15 Famous Filmmakers Who Never Won Best Director Academy Awards
These filmmakers directed movies you love—but they never took home Best Directing Oscars for them.
1. Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick was nominated for Best Director four times throughout his career, for the films Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and Barry Lyndon. Though he never won an award for directing, he did take home one Oscar: Best Special Visual Effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey. And according to visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull, who worked on the film with Kubrick, it was an award the filmmaker didn't deserve. "Kubrick did not create the visual effects. He directed them," Trumbull toldThe Hollywood Reporter. "There was a certain level of inappropriateness to taking that Oscar. But the tragic aspect of it for me is it's the only Oscar Stanley Kubrick ever won. He was an incredibly gifted director and should have gotten something for directing and writing and what his real strength was—not special effects."
2. Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock got his first Best Director nomination for 1940's Rebecca. The movie won the Oscar for Outstanding Production (now called Best Picture), but Hitchcock went home empty-handed because the rules of the day gave the award to the production company, Selznick International Pictures. Hitchcock would later earn nominations for Lifeboat, Spellbound, Rear Window, and Psycho, but he lost each and every time. The filmmaker would eventually be honored by The Academy when it gave him the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for "creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production" in 1968. Hitchcock accepted the award and simply said, "Thank you ... very much indeed."
3. Orson Welles
Though Citizen Kane is considered one of the greatest films of all time, Orson Welles lost the 1941 Best Director Oscar to John Ford and How Green Was My Valley. But he didn't go home entirely empty-handed: He won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, along with Herman J. Mankiewicz, for the film. (That statuette would be auctioned off in 2011, amid much controversy.)
Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons was nominated the following year for Outstanding Picture, but lost out to Mrs. Miniver. In 1971, Welles received the Academy Honorary Award for "superlative artistry and versatility in the creation of motion pictures."
4. Sidney Lumet
Sidney Lumet was nominated for Best Director for his very first feature film, 1957's 12 Angry Men. Sadly, he lost out to David Lean for The Bridge on the River Kwai. Though the director would be nominated four more times in his career—for Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Verdict, and a writing nomination for Prince of the City—he never won. Lumet did receive an Honorary Academy Award in 2005, but in 2009, the filmmaker told Vanity Fair that yes, he was annoyed that he'd never actually won one. "[A]nyone who says it doesn’t matter is talking bull****,” he said. “Of course it matters! First of all, the difference between winning and losing can be $3 or $4 million on your next fee. So let’s start with that. And maybe this is a very subjective reaction, but it seems to me that I’ve always lost to crap.”
5. Charlie Chaplin
Although he was considered one of the most iconic and influential filmmakers of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Charlie Chaplin didn't receive a real nomination from his peers until he was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture for 1940's The Great Dictator. Chaplin—who also directed The Great Dictator—never received a single nomination for Best Director.
The filmmaker did receive an Honorary Academy Award for "versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus" in 1929 (the Oscar was stolen from the offices of the Association Chaplin just last month), and another Honorary Oscar for "the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures, the art form of this century" in 1972. He received an Oscar for Best Score for Limelight in 1973, despite its original release in 1952. Academy rules state that a film can’t be considered for an award until it’s played in a theater in Los Angeles County. Limelight only played in a few east coast cities before it was blacklisted, so it first played in LA (and was first eligible) in 1972.
6. Robert Altman
Robert Altman was nominated for Best Director five times for M*A*S*H*, Nashville, The Player, Short Cuts, and Gosford Park—but he never won. "They'll never give me an Oscar," he told Total Film in 2004. "And I sincerely, honestly don't care. I always turn up when I'm nominated and it would be nice to get one, but to win one would be bad luck. It comes with too much expectation. It would be the end." But the Academy did, eventually, give Altman an Oscar: In 2006, just months before his death, he received the Honorary Oscar for his long and impressive career as a Hollywood filmmaker.
7. Ingmar Bergman
Swedish director Ingmar Bergman was nominated for the Best Director Oscar three times during his career. The first nomination came in 1974, for Cries and Whispers; Bergman lost to George Roy Hill for The Sting. Three years later, Bergman was nominated for Face to Face, but Rocky's John G. Avildsen received the Best Director Oscar instead. Finally, Bergman was nominated for his three-hour family drama Fanny & Alexander in 1984, but James L. Brooks took the prize for Terms of Endearment.
