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7 Oscar-Winning Movies You Can't Watch Anywhere

Despite their Academy Award acclaim, these films are almost impossible to find.

The Academy Award is Hollywood's most prestigious honor, but winning one (or more) is no guarantee a movie will be remembered. What's more, it doesn't necessarily even mean a movie will be preserved for posterity. Due to rights issues or mere indifference by the companies that own the rights, even acclaimed films drop out of circulation from time to time. Read on for seven Oscar-winning films you can't easily watch on DVD or streaming—including two that have never been made available for home viewing at all.

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Rebecca (1940)

Judith Anderson and Joan Fontaine in Rebecca
United Artists

Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most revered directors in cinema history, but you wouldn't know it by looking at his record of Oscar wins. Despite being nominated for Best Director five times (for Rebecca, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Rear Window, and Psycho), he never actually won and had to settle for being honored by the Academy with the honorary Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968. At least one of his movies did take home Best Picture—1940's Rebecca, an adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it's easy to see. The film isn't available on any streaming service, which means you'll have to spring for the collector's edition DVD from The Criterion Collection if you want to check it out.

Song of the South (1946)

Still from Song of the South
RKO Radio Pictures

Disney's Song of the South is one of the most infamous films ever made, but you've probably never seen it—it has never been released in any home viewing format (VHS, DVD, or streaming) in the U.S. Based on an 1881 collection of "Uncle Remus" stories featuring the antics of Br'er Rabbit and his animal friends, the film has been controversial since the day it opened in theaters, when civil rights groups picketed screenings in protest.

At issue was not just that the book the stories come from was authored by Joel Chandler Harris, a white man who copied down tales stolen from Black folklore of the era, but the racism apparent in the film's live-action bookends. In these sequences, Black actor James Baskett portrays the kindly Uncle Remus, who shares his particular brand of wisdom with some white kids living on a plantation in Reconstruction-era Georgia; to many, the scenes suggest that former slaves looked back on their enslavement with nostalgia. The outcry didn't stop the live-action/animated film from winning an Academy Award for its signature tune, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," and an honorary Oscar in 1948 for Baskett, the first Black male performer to be honored by the Academy.

Porgy and Bess (1959)

Dorothy Dandridge and Sidney Poitier in Porgy & Bess
Columbia Pictures

An adaptation of the George Gershwin-composed opera of the same name, this 1959 musical drama from director Otto Preminger (Laura, Anatomy of a Murder), was acclaimed upon release for bringing the story of an unhoused man's (Sidney Poitier) efforts to rescue a woman (Dorothy Dandridge) from an abusive relationship from stage to screen. It earned four Academy Award nominations—for its cinematography, costume design, sound, and score, winning for the latter. But the film has been almost impossible to see for the past 50 years. Producer Samuel Goldwyn only had the rights to the story for 15 years, at which point the producers had to renegotiate exhibition terms with the Gershwin estate—which refused to allow it to be shown. (George's older brother Ira, who wrote the libretto for Porgy and Bess, reportedly hated the movie.) It hasn't been shown on television since 1967 and has never been released for home viewing in any format.

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

William Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman
Island Alive

This 1985 drama about the unusual friendship between two inmates in a Brazilian prison (William Hurt and Raul Julia) set during the country's time under the rule of a military dictatorship, opened to significant acclaim. Produced independently, Kiss of the Spider Woman was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival. There, Hurt won Best Actor, a feat he repeated at that year's Academy Awards, where the film was also up for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Though previously available on a collector's edition DVD, the movie is now out of circulation in the U.S., and no streaming services carry it.

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Cocoon (1985)

Still from Cocoon
20th Century Fox

This silly, sentimental sci-fi romp about a bunch of senior citizens played by familiar character actors—Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Brian Dennehy, Jessica Tandy, and Gwen Verdon among them—who are made young again by alien technology was a crowd pleasing hit in 1985 and one of the biggest moneymakers of that year. The reviews were good too, and the film even garnered two Oscar nominations, for special effects and for Ameche as Best Supporting Actor, which he won. Yet it currently isn't on streaming and is no longer sold on DVD in the U.S., reportedly due to music rights issues, according to Uproxx.

Il Postino (1994)

Massimo Troisi in Il Postino
Variety Distribution

One of the rare non-English-language films to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, this Italian production, based on the novel by Antonio Skármeta, tells the story of the fictional friendship between the poet Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret) and a postman (Massimo Troisi, who also co-wrote the film) in a small island village. An international hit, Il Postino earned accolades across Europe and was also nominated for Best Director for Michael Radford, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor (Troisi), though it took home only one trophy, for Luis Enríquez Bacalov's music. These days if you want to see it, you'll have to have your own postman deliver you a used copy of the DVD, because it is no longer available in the U.S., nor can you find it on a streaming service.

Shine (1996)

Geoffrey Rush in Shine
Fine Line Features

At the 1997 Academy Awards, Geoffrey Rush beat out Tom Cruise, nominated for his lead performance in Jerry Maguire, for Best Actor for his performance in the indie hit Shine. While many more people watching that night had seen Cruise's movie, the Australian biopic based on the life of pianist David Helfgott did surprisingly robust business in the U.S., making more than $35 million against a $6 million budget. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director for Scott Hicks, Best Original Screenplay, and three other awards, though Rush's would be its only win. As for availability, Shine got a 20th anniversary DVD rerelease in 2015, but you'll have to pop off to Australia to grab a copy. It is unavailable on DVD in the U.S. and can't be found on streaming services.

Joel Cunningham
Joel Cunningham is a writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn. Read more
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