Oscar Flashback: The eight films that struck out in the Big Five, including ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’ ‘American Hustle’

This article marks Part 1 of the Gold Derby series reflecting on films that contended for the Big Five Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted). With “A Star Is Born” this year on the cusp of joining this exclusive group of Oscar favorites, join us as we look back at the 43 extraordinary pictures that earned Academy Awards nominations in each of the Big Five categories beginning with the eight that were shut out of these top races. 

At the 31st Academy Awards ceremony, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958) was well-positioned for Oscar glory. Critically acclaimed and commercially successful, the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play was up in six categories, including the Big Five, plus Best Cinematography.

Instead of emerging victorious, however, the film found itself steamrolled over. It would lose Best Picture and Best Director (Richard Brooks) to the musical “Gigi” and its filmmaker, Vincente Minnelli. Leading man Paul Newman fell short to David Niven (“Separate Tables”), while leading lady Elizabeth Taylor was defeated by Susan Hayward (“I Want to Live!”). Down in Best Adapted Screenplay, scribes Richard Brooks and James Poe lost to Alan Jay Lerner (“Gigi”).

With these defeats, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” emerged the first picture to earn nominations in the Big Five and go home empty-handed in those categories. Since then, an additional seven films have joined this group of pictures that were showered in nominations, yet largely underperformed on Oscar night.

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Three years after the poor performance of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “The Hustler” (1961) became the second film to strike out in the Big Five. It lost in all of its bids for Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Rossen), Best Actor (Paul Newman), Best Actress (Piper Laurie) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Sidney Carroll and Robert Rossen), as “West Side Story,” Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins (“West Side Story”), Maximillian Schell (“Judgment at Nuremberg”), Sophia Loren (“Two Women”) and Abby Mann (“Judgment at Nuremberg”) prevailed.

Unlike “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “The Hustler” did win in two technical categories, Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography, where, as a black and white picture, it had the good fortune of not facing “West Side Story,” a color film.

Like “The Hustler,” “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) scored a pair of prizes, in Best Supporting Actress (Estelle Parsons) and Best Cinematography (Burnett Guffey), while falling short in the Big Five. It lost in Best Picture to “In the Heat of the Night,” while director Arthur Penn was defeated by Mike Nichols (“The Graduate”). Leads Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway would score Oscars later in their careers but in 1967, they lost to Rod Steiger (“In the Heat of the Night”) and Katharine Hepburn (“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”). “Bonnie and Clyde” scribes Robert Benton and David Newman fell short to William Rose (“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”).

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“Love Story” (1970) may have been the highest-grossing film of the year but on Oscar night, it would have to settle for just one victory, in Best Original Score (Francis Lai). “Patton” defeated it in Best Picture, Best Director (Franklin J. Schaffner over Arthur Hiller), Best Actor (George C. Scott over Ryan O’Neal) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North over Erich Segal). “Love Story” leading lady Ali MacGraw fell short to Glenda Jackson (“Women in Love”).

Bob Fosse’s “Cabaret” may have been the toast of the 1972 Oscars, scoring eight prizes, but his follow up, “Lenny” (1974), found a decidedly cooler reception, despite bids in the Big Five. It lost across-the-board, with Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay going to Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather Part II.” Dustin Hoffman was bested in Best Actor to Art Carney (“Harry and Tonto”), while Valerie Perrine was no match in Best Actress to Ellen Burstyn (“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”). It also lost on its sixth nomination, in Best Cinematography to “The Towering Inferno.”

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“Atlantic City” (1981) may have only earned a quintet of Oscar nominations but they happened to be that elusive Big Five. Alas, Burt Lancaster’s comeback vehicle was no match for “Chariots of Fire,” the underdog which defeated presumed favorites “On Golden Pond” and “Reds” for Best Picture. Director Louis Malle lost to Warren Beatty (“Reds”), while leads Lancaster and Susan Sarandon were defeated by Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, both of “On Golden Pond.” “Chariots of Fire” scribe Colin Weiland scored the Best Original Screenplay trophy over “Atlantic City” screenwriter John Guare.

In the following decade, James Ivory’s “The Remains of the Day” (1993) had the great misfortune of facing Steven Spielberg’s unstoppable Oscar juggernaut “Schindler’s List.” The Spielberg film prevailed in Best Picture and Best Director, with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (“The Remains of the Day”) no match for Steven Zaillian in Best Adapted Screenplay. Leads Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson lost to Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia”) and Holly Hunter (“The Piano”), respectively.

Most recently, “American Hustle” not only became the latest film to go 0-for-5 in the Big Five, it also, with its 10 nominations and zero wins, emerged the biggest Oscar loser among pictures with bids in the Big Five. The David O. Russell film lost to “12 Years a Slave” in Best Picture and Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”) in Best Director. In Best Actor and Best Actress, Christian Bale and Amy Adams were no match for Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”), while Russell’s script, co-written with Eric Warren Singer, lost Best Original Screenplay to Spike Jonze’s “Her.”

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