There are a number of ways in which a film could be classified as "Oscar bait," and not all Oscar bait movies are the same, but there are some qualities that you can plainly see are tailor-made for film's highest awards. For starters, Oscar bait movies are released in the winter, which is the season where the nominating committee will decide what earns a nomination (so they're fresh in the committee members' minds). With this list of Oscar bait films, you'll find plenty of movies - both good and bad - that are specifically trying to bait the committee and voters into picking them.
What many consider to be the "original" Oscar bait movie, The Deer Hunter, used the Academy Awards as a way to market the movie. They were having a difficult time getting people to watch, but they found that, after getting an award nomination, the average moviegoer was more inclined to come to the movie in a more open frame of mind. This practice has now become standard business practice for films like Shakespeare in Love and Seven Pounds, which had differing levels of success. Of course, some Oscar bait movies utterly fail to bait any Oscars.
So take a look at this list of films that were (probably) made just to win someone an Oscar and upvote the most blatant Academy Awards bait offenders, whether you liked the movie or not.
The Danish Girl2015
Actors: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard
Directed by: Tom HooperThe Danish Girl is a 2015 romantic drama film directed by Tom Hooper, and loosely inspired by... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Madison Pettis, Octavia Spencer
Directed by: Gabriele MuccinoSeven Pounds is a 2008 American fantasy drama film, directed by Gabriele Muccino, in which... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst
Directed by: Theodore MelfiHidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Theodore Melfi, based on... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome
Directed by: Barry JenkinsMoonlight is a 2016 American coming-of-age drama film directed by Barry Jenkins, based on... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Helena Bonham Carter, Colin Firth, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Geoffrey Rush
Directed by: Tom HooperThe King's Speech is a 2010 British historical drama film directed by Tom Hooper and written... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader
Directed by: Steven SpielbergLincoln is a 2012 American epic historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, starring... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Rose Byrne, Bruce Dern, Scott Wilson
Directed by: Patty JenkinsWatch for Free with Amazon Prime Free TrialMonster is a 2003 drama film about Aileen Wuornos, who was executed in Florida in 2002 for... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti
Directed by: Steve McQueen12 Years a Slave is a 2013 period drama film directed by Steve McQueen, based on the 1853... more on Wikipedia
Based on real events, biography of a persecuted minority person, features themes of racism.
Actors: Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, John Lithgow, Shirley MacLaine, Jeff Daniels
Directed by: James L. BrooksTerms of Endearment is a 1983 comedy-drama film adapted from the novel of the same name by... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Keira Knightley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode
Directed by: Morten TyldumThe Imitation Game is a 2014 historical thriller film directed by Morten Tyldum, with a... more on Wikipedia
Based on real events, biography of a popular person, protagonist is persecuted for being gay.
Actors: Oprah Winfrey, Common, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tim Roth, Tom Wilkinson
Directed by: Ava DuVernaySelma is a 2014 historical drama film directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. It is... more on Wikipedia
Based on real events, biography of a popular minority rights activist, features themes of racism.
Actors: Ewan McGregor, Richard Gere, Hilary Swank, Christopher Eccleston, Mia Wasikowska
Directed by: Mira NairAmelia is a 2009 biographical film about the life of Amelia Earhart. The film was directed by... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Harry Lloyd, Emily Watson, David Thewlis
Directed by: James MarshThe Theory of Everything is a 2014 British biographical coming of age romantic drama film... more on Wikipedia
Based on real events, biography of a popular person, protagonist is handicapped.
Actors: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Embeth Davidtz, Norbert Weisser
Directed by: Steven SpielbergSchindler's List is a 1993 American epic historical period drama, directed and co-produced by... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Iain Glen, Harry Lloyd, Richard E. Grant
Directed by: Phyllida LloydThe Iron Lady is a 2011 drama and biography film written by Abi Morgan and directed by... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Anne Hathaway, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kate Mara, Anna Faris, Michelle Williams
Directed by: Ang LeeBrokeback Mountain is a 2005 American epic romantic drama film directed by Ang Lee. It is a... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Keira Knightley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Saoirse Ronan, James McAvoy, Vanessa Redgrave
Directed by: Joe WrightAtonement is a 2007 British romantic drama film directed by Joe Wright and based on Ian... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Penélope Cruz, Sophia Loren, Fergie
Directed by: Rob MarshallNine is a 2009 musical drama metafilm directed and produced by Rob Marshall. The screenplay,... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Courtney Love, Edward Norton, Woody Harrelson, James Cromwell, Crispin Glover
Directed by: Miloš FormanThe People vs. Larry Flynt is a 1996 American biographical drama film directed by Milo Forman... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci
Directed by: Tom McCarthySpotlight is a 2015 American biographical drama film directed by Tom McCarthy. The true story... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Lea Thompson, Armie Hammer
Directed by: Clint EastwoodJ. Edgar is a 2011 American biographical drama film directed, co-produced, and scored by Clint... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Amira Casar
Directed by: Luca GuadagninoCall Me by Your Name is a 2017 Italian-American romantic coming-of-age drama film directed by... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins
Directed by: Guillermo del ToroThe Shape of Water is a 2017 American fantasy romance film directed by Guillermo del Toro.... more on Wikipedia
The protagonist is handicapped, the antagonist is sexist, racist and conservative. Features POC and gay characters, themes of xenophobia, homophobia and racism. Also, evil Russians.
Actors: Kate Beckinsale, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gwen Stefani, Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin
Directed by: Martin ScorseseWatch for Free with Amazon Prime Free TrialThe Aviator is a 2004 American biographical drama film directed by Martin Scorsese, written by... more on Wikipedia
Actors: Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon, Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci
Directed by: Peter JacksonThe Lovely Bones is a 2009 supernatural drama film directed by Peter Jackson and stars Mark... more on Wikipedia