Oscars 2021: The 10 best reactions to losing an Academy Award

Louis Chilton
·6 min read
Samuel L Jackson, Sally Kirkland, Jack Nicholson, Ellen Burstyn, Holly Hunter, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and Talia Shire (Oscars)
Samuel L Jackson, Sally Kirkland, Jack Nicholson, Ellen Burstyn, Holly Hunter, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and Talia Shire (Oscars)

There’s surely no feeling in the world quite like winning an Oscar– that heady, unfiltered hit of professional validation that so many actors desperately crave. 

But what of those who aren’t so lucky? For every Oscar winner, there must be a handful of losers, deserving or sometimes undeserving also-rans whose work was collectively deemed to have fallen short.

While actors are often skilled at disguising their disappointment – this is show business, after all – sometimes they let their real feelings slip through.

Whether it’s via side-eye glances that seem to throw shade on the winner, or simply muttering expletives, there have been many Oscar losses that prompted reactions which live on in infamy.

Watch: Oscars 2021 highlights

These aren’t the sorest losers, necessarily, but rather actors who didn’t adhere to the staid conventions of dignified loserdom. 

Sometimes, as in the case of Holly Hunter, or Cate Blanchett, the reactions seem entirely lighthearted; others, such as Burt Reynolds’ acid scowl at the 1997 awards, are as serious as death.

Here are our picks for the 10 funniest reactions to losing an Oscar.

10. Burt Reynolds losing to Robin Williams

It’s easy to see why Burt Reynolds would’ve wanted to win Best Supporting Actor at the 1997 Oscars. The nomination– for the role of patriarchal pornographer Jack Horner in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights – was the first and last he would ever receive in his long and significant career. When Robin Williams picks up the gong instead, for Good Will Hunting, Reynolds slowly claps, wearing a frown that could cut sheet metal. You can see the cliphere, around the one-minute mark.

9. Cate Blanchett loses to Marion Cotillard

There was far more levity to be had in Cate Blanchett’s reaction to Marion Cotillard’s Best Actress victory in 2007 (for La Vie en Rose). Her head snaps up as Cotillard’s name is announced, before breaking into fulsome applause – if it’s an act, it’s a damn good one. But then Blanchett (nominated for the largely forgotten Elizabeth: The Golden Age) would have reason to be generous, having already bagged a statuette three years earlier, for The Aviator.You can see the clip here.

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8. Talia Shire loses to Faye Dunaway

They don’t come much more transparent than this. Dunaway’s Best Actress win, for the 1976 TV satireNetwork, failed to impress some of the other nominees, namely Liv Ulmann and Rocky’s Talia Shire, who watched as Dunaway’s name was announced with utter stone-faced discontent. It’s hard luck for Shire, especially, who had narrowly missed out two years previously for her role as Connie Corleone in The Godfather Part II. You can watch the clip here around the 40-second mark.

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7. Holly Hunter loses to Anna Paquin

Holly Hunter’s reaction to losing out to an 11-year-old Anna Paquin in 1993 is a great unlikely example of the actor’s effervescent screen energy. Opting for a sort of exaggerated, head-shaking “oh drat” motion, Hunter took the loss to her The Piano co-star in the best of spirits. While Hunter missed out on the Best Supporting Actress award for The Firm, her role alongside Paquin in The Piano was recognised later that same night with a Best Actress win. You can watch the reaction here around the 54-second mark. 

6. Bill Murray loses to Sean Penn

Lost in Translation was a watershed moment for Bill Murray, the droll star of hit comedies from Ghostbusters to Groundhog Day. For Sofia Coppola’s Tokyo-set romance, he dialled his humour down to a minimum, delivering a sombre, profoundly sad performance that surprised no one when it was nominated for an Oscar in 2003. Clearly no one told him it was OK to lighten up again, however, judging from the completely impassive (perhaps even quietly seething) look he adopts after Sean Penn was announced as the winner. You can see it here around the one minute 38-second mark.

5. Jack Nicholson loses to Adrien Brody

Few in the press were expecting Adrien Brody to win Best Actor in 2002, for The Pianist –and neither, clearly, was Jack Nicholson. The veteran star’s shock was clear despite the conveniently obscurant sunglasses, as Nicholson’s mouth opens in astonishment. Nicolas Cage, visible at the top of the screen here, is just as stunned. Perhaps they’re right to be; it’s hard to argue Brody’s performance has held up as well as either of theirs, in About Schmidt and Adaptation respectively.

4. Minnie Driver loses to Kim Basinger

Sort of a forebear Blanchett’s over-effusive reaction, Minnie Driver’s performative shock at Kim Basinger’s LA Confidential win creeps over the line into what can only be described as wildly excessive. Driver’s turn in Good Will Hunting was good, but Basinger’s win couldn’t have been that surprising, surely. You can watch it here around the one-and-a-half-minute mark. 

3. Ellen Burstyn losing to Glenda Jackson

It’s hard to know exactly how to describe Ellen Burstyn’s reaction to her 1973 Oscar loss, but she didn’t seem particularly amused. Burstyn was up for Best Actress for her turn in The Exorcist; the award ended up going to Glenda Jackson (A Touch of Class), who wasn’t even in attendance. When the winner is announced, Burstyn affects a sort of exaggerated look of surprise, raising her eyebrows and visibly mouthing “OK… what a surprise” to the person sitting next to her. You can watch the clip here around the 40-second mark.

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2. Samuel L Jackson loses to Martin Landau

There’s a lot to be said for Samuel L Jackson’s reaction to losing 1994’s Best Supporting Actor race. Rather than opt for some unctuous display of Hollywood graciousness, Jackson lets out a short, honest expletive (“s***”). He had reason to feel snubbed– it’s immeasurable how much his Pulp Fiction role has endured beyond that of Martin Landau’s Oscar-winning Ed Wood performance – but mostly it’s just amusing to see an actor venting their emotions without any of the usual artifice. You can see the clip here after the one-minute mark.

1. Sally Kirkland loses to Cher

Sally Kirkland deserves an Oscar for this reaction alone. The way she furiously purses her lips, rolling her eyes as Cher’s name is announced, before pivoting, in an instant, to a broad, almost uncannily convincing smile, is pure cinema. Forget the actual films for which they were nominated (Cher for 1987’sMoonstruck and Kirkland for Anna); just give me Kirkland’s Jekyll-and-Hyde facial gymnastics, played on loop for an hour and half, please. 

Watch: Oscar winner Yuh-Jung Youn reacts to Brad Pitt introducing her

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