In the nearly 100 years since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences started handing out the coveted Oscar statuette, only a relative handful of filmmakers have ever been nominated for the award. Even fewer have actually earned the title “Oscar Winner.” And then there is an even smaller demographic, one encompassing those artist who’ve since passed but whose work has nonetheless garnered prestigious acclaim from their peers in the industry. We’re of course talking about the elusive Posthumous Oscar.
It’s indeed a rare thing for a filmmaker to earn an Academy Award nomination following their death. In that same vein, it’s even rarer that a member of the recently deceased actually wins an Oscar. That said, we could see such a thing happen at the upcoming 93rd Academy Awards ceremony. The late Chadwick Boseman’s performance in Netflix’s upcoming Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is eliciting critical buzz heading into awards season. Some are even speculating that we could witness history with Boseman earning not one but two posthumous acting nods in a single year thanks to his equally stirring turn in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods (also a Netflix joint).
So, with all the talk about a potential posthumous Oscar win (or multiple) in 2021, I figured now was the perfect time to take a look back at the history of the elusive posthumous Oscar win. Hopefully this gives us a better understanding of the greater context at play should Mr. Boseman join the exclusive club this year.
Lyricist Howard Ashman scooped up a handful of posthumous Oscar nods following his untimely death in March of 1991. However, it was the tune Beauty and the Beast from the animated feature of the same name that netted him the big W for Best Original Song.
Nobody holds more Oscar nominations or wins than Walt Disney himself. He was so prolific that not even death could dampen his historic streak. In 1968, Disney took home the statue for Best Animated Short Film with Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.
Peter Finch took home Best Actor for his turn in Network following his passing on January 14, 1977.
More recently, American film producer Gil Friesen landed a posthumous win for Best Documentary Feature with 2013’s 20 Feet from Stardom.
Sticking to documentaries, Thomas C. Goodwin earned the win in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category thanks to his 1992 effort Educating Peter.
2003’s Road to Perdition garnered a posthumous win thanks to Conrad Hall, who scored the award for Best Cinematography.
William A. Horning earned not one but two posthumous statuettes in back-to-back years. Both wins hailed from the category of Best Art Direction, first Gigi in 1958 followed by Ben-Hur in ’59.
Ben-Hur also won Best Picture that year with the posthumously awarded Oscar going to producer Sam Zimbalist.
Sidney Howard landed Best Writing (a bit less detailed than today’s writing awards) for the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind.
And of course who could forget Heath Ledger’s triumphant turn as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight? His portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime earned him a Best Supporting Actor statue as well as the very first Academy Award for a comic book movie in history.
Eric Orbom’s estate took home the Oscar for Best Art Direction for the later filmmaker’s effort on 1960’s Spartacus.
Raymond Rasch’s score for the 1972 flick Limelight garnered him a rare posthumous composing Oscar. It was an honor he shared with fellow composer Larry Russell.
1980’s Tess was honored with a posthumous Academy Award nab by Geoffrey Unsworth for Best Cinematography the following year.
Victor Young took top honors in the Best Musical Score arena for his effort on 1956’s Around the World in 80 Days.
That’s it so far, all the filmmakers who wound up scoring posthumous Academy Award wins. Will Chadwick Boseman be the next player up? Only time will tell!
What do you make of this list of posthumous Oscar winners? Do any works stand out to you among the rest? Which posthumously nominated filmmakers do you believe were snubbed and why? Sound off in the comments below and let me and the rest of the movie loving world know your thoughts on the matter!