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