The Quick Report

10 Best Actor Oscars That Should Be Retconned

The Academy Awards should be the pinnacle of recognition in the film industry, however, that’s not always the case. While the award ceremony aims to reward the best of film that year, there have been many instances where the Academy’s decision to award certain performances left audiences scratching their heads. 

From make-up wins to truly bizarre choices, let’s dive into the top 10 worst Best Actor Oscar wins of all time.

Eddie Redmayne — The Theory of Everything (2014)

Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything
Working Title Films

There’s no question Eddie Redmayne is a talented actor and one of the most charming men in Hollywood. But, while he did deliver a compelling portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking, some critics argued his performance veered slightly into caricature territory.

In fact, many believed Michael Keaton, who was nominated for Birdman, was more deserving of the Oscar.

Roberto Benigni — Life Is Beautiful (1997)

Roberto Benigni in Life Is Beautiful
Melampo Cinematografica

Roberto Benigni’s win for his role in the Holocaust drama was controversial due to the film’s trivialization of historical atrocities. While Benigni’s performance showcased his trademark charm and comedic talent, many critics and viewers felt that the film’s treatment of such a grave historical event was inappropriate.

Ultimately, while Benigni’s performance had its moments, the film’s tone-deaf approach to its subject matter made his victory hard to swallow.

Kevin Costner — Dances with Wolves (1990)

Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves
Orion Pictures

Kevin Costner’s directorial debut was praised for its epic scope but criticized for its simplistic portrayal of Native American culture. And, not only did he win Best Actor, but he also won Best Director and Best Picture!

Unfortunately, Costner’s win over more seasoned actors like Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro left many questioning the Academy’s judgment.

Russell Crowe — Gladiator (2000)

Russell Crowe in Gladiator

Gladiator was one of the biggest films of the year, but did it deserve an acting Oscar?! Russell Crowe’s turn as the vengeful Roman general Maximus was undeniably commanding, but some argued it lacked the depth of other nominees’ performances that year.

Ultimately, Crowe’s win was seen as a nod to the film’s box-office success rather than his acting prowess.

Al Pacino — Scent of a Woman (1992)

Al Pacino and Chris O'Donnel in Scent of a Woman
Universal Pictures

If there was ever a “make-up Oscar” it’s this one. Al Pacino’s portrayal of a blind, retired army officer earned him his first Oscar win, but many felt it was a career achievement award rather than a recognition of his performance in this particular film.

While some loved his over-the-top performance, many feel he should have gotten an Oscar for his work in The Godfather instead. 

Jamie Foxx — Ray (2004)

Jamie Foxx in Ray
Universal PIctures

While Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles was praised for its authenticity, some critics argued it relied too heavily on mimicry rather than genuine emotional depth.

There’s no question Foxx captured the iconic musician’s mannerisms and vocal style, but some critics said his portrayal lacked the nuanced complexity needed to fully embody the character. However, Foxx’s win was seen as inevitable due to the Academy’s obsession with biopics.

Nicolas Cage — Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas
United Artists

Nicolas Cage’s win for his role as a self-destructive alcoholic was definitely divisive. While some praised his raw intensity, others found his performance overly mannered.

Needless to say, Cage’s win over more subtle performances remains a point of contention among film buffs.

Jeff Bridges — Crazy Heart (2009)

Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Jeff Bridges’ portrayal of a washed-up country singer was widely praised, but some argued that it was a role he had played before in other films. Been there, done that!

While he may not have deserved the Oscar over others, Bridges’ win was seen as overdue recognition for his illustrious career rather than a groundbreaking performance.

Matthew McConaughey — Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
Focus Features

Alright, alright, alright. Matthew McConaughey’s transformative performance as a homophobic cowboy turned AIDS activist earned him widespread acclaim, but some critics argued it relied too heavily on physical transformation rather than emotional depth.

McConaughey’s win appeared to be recognition for his career comeback, rather than a truly exceptional performance.

Read More: Lights, Camera, Confusion: The Weirdest Casting Choices in Film History

Rami Malek — Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody
20th Century Fox

While Rami Malek’s performance captured Freddie Mercury’s flamboyance and stage presence, many argued the film itself played it safe, glossing over aspects of Mercury’s life and sexuality. In fact, Malek’s win was seen by some as more a recognition of his physical transformation and mimicry of Mercury’s mannerisms rather than a deep exploration of the character’s complexities.

Additionally, controversies surrounding director Bryan Singer and the film’s historical inaccuracies further fueled the debate over whether Malek’s win truly represented the pinnacle of acting achievement for that year.

Read More: 10 Categories the Oscars Need to Add ASAP