The first Academy Awards ceremony took place in 1929, giving out awards to directors such as Lewis Milestone and Frank Borzage. Since then, the Academy Awards, more commonly referred to as the Oscars, has become known as the most prestigious award ceremony in cinema.
However, the list of directors that have never won a Best Director or Best Picture award is impressive, with some of the biggest names in cinema failing to receive merit from The Academy, despite its almost one hundred year old legacy.
There could be many reasons for this, including the Academy’s famous lack of diversity – only two women have ever won the Best Director award. Only three Asian directors have took home that same prize, and zero black directors have been awarded it.
The lack of diversity in its history has resulted in the Academy being called out over the last few years, leading to more variety in nominations. We can only hope that a power as big as the Academy will continue to recognise more marginalised filmmakers, in turn shining a really important light on directors who may not have been recognised for their art before.
The 10 greatest directors to never win an Oscar:
10. Lynne Ramsey
Scottish-born filmmaker Lynne Ramsey is a genius in depicting the effects of grief and guilt, often centring young characters within her films. Her psychological drama Morvern Callar, released in 2002, is a gritty and difficult yet enthralling watch, and her most recent film You Were Never Really Here (2017) has been described as “crafted with an immaculate style that assaults your every sense”.
Ramsey’s immaculate attention to detail, from her choice of music to her striking conception of images, make her films extraordinarily compelling. However, it is unsurprising that Ramsey has not been nominated before, as only two women have ever won Best Director, and over the 93 Oscar ceremonies to have taken place, only seven women have ever been nominated in that category.
9. Eric Rohmer
Eric Rohmer was an influential figure of the French New Wave alongside the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. His intelligent and philosophical approach to filmmaking has made him a favourite amongst some of today’s most well-regarded filmmakers, his influence spans genres: from Quentin Tarantino to Mia Hansen-Love.
There is a warmth to Rohmer’s films that is characterised by his use of natural landscapes, especially the seaside, creating a sense of the sublime whilst the narrative focuses on conversation, often fuelled by an erotic undercurrent. In 1970, My Night at Maud’s, Rohmer’s beautiful black-and-white exploration into moral responsibility and infidelity, was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, however he lost out to Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North for Franklin J. Schaffner’s Patton.
8. Ousmane Sembène
Born in 1923, Ousmane Sembène became the first-ever Sub-Saharan African filmmaker to release a feature film, entitled Black Girl (1966). It is only 60 minutes in length, but a harrowing and devasting account of a young Senegalese woman who moves to France in the hopes of working as a nanny. Sembène uses rich imagery to portray the effects of colonialism and racism, demonstrating exactly how oppressors break down the identities of the exploited.
The Academy Awards have never awarded a black filmmaker the Best Director prize, highlighting the Oscars extreme lack of diversity and privileging of whiteness. Sembène’s incredible Black Girl is an Oscar-worthy film without a doubt, but unfortunately, it took until 1991 for a black director to even receive a nomination – John Singleton for Boys n the Hood.
7. Wim Wenders
Best known for the phenomenal 1984 film Paris, Texas starring Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski, Wenders is one of the main faces of New German Cinema. However, Wenders has never received an award from the Academy, despite three of his documentaries receiving nominations for Best Documentary Feature. Wenders has consistently produced spectacular films such as the tender Alice in the Cities, and breath-taking Wings of Desire, exploring themes of loneliness, loss, and memory.
It is disheartening that a film like Paris, Texas, a tale of isolation and redemption, executed gorgeously through long-take conversations between characters, soundtracked by an enthralling slide-guitar score by Ry Cooder, didn’t receive a single nod from the Academy.
6. Celine Sciamma
Celine Sciamma gained significant recognition for her 2019 film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a beautiful historical drama about the relationship between two women in 18th century France. The film features exquisite cinematography by Claire Mathon which showcases lush landscapes and beach scenes, alongside incredible performances by Noemie Merlant and Adele Haenel that perfectly capture the power of the female gaze.
