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The 17 Most Surprising Golden Globe Nominees of All Time

These nominations for forgotten and critically panned movies and TV series are still baffling.

The 77th annual Golden Globe Awards will air on Jan. 5, adding a new class of winners to the best of film and TV as determined by the Hollywood Foreign Press. Marriage Story, The Irishman, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are among the movies poised to win big, while Chernobyl, The Crown, and Unbelievable lead the pack in TV nominations. But though anyone tuned into the industry probably saw those nods coming, the Golden Globes have a history of making some unexpected choices, filling out categories with nominees almost no one could have predicted. From low-rated movies to quickly canceled series, here are 17 of the most surprising Golden Globe nominations in the history of the event.

Patch Adams (Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy)

robin williams in patch adams
Universal Pictures

Most critics found the cloying and childish Patch Adams impossible to like, despite the presence of Robin Williams in the title role of a medical student who excels by treating the spirit, not the disease. There's also something vaguely sinister about a movie that tells moviegoers battling high health insurance premiums and endless bureaucracy that laughter really is the best medicine. But the Golden Globes looked past many a one-star review to nominate the film and Williams himself, who lost to Michael Caine for Little Voice at the 1999 ceremony. The movie got beat out by Shakespeare in Love, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The Tourist (Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy)

angelina jolie and johnny depp in the tourist
Columbia Pictures

Somehow, this almost universally panned thriller scored not just a Best Motion Picture nod but also Best Actor and Actress nominations for stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. That's quite a feat considering that the lack of heat and connection between their two characters—a woman on the run from Scotland Yard and the titular tourist she enlists to pose as her fugitive husband—was a common complaint from critics. The Kids Are All Right bested The Tourist at the 2011 Globes, while Depp and Jolie lost to Paul Giamatti (Barney's Version) and Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), respectively. Depp actually lost twice, as he was also nominated for playing the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland in the same category.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Junior (Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy)

arnold schwarzenegger and danny devito in junior
Universal Pictures

Arnold Schwarzenegger successfully made the jump from action star to comic actor in the late '80s and early '90s, but Junior, in which his character is the first man to become pregnant via a new drug, is no Kindergarten Cop. Even pairing the Terminator up with his Twins co-star Danny DeVito again didn't work to win over viewers. Although Junior underperformed at the box office, Schwarzenegger was still recognized by the 1995 Golden Globes (as was co-star Emma Thompson), but he lost to Hugh Grant's star-making performance in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Thompson, coincidentally, lost to Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies—a much more well-received Schwarzenegger vehicle.

Jennifer Love Hewitt, The Client List (Best Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television)

jennifer love hewitt in the client list

If you have no memory of Lifetime's wooden take on a sex work scandal that rocked Texas in 2004, you're not alone. Party of Five alum Jennifer Love Hewitt starred in the 2010 TV movie—and the subsequent series—as a wife and mother who pursues a new career to keep her family afloat. To its detriment, The Client List makes an attempt to titillate its audience while still reproaching Hewitt's Samantha for her choices. With the amount of similar feature-length soap operas Lifetime churns out annually, this nomination was a head-scratcher. Hewitt lost to Claire Danes in Temple Grandin.

Matt LeBlanc, Joey (Best Actor in a TV Series – Musical or Comedy)

matt leblanc and drea de matteo in joey

There's no need to explain Matt LeBlanc's two Best Actor nominations for Friends, or his two nominations and one win for the industry comedy Episodes, in which he plays an egomaniacal version of himself. What the Golden Globes really have to answer for is his 2005 nod for the half-baked and frankly boring Friends spin-off, Joey. It only lasted for two seasons and its failure put the kibosh on expanding the Friends universe any further. LeBlanc lost the Globe to Jason Bateman for Arrested Development, but came back to take the same category in 2012.

Burlesque (Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy)

stanley tucci and cher in burlesque
Screen Gems

Though it has the one and only Cher going for it, Burlesque hardly set the world on fire. The 2010 backstage musical drama about the rise of a new burlesque star (Christina Aguilera) currently sits at a 36% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The few positive reviews cite the film as campy fun—the kind of bad-good movie you drag your friends to after happy hour. Even those who liked it probably didn't imagine that Burlesque would get any serious awards attention outside of its original songs. The Globes not only nominated the film twice in the Original Song category in 2011 (Dianne Warren's "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" actually won) but also for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, which it lost to The Kids Are All Right.

Bobby (Best Motion Picture – Drama)

lindsay lohan elijah wood and sharon stone in bobby

This dramatized recap of the 1968 assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy currently holds a dismal 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, yet it was nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama at the 2007 Golden Globes. Actor-turned-director Emilio Estevez helmed the ensemble flick, with a star-studded cast that includes Demi Moore, Anthony Hopkins, and Laurence Fishburne. While some critics and audiences found the historical fiction moving, for the Boston Globe, Ty Burr wrote that Bobby was "ham-handed and TV-movie flat." To the surprise of no one, it didn't take the trophy that year, losing out to Alejandro González Iñárritu's globe-spanning Babel.

Smash (Best TV Series – Musical or Comedy)

megan hilty in smash

Smash certainly has its defenders, but it also had plenty of hate-watchers upon its 2012 debut. The musical drama about the mounting of a Broadway show about Marilyn Monroe—and the two ambitious women up for the part—got enough details about the theater world wrong to irritate drama students all over the country, and had a tenuous relationship with character arc. Still, its original songs and splashy production numbers earned it a 2013 nomination. HBO's Girls, which is bombastic in its own, very different way, took the category.

