The Oscar Curse: How Winning an Academy Award Has Often Become the Kiss of Death

In many cases, winning the Academy Award takes a virtual unknown and transforms them into an A-list star. Just as often, it seems, does winning the Oscar equate with the kiss of death. The poster girl for the Curse of the Oscar is Luise Rainer who became the first performer to win back to back Oscars in 1936 and 1937 for “The Great Ziegfield” and “The Good Earth” respectively. Too bad she wasn’t cast in a movie with a title like “The Fair-to-Middling Universe” or she might have won a third time in a row. A number of factors likely contributed to the fact that Rainer’s movie career essentially was over the minute she won her second award: she became pickier about which roles to take, she was married to a Commie and Hollywood instantly came down with a bout of award remorse. Or maybe it’s just that there really is a curse hanging over Oscar winners.

Flash forward sixty years into the future and an actress of even more limited range than Rainer would be both a surprise winner and a victim of the Curse. It remains to be adequately explained what exactly exists in Kim Basinger’s performance in “L.A. Confidential” that made it worthy of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1997. Less surprising, indeed, is that Basinger has done nothing of note since her inexplicable win.

Cuba Gooding, Jr. somehow managed to beat out William H. Macy in “Fargo” and Edward Norton in “Primal Fear” to win Best Supporting Actor for “Jerry Maguire.” Both Macy and Norton have since appeared in a number of major films in which they gave memorable performances. Gooding has managed to land roles in movies with both high and low profiles, but has so failed to deliver on the promise inherent in the very act of winning an Oscar.

On the route toward winning her first Oscar, Kate Winslet overtook Bette Davis as the youngest actor to receive six Academy Award nominations. Winslet’s truly remarkable achievement commenced with a Best Supporting Actress nomination for “Sense and Sensibility” in 1995. The career track of the actress who beat out Winslet for that award is not quite as impressive, despite the fact that Mira Sorvino, winner for “Mighty Aphrodite” has played Marilyn Monroe and Daisy Buchanan during the time.

Anyone who could name more than two movies in which Mercedes Ruehl has appeared since winning an Academy Award in 1991 for “The Fisher King” should immediately attempt to land a spot on “Jeopardy” or “Millionaire” as they are doubtlessly the Pope of Meaningless Trivia. Ruehl has mainly been showing up on episodic television over the past decade.

Tall, striking and very funny Geena Davis picked up an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for “The Accidental Tourist.” At first it appeared as though Davis would be able to avoid the Oscar Curse with memorable performances in big-time hits like “A League of Their Own” and “Thelma and Louise.” Everything came to a screeching halt with the release of the misguided pirate epic “Cutthroat Island” and since then the kiss of death has been firmly applied to the career of Ms. Davis.

When they take the stage to accept that Oscar statuette, the future is an open mystery. No guarantees exist for even the biggest star that the conferring of Hollywood’s official stamp of approval is going to mean a career boost. History has proven that the odds are every bit as good that membership in the still exclusive club of Academy Award winners will prove to be a career peak that is the beginning of a fast ride downward and into virtual oblivion.