The Oscars are the ultimate prize in the movie industry, but the storied Academy, as anyone who has filled out an annual office pool can attest, sometimes fails to reward filmmakers and actors when you expect it. That's why there are so many award winners who have Academy Awards for what we consider the wrong film. It's a totally different issue than those completely snubbed for the honor (we feel for you, Ben Affleck). We're talking about the disconnect between which movie a renowned performer or auteur deserved to win for and which actually landed them the golden statue.
If you think about the following 10 Oscar winners' careers, we guarantee you'll assume they won for a different movie.
10. Meryl Streep: The most nominated actor in Academy history is living legend Meryl Streep. With 17 nominations to her name, it's difficult to remember exactly which three performances netted her the statue. "Sophie's Choice" remains her four-decade career's signature film, but the other two are harder to pinpoint, even if she won one just last year! In 2012, Streep upset favorite frontrunner Viola Davis with her portrayal of "The Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher, but what about the prolific actress's unforgettable turns in "Doubt," "The Devil Wears Prada," "Julie & Julia," "Silkwood" and "The Deer Hunter"? She won for none of those, but for her 1979 family drama, "Kramer Vs. Kramer."
9. Robert De Niro: The one, the only De Niro has two Academy Awards. One is definitely for his tour de force as aging boxer Jake LaMotta in "Raging Bull," and the other … Is it also for a Scorsese-directed drama? Nope. It's not for playing a loyal Vietnam vet in "The Deer Hunter," a homicidal ex-con in "Cape Fear" or a psychotic Vietnam vet in "Taxi Driver." De Niro won his other Oscar the first time he was nominated, for Best Supporting Actor in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather: Part II." While his win for playing the young Vito Corleone was well deserved, De Niro has played so many extraordinary characters, it's easy to believe those other roles earned Oscars.
8. Roman Polanski: He may have a both depressing and despicable personal history, but Polanski is a brilliant filmmaker who's been nominated for Best Director four times ("Chinatown," "Tess" and "The Pianist") and Best Adapted Screenplay ("Rosemary's Baby"). Even though "Chinatown" is considered Polanski's best film, earning 11 Academy Award nominations, the neo-noir classic scored only one Oscar – for Robert Towne's original screenplay. Polanski's twisty Los Angeles-set drama had the misfortune of being pitted against Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather, Part II," so it's the Holocaust drama "The Pianist" (2002) that earned the Polish-French director his Oscar due.
7. Cate Blanchett: The amazing Aussie actress has memorably played the Queen of England, a royal elf and the bard of rock and roll, but her Academy Award isn't for "Elizabeth," "The Lord of the Rings" or "I'm Not There." Blanchett's one Oscar (she's been nominated four times) is for her supporting role portraying Katherine Hepburn opposite Leo DiCaprio's Howard Hughes in "The Aviator" (2004). The patrician New England accent alone earned her the award. We still can't believe Blanchett has yet to win a Best Actress.
6. Whoopi Goldberg: If you were to play a montage of Goldberg's film roles in your head, you'd pause and marvel at exactly one film – her starring role as Celie in "The Color Purple" (1984). Goldberg beautifully portrayed a woman who survives every indignity that comes along with being black, poor, ugly, a woman, a "nothin' at all" in the rural Jim Crow South. But Steven Spielberg's adaptation didn't win a single Academy Award, despite 11 nominations. Goldberg went on to win a Best Supporting Actress award for playing an eccentric medium in "Ghost" six years later.
5. Judi Dench: Eight minutes. That’s how long Dench's droll depiction of Queen Elizabeth I lasted in "Shakespeare in Love." Her acceptance speech lasted almost as long, and she herself joked, "I feel for eight minutes on the screen, I should only get a little bit of him." Considering Dench has impressed critics and audiences for 50 years in much more substantial roles, like playing England's other famous female monarchs in "Mrs. Brown" and the eponymous Alzheimer-suffering novelist in "Iris," not to mention her inimitable portrayal of Bond's boss "M," it's hard to be sure which role should have snagged the grand Dame her Oscar.
4. Martin Scorsese: When Scorsese took the podium for his Best Director Oscar in 2007, many might have assumed he was accepting his second or possibly third Academy Award. After all, what were the odds that New York City's quintessential auteur would win his first Oscar for "The Departed," a Boston cops-and-mobsters drama? This is the filmmaker responsible for "Goodfellas," "Raging Bull" and "Taxi Driver," so surely Marty had already won for one of those homages to the "Mean Streets" of New York. Alas, no. Scorsese has been nominated for 10 Oscars but only has the one.
3. Tommy Lee Jones: Another Best Supporting Actor nominee this year, the "Lincoln" actor has brilliantly played stern-faced men for more than 40 years in unforgettable movies like "No Country for Old Men," "In the Valley of Elah," "JFK" and "Coal Miner's Daughter." But it wasn't playing a West Texas sheriff, a grieving father, a conspirator to kill the president or Crystal Gale's husband that led to Jones's Academy Award but playing a persistent U.S. Marshal in the action thriller "The Fugitive." It doesn't help that Jones beat out the considerably more deserving Ralph Fiennes's turn as the scary evil SS officer in "Schindler's List," for his win.
2. Denzel Washington: With his nomination for "Flight," Washington has a cool half-dozen Oscar nominations and two wins. He's one of only six actors to display both a Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor on his shelf. Thanks to that epic tear streaming down his face, there's no doubt what movie was his Supporting "Glory." And the leading role belonged to Washington for his career-best performance as black power activist "Malcolm X." No other actor could have pulled off such a masterful depiction, and finally a black actor besides Sidney Poitier landed a Leading Actor award. Wait, what? Denzel lost in one of Oscar's biggest upsets. Instead, he won nine years later for playing a very, very bad cop in "Training Day."
1. Al Pacino: And just who was responsible for Washington's loss in 1993? That would be none other than Al Pacino, who won the Oscar on his eighth (and so far, last) try. It's unbelievable, but Pacino's name was never called for playing mafia son-turned-boss Michael Corleone in "The Godfather" (either time!) or whistleblowing cop "Serpico" or the inept bank robber in "Dog Day Afternoon." No, Pacino won for a movie that has not withstood the test of even 20 years, "Scent of a Woman." His over-the-top hooahing as a retired blind Army officer certainly didn't deserve the Academy Award, not when compared to Denzel, and not to his own best roles.