Note: The list in this post has been updated; see my Jan. 2020 “Best Picture nominees that feature reel librarians, 2020 update” post
Ahh, the Oscars. I am a lifelong Oscar fan, as you can probably tell from my post last year on this site highlighting Oscar-nominated reel librarians. And this year, I am highlighting Best Picture-nominated films that feature librarians. No Best Picture winners in the field, but a respectable number of Best Picture nominees. Have you seen any of them? Did I miss one? Please let me know in the comments! 🙂
I’ve listed the films below in chronological order.
The Philadelphia Story (1940):
This 1941 Best Picture nominee (and Class III film) features one scene at the public library and a Quaker librarian (Hilda Plowright). A reporter (Jimmy Stewart) pokes fun by mocking her thee‘s and thou‘s, as seen below. She also gets her shush on later in this short, but memorable, library scene.
I also featured this Quaker librarian in my post about Comic Relief librarians.
Citizen Kane (1941):
This 1942 Best Picture nominee (and Class III film) is a classic saga about the rise and fall of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). There is quite a memorable scene in which a reporter visits the Thatcher Memorial Library of Philadelphia to research Kane and runs into the steely, no-nonsense presence of the librarian, Miss Anderson (Georgia Backus).
I featured Citizen Kane and Miss Anderson in my Hall of Shame list of negative reel librarian portrayals.
The Human Comedy (1943):
This 1944 Best Picture nominee (and Class III film), set in the U.S. homefront during WWII, feature one touching scene at the local public library. Two young boys go to the public library to look at books even though they can’t read yet, and encounter a friendly female librarian (Adeline De Walt Reynolds).
I featured The Human Comedy in my Honorable Mention list of positive reel librarian portrayals.
This Hitchcock film, a 1946 Best Picture nominee, doesn’t actually feature a librarian, landing itself in the Class V category. So why is it here on this list?! Toward the end of the film, a hotel security guard mistakes a psychiatrist (Ingrid Bergman) for a Spinster Librarian. To her credit, she takes it in good humor.
I expounded on this funny “mistaken identity” scene in Spellbound in an earlier post.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946):
This 1947 Best Picture nominee (and Class I film) has probably the most memorable — and memorably notorious! — scene featuring the ultimate Spinster Librarian. In the alternate reality/nightmare of the film’s second half, George Bailey’s (Jimmy Stewart) lovely wife, Mary (Donna Reed), becomes an old maid librarian. The short scene in which George sees Mary as a librarian serves as the catalyst for wanting to return to his life.
The Music Man (1962):
This 1963 Best Picture nominee (and Class I film) also features a memorable reel librarian in a leading role. In this classic musical, con man Harold Hill (Preston) tries to scam a community into buying band uniforms—and ends up falling for “Marian the Librarian” (Shirley Jones). This reel librarian has been immortalized in popular culture, in part due to the namesake song.
I also included The Music Man in my Honorable Mention list of positive reel librarian portrayals.
Doctor Zhivago (1965):
I need to rewatch this 1966 Best Picture nominee — it’s on my Master List! — to refresh my memory on this classic epic. Yuri (Omar Sharif) and Lara (Julie Christie) meet in the local library. Is Lara a librarian? I will have to investigate further.
Love Story (1970):
In this 1971 Best Picture nominee (and Class II film), a Harvard law student and jock (Ryan O’Neal) falls in love with a Radcliffe music major (Ali MacGraw). They first meet at the Radcliffe library, where MacGraw works as a library assistant. MacGraw was also nominated for Best Actress, the only female to have been nominated for an acting Oscar for a reel librarian role.
You can read about all the rest of the Oscar-nominated reel librarians here.
All the President’s Men (1976):
This 1977 Best Picture nominee (and Class III film) features not one, but four reel librarians, albeit in small — but critical! — roles. This film follows the Watergate scandal uncovered by reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford). After several attempts by the reporters to locate information, a library clerk helps by providing them with the info and records they need.
I had forgotten this film was nominated for Best Picture in 1991! Based on a true story, Dr. Sayer (Robin Williams) finds a new treatment for a ward of comatose patients. And if you blinked during the short library scene for this Class IV film, you’d miss the second or two of Adam Bryant as a librarian.
