A look back at Oscar’s 73-year-old relationship with romantic films. (Please note that dates refer to the years pictures were released, not the years they were honored).
1927: Though it’s primarily remembered as a flyboy epic, William Wellman’s “Wings,” Oscar’s first official best pic winner, features a tragic romance at its core (WWI enlistee Charles “Buddy” Rogers is the focus of ambulance driver Clara Bow’s unrequited love).
In the short-lived “artistic quality of production” category, F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise” focuses on another type of tragic passion — one in which a man kills his spouse to appease his paramour (actress winner Janet Gaynor).
1933: Another ambulance driver, this time played by Gary Cooper, falls for nurse Helen Hayes in an adaptation of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.” The pic nominee is notable for earning lenser Charles B. Lang his only Oscar, though he’d finish his career with 18 noms.
1934: Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night,” the first romantic comedy to take top Acad honors, sweeps its five major noms, including actor (Clark Gable) and actress (Claudette Colbert). It would remain the only film to win Oscars for actor, actress, pic, director and screenplay until 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
The doomed romance of “Of Human Bondage” marked Bette Davis’ first nomination, though she had to stuff the ballot boxes to get it. Originally left off the best actress lists, she ended up finishing third in the final tally after pic’s studio, Warner Bros., persuaded the Acad to OK write-ins.
1935: As commoner “Alice Adams,” actress nominee Katharine Hepburn sets her sights on wealthy Fred MacMurray. The odd-couple romance also earned a pic nom, but went home Oscarless.
1936: The fleet comedy of Capra’s “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” and William Wyler’s dual adulterous romances in “Dodsworth” end up in the pic race, but both lose to splashy biopic “The Great Ziegfeld.”
Gregory La Cava’s proto-screwball comedy “My Man Godfrey” is first film to rate a nom in each of the four thesp categories, though none won. The quartet: slumming Brahmin William Powell, dizzy socialite Carole Lombard, artist Mischa Auer and Lombard’s scatter-minded mom, Alice Brady. Interestingly, the film was not among the pic nominees.
1937: Helmer-scribe Leo McCarey wins the directing Oscar for “The Awful Truth,” starring Cary Grant and actress nominee Irene Dunne. Pic, however, loses to the biopic “Life of Emile Zola.” George Cukor’s nonpareil tearjerker “Camille” earned just one nomination (likely a casualty of pic’s studio, MGM, to snag major honors for another ’37 release, “The Good Earth”), but it was a big one: Greta Garbo as the consumptive, titular courtesan who dies quite short of her romantic dreams. She lost to “Good Earth” star Luise Rainer.
1938: Charles Boyer earned one of his four noms as the French gangster in exile in “Algiers” who is undone by his romance of Hedy Lamarr, in her Hollywood debut.
New Orleans belle Bette Davis attempts to stir jealous passions in beau Henry Fonda in “Jezebel,” which earns the femme thesp her second Oscar. Among those she defeats is Margaret Sullivan, playing a dying woman who receives the romantic attentions of a trio of post-WWI German soldiers in “Three Comrades.”
Walt Disney is the first Oscar presenter to give himself an award. He announces himself the winner of the cartoon short category (“The Country Cousin”).
1939: Of course, Hollywood’s annus miribilis’ greatest romantic epic, “Gone With the Wind,” became an instant classic, breaking box office records and garnering a record nine Oscars, including pic, director (Victor Fleming) and actress (Vivien Leigh). But several other romantic tales beckoned auds to theaters, including Bette Davis starrer “Dark Victory”; the Parisian obsessive love of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”; another Garbo classic in “Ninotchka”; the star-crossed melodrama of Boyer and Dunne’s “Love Affair”; and Emily Bronte adaptation “Wuthering Heights,” starring Leigh and Laurence Olivier. All the pics received noms, but were shut out save Gregg Toland’s lensing work on “Heights.”
1940: The sex-switched update of “The Front Page,” “His Girl Friday” and George Cukor’s fizzy class-clash romance “The Philadelphia Story” (which garnered James Stewart an actor Oscar) receive multiple noms, but it’s Alfred Hitchcock’s brooding supernatural romance “Rebecca” that wins best pic; the Master is passed over in the director’s race for John Ford (“The Grapes of Wrath”).
The Leigh-Robert Taylor romantic doom of “Waterloo Bridge” is snubbed in the major categories, while the illicit love of the Boyer-Davis “All This, and Heaven Too” earns a pic nom and two other bids but ends Oscar night empty-handed.
1941: “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” a romantic comedy about second (life) chances starring Robert Montgomery, earns seven noms, one fewer than the 1978 Warren Beatty remake “Heaven Can Wait.”
1943: “Casablanca” grabs a handful of Oscars and a place in the pantheon of Hollywood cinema, snagging picture, director and screenplay. The sweep leaves also-rans “Heaven Can Wait” (helmer Ernst Lubitsch and the picture are tapped) and George Stevens’ matchmaking romantic comedy “The More the Merrier,” starring Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea.
