Everyone in the entertainment industry strives to be recognized for their hard work, but sometimes those who are deserving of a gold statuette are outrageously overlooked. Cowboys have been ignored in favor of stuttering kings. New kids on the block have been handed Oscar gold ahead of seasoned veterans. Even television’s wackiest boss never received the recognition many fans felt that he deserved.
Hearing these anecdotes and stories can make one wonder what the worst oversights in industry honors are. Who are the performers that should have gotten gold but instead went home empty-handed? Luckily for you, dear reader, we’ve compiled a list of the worst award show snubs of all time. We considered moments from the Grammys, Emmys, and Academy Awards, as these tend to be among the most-watched award shows in any given year.
10. Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff beat Public Enemy (1992)
When you think of iconic and everlasting rap music, do you think more about “Parents Just Don’t Understand” or “Fight the Power?” We’ll assume that you’re smarter than the voters for the 34th Grammy Awards were and picked the correct response. Somehow they believed that Will Smith and his partner’s Summertime was more iconic than the latter group’s Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Back. One is required listening, the other is from a man who thought After Earth was a good idea. Thankfully, there appears to be no ill will between the two camps. As recently as 2016, Public Enemy leader Chuck D said on Twitter that Smith had skills and would often out-rhyme others in the genre until they were quite simply exhausted.
9. Steve Carell’s Michael Scott never got an Emmy, repeatedly (2006-11)
There are few things in life that sting more than losing to Alec Baldwin, but this is what happened repeatedly to Steve Carell when The Office was on the air and his Michael Scott was at the peak of his performance. Carell did not take home the Emmy, instead watching it go to the team behind 30 Rock and Baldwin in 2008 and 2009. Others who bested his character include Tony Shalhoub’s Adrian Monk and Jim Parsons for his work on The Big Bang Theory. It’s a total shame, but hey, at least he walked away with cultural immortality, and some would say that that’s even better than an award.
8. Aaron Paul beats costar Giancarlo Esposito (2012)
Though this one still does recognize a good actor from the iconic Breaking Bad, the problem is that it went to the less powerful performance of the two. As Gustavo Fring on the show’s fourth season, Esposito was dripping with menace and a moment that finds him triumphing over several more powerful rivals after years of wanting vengeance was masterfully portrayed. He was the best supporting actor that year, not Paul. To his and Paul’s credit, neither was upset by the shocking win, and Paul was gracious enough to thank him in his acceptance speech, which you can see above.
7. Eddie Redmayne beats Michael Keaton (2015)
Eddie Redmayne is a good actor. There’s no question about that. However, his performance in The Theory of Everything, in which he portrayed Dr. Stephen Hawking, was not better than Michael Keaton’s interpretation of an actor trying to move on from when he played a famous superhero decades ago in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Keaton deserved an Oscar for his layered performance and felt so confident he would win that he had what looked like a speech ready to go just before Redmayne’s name was announced instead. In the above clip, it heartbreakingly looks like he puts the speech back into his jacket pocket.
6. Ed Sheeran bests Kesha (2018)
Songs can be many things. Kesha’s “Praying,” for example, can move people to tears, while Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” is appealing in a fun and sexy way. Kesha’s was the better work of the two given that it was about trying to move on from deeply serious trauma and also showcased her natural voice after years in the autotuned wilderness. It deserved to win a Grammy, but shockingly did not. Instead, Sheeran took home the gold, besting both Pink and Lady Gaga in the process.
5. Jason Alexander’s George Costanza never mastered the Emmy domain (1992-98)
How is it that we live in a reality where a performance ranked just behind Ed McMahon and Robin on a list of the greatest sidekicks of all time never won any hardware for his work? We wish we had an answer. Every time the most lovable loser from Seinfeld was nominated for an Emmy, he lost to Michael Richards’ Cosmo Kramer, someone from a forgettable show called Evening Shade, and even David Hyde Pierce during Frasier’s run. It’s ridiculous, to say the least. Sure, Kramer was a physical goofball and Pierce’s work was stuffy yet funny, but Costanza was the most authentic of the bunch. He channeled a realistic male rarely seen on television and should have been better recognized for his work.
4. Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing lost to Ed Asner (1980)
We could not find footage of this loss, though there is text record of it on the show’s website, so we opted for a montage of Larry Hagman’s most ruthless comments during his run on Dallas instead. His character is known for being part of one of television’s most seminal mysteries and is still remembered by millions today. Asner is a fine actor, but his Lou Grant was better on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
3. The Shawshank Redemption loses to Forrest Gump (1995)
The Shawshank Redemption and Forrest Gump have been endlessly replayed on television along with other nominees this year like Pulp Fiction. However, the first is the best of the three movies mentioned. Quentin Tarantino’s work coasts on its violence and arguably stayed in viewers’ consciousness due to adulation of teenage boys and Tom Hanks wowed people with the gimmick of seeing himself inserted into historical moments. Frank Darabont did the best job this year with his story of hope, an unlikely friendship, beautiful scenery, and working hard to beat odds. It’s a shame the things he depicted with Andy Dufresne did not cross over into his professional life. There are always more chances, we guess.
2. Guns N’ Roses lost to Living Colour for Best Hard Rock Performance (1990)
When you think of Axl Rose and the music he made with his most famous band in their early years, it screamed out as an example of what hard rock was at the moment. “Used to Love Her” is an edgy song about killing a partner. Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” is a good song, but it does not have the same edge as shown above and though technically louder, did not deserve this honor. The award is retired so it can no longer be won, but this still stings.
1. Martin Sheen had a fictional presidency but no actual Emmy (2000-06)
At one point on The West Wing, it was intended to never have the president be seen, but creator Aaron Sorkin thought this would be cheesy and ultimately Martin Sheen was cast. While a member of the Democratic Party and an admittedly liberal fantasy not in synch with reality, he still gives a good performance and, as shown in the above clip, can silence and command a room with his interpretation. This makes it so shocking that he lost to figures like James Gandolfini for his equally iconic turn in The Sopranos. Given how the latter was a new show and off-network, you’d have thought voters would have gone with what they knew best. This did not happen, and so this production became one known in memory alone.