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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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15 Things You Might Not Know About Mystery Science Theater 3000
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While the rest of America was slipping into a turkey coma on Thanksgiving Day in 1988, Minneapolis area residents lucky enough to get clear reception of local UHF channel KTMA were getting the first taste of what would soon become a Turkey Day tradition: Mystery Science Theater 3000, the classic cult television show which made a sport out of mocking schlocky movies of the past. The premise was simple: two mad scientists, Dr. Clayton Forrester and Dr. Laurence Erhardt, launch a janitor (local comedian Joel Hodgson, as Joel Robinson) into space to study the effect bad movies have on the human mind in order to determine the single film that can help them in their efforts toward world domination.

But as it turns out, human beings can withstand a whole lot of bad acting, sloppy pacing, and ridiculous dialogue. Rather than drive them to the brink of insanity, Joel and the robot friends he built while orbiting Earth—Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, Gypsy, and Cambot—found a certain amount of pleasure in having to endure these B-movies, spending the bulk of the show offering their own bitingly funny analyses of the on-screen happenings. It didn’t take long for audiences to catch on, or for MST3K to migrate to a national stage.

1. MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 WAS BORN FROM FINANCIAL RESTRAINTS.

After trying his luck on the grander Hollywood stage for a few years, comedian Joel Hodgson moved back to Minneapolis with the idea of launching his own television show. There was just one problem: he had no budget. “Basically, Mystery Science Theater came from me saying, ‘What’s the cheapest possible show I could create that would still be novel and bring something new, [and] kind of have a new angle of doing something funny?’” Hodgson told Flavorwire of the show’s origins. “It all just came together, basically, at that point when I realized it could be like hosting a movie show, and if I utilized the silhouette thing, the characters will kind of run not only through the host segments, but through the entire movie, and they’ll be, like, companions.” 

2. THE “3000” IN THE TITLE WAS MEANT TO BE CONFOUNDING.

“The 3000 was a joke on all the people that were attaching the year 2000 to various programs,” said Hodgson in a 2011 interview with Art of the Title. “In the late ’80s it was everywhere: ‘America 2000’ was something that George Bush Sr. was talking about a lot so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I name it 3000 just to confound people?’ But there was a lot of confusion about it. I never meant for the show to take place in the year 3000. That simply makes no sense! If it is the year 3000, then why are all the films and the references about the end of the 20th century? For the concept of the show, it’s just a series number like Galaxie 500 or HAL 9000. Fords aren’t from the year 500 and the HAL wasn’t from the year 9000. In hindsight, I think it’s likely that the Mads were trying to snazz up the name of the show by tacking on the 3000.” 

3. IN ORDER TO GAUGE THE AUDIENCE’S REACTION, THE PRODUCERS SET UP A PHONE LINE.

Even after its initial debut, the creators of MST3K had no idea whether the show had connected with audiences. So writer-producer Jim Mallon (who voiced Gypsy) suggested they set up a viewer hotline and run the number during the next airing. “When we checked the answering machine on Monday, it was full,” Hodgson told Flavorwire. “So people just reacted to it.” This led Hodgson and company to set up a local fan club for the show, which quickly acquired 1000 members.

4. MST3K’S (FIRST) CANCELLATION WAS ALSO BORN FROM FINANCIAL RESTRAINTS.

As MST3K’s popularity was rising, the fortunes of its broadcaster—KTMA—were moving in the opposite direction, which led to the show’s (first) cancellation in May of 1989. As a thank you to the many local fans who had tuned in religiously, the cast put on a live version of the show at the Comedy Gallery, which attracted an audience of more than 600.

As MST3K neared the end of its run on KTMA, the producers put together a short “best of” reel in order to pitch it to other networks. The show caught the attention of executives at The Comedy Channel, a brand-new, 24-hour comedy network owned by HBO, which premiered on November 15, 1989. Three days later, Mystery Science Theater 3000 made its national debut as one of the channel’s anchor programs.

5. AS PART OF THE COMEDY CHANNEL DEAL, HODGSON AND MALLON INSISTED ON KEEPING ITS PRODUCTION IN MINNEAPOLIS.

While the bulk of The Comedy Channel’s programming was produced on site in New York City, the channel agreed to let Hodgson and Mallon continue shooting in Minneapolis. They did, however, spruce up the look of the show with new sets, revamped robots, and a new opening title sequence. 

6. THE BIGGEST CHANGE TO THE MST3K FORMULA WAS IN TURNING TO A SCRIPTED FORMAT.


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The early episodes of MST3K were ad-libbed, but in 1989, Hodgson decided that the show should take a turn for the scripted. As part of this change, Hodgson hired writer (and future host) Michael J. Nelson. “I hired Mike based on his act at an open mic and a recommendation from Josh [Weinstein],” Hodgson told Mental Floss. “Also writing the eps was my call.”

7. IN 1991, MST3K BEGAN A NEW THANKSGIVING DAY TRADITION.

MST3K became Comedy Central’s signature series, with executives nearly doubling its run from 13 to 24 episodes per year in 1991. On Thanksgiving of the same year it launched what would become an annual event: a 30-hour MST3K marathon that came to be known as “Turkey Day,” featuring back-to-back episodes plus behind-the-scenes spots and interviews. In the four years it ran, several of the stars of the films the series mocked—including Adam West (star of Zombie Nightmare), Robert Vaughn (of Teenage Cave Man), and Mamie van Doren (of Untamed Youth and Girls Town)—hosted “Turkey Day.” In honor of the show’s 25th anniversary, Hodgson brought back “Turkey Day” in 2013. For 2017, the marathon will stream via Shout! Factory, beginning at 12 p.m. ET.

