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Pretty Good Oscar Bait Movies

Updated October 23, 2019 1.4k votes 266 voters 9.1k views19 items

List RulesVote up the Oscar bait movies that have you saying "meh" the least.

Every year, Hollywood holds its collective breath to find out which films, actors, directors, and more will be awarded for their work in the previous year at the Academy Awards. The film industry's obsession with awards and prestige led to the creation of an entire genre of films catered specifically to garnering such accolades, Oscar bait films. The glut of such pictures resulted in a bizarre class structure, at the top of which you have Oscar winning classics, at the bottom of which you have god-awful catastrophes like J. Edgar, and in the middle you have pretty good Oscar bait movies, some of which may have even won a trophy or two. 

Mediocre Oscar bait films are okay movies that failed to live up to awards season ambitions but are still worth checking out. On the far end of the spectrum are Oscar bait movies that are rightfully forgotten.

The following films probably didn't win any major awards (okay, The Revenant won some big ones, but come on), but that doesn't mean they aren't decent prestige pictures. Those films that fail to win, or even get nominated for, awards and have no value beyond being awards bait often get lost in the crevices of time. Not all these movies deserve such a fate, as is the case with the so-so awards bait pictures worth watching on this list. 

  • Photo: Fox

    Kingdom of Heaven is a 2005 historical epic from Ridley Scott starring Orlando Bloom, Jeremy Irons, Ed Norton, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, and Eva Green. Sounds like it would have all the Oscars in the bag, especially coming only five years after Scott did just that with another period piece (Gladiator, if you've heard of that). Critics did not like the movie (holds a lowly 39% on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences didn't flock to see it (it made $47.4 million in the US, on a budget of $130 million). 

    Still, Kingdom of Heaven was praised for its cinematography, score, and performances. In December 2005, seven months after the film came out, Scott released an director's cut that runs three hours and thirteen minutes and received widespread critical acclaim. To quote a piece on director's cuts from Empire, "The added 45 minutes in the director’s cut are like pieces missing from a beautiful but incomplete puzzle... This is the one that should have gone out." 

    • Actors: Eva Green, Liam Neeson, Edward Norton, Orlando Bloom, Jeremy Irons
    • Released: 2005
    • Directed by: Ridley Scott
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  • Photo: Paramount

    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, released in 2008, tells the story of a man who ages backwards. It had some Oscar success (winning for Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, and Best Visual Effects), but considering that it was nominated for 13 and only took home minor awards was certainly a disappointment for director David Fincher and stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette.

    While Benjamin Button didn't perform as well on its big night as many hoped it would, it got relatively positive reviews across the board. Todd MacCarthy of Variety called it a "richly satisfying serving of deep-dish Hollywood storytelling." Which is kind of a dumb thing to write. You're reviewing a movie, Todd. Stop with the food metaphors.

    • Actors: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Elle Fanning, Tilda Swinton, Taraji P. Henson
    • Released: 2008
    • Directed by: David Fincher
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  • It's probably not fair to call a David Cronenberg movie Oscar bait. The Canadian master of grotesque mindf*ck cinema has been making the same psychologically gut-churning material, with varying degrees of extreme physical violence and psychosexual insanity, since the 1970s. A Dangerous Method, released in 2011, is surely less revolting than The Fly, but, despite it's pretty costumes, high-powered cast, and tale of two of modern history's most revered minds, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), it's hardly a vapid prestige picture created solely for Awards attention. 

    Still, A Dangerous Method was framed as Oscar bait by its advertising campaign and release strategy, and made several Top 10 lists when it was released. It's a fascinating movie filled with challenging ideas and compelling performances, but, all things considered, it isn't one of the best movies you'll ever see. But those spanking scenes. Man, oh man, those spanking scenes. 

    • Actors: Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Sarah Gadon, Vincent Cassel
    • Released: 2011
    • Directed by: David Cronenberg
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  • Troy arrived in the afterbirth of Gladiator, a sword-and-sandals epic starring then biggest beautiful movie star in the world Brad Pitt and up-and-coming Australian phenomenon Eric Bana. Directed by renown action master Wolfgang Petersen, written by Game of Thrones co-creator David Benioff, and running nearly three hours long, Troy looked primed for box office domination and Oscar success. 

    As it turns out, Brad Pitt isn't remotely believable as ancient warrior Achilles - he comes across like a surfer who took too much acid, traveled through time to an ancient war, and has no idea what's going on. It's kind of hilarious if you watch it in the right frame of mind. Eric Bana does what growly Australians do best, and there are some huge battle sequences. You'll also get some sex scenes with basically no heat but really beautiful naked dudes and dudettes. 

    • Actors: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox
    • Released: 2004
    • Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
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