In January 2015, the dark theater-set comedy Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was a major contender at the Golden Globe Awards, but seemed to watch its Oscar chances dented by losing to Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel in the Best Musical or Comedy Picture category. The award show also christened Richard Linklater’s 12-year-long odyssey Boyhood as the favorite after its win for Best Motion Picture, Drama.
By the end of the following month, victories with the guild awards including an ensemble win at the Screen Actors Guild pushed Birdman to the Best Picture prize, and a victory for Best Director winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. It defeated both Golden Globe winners along with other notable hits Selma, The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game.
As Birdman’s win proves, not winning the Golden Globe does not necessarily mean the Best Picture prize will not be assured. There have been notable times since the Hollywood Foreign Press’ annual ceremony’s beginning in 1951 in which either the Best Drama or Musical/Comedy winners did not score a trip to the Oscar ceremony. While many Musical or Comedy winners were destined to not reach the apex of Hollywood awards season, the following films were notable in the sense of being pegged as the favorite – only to lose their footing and not score the most major of victories.
The 1953 Biblical drama The Robe was the first major Golden Globe winner to lose to a non-competing film; while it was nominated, it lost to the World War II-set From Here to Eternity. In 1955, the James Dean-led adaptation of John Steinbeck’s epic novel East of Eden was the big winner, but at the Oscars, it was snubbed in the top category. Another movie to suffer the same fate was Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 sword-and-sandals epic Spartacus; while it boasted a landmark cast in Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier and Oscar winner Peter Ustinov, even they and Kubrick’s name were not enough to push it onto the Oscars’ final five that year. Another snubbed film was the 1963 Otto Preminger drama The Cardinal, whose Globe victory was overshadowed and ultimately dropped in favor of the eventual Best Picture winner Tom Jones.
The late 1960s and 1970s had Golden Globe winners defeated for the Best Picture prize at the Oscars soon after tasting HFPA gold. The 1969 historical drama Anne of the Thousand Days was trumped by the X-rated Midnight Cowboy, while the following year’s tearjerking winner Love Story lost to the epic war film Patton. The watershed year of 1974 had Roman Polanski’s landmark Chinatown take home the top prize, only to be tripped at the Oscar race by the powerful sequel The Godfather Part II. In 1977, Woody Allen’s romantic comedy Annie Hall was the triumphant winner on Oscar night, but it did not have the same kind of success with the HFPA. The film lost the top Musical/Comedy category to the Herbert Ross-Neil Simon work The Goodbye Girl, and Allen even lost the director prize to The Turning Point‘s Herbert Ross. The following year saw the Alan Parker prison drama Midnight Express take its Golden Globe victory to a defeated campaign for Best Picture, losing to the Vietnam War drama The Deer Hunter.
Only one instance of an Oscar-winning Best Picture contender not scoring at the Golden Globes came in the 1980s, with Richard Attenborough’s epic biopic Gandhi not receiving any love from the HFPA. It was not even nominated for the Best Drama Picture category, with Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster E.T. taking that prize. The 1990s saw three Best Drama winners in 1991’s Bugsy, 1992’s Scent of a Woman and 1995’s Sense and Sensibility all meet the same fate at Oscar night with all of them losing for Best Picture.
The 2000s had an influx of Golden Globe winners see their momentum get stunted despite holding that precursor prize as an advantage. Martin Scorsese’s 2004 Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator scored the win, but Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby carried its own momentum and passing it for the Best Picture prize. It was the second time Eastwood managed to pull off the feat, with his 1992 Western hit Unforgiven managing to win the Oscar. Ang Lee’s blockbuster 2005 love story Brokeback Mountain won the top prize and seemed to seal its win, but Paul Haggis’ L.A.-set ensemble drama Crash pulled off the upset (with one theory being Brokeback‘s gay-themed story causing old-school Oscar voters to turn against it). Crash‘s win was just as remarkable considering that film was never a Golden Globe contender.
Before his Best Picture-winning Birdman overrode the Globe snub, its director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu saw his film be a victim of winning the Globe and not cashing in at Oscar night. His 2006 ensemble drama Babel lost to Martin Scorsese’s Boston crime drama The Departed, with the director reversing his own curse after The Aviator‘s disappointing campaign. The following year saw Joe Wright’s adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel Atonement score the top dramatic prize and somehow it ended up being snubbed for the Best Picture race. 2009 and 2010 saw successes in James Cameron’s worldwide blockbuster Avatar and the Facebook drama The Social Network winning the early prize, only for them to respectively lose to The Hurt Locker and The King’s Speech weeks later at the Academy Awards.
While Birdman‘s Best Picture victory should come as a surprise considering its lacking pedigree from the Golden Globes, it is simply another picture to prove the Hollywood Foreign Press’ blessing is sometimes not necessary to pull off the big win on Hollywood’s biggest night. Since the Golden Globes’ inception in the early 1950s, there have been many examples of how a big win there may not necessarily translate into higher success down the line.