1946: David Lean offers Oscar an initial taste of things to come with “Brief Encounter,” earning actress (Celia Johnson) and director noms.
1948: “The Red Shoes,” a tale of love and ballet from British filmmaking team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger, overcomes anti-foreign sentiment among the Acad’s rolls at the time to win five noms, including picture. It wins for art direction and score.
1949: “Adam’s Rib,” starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as married legal eagles, earns a single nom, for Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin’s screenplay. Olivia de Havilland wins best actress for the is-it-for-money-or-love courtship of “The Heiress,” which takes three additional awards.
1950: Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart are lovers from different sides of the boat in “African Queen,” an odd omission from the pic contenders, while Jose Ferrer, playing Rostand’s big-hearted swordsman in “Cyrano de Bergerac,” took best actor honors. (Forty years later, Gerard Depardieu would receive a nom in the same role. Steve Martin, in 1987’s update “Roxanne,” would not be so lucky.)
1951: “A Place in the Sun,” starring nominees Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters as lower-class lovers whose romance is disrupted by rich interloper Elizabeth Taylor, earns six Oscars, including one for helmer George Stevens. But the film is not among the picture nominees. Vincente Minnelli’s “An American in Paris” is, however, in the final five — and wins the top statuette, and five others. None of the pic’s thesps — Gene Kelly as the expat artist, Leslie Caron as the engaged Parisian for whom he falls, Nina Foch as Kelly’s would-be sugar mommy — are recognized, though.
1952: “Pat and Mike,” a reteaming of Spencer and Tracy, fares as well as its predecessor at the Academy Awards, scribe nom for married writers Kanin and Gordon.
“The Quiet Man,” John Ford’s Irish romance starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, earns Ford a director Oscar, though the pic loses to “High Noon.”
1953: Beach love was never the same after “From Here to Eternity.” It took eight awards, including picture, supporting actor (Frank Sinatra) and supporting actress (Donna Reed).
1954: Humphrey Bogart took the low-key route to woo Audrey Hepburn in the first incarnation of “Sabrina.” Hepburn and helmer Billy Wilder received noms, though not the pic itself.
1955: “Guys and Dolls” had the musical zing and a singing Marlon Brando, and Cary Grant and Grace Kelly dashed across the South of France in Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief,” but it was the TV-originating “Marty,” starring actor winner Ernest Borgnine, that charmed the Acad.
1957: “An Affair to Remember,” a revision of the ’39 “Love Affair” starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, immortalizes the Empire State Building as a symbol of thwarted romance, but is similarly stymied at the Oscars, earning four minor noms.
1958: Broadway exports provide a heap of Hollywood romance, with “South Pacific” and “Gigi” monopolizing the wickets, though only latter fares well at the Oscars, setting a new record, sweeping all nine of its nominations, including pic.
1960: The darkly satiric romance between corporate drone Jack Lemmon and corrupted elevator girl Shirley MacLaine is the attractively flawed core of Billy Wilder’s pic winner “The Apartment.”
1961: Audrey Hepburn takes her toast outside Manhattan’s most famous jeweler in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but the pic takes only musical Oscars (for “Moon River,” score) as nominee Hepburn loses to Sophia Loren, in the grim “Two Women.” Romeo and Juliet are updated for the tough streets of Gotham in pic winner “West Side Story” (also snagging Oscars for supporting thesps Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, but leads Natalie Wood and George Beymer, as Maria and Tony, went begging).
1962: A romance of a more scandalous ilk spiked Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Nabokov’s “Lolita” (for which the author received a nom for his screenplay).
1965: Lean unveils his romantic epic, “Doctor Zhivago,” which dances to the infectious “Lara’s Theme” right down Oscar’s red carpet. It lost best pic to the Julie Andrews musical “The Sound of Music.”
1966-67: Romance in decline and decay seared through Mike Nichols’ feature debut “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (winner of five statuettes), starring real-life marrieds Elizabeth Taylor (who won best actress) and Richard Burton (who would earn six noms, but no Oscars during his lifetime).
Nichols would win best director the next year for “The Graduate,” in which Dustin Hoffman pursues Katharine Ross while snared into the bed of her mother (Anne Bancroft) — all three thesps received noms.
1968: “Romeo and Juliet,” from Franco Zeffirelli, spices up Shakespeare for the youth culture to great success, though his pic would lose the pic Oscar to the kind of outsize musical (“Oliver!”) that the Acad found hard to resist.
1970: The title says it all in “Love Story,” which while not enchanting critics packed the houses and earned seven noms, though it only came away with a statuette for Francis Lai’s omnipresent score. Lean’s flawed epic, the Ireland-set melodrama of “Ryan’s Daughter,” does earn an award for supporting actor John Mills.
1973: Barbra Streisand earned her second acting nom in “The Way We Were.” Thesp played a politically active collegian in the ’30s wooed by BMOC Robert Redford. As was sometimes the case with romantic pics, “Way” earned honors only for its musical and lyrical chops — this time for the title song and Marvin Hamlisch’s score.
