Oscar Rematch: ‘Dances with Wolves’ vs. ‘GoodFellas’

DANCES WITH WOLVES, Kevin Costner, 1990

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. That is especially true when it comes to the Oscars. For those like us who obsess over the decisions by the Academy and who can hold grudges when we disagree, we wish we could go back in time and change a winner or two. It may not be official, but let’s look at some of those controversial picks and determine if they deserve to keep their Oscar. Let’s start off with the Best Picture winner from 25 years ago, ‘Dances with Wolves,’ and its top competition, Martin Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas.’

First, the tale of the tape:

DancesWithWolvesPosterGoodfellasDances with Wolves

Director: Kevin Costner
Box Office: $424,208,848 worldwide
Oscars: 12 nominations, 7 wins
Rotten Tomatoes: 82 percent


Director: Martin Scorsese
Box Office: $46,836,214
Oscars: 6 nominations, 1 win
Rotten Tomatoes: 96 percent


Dances with Wolves’ was the runaway winner back in 1990, earning the most nominations of any film and taking the most awards. It was also the third highest grossing film of the year, just behind fellow Best Picture nominee ‘Ghost’ and comedy ‘Home Alone.’ 25 years later, Kevin Costner’s epic hasn’t held up as well in the general public’s eye.

Much of that is due to the fact that it beat ‘GoodFellas,’ which many believe to be one of the all-time classics. Add its length and the fact its dated, even a little bit at the time, and it certainly seems like one of many situations when the Academy went with the less exciting option.

However, if you take the time to truly revisit ‘Dances with Wolves’ I think the critiques would come back a bit. Is it dated? Yes. But Costner is able to make nearly every aspect top level. The film features glorious vistas of the midwest, a beautiful score and solid performances from its cast. There really shouldn’t be much argument that it deserved to beat the other three Best Picture nominees, ‘Godfather Part III,’ ‘Ghost’ and ‘Awakenings.’

That’s not what we’re arguing though, we’re reexamining whether it deserved to beat ‘GoodFellas.’ The simple answer is no. ‘GoodFellas’ remains one of Martin Scorsese’s best films as well as one of the top American films of all time, according to AFI and the general public. It is unfortunate that ‘GoodFellas’ doesn’t have the distinction of Best Picture winner, but it is high on a long list of all-time greats that don’t either, including ‘Citizen Kane,’ ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Sunset Blvd.’ and Scorsese’s own ‘Raging Bull.’

Why did the Academy go for ‘Wolves’ over ‘GoodFellas?’ Timing was critical. It was 1990, and ‘Dances with Wolves’ fits in perfectly with many of the Best Picture winners of the 80s. ‘Driving Miss Daisy,’ ‘Out of Africa,’ ‘Amadeus’ and ‘Gandhi’ were some of the big winners from the 80s, and ‘Dances with Wolves’ fits oh so nicely into that mold. ‘GoodFellas’ was ahead of its time, and we know how much the Academy struggles with being cutting edge.

It seems pretty clear though, especially with some of the more inspired picks of the last few years, if these two films battled it out for Oscar glory again, ‘GoodFellas’ would come out on top this time around. Let’s just be thankful the Academy finally did get Scorsese his Oscar 16 years later for ‘The Departed.’

So, in the first AwardsCircuit Oscar rematch, the winner is ‘GoodFellas’ in a knockout.

ray liotta goodfellas laughing

  • GoodFellas. While Dances With Wolves felt unique at the time, it hasn’t held up all that well and now just feels overblown.

    • Rorshach Sridhar

      No it doesn’t shitface

  • Luke McGowan

    I think its interesting that you say “we know how much the Academy struggles with being cutting edge.” while Clayton frequently says how much the Academy likes to break new ground. To be honest, I am more inclined to agree with you – one need only look at last year’s Best Picture nominees for Best Picture, of which only three (Birdman, Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel) really stood out of me as groundbreaking films, while more daring fare like Nightcrawler, Gone Girl and Foxcatcher was passed over for the most part.

    • Michael Balderston

      Yeah, this is something I probably disagree with our fearless leader on. I think the Academy is certainly getting better, at the very least with their nominees, but overall history shows they more often than not go with the ‘safe’ pick. Though ‘breaking new ground’ could mean a few things; nominating Wes Anderson outside of just screenplay was something new, just behind the curve a little.

      • Luke McGowan

        I look forward to a day where a film like Straight Outta Compton – both critically loved and commercially successful – can be straight at the top of the pile when predicting the Oscars. The fact that “does the Academy like it” has become a third box is really quite indicative of the problem.

  • Jamie Teller

    I’ve only seen parts of Dances, but Costner’s narration is so bad I doubt seeing the whole thing would make me think it remotely deserved to beat GoodFellas, which I think is one of the greatest films ever made.

    • Rorshach Sridhar


  • Aaron

    Dances with Wolves is boring as hell. It’s 3 hours of Kevin Costner being lost in the West and trying to talk to Native Americans. It fits the mold of other disappointing and underwhelming Best Picture winners that preceded it in the 80’s like Ghandi {beat E.T}, Amadeus {beat Places in the Heart}, Driving Miss Daisy {beat Born on the 4th of July and Dead Poets Society}, and Out of Africa {beat Kiss of the Spider Woman and and Witness}.

    • Rorshach Sridhar