Although you’d be tempted to believe that all the films that have ever been nominated for Oscars—especially the ones that actually walked away with a little gold man—have been cherished, cared for, looked after, and tucked away for fans to enjoy for many years to come, you’d be wrong. Sadly enough, plenty of films are considered “lost,” and not in the “someone misplaced them somewhere but they’re probably okay” way, but more like “don't exist anywhere.”
The numbers on lost films are shocking—it’s believed that the majority of American silent films have been lost, and when it comes to the early years of sound films (from 1927 to 1950), it’s estimated that about half are lost (the use of 35mm “safety film” after 1950 has helped curb losses in a big way). Although campaigns remain in place to quite literally find and restore those lost films, it’s still slow going—and it’s no surprise that the Academy Film Archive is also in on the hunt with its “Oscar’s Most Wanted” search, because a few of its own honorees are currently still missing.
1. Song of the Flame (1930)
This Alan Crosland-directed musical drama hit the screen as an adaptation of the Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto A. Harbach Broadway operetta of the same name. The film was quite notably photographed entirely in Technicolor and was the very first color film to include a widescreen sequence, thanks to the Warner Bros. process known as “Vitascope.”
Clearly cutting-edge visually, the film was also a bit of a marvel in the sound department, and was nominated for a Best Sound Recording Oscar for the 3rd Academy Awards. The film is considered lost, but sound discs for five of its nine reels still exist (thanks to another Warner Bros. process, “Vitaphone,” which recorded the film’s soundtrack separately).
2. The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1930)
It seems like 1930 might not have been a good year for the Best Sound Recording nominees, because yet another one of those Oscar hopefuls is also considered lost. No prints of the Herbert Brenon-directed drama (based on the German novel of the same name) are believed to exist, which may be a good thing—historical reviews of the film were not kind.
3. The Broadway Melody (1929)
The first of a string of other MGM Broadway Melody films (three not-quite-sequels hit screens in 1936, 1938, and 1940 with similar plotlines), the 1929 Harry Beaumont musical—the studio's first—was a huge hit. The film wasn’t just commercially profitable, it was also the first sound film to win Best Picture (it also received nominations for Best Director and Best Actress).
Although the entire film has not been lost, a massive piece of it has—the production was one of the first to use a Technicolor sequence that helped spawn the trend in other musicals of the time. Said color sequence is presumed lost, and only a black and white version has survived.
4. The Private Life of Helen of Troy (1927)
This Alexander Korda silent film has a few distinctions under its toga—it was nominated for an Academy Award in 1929 (the very first year of the Oscars) for an award that was given out just once. As the Oscars came into being during the transition between silent films and talkies, one particular award that only applied to silent films made its way into the first ceremony: Best Title Writing. The Private Life of Helen of Troy was nominated in the category, which honored those responsible for the intertitles that explained action between scenes. While writer Gerald Duffy didn’t win and died before the ceremony took place, he was the very first person to be posthumously nominated for an Oscar.
The entire film is not lost, but a large chunk of the middle is missing. As of now, the British Film Institute has managed to preserve two sections of the film (from its beginning and end) that run about half an hour long.
5. The Way of All Flesh (1927)
A number of Victor Fleming’s silent films have been lost over the years, but his The Way of All Flesh has its own special distinction that sets it apart from the pack, even if it’s for a particularly sad reason.
Emil Jannings won the Best Actor award for his dramatic portrayal of a duped (and occasionally drunk) bank teller who falls very far from grace as the film winds on. Jannings’ win is notable for a number of reasons—he was the very first actor to win the accolade at the first ceremony and it was given to Jannings for two roles, not just one (he also received the award for his work in The Last Command)—but it’s also the only Academy Award-winning performance with no known copies (or even sections) available.
6. A Star is Born (1954)
The Judy Garland-starring George Cukor classic notoriously had enough behind-the-scenes drama to satisfy even the most fiendish film trivia fan, but underneath all of its many personal dramas there was a far more technical snafu—the loss of many minutes of footage. Despite plenty of production trouble (including a switch from filming in WarnerScope to filming in CinemaScope after two entire weeks of production), the film’s first previews were a huge success. Which makes it all the more strange that Cukor chopped 15 minutes from the film before its premiere, including a bit from the “Born in the Trunk” sequence and plenty of non-musical drama.
While the musical segment has been restored and is included in recent home releases of the film, the other footage (including a number of scenes focused on James Mason’s Norman Maine character) is considered lost in its original form, despite many restoration efforts (the 1983 restoration of the film came with a “reconstructed” version of some scenes, using production stills and soundtrack).
The film was nominated for a slew of Oscars in 1954, including Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Song, and Best Original Score, though it did not walk away with any Oscars.
7. The Patriot (1928)
Our friend Emil Jannings can’t seem to catch a break. This Ernst Lubitsch-directed semi-biographical tale of Czar Paul I starred Jannings as the mad czar, but like his other big lost film, The Way of All Flesh, no complete copies remain.
In fact, The Patriot is the only film nominated for Best Picture that does not have a complete surviving copy. While the film didn’t ultimately win at the 2nd Academy Awards, it was the only silent film nominated that year (it wasn’t until 2012 that another silent film was even nominated for the accolade, when The Artist took home the statuette). The film did win that year—pulling in the Oscar for Best Writing Achievement—to go alongside its other nominations for Best Actor, Best Art Direction, and Best Director.
As of now, the film’s trailer is preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and one reel of the film has been found and preserved by the Cinemateca Portuguesa.
8. Chase of Death (1949)
This nominee for the Best Short Subject, Two-reel Oscar (from 1936 until 1956, the Oscars differentiated between short films with “Two-reel” and “One-reel” sections; the award is now known as “Best Live Action Short Film”) is considered lost. The Academy Film Archive currently has a case file open for the film, and is actively looking for it.
9. The Kiss (1958)
Another short, this 19-minute John Hayes film was nominated for Live Action Short back in 1958, but ultimately lost out to Disney’s Grand Canyon. The film marked a strong beginning for Hayes, who went on to direct a number of B-movie genre pictures, such as Walk the Angry Beach and Garden of the Dead. The Academy Film Archive is also actively searching for copies of the film.