(USA TODAY ) -- When it comes to the Academy Awards, the best-picture race tends to stick to script, which argues well for this year's front-runners, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle and Gravity. Still, Oscar also has a fine history of upsets. USA TODAY's Scott Bowles examines some of the bigger surprises in Oscar history and how they came about. (Dates denote the year of the Oscar ceremony.)
How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane (1942)
Quick: Can you name a star or the director of How Green, the family drama about a Welsh coal-mining family struggling to survive at the turn of the century? Actually, director John Ford and supporting actor Donald Crisp would win two of the impressive film's five Oscars. But historians would consider its best-picture win a snub of Citizen Kane, one of Hollywood's greatest films, which took just one Oscar -- a shared original-screenplay award for Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz.
Rocky over Taxi Driver (1977)
Movies don't get much better than 1976's crop, nor upsets much bigger. Sylvester Stallone's boxing tale beat out films that would become iconic, including Taxi Driver, Network and All the President's Men. Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver would go home without a single Academy Award, despite career-forging performances by Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster.
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Ordinary People over Raging Bull (1981)
This would mark Raging Bull director Scorsese's second jaw-dropping loss at the Oscars and an all-time snub as his film fell to Robert Redford's story of dysfunctional family life. Raging Bull would become one of Hollywood's most enduring boxing films, and Robert De Niro's Oscar-winning turn (and stunning weight gain) set the standard for an actor's physical transformation.
Chariots of Fire over Reds (1982)
This was a race made for Chariots of Fire: a little film going against the juggernaut Reds, which was nominated for 12 Oscars. Chariots captured four statues, including one for for Vangelis' score, and Reds captured three, including director for Warren Beatty.
Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas (1991)
Wolves won seven Oscars, including best picture and director for Kevin Costner, and as a result established Goodfellas director Scorsese as the academy's foremost bridesmaid until The Departed won in 2007. Goodfellas nabbed one statuette, for Joe Pesci as supporting actor.
Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction (1995)
The story of a simple man who becomes a witness to American history claimed a half-dozen Oscars, including actor for Tom Hanks and director for Robert Zemeckis. Yet some scholars consider the outcome an upset of Quentin Tarantino's critical darling, which earned seven nominations but won only for original screenplay.
Braveheart over Apollo 13 (1996)
This was less an upset in the eyes of the public, which was evenly split, than for the industry. The usually predictive producers and directors guilds chose Apollo 13 as the top film.
The English Patient over Fargo (1997)
Pundits were stunned when this World War II drama beat the Coen brothers' quirky crime tale, which became a classic. Patient won a whopping nine Oscars, including director for Anthony Minghella and supporting actress for Juliette Binoche. Fargo still earned best-actress honors for Frances McDormand and original-screenplay statues for Ethan and Joel Coen.
Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan (1999)
Ryan seemed to have everything in its corner, from director Steven Spielberg to star Tom Hanks. But Shakespeare producer Harvey Weinstein's greatest marketing campaign turned the tide.
Crash over Brokeback Mountain (2006)
Brokeback seemed on its way to a landslide, particularly after Ang Lee won as best director. Yet Crash's upset win caused presenter Jack Nicholson to do a visible double take, and he later confided to USA TODAY that he had voted for Brokeback.