Scent of a Woman (1992):
This 1993 Best Picture nominee (and Class II film) is a coming-of-age story about a young prep school boy (Chris O’Donnell), a student library assistant at a private prep school, and a weekend looking after an alcoholic blind man (Al Pacino). Pacino won the Best Actor Oscar for this film.
In the Name of the Father (1993):
In this 1994 Best Picture nominee (and Class III film), Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) is coerced into confessing to an IRA bombing and spends 14 years in prison trying to prove his innocence. His lawyer (Emma Thompson) tries to locate police records, but the chief archivist is not cooperative. She does get records when another archivist is on duty — and the information she gathers eventually leads to Conlon’s release.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994):
Ahhh, a supremely rewatchable classic — one I just rewatched a couple of weeks ago! This 1995 Best Picture nominee (and Class II film) features two memorable reel librarian roles, including star Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne, a banker wrongly convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife. Andy works as an assistant in the prison library — building it up to one of the best prison libraries in the state! — and becomes friends with the old prison librarian, Brooks (James Whitmore).
I included The Shawshank Redemption in my list of best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s.
Quiz Show (1994):
It is on my Master List to rewatch this 1995 Best Picture nominee, which is based on the controversial true story behind the Twenty One quiz show scandals of the 1950s and contestant Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes). Research is a major theme throughout the film, and the credits list Anthony Fusco as a librarian.
This 2002 Best Picture nominee (and Class IV film), and the first in a film trilogy of the well-known saga of Middle Earth, involving a hobbit’s quest to destroy a powerful ring. There is a short scene early in the film in which the great wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) needs some info about the ring, so he visits the archives in Gondor. There is a quick flash of the Gondorian Archivist (Michael Elsworth) leading Gandalf down a winding staircase to the archives.
The Reader (2008):
I also need to rewatch this 2009 Best Picture nominee, which features Kate Winslet in a Best Actress-winning turn as Hanna Schmitz, a woman convicted for WWII war crimes. Hanna teaches herself to read while in prison, and there are a few scenes highlighting the prison library.
- All the President’s Men. Dir. Alan J. Pakula. Perf. Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jason Robards, Jane Alexander. Warner Bros., 1976.
- Awakenings. Dir. Penny Marshall. Perf. Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, Julie Kavner, Penelope Ann Miller. Columbia, 1990.
- Citizen Kane. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Ruth Warrick, Alan Ladd. RKO, 1941.
- Doctor Zhivago. Dir. David Lean. Perf. Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin. MGM, 1965.
- The Human Comedy. Dir. Clarence Brown. Perf. Mickey Rooney, Frank Morgan, Fay Bainter, Van Johnson, Donna Reed. Universal, 1943.
- In the Name of the Father. Dir. Jim Sheridan. Perf. Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson, Pete Postelthwaite. Universal, 1993.
- It’s a Wonderful Life. Dir. Frank Capra. Perf. James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers. RKO, 1946.
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett. New Line Cinema, 2001.
- Love Story. Dir. Arthur Hiller. Perf. Ali MacGraw, Ryan O’Neal, John Marley, Ray Milland. Paramount, 1970.
- The Music Man. Dir. Morton DaCosta. Perf. Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Hermione Gingold, Ron Howard. Warner Bros., 1962.
- The Philadelphia Story. Dir. George Cukor. Perf. Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard, Roland Young. MGM, 1940.
- Quiz Show. Dir. Robert Redford. Perf. Ralph Fiennes, Rob Morrow, John Turturro, Paul Scofield. Baltimore Pictures, 1994.
- The Reader. Dir. Stephen Daldry. Perf. Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross. The Weinstein Co., 2008.
- Scent of a Woman. Dir. Martin Brest. Perf. Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gabrielle Anwar. Universal, 1992.
- Schiavo, Linda Lo. “Flawed Films; What Librarians Know.” The New York Times, 2 Oct. 1994.
- The Shawshank Redemption. Dir. Frank Darabont. Perf. Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton. Castle Rock-Columbia, 1994.
- Spellbound. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Leo G. Carroll, Michael Chekhov. Selznick International, 1945.