8. JOEL’S DEPARTURE IN 1993 WAS THE RESULT OF CREATIVE DIFFERENCES.

After sitting through his final test of cinematic endurance (Mitchell, starring Joe Don Baker—a skewering that led Baker to claim that if he ever met anyone from the show he would “kick their asses”), Joel managed to escape the Satellite of Love with the help of an office temp, Mike Nelson, who the Mads then captured in place of Joel. In a 1999 interview with The A.V. Club, Hodgson admitted that his decision to leave the show was because of disagreements with Jim Mallon. “You can't really be fighting with someone and doing all the stuff you have to do,” said Hodgson. “I think what made the show work for me was that I really loved it. I really liked the audience, and the whole process was ... I was really happy doing it, and I realized that I'd turn into Jerry Lewis or something if I started to kind of hate it. And that was starting to happen, just because of these conflicts I was having internally with Jim … The thing would have blown up if we both would have stayed there. I like to look at it like the story of King Solomon, when the baby was brought before him.”

9. WHEN COMEDY CENTRAL CANCELLED MST3K IN 1996, FANS (A.K.A. MSTIES) TOOK IT UPON THEMSELVES TO RESURRECT THE SERIES.

Viewers put pen to paper and began a massive letter-writing campaign to save the series. The fan outburst didn’t change Comedy Central’s mind, but executives at the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) understood their plight. And so on February 1, 1997, MST3K began its eighth season on its third network. The episode introduced audiences to Professor Bobo, an ape from the year 2525.

In 1999, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was cancelled again, and fans once again launched a campaign to see the show resurrected, with Entertainment Weekly reporting that “efforts to save the show include more than a dozen ‘Save MST3K’ websites, a letter-writing push, and a pledge drive for ‘Save MST3K’ print ads.” The campaign led to a full-page ad in Daily Variety, but Sci-Fi Channel decision-makers remained unmoved, with then-VP of programming Bonnie Hammer citing low ratings coupled with the rising costs of securing film rights (for movies to be ridiculed by the cast) as the problem. Sensing the end was truly near, Nelson admitted: “I'm hoping to find a rich guy to just keep me in his living room and heckle live.” 

10. KURT VONNEGUT, JR. WASN’T A FAN.

In 1996, Jim Mallon and writers Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy released the ultimate fan guide, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. In it, Murphy shares the story about meeting his literary hero, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and telling him about the show and its premise. Vonnegut was not impressed, telling Murphy that every artist deserves respect, even those who produce a bad movie. Still, Murphy couldn’t resist the opportunity to invite Vonnegut out to dinner, which the author politely declined, stating he had other plans. At dinner that night, Murphy and Vonnegut ended up dining at the same restaurant—except Vonnegut was alone, prompting Murphy to admit that he had been “faced ... but nicely faced.”

11. FRANK ZAPPA WAS A FAN.

Frank Zappa was an admitted monster movie fanatic, and wasn’t shy about his love of Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its run. A 1997 article in Total TV Online noted: “MST3K … made the late Frank Zappa an instant convert when he channel surfed into ‘this guy wearing a clown nose and a beanie copter roasting a puppet over an open fire.’ The clown was now-departed (and much beloved) Founding Father Joel Hodgson; the roasted puppet was plucky Tom Servo; and Zappa was equally bemused by the cinematic turkeys being roasted for the main course. ‘He just loved crummy old science fiction movies,’ says writer and voice of Servo Kevin Murphy, who thought ‘Frank Zappa on line one’ was a joke until he picked up the phone.” The show’s producers and Zappa had even discussed plans to collaborate on a giant spider movie; episode 523 was dedicated to Zappa following his passing. 

12. A HUMAN-LESS MST3K WEB SERIES DEBUTED IN 2007.

On November 5, 2007, Mallon debuted an animated Web series, The Bots Are Back!, which followed Tom Servo, Crow and Gypsy’s adventures in space. Fan response was not positive, and only four episodes were ever released.

13. THE WORLD HAS MST3K TO THANK FOR HOBGOBLINS 2.

While not every filmmaker whose worked featured on the series was happy about the development, Hobgoblins director Rick Sloane came to see the positive side of the skewering. "I met Mary Jo Pehl a number of years later and she said I was the only director who ever liked the MST3K treatment of their own film," Sloane told Esquire. "They improved the film dramatically. It was barely watchable in its original version. While I enjoyed every joke that was at an actor's expense, I was seriously horrified when they did the fake interview with me over the end credits. It's become a fan-favorite joke and is constantly quoted on the Internet." But there was an upside to the notoriety: Hobgoblins became so widely known, that it led to the opportunity for a sequel. "I admitted from day one that Hobgoblins 2 was only possible because of the success of MST3K's revival of the original," said Sloane. "I submitted Hobgoblins 2 to both Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax, but they both thought it was too easy of a target."

14. THE SHOW'S TITLE SPAWNED A VERB.

MSTing” is a practice that exists in the fan fiction universe, typically written in a transcript format, in which the characters of one piece of fic (or MST3K’s own characters) commentate another piece of fic. The process is also referred to as sporking.

15. THE RIFFING LIVES ON.

When new episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 stopped being produced, the original cast kept riffing. In 2006, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett introduced a Web series called RiffTrax, which allows customers to download commentary tracks to sync with a movie. Throughout the year, the group also presents several RiffTrax Live performances at cinemas around the country. In 2007, Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl launched Cinematic Titanic, offering a selection of riffed DVDs and a series of live events.

In 2017, a new generation of fans were introduced to Mystery Science Theater 3000 when—after a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring the series back—Netflix debuted Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return, with Jonah Ray hosting.

An earlier version of this post originally appeared in 2013.

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
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Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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