Sciamma has made a significant impact in cinema through her prioritising of marginalised groups, such as 2014’s Girlhood featuring an almost all-black cast, and Tomboy (2011) depicting the story of a young child who assigned female, presents male to their peers. Sciamma directs her film with great sensitivity and intricacy and despite Portrait of a Lady on Fire garnering awards from Cannes Film Festival and the Cesar Awards, the Academy Awards failed to acknowledge the film or Sciamma.
5. Richard Linklater
Linklater gained a cult following with the release of his 1993 film Dazed and Confused, a zany coming-of-age time capsule of 1970s American suburbia. In 1995 he went on to release the first instalment, Before Sunrise, in what became one of the most well-regarded trilogies of all time, the Before trilogy. The naturalistic dialogue, heavily inspired by the cinema of French auteur Eric Rohmer, makes the film incredibly captivating.
It is no wonder that many critics place Before Sunrise on their greatest films of all time lists, citing it as beautifully shot and unabashedly romantic. Despite various nominations, including Best Director for Boyhood (2014), and Best Adapted Screenplay for Before Sunset (2004), Linklater has never taken home an award from the Academy.
4. David Fincher
Fincher has repeatedly been snubbed by the Oscars, despite his incredible catalogue of films. The Fight Club and Se7en director has been nominated for Best Director three times, losing out to Danny Boyle in 2008, Tom Hooper in 2010, and Chloe Zhao in 2021. Quite simply, Fincher is a master of psychological thriller, knowing exactly when to reveal certain elements to the audience, and when to keep them obscured.
Countlessly, Fincher has proved himself as a genius storyteller – sharp, engaging, and extremely precise. The success of his filmography, dating back to the 1990s, suggests that almost any of his films could be placed in an Oscar nomination category and have a good chance of winning. Unfortunately for Fincher, some of his greatest films (Fight Club, Gone Girl, Se7en, Zodiac) were never nominated at all.
3. Wong Kar Wai
Hailing from Hong Kong, Wong Kar Wai, director of cult classics Fallen Angels, Chungking Express, and In the Mood for Love, is considered one of modern cinema’s greatest auteurs. Yet, the director has never even received a nomination for his considerable contributions to the screen.
Wong’s films often use non-linear methods of storytelling and a distinctive colour palette, which is often saturated with the greens and yellows of cities illuminated after dark. There are arguably very few directors that have mastered the intricacies of loneliness like Wong has. Only four Asian directors have ever won Best Director, with the first win being Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain in 2005, also becoming the first person of colour to win the award.
2. Paul Thomas Anderson
It may be surprising to learn that Paul Thomas Anderson has never won an Oscar, despite being nominated for Best Director for There Will be Blood and Phantom Thread. Anderson has continuously proved himself to be an incredible director throughout the entirety of his career, which began in 1996 with his debut Hard Eight.
Since then, Anderson has gone on to make nine feature films, frequently collaborating with the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis and Philip Seymour Hoffman, even casting the late Hoffman’s teenage son Cooper as the lead of his most recent film Liquorice Pizza. If Anderson’s current success is anything to go by, it only seems inevitable that he will take home a Best Director award in the future.
1. Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, yet the Academy have not subscribed to this view. Despite 13 Oscar nominations, including Best Director for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr. Strange Love, A Clockwork Orange, and Barry Lyndon, Kubrick only ever received an Oscar in 1968 on behalf of Best Visual Effects for Space Odyssey.
Kubrick’s ability to master a whole host of genres, from war to crime, to period drama to space, Kubrick traversed different worlds in every film he made whilst retaining a distinctly modern and exciting flair that was so unique in comparison to other filmmakers. 2001: A Space Odyssey’s mesmerising lighting and complex themes regarding the evolution of humanity and technology, alongside an incredible performance by Kier Dullea, elevated it above its contemporaries.
Yet in 1968, Kubrick, nominated for 2001: A Space Odyssey, arguably one of the greatest films ever made, lost Best Director to Carol Reed for his film Oliver!