Fool’s Gold: 8 Oscar Hopefuls That Never Took Off

     November 30, 2013

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For the past few months on Oscar Beat, we’ve been taking a detailed look at the Oscar race to come.  We saw frontrunners emerge out of the fall film festival circuit, and now we’re starting to see each category come together.  However, for this holiday weekend we thought it’d be fun to take a look at awards seasons past; specifically, films that were considered strong Oscar hopefuls until for one reason or another they dropped out of the race entirely.  This year we’ve already seen a couple of potential Oscar contenders fade from the race once critics got their first look—namely The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which now feels destined to be more of a commercial hit than a serious Oscar contender.

After the jump, we examine five films from the past decade that looked like they had the goods for Oscar glory but dropped quickly and quietly out of sight when it turned out they were nothing but hype.

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Alexander – 2004 

Never one to shy away from controversy, director Oliver Stone’s biopic of Alexander the Great certainly had its fair share of press, though not exactly for accolades or high praise.  It seemed like a potential Oscar heavyweight at the time, but the bloated historical epic received scathing reviews from both critics and historians and was a bust at the box office; Stone is no stranger to claims of historical inaccuracy, but Alexander was no JFK when it came to quality filmmaking.  At a three-hour runtime, critics called the film unfocused and jarring, and the negative reviews resulted in a 16% Rotten Tomatoes rating.  Nearly a decade later, Stone is still toying with the film’s edit, as a fourth “director’s cut” is apparently on tap to be released in the near future.

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All the King’s Men – 2006

Here’s a film with an awards-heavy pedigree that flickered out in the blink of an eye.  For his third directorial feature, Oscar-winning Schindler’s List scribe Steven Zaillian chose to adapt Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1946, and pulled together a cast that included Sean Penn, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins to bring the period story to life.  What felt like a home run turned out to be a massive swing and a miss, with critics savaging the film after its premiere screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Many called the pic out for its obvious Oscar baiting, and it sat on the shelf for almost a year. The movie currently sits at a paltry 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, and didn’t fare much better with audiences, bringing in only $9.4 million despite its star-studded cast.  Zaillian has not directed a film since, but he rebounded a bit the following year with his screenplay for American Gangster.

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Bobby – 2006

The star-studded nature of director Emilio Estevez’s film about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy had many thinking the film would be a serious contender in the coming race, but Bobby was a case of quantity not quality.  Actors like Martin Sheen and William H. Macy shared the screen with head-scratchers like Ashton Kutcher and Lindsay Lohan, and the bursting ensemble left little room for any breakthrough performances.  Critics were mixed on the film overall, and with very few finding anything noteworthy to say about Bobby, it failed to drum up any genuine Oscar prospects.

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Lions for Lambs – 2007

It had been nearly a decade since Robert Redford directed a film—1998’s The Horse Whisperer—and the political-leaning Lions for Lambs saw Redford sharing the screen with Oscar favorite Meryl Streep and box office draw Tom Cruise.  The timing wasn’t exactly great, though, as Cruise was still reeling from bad press that began with his Oprah Winfrey appearance in 2005, and though the film appeared to have parallels with America’s war on terrorism, critics reacted negatively to Redford’s execution, calling the film preachy and boring.  With a negative critical reception and a lackluster box office performance, the film’s awards prospects quickly went out the door.

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