Bergman did, however, have three films win Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film for The Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly, and Fanny & Alexander. He also received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for filmmakers "whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production." Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann accepted the award on his behalf because Bergman didn't attend the ceremony in 1970.
8. Arthur Penn
American director Arthur Penn is considered one of the key filmmakers of the New Hollywood era during the 1960s. With movies such as The Chase, Bonnie & Clyde, and Alice's Restaurant, Penn (along with other directors like Sam Peckinpah, William Friedkin, and Mike Nichols) radically changed the face of Hollywood movie-making with an added emphasis on realism with sex and violence in movies.
During the '60s, Penn was nominated for Best Director three times: First for 1962's The Miracle Worker (he lost the award to David Lean and Lawrence of Arabia), then for Bonnie & Clyde in 1968 (Mike Nichols took home the statue for The Graduate). Two years later, in 1970, Penn was nominated for Alice's Restaurant, but lost to John Schlesinger and Midnight Cowboy.
9. Howard Hawks
Howard Hawks was responsible for iconic screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday in the '30s and '40s. He was only nominated for Best Director once, for 1941's Sergeant York. Hawks lost to John Ford and How Green Was My Valley. In 1975, Hawks was awarded an Honorary Oscar for "a master American filmmaker whose creative efforts hold a distinguished place in world cinema." He died two years later.
10. Sergio Leone
Celebrated Italian director Sergio Leone is considered one of the most influential filmmakers of the Western genre. During his 25-year career, Leone never received a single Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Though his final film, Once Upon A Time in America, got him directing nods from the Golden Globes and BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) nominations, it failed to gain any recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
11. David Lynch
Although he has been nominated three times for Best Director, David Lynch has yet to win an Academy Award. He was first nominated for The Elephant Man in 1981, but lost out to Robert Redford for Ordinary People. Six years later, he was nominated again for Blue Velvet, but lost to Oliver Stone for Platoon. It would take 15 years for David Lynch to earn another Academy Award nomination for Mulholland Drive in 2002, but he lost that Oscar to Ron Howard for A Beautiful Mind.
12. David Fincher
David Fincher has been nominated for Best Director twice: In 2009, for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (he lost the Oscar to Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire) and in 2011 for The Social Network (which went to Tom Hooper for The King's Speech instead). “When a movie is celebrated in whatever way, I think it’s bad form not to engage in some way, because people shower you with goodwill. It seems only polite to acknowledge it and be thankful for it,” Fincher told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. He said he found the campaigning around Oscar season to be “a cosmic drain ... you have to be on your best behavior. Every little weird facial tic that you may already have is now going to come under weird scrutiny on f***ing YouTube.”
13. Akira Kurosawa
Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's movies are a huge influence on American filmmakers: His films, including The Hidden Fortress, Ran, Seven Samurai, and Rashomon, have inspired the likes of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola. But even though he's one of the most celebrated Japanese directors in the West, Akira Kurosawa has never won an Oscar for Best Director; he was only nominated once, for Ran in 1985. Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) and Dodes'ka-den were nominated for Best Foreign Language Film; Dersu Uzala won the award in 1976. Rashomon received an Honorary Academy Award for Outstanding Foreign Language Film in 1952, before the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar was established. In 1990, Lucas and Spielberg presented Kurosawa a Lifetime Achievement Oscar during the 62nd Academy Awards.
14. Federico Fellini
Despite four Academy Award nominations for Best Director during his 40-year career, Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini never won the golden statuette. Fellini was first nominated for 1961's La Dolce Vita, but lost to Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for West Side Story. He was nominated again two years later for 8 1/2, losing to Tony Richardson for Tom Jones. He was nominated two more times—for Satyricon in 1971 and Amarcord in 1976—but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences didn't award him with an Oscar. But he did take home some trophies: Fellini received four Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film for La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, 8 1/2, and Amarcord (weirdly, in 1975). He also received a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1993.
15. Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino picked up his first Best Director nomination—and loss—for Pulp Fiction; the Oscar went to Robert Zemeckis for Forrest Gump instead. Fifteen years later, in 2010, Tarantino was nominated for Inglourious Basterds, but he lost the Academy Award to Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. But he's probably not all that cut up about those losses; after all, Tarantino does have two Best Original Screenplay Oscars for Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained.