Steven Spielberg 'Jaws' Oscar Shock + Other Non-Nominated Directors: Biggest Oscar Snubs

by Andre Soares
Marlon Brando Trevor Howard Mutiny on the Bounty 1962
Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard in Mutiny on the Bounty 1962: Veteran director Lewis Miletone bypassed.

Previous post: Biggest Oscar Snubs: Michael Nyman for The Piano, Lee Smith for Inception, Gordon Willis for The Godfather, and Caleb Deschanel for The Black Stallion.

Below is a partial list of directors whose films were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar – but the directors themselves weren't.

The directors listed in the previous post – and I could add several other names to the roster – are those whose films received multiple Oscar nods, including Best Picture, but they (the directors themselves) failed to be shortlisted. [Note: Steven Spielberg for The Color Purple and Christopher Nolan for Inception (and for The Dark Knight, which was not a Best Picture nominee) have their own private “Biggest Oscar Snub” post.]

Every Academy member (currently near 6,000) is allowed to vote for Best Picture, but only the members of the Academy's Directors Branch (367 at last count) are allowed to vote for Best Direction. That helps to explain why, generally speaking, Best Picture nominees tend to be more mainstream (i.e., “accessible” or just plain dumbed down) than the Best Direction entries, while the godawfully campy musical number featured on the Hello, Dolly! clip above (with Louis Armstrong and Barbra Streisand) may help to explain why Gene Kelly didn't get a nod from his fellow directors back in early 1970.

I should add that Sam Wood and Herbert Ross received Best Director nominations in, respectively, 1942 and 1977 for, once again respectively, Kings Row and The Turning Point, while Laurence Olivier won a special Oscar in 1946 “for his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the screen.”

Also of interest: non-nominee Bruce Beresford's Driving Miss Daisy went on to win the Best Picture Oscar at the 1990 ceremony, the first time that happened since non-nominee Edmund Goulding's all-star melodrama Grand Hotel won for the period 1931-32. The only other such instance was when William A. Wellman's World War I aviation drama Wings won for the Oscar's first year, 1927-28. It should be noted that only three directors were shortlisted both in 1927-28 and 1931-32; had there been five nominees, both Goulding and Wellman might have made the cut.

Another aside: Until 1943, usually 10 or 12 films were nominated each year for Best Picture, whereas in most years up to 1936 there were only three slots per year for the Best Direction nominees. From 1936 on, there were five slots. Obviously, not every single director could be nominated.

On the list above, in addition to Wellman and Goulding I've included Sam Wood's omission because The Pride of the Yankees earned no less than 11 nominations in 1942. And remember, directors can be nominated for more than one film in the same year. That has happened twice to date: Michael Curtiz in 1938 for both Four Daughters and Angels with Dirty Faces; Steven Soderbergh in 2000 for both Erin Brockovich and Traffic.

Steven Spielberg's Jaws snub must have been particularly galling for the 29-year-old director because he had a camera crew at his home when the 1975 nominations were announced.

“I didn't get it! I didn't get it! I wasn't nominated!” he moaned. “I got beaten up by Fellini!” (Federico Fellini's Amarcord had won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar the year before; according to – more sensible – Academy rules at that time, it was eligible in other categories in 1975, the year it opened in the Los Angeles area.)

“It hurts because I feel it was a director's movie,” Spielberg later remarked. “But there was a Jaws backlash. The same people who had raved about it began to doubt its artistic value as soon as it began to bring in so much money.” Jaws, of course, was the biggest box office hit of 1975, grossing about $260 million (about $820 million today*) in North America and $210 million (about $663 million today*) internationally.

* According to annual ticket price averages found at boxofficemojo.com. Updating international box office figures is particularly tricky because one must also take into account the value of the dollar (compared to foreign currencies) in the year in question.

The clip above is from David Gregory's 2001 documentary The Joe Spinell Story.

Spielberg “It hurts…” quote: Damien Bona and Mason Wiley's Inside Oscar

Note: The “Biggest Oscar Snubs” series isn't a reflection of my personal tastes. Instead, the “snubs” are listed according to the furor they generated at the time. Sometimes I agree with those who called the Academy nuts; other times I'm in full agreement with those Academy members who cast their vote for somebody else.

Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé Knowles, Anika Noni Rose, Dreamgirls
Bill Condon Oscar snub: Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé Knowles, Anika Noni Rose, Dreamgirls.

