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15 Famous Filmmakers Who Never Won Best Director Academy Awards

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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, NetworkThe 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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
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Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

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West Side Story Is Returning to Theaters This Weekend
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM

As Chris Pratt and a gang of prehistoric creatures get ready to face off against some animated superheroes for this weekend’s box office dominance, an old rivalry is brewing once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. West Side Story—Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s classic big-screen rendering of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical—is returning to cinemas for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics Series, West Side Story will have special screening engagements at more than 600 theaters across the country on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, encores will screen at the same time on Wednesday, June 27. The film—which is being re-released courtesy of TCM, Fathom Events, Park Circus, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer—will be presented in its original widescreen format, and include its original mid-film intermission. (Though its 2.5-hour runtime is practically standard nowadays, that wasn’t the case a half-century ago.) The screening will include an introduction and some post-credit commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz.

West Side Story, which was named Best Picture of 1961, is a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that sees star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) navigate the challenges of immigration, racial tension, and inner-city life in mid-century Manhattan—but with lots of singing and dancing. In addition to being named Best Picture, the beloved film took home another nine Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively), and Best Music—obviously.

To find out if West Side Story is screening near you, and to purchase tickets, visit Fathom Events’s website.

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