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The 17 Biggest Upsets in Oscar History

With 12 nominations to lead the field, The Revenant is this year’s heavy Oscar favorite. Yet if the past is any indication, the Academy has at least one or two major surprises up its sleeve. Ever since it began handing out statuettes 88 years ago, the Academy has shown a predilection for bucking the odds In anticipation of this year’s telecast on Feb. 28, we present the 17 biggest upsets in the Oscars’ long, unpredictable history.

1. ‘How Green Was My Valley’ wins Best Picture (1942)
‘How Green Was My Valley’ wins Best Picture (1942)

When it was first released, Orson Welles’Citizen Kane received a less-than-rapturous critical reception, leading to a loss to John Ford’s family saga How Green Was My Valley for Best Picture. In hindsight, Kane’s defeat may be the Academy’s most egregious mistake, considering that Ford’s work has largely faded from memory, while Welles’ is regarded as a masterpiece. (Photo: Everett)

2. ‘An American in Paris’ wins Best Picture (1952)
'An American in Paris’ wins Best Picture (1952)

A Streetcar Named Desire won three of the year’s four acting awards and A Place in the Sun nabbed six Oscars of its own. Yet in the showdown for Best Picture, it was MGM’s Gene Kelly-headlined musical — expected only to thrive in the technical and music categories — that bested both for Best Picture. (Photo: Everett)

3. ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ wins Best Picture (1953)
'The Greatest Show on Earth’ wins Best Picture (1953)

Variety dubbed the 1952 Gary Cooper Western High Noon “a cinch” to win Best Picture, but controversy over its allegorical condemnation of McCarthyism (and the Hollywood blacklist) clearly hurt it during Oscar’s biggest showdown. It lost that coveted prize to Cecil B. DeMille’s old-school epic The Greatest Show on Earth. (Photo: Everett)

4. Grace Kelly wins Best Actress for ‘The Country Girl’ (1955)
Grace Kelly wins Best Actress for 'The Country Girl’ (1955)

Judy Garland was a considerable favorite to win Best Actress for her celebrated turn in A Star is Born, so Grace Kelly’s triumph for The Country Girl — a minor film that no one now remembers — was outright baffling, leading Groucho Marx to dub it “the worst robbery since Brink’s.” (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

5. Bob Fosse wins Best Director for ‘Cabaret’ (1973)
Bob Fosse wins Best Director for 'Cabaret’ (1973)

The Godfather may be considered a masterpiece of modern American cinema, but Francis Ford Coppola failed to win Best Director for it at the 1973 show, losing to Fosse. The Academy would make it up to Coppola two years later by giving him the statuette for The Godfather Part II. (Photo: Everett)

6. ‘Rocky’ wins Best Picture (1977)
'Rocky’ wins Best Picture (1977)

Featuring classics by Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver), Sidney Lumet (Network) and Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men), the Best Picture category for 1976 movies was an immensely distinguished one. Amid such heavyweights, however, it was underdog Rocky that pulled off the upset win. (Photo: Everett)

7. Richard Dreyfuss wins Best Actor for ‘The Goodbye Girl’ (1978)
Richard Dreyfuss wins Best Actor for 'The Goodbye Girl’ (1978)

Richard Burton was up for his seventh (and, as it turned out, final) Best Actor award for Equus, making him the presumptive favorite. Rather than celebrating a legendary star, however, the Academy opted for Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl — making him, at the time, the youngest winner ever. (Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage)

8. ‘Chariots of Fire’ wins Best Picture (1982)
'Chariots of Fire’ wins Best Picture (1982)

Warren Beatty’s Reds came into the 1982 show with a whopping 12 nominations — including one in every major acting category, an Oscar first — which made it the frontrunner for the night’s principal awards. When it came to the biggest prize of all, however, it was the little-film-that-could, Chariots of Fire, that ran away with Best Picture. (Photo: Everett)

9. Marisa Tomei wins Best Supporting Actress for ‘My Cousin Vinny’ (1993)
Marisa Tomei wins Best Supporting Actress for 'My Cousin Vinny’ (1993)

Tomei’s win was a stunner, especially given her illustrious competition (including Husbands and Wives’ Judy Davis and Howard’s End’s Vanessa Redgrave). The rumors that presenter Jack Palance read the wrong name on the card were false — and her triumph stands as an all-time upset. (Photo: Barry King/Getty Images)

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10. ‘Braveheart’ wins Best Picture (1996) 
'Braveheart’ wins Best Picture (1996) 

Mel Gibson’s Braveheart remains a guy’s-guy movie staple, but its Best Picture win was far from preordained — in fact, it was perhaps the most unsung upset in Oscar history, in light of the fact that Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 had dominated the category in previous guild competitions that year. (Photo: Everett)

11. Juliette Binoche wins Best Supporting Actress for ‘The English Patient’ (1997)
Juliette Binoche wins Best Supporting Actress for 'The English Patient’ (1997)

The English Patient was the night’s big winner, but Binoche’s statuette was its least likely success. Her main rival for the prize was legend Lauren Bacall, who’d received her first ever nomination for The Mirror Has Two Faces. (Photo: Barry King/Getty Images)

12. ‘Shakespeare in Love’ wins Best Picture (1999)
'Shakespeare in Love’ wins Best Picture (1999)

The legend of Harvey Weinstein was forever cemented at the 1999 ceremony, when Miramax’s Shakespeare in Lovetopped Steven Spielberg’s heavily favored Saving Private Ryan for the top award — a shocking victory that was credited to the then-Miramax chief’s canny campaigning. (Photo: Everett)

13. Gwyneth Paltrow wins Best Actress for ‘Shakespeare in Love’ (1999)
Gwyneth Paltrow wins Best Actress for 'Shakespeare in Love’ (1999)

Almost as stunning as the Best Picture honor was Paltrow’s upset over the heavily favored Elizabeth lead Cate Blanchett, whose breakout performance as Queen Elizabeth I had made her a star. (Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage)

14. Roberto Benigni wins Best Actor for ‘Life is Beautiful’ (1999)
Roberto Benigni wins Best Actor for 'Life is Beautiful’ (1999)

Perhaps because Saving Private Ryannominee Tom Hanks had already won two Best Actor Oscars, or perhaps because the Academy had been convinced to sidestep Saving Private Ryan, the night belonged to Italian clown Roberto Benigni, who climbed over auditorium seats to take home the Best Actor trophy. (Photo: Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

15. Marcia Gay Harden wins Best Supporting Actress ‘Pollock’ (2001)
Marcia Gay Harden wins Best Supporting Actress 'Pollock’ (2001)

That year’s Best Supporting Actress prize seem destined to go to Kate Hudson for her scene-stealing performance in Almost Famous. It was a significant surprise when Harden took top honors for Pollock, which had the lowest-profile of the five nominated films. (Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage)

16. Adrien Brody wins Best Actor ‘The Pianist’ (2003)
Adrien Brody wins Best Actor 'The Pianist’ (2003)

Pitted against the titanic twosome of Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt) and Daniel Day-Lewis (Gang of New York), relative newcomer Brody seemed like the longest of long shots — and his win remains one of the award show’s most astonishing decisions. (Photo: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

17. ‘Crash’ wins Best Picture (2006)
'Crash’ wins Best Picture (2006)

A pioneering work led by two movie stars and directed by a critical darling,Brokeback Mountain seemed poised for a big Oscar night in 2006 — a feeling underlined by Ang Lee’s Best Director win. Its Best Picture loss to polarizing drama Crash dumbfounded pundits and moviegoers alike and continues to be one of the Academy’s most remarkable upsets. (Photo: Lionsgate)

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