Hugh Jackman, Kate & Leopold (Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy)

hugh jackman and meg ryan in kate and leopold
Miramax Films

Hugh Jackman is what we in show business call a triple threat, but even his biggest fans likely wouldn't put the goofy time travel rom-com Kate & Leopold amongst his best performances. Jackman starred opposite Meg Ryan as a 19th century duke who's trying to duck an arranged marriage and ends up wandering present-day New York City after tumbling through a portal. (Really.) Eventually, he falls for Ryan's Kate, a "modern" woman who secretly longs for the manners of the past. As cute as their meet is, Leopold isn't the most challenging role on Jackman's résumé. He lost out to Gene Hackman for The Royal Tenenbaums at the 2002 Globes.

Pia Zadora, Butterfly (New Star of the Year)

pia zadora in butterfly
Cinema Epoch

The Hollywood Foreign Press stopped giving out New Star of the Year awards in the early '80s, but not before an almost unknown Pia Zadora received one for her lusty 1982 drama, Butterfly. The decision drummed up some controversy as Butterfly was otherwise derided; Zadora herself won two Golden Raspberry Awards (which celebrate the worst of filmmaking) that year—just two of the film's ten Razzie nominations. There's also the matter of the timeline: Butterfly didn't come to theaters until after the ceremony. Many suspected that Zadora's husband and the film's producer, Meshulam Riklis," bought" her win by flying voters out to private screenings, among other campaign tactics. "Looking back, I realize what the controversy was about," Zadora told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015, though she still maintains that the vote was fair and square.

Alicia Silverstone, Miss Match (Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy)

Eddie Kaye Thomas and Alicia Silverstone in Miss Match

Not only was the series Miss Match canceled during its first season—six of the filmed episodes never even made it to air in the U.S. Alicia Silverstone put her charm to work as Kate Fox, a divorce lawyer who moonlights as a matchmaker, and Sex and the City creator Darren Star ran the show. Still, audiences failed to fall for Miss Match, making the Clueless star's 2004 Golden Globe nomination a bittersweet honor. Sarah Jessica Parker, from Star's more successful series, won her fourth trophy for playing Carrie Bradshaw that year.

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (Best TV Series – Drama)

sean patrick flannery in the young indiana jones chronicles

The Indiana Jones franchise seemed to be unstoppable, so it's no great surprise that it was expanded into TV. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the family adventure series following a young Indy and incorporating various historical figures, was canceled after a mere two seasons, however. (The story continued through four made-for-TV movies before petering out completely.) Despite its short life, the series made waves at the Emmys and the Golden Globes. It lost the 1994 Drama Series award to the much more provocative NYPD Blue. 

Halle Berry, Frankie & Alice (Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama)

halle berry in frankie and alice
Lions Gate Entertainment

Unfortunately, portraying a character with a mental illness—particularly one that's violently sensationalized—can often lead to awards attention. Halle Berry's turn as a stripper with dissociative identity disorder left critics and audiences underwhelmed, however… when they finally saw it, that is. Frankie & Alice received a limited release in 2010 to be awards eligible that season, but didn't come out theatrically for another four years. (And when it did, it grossed a paltry $695,876.) That's why many moviegoers were confused when Berry was counted among the Best Actress nominees at the 2011 ceremony, where she lost the honor to Natalie Portman for Black Swan. 

Mel Gibson, Ransom (Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama)

mel gibson in ransom
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

While Ransom was a certified hit in theaters, the basic nature of its ultra-macho vigilante storyline should have left it in popcorn-movie territory. Then again, this is the kind of role where Gibson seems most comfortable: As a father who goes around authorities to rescue his son from kidnappers, he provides some wish fulfillment to those who want to protect, not just provide. The Hollywood Foreign Press bit, nominating him in 1997, the year that Geoffrey Rush won the award for Shine. 

Scott Caan, Hawaii Five-0 (Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television)

scott caan in hawaii five 0

The CBS remake of the '60s and '70s cop drama Hawaii Five-0 is still chugging along, so it's definitely found a loyal audience. But considering just how broad the Golden Globes' supporting TV categories are (they include performances from series across genre, limited series, and made-for-TV movies), Scott Caan's 2011 nomination for his work as Danno, the comic relief, was a bit of a shocker. It remains the series' sole Golden Globes nod. Caan lost out to Chris Colfer, who played Kurt Hummel on Glee.

Paul Hogan, Crocodile Dundee (Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy)

paul hogan in crocodile dundee
Paramount Pictures

Crocodile Dundee was a certified phenomenon in Australia and successfully crossed over into the U.S. (much like the character himself), where it grossed $174 million and launched a franchise. Paul Hogan starred as the Australian bushman and also co-wrote the fish-out-of-water story. Though the reception was mostly positive, Roger Ebert was among the unimpressed, writing that Crocodile Dundee "feels curiously machine-made." Whether the film swept you away or not, it seemed more like the kind of blockbuster that audiences would love and awards bodies would ignore. Not so, as Hogan was nominated for and actually won the 1987 Best Actor award, lending some serious credibility to the outback fairy tale.

Scarlett Johansson, A Love Song for Bobby Long (Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama)

scarlett johansson in a love song for bobby long

Of Johansson's five career Golden Globe nominations so far, her nod for A Love Song for Bobby Long is the one you're least likely to remember. The 2004 attempt at a modern Southern gothic drama has a 43% Rotten Tomatoes rating and grossed a little over $164,000 domestically. Johansson stars alongside John Travolta and Gabriel Macht in the story of a young woman who returns home after her mother's death to find two mysterious men squatting in her house. While most reviewers found it tedious and far from inventive, Johansson scored a nomination, ultimately losing to Million Dollar Baby star Hilary Swank at the 2005 ceremony.

Sage Young
Sage Young is the Deputy Entertainment Editor at Best Life, expanding and honing our coverage in this vertical by managing a team of industry-obsessed writers. Read more
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