Fascinating Oscar trend: It’s actually good luck NOT to have directed a previous Best Picture nominee

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In a previous piece for Gold Derby, I referenced how all but one Best Picture Oscar winner since 2008 came from filmmakers who had never directed a Best Picture nominee before. The only exception is Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s “Birdman” in 2014; his prior Best Picture bid was for “Babel” back in 2006. Let’s dig into the last 15 years of winners, shall we?

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In 2008 “Slumdog Millionaire” was the juggernaut of the film awards season, winning eight Oscars, which is still more than any film since then. It was directed by Danny Boyle, who at the time only made one other Oscar nominated film, 1996’s “Trainspotting,” which was recognized with a nom for Best Adapted Screenplay.

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In 2009 the race famously came down to two films from directors who were previously married: James Cameron‘s “Avatar” and Kathryn Bigelow‘s “The Hurt Locker.” Cameron was returning to the Oscars 12 years after his previous movie, “Titanic,” won 11 awards (a record it currently shares with “Ben-Hur” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”). Bigelow was a veteran who previously had never even had a film Oscar-nominated before. In the end, Best Picture went to “The Hurt Locker,” and Bigelow made history as the very first woman to win Best Director.

In 2010 “The Social Network” was the early frontrunner to win Best Picture. It was directed by David Fincher, who was coming off of his very first Best Picture and Best Director noms for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” two years earlier. Yet the Oscar instead went to “The King’s Speech,” the third feature film directed by Tom Hooper, who like Bigelow had never even helmed an Oscar-nominated movie before.

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In 2011 “The Artist” dominated the season, winning five accolades overall. It was the third feature film directed by Michel Hazanavicius, who had never helmed an Oscar-nominated movie before.

In 2012 “Argo” won three Oscars including Best Picture. It was the third feature film directed by Ben Affleck, whose previous directorial efforts were only recognized in acting categories: 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone” for supporting actress Amy Ryan and 2010’s “The Town” for supporting actor Jeremy Renner.

In 2013 the race came down to two movies from directors who had never helmed a Best Picture nominee before: Steve McQueen‘s “12 Years a Slave” and Alfonso Cuarón‘s “Gravity.” The former had his third feature film, but his first to be recognized by the academy in any category at all. The latter previously had four films Oscar nominated in one to three different categories. Best Picture went to “12 Years a Slave,” which won three overall.

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In 2015 reigning champion Iñárritu was back with “The Revenant,” an even more ambitious effort than “Birdman.” It was the frontrunner to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Yet the award instead went to “Spotlight,” which was the fifth feature film directed by Tom McCarthy. One of his previous movies scored one acting nomination, lead actor Richard Jenkins for 2008’s “The Visitor,” but “Spotlight” was McCarthy’s first Best Picture nominee.

In 2016 “La La Land” was the early frontrunner to win Best Picture. It was directed by Damien Chazelle, who was just coming off of his first Best Picture nom for “Whiplash” two years earlier. On Oscar night “La La Land” was announced as the winner as expected … before it was revealed two-and-a-half minutes later that the real winner was “Moonlight,” the second feature film directed by Barry Jenkins, whose previous work, 2008’s “Medicine for Melancholy,” was ignored by the Oscars.

In 2017 “The Shape of Water” won a hotly contested Best Picture race. It was directed by Guillermo del Toro, whose previous efforts “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) and “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (2008) were Oscar nominees and/or winners in other categories, but not Best Picture.

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In 2018 Alfonso Cuarón returned to the Oscar race in a big way with “Roma.” That movie was a passion project for him, and became the frontrunner for Best Picture. Yet on Oscar night it was defeated by “Green Book,” directed by Peter Farrelly, who previously helmed comedies with his brother Bobby Farrelly, none of which were recognized by the academy at all.

In 2019 the race came down to “1917” and “Parasite.” The former was directed by Sam Mendes, whose feature directorial debut, “American Beauty,” won Best Picture and Best Director 20 years earlier. He was considered a safe bet to win a second Best Director Oscar … until Spike Lee announced Bong Joon Ho as the winner, which led to “Parasite” becoming the very first foreign-language movie to win Best Picture. South Korean filmmaker Bong previously never had a film Oscar-nominated in a single category before.

In 2020 “Nomadland” was the favorite throughout the season and won three Oscars overall, including Best Picture. It was the third feature film from Chloé Zhao, who also became the first woman of color to win Best Director. She’d previously never helmed an Oscar-nominated movie before.

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In 2021 “The Power of the Dog” was the frontrunner to win Best Picture. It was directed by Jane Campion, whose “The Piano” earned Best Picture and Best Director noms 28 years earlier. Yet “CODA” came from behind late in the season to win it all in the end. It was the second feature film directed by Sian Heder, whose previous effort, 2016’s “Tallulah,” was overlooked by the Oscars.

Finally, in 2022 “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was a juggernaut, winning seven Oscars overall. It was the second feature film from the directing team of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, whose previous film, 2016’s “Swiss Army Man,” wasn’t nominated for any Oscars.

Will the trend continue this year? Notice that the top six films in our current Best Picture odds — Christopher Nolan‘s “Oppenheimer,” Martin Scorsese‘s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Yorgos Lanthimos‘s “Poor Things,” Greta Gerwig‘s “Barbie,” Alexander Payne‘s “The Holdovers” and Bradley Cooper‘s “Maestro” — are all by filmmakers who have helmed previous Best Picture nominees. Perhaps that’s a sign that we’re underestimating another potential “CODA.”

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