1977: It’s love, neurotic Manhattanite style in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall,” earning awards for picture, director, actress (Diane Keaton) and screenplay. Allen spent the night playing his clarinet at a New York jazz club. Another pic nominee, “The Goodbye Girl,” snared an award for Richard Dreyfuss as a struggling N.Y. actor who charms single mother Marsha Mason.
1979: Allen’s “Manhattan” didn’t quite repeat his “Annie Hall” success, and the quirky May-December “A Little Romance” (starring Diane Lane and Laurence Olivier), earned only an Oscar for score, a popular booby prize among some romantic pics.
1982: There’s a song Oscar (for “Up Where We Belong”) in store for “An Officer and a Gentleman” but Acad voters apparently believed Richard Gere and Debra Winger weren’t worthy of the golden guy. Louis Gossett Jr., as Gere’s hard-edge D.I., takes home a prize though.
1985: The cross-cultural love affair of “Witness” helped propel the Harrison Ford-Kelly McGillis pic to a pic nom, though it only won the original screenplay Oscar. The year’s big winner, though, was set a hemisphere away: “Out of Africa” won pic and director, and the actress honor for Meryl Streep, who played Danish author Karen Blixen, stuck in a passionless marriage (to nominee Klaus Maria Brandauer) while being wooed by a dashing pilot-adventurer (Robert Redford).
1986: Merchant-Ivory’s first big Oscar success is “A Room With a View,” based on E.M. Forster’s novel of romantic recklessness. Screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala earns the first of two statuettes for her work with helmer James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant.
1987: Adrian Lyne’s florid cautionary tale about the ills of adultery, “Fatal Attraction,” was a pic nominee, but lead actress Glenn Close’s viperous desire was no match for Cher slipping on an Italian accent in “Moonstruck.” The singer-actress won the Oscar, and Olympia Dukakis, as her mother, took supporting honors. Both pics lost the top prize to China-set period piece “The Last Emperor.”
1989: The Rob Reiner-Nora Ephron collaboration “When Harry Met Sally…,” starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, receives a screenplay nom, but is overlooked in major categories.
1990: “Pretty Woman” Julia Roberts receives her second nomination, while “Ghost,” starring the paranormal Patrick Swayze and his still-living love Demi Moore, earns screenplay honors and a statuette for comic psychic Whoopi Goldberg.
1991: “Beauty and the Beast” is the first animated feature to receive a pic nom.
1992-93: The fitful romances in two Merchant-Ivory films, “Howards End” and “Remains of the Day,” earns 17 noms between them, as well as an Oscar for Emma Thompson in “End.”
Also in ’92, Neil Jordan’s gender-bending romance between nominees Stephen Rea and Jaye Davidson earned a pic bid and top original screenplay laurels for “The Crying Game.”
In ’93, “Sleepless in Seattle,” with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, takes a single nom for Ephron’s screenplay.
1994: Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell don’t make the cut, but the Brit comedy-romance they star in, “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” takes a couple of major bids, including pic.
1995: “The Bridges of Madison County’s” sole nom is for Meryl Streep’s Iowa farmwife, who experiences a brief encounter with a swarthy National Geographic photographer (Clint Eastwood, also pic’s director).
Nicolas Cage, who falls for fellow nominee Elisabeth Shue between drinks in “Leaving Las Vegas,” wins best actor, while “Sense and Sensibility” star Thompson earns her second Oscar, but for screenwriting, for the Jane Austen adaptation.
1996: World-weary romantics Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas earned the noms, but it was the loyal nurse Juliette Binoche who won the acting Oscar for best pic winner “The English Patient.” “Jerry Maguire,” Cameron Crowe’s Tom Cruise-Renee Zellweger pic, found the Acad’s favor in the supporting actor category (Cuba Gooding Jr.).
1997: Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt’s bruised love affair in “As Good as It Gets” was good enough for Oscars for both thesps, but the pic stood no shot against James Cameron’s jumbo-sized disaster pic “Titanic,” which featured Leonardo DiCaprio and nominee Kate Winslet setting off sparks under the shadow of impending doom. British thesps Judi Dench and Helena Bonham Carter earned their first noms respectively for “Mrs. Brown,” about Queen Victoria’s “friendly relationship” with her Scottish valet, and Henry James’ “Wings of the Dove,” respectively.
1998: Oscar embraced Gwyneth Paltrow for entrancing auds and the Bard in “Shakespeare in Love,” which earned picture and screenplay honors as well.
1999: As the self-identified male in a woman’s body, actress winner Hilary Swank romanced fellow nominee Chloe Sevigny for a brief moment before his tragic demise in reality-based drama “Boys Don’t Cry.”
2000: Unexplored passion is about the only thing held in check in Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which takes 10 noms, while the more romantically bubbly “Chocolat” takes five.