Bill Condon & 'Dreamgirls'

In early 2007, Bill Condon's Dreamgirls suffered an Oscar fate similar to that of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight two years later.

A musical based on the Broadway show inspired by the lives and loves of The Supremes' members Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard (later replaced by Cindy Birdsong), Dreamgirls, much like The Dark Knight, received nominations from the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild. Additionally, the film's cast – Beyoncé Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, Eddie Murphy, and Jamie Foxx, among others – was shortlisted in the Screen Actors Guild's Best Cast category.

Also like The Dark Knight, Dreamgirls went on to garner a total of 8 Oscar nominations. Not one of those was in the Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Screenwriting categories.

Now, some found the Dreamgirls omissions well-deserved. Others were outraged. (Condon's musical earned 86 percent approval rating among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics.) In fact, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was accused of harboring a cabal of misogynists and racists who hated the sound of (black female) music.

And here are a couple of other Best Picture/Best Director Oscar “snubs”:

Milos Forman's Ragtime (1981) received 8 nominations. Forman and the period drama were bypassed, but screenwriter Michael Weller was nominated for his adaptation of E. L. Doctorow's novel. Ragtime failed to win a single Oscar.

Produced by Walter Wanger and directed by Gone with the Wind's Victor Fleming, Joan of Arc (1948) was an expensive production that received a total of seven Oscar nominations. Producer Wanger and director Fleming, however, were bypassed.

Feeling Wanger's pain – a mix of bruised ego and financial losses – the Academy decided to hand him a Special Oscar “for distinguished service to the industry in adding to its moral stature in the world community by his production of the picture Joan of Arc.” Additionally, Joan of Arc won statuettes for Best Color Cinematography and Best Color Costume Design.

Note: The “Biggest Oscar Snubs” series isn't a reflection of my personal tastes. Instead, the “snubs” are listed according to the furor they generated at the time. Sometimes I agree with those who called the Academy nuts; other times I'm in full agreement with those Academy members who cast their vote for somebody else.

Photo: Dreamgirls (DreamWorks Pictures / Paramount)

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8 comments

Matthew Bradley -

Well, at least AIRPORT director George Seaton made the list for MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, and Sandy may have hit on the reason for your mental mishap. :-) I didn't spot any others offhand…

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David Mayhan -

Two inexplicable Oscar snubs:

1967 - “In Cold Blood” not up for Best Picture. The directors saw fit to nominate Richard Brooks for Best Director, but the entire academy somehow felt that “Doctor Dolittle” was a better film than “In Cold Blood”. One of the most shallow, vapid and empty films of the era snuck into the top 5 over one of the most thoughtful, trenchant and pertinent films, one whose reputation continues to grow.

1968 - Similarly, the Directors branch saw fit to nominate Stanley Kubrick as director for “2001”, but the Academy as a whole couldn't see the masterwork as meriting one of the five Best Picture nods. A cowardly decision.

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courtney -

another major oscar snub for best director in my view was Paul Newman for Rachel Rachel in 1968 even though that film lost the four nominations it was given which included best picture and best actress for his wife Joanne Woodward who threatened to resign from the Academy of Motion picture arts and Sciences when he wasn't nominated but never followed through on that

Reply
sandy shapiro -

Arthur Hiller directed some great movies, but “Airport” was not among them. “Airport” was WRITTEN BY Arthur HAILEY.

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Joao Soares -

lol! Apologies, apologies… I should have known better. Btw, congrats on the acknowledgements on Mark A. Vieira's “Greta Garbo - A Cinematic Legacy” - I've just finished reading it.

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Andre -

Hey, Joao,
I've know Mark for a number of years. Very cool guy. And a thorough film researcher and great photographer.
I've been pestering him to do a q&a on his latest Irving Thalberg book.
Hopefully, he'll find some time to do it in the next couple of weeks.

Reply
Joao Soares -

You're also snubbing the snubbing of Barbra Streisand in “The Prince of Tides” (1992 awards, with seven nominations including Best Picture). As snubs go…

Reply
Andre -

Hold your horses, Joao!!
I do say that a couple of *major* directorial snubs will show up elsewhere on the “Biggest Snubs” list.
In fact they'll have their own private Snub Listing.
Hang in there… Barbra S. will be back.

Reply

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