 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 comments toward the Academy by comparing them to "local film festivals" for having a bias towards recognizing "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 Film 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.
  • CODA had the disability angle going for it, with a mostly deaf cast, but as a remake of a French film that wasn't particularly known or loved outside France, by a writer-director only making her second feature film, it got lost in the shuffle during awards season and only netted three Oscar nominations. But then it built up tremendous buzz during the Oscar campaign and ended up winning all three nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Troy Kotsur) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
  • The 2023 Oscars had two major exceptions:
    • Everything Everywhere All at Once touches on themes of Generational Trauma, nihilism, and is about the reparation of a mother-daughter relationship. Sounds like something the Academy would love. What did you say? It's also a humorous, action-heavy, and very surreal trip into The Multiverse, featuring concepts like a universe where everyone has hot dogs for fingers, sentient rocks, and an everything bagel capable of destroying universes? OK, maybe not so much. But it was distributed by A24, a studio that's carved out a special niche with quirky, auteur-driven Genre-Busting movies that do well with critics and audiences alike, and it became a Sleeper Hit that gradually gained traction throughout the 2022 awards season (and since A24 distributed the aforementioned Moonlight, they know how to navigate the awards circuit). It got eleven Oscar nominations, the most of any film that year, including Best Picture, and became the first film ever to win six of the seven topline Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, with Best Film Editing giving it a seventh win).
    • Top Gun: Maverick was the long-awaited sequel to a film that, while a hit with audiences, was never a critical darling, and was a big-budget action Summer Blockbuster released in May. However, it ended up receiving critical acclaim and began to be regarded as one of 2022's best films, which would lead to it getting six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and a surprise nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, and eventually won for Best Sound.
  • Batman Beyond is an odd case of Emmy Bait. The show won an Emmy for the episode "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.note 

Spoofs of this trope:

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 character’s 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 they've been stranded there for weeks. Then the camera pans up to reveal the New York City skyline. Bing Crosby’s character tells him to calm down, to which Hope bitterly remarks that they’ve 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 he's 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, Satan's 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 it's 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 ain't retarded. And he was a goddamn war hero. You know any retarded war heroes? You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don’t buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, i am sam. Remember? Went full retard, went home empty-handed.
    • 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.
    • Want even more icing on the cake? Along with Colin Farrell and Russell Crowe, one of the inspirations for Lazarus is Daniel Day Lewis, an actor who is to Oscar Bait films what Sylvester Stallone is to action films and Julia Roberts is to chick flicks.
    • 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 haven’t played any of them slave roles, where I get my ass whipped — that's how you get the nominations! A black dude plays a slave role and gets his ass whipped, they get the nomination; a white boy plays an idiot, they get the Oscar. Maybe I’ll split it; 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 Dillon’s 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.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Dead Ringers: The cast of Time lay things out to Sean Bean that the show must be as bleak and miserable as humanly possible so that they can get "wall to wall BAFTAs". When he breaks one of the rules, keeping any monologue to under two minutes, the rest of the cast come back to beat him senseless. Funnily enough, Time did in fact go on to win two BAFTAs...
    Stephen Graham: I warned you, Monologue Boy! Think of the BAFTAs!

    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 
  • 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":
      Terry: We are a lock for an Oscar if there isn't a documentary about penguins or genocide this year.
      Greg: Or penguin genocide.
    • In a James Bond spoof, Roger played the role of Tearjerker, a villain whose Evil Plan is to make a film that’s such a tearjerker, it will kill anyone who watches it. That film, Oscar Gold, is a black-and-white Holocaust drama about a mentally challenged alcoholic Jewish boy whose puppy dies of cancer while he's hiding from the Nazis in an attic like Anne Frank. When the plan fails, Tearjerker 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?, he’s so enamored with his “acting” that he crashes the ceremony to demand his Best Actor award.
  • Animaniacs:
    • 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 didn’t 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?
  • Clone High: Season 2's "For Your Consideration" tries to sell itself as a heartbreaking award-worthy story from the get-go. It tells Mr. Butlertron's over-the-top tragic backstory (repeatedly referred to in-universe as "award-worthy"): he grew up in poverty (depicted in a Deliberately Monochrome style), left his family to become a prostitute, seemingly impregnated and married a client who then broke his heart, then lost his beloved (human) brother Wesley while out at sea. Along the way, it employs numerous Art Shifts, blatant religious and spiritual themes, and gratuitous artsy shots of beaches and sunsets. At the end of the episode, the clouds outright spell out "F.Y.C." to hammer it in.
  • 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.
  • Spoofed in The Boondocks episode “The Color Ruckus”, where Uncle Ruckus tells his depressing life story to Robert, Huey, and Riley, who can’t help but listen because it’s so sad.
    Huey: That's like, Academy Award winning sad.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures:
    • In "Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow", when Buster pretends to suffocate in the cage Elmyra put him in, Hamton shows up to 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 didn’t 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!


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Oscar Bait Movies, Emmy Bait, Award Bait


Oscar Gold

In a ''Film/JamesBond'' spoof, the villain "Tearjerker" plans to make a movie so sad that it causes people to cry to death - and does so by invoking as many Oscar Bait tropes as possible in a film literally called "Oscar Gold"

How well does it match the trope?

5 (21 votes)

Example of:

Main / OscarBait

Media sources: