If you’re a regular Reel Librarians reader (thank you!), then you will know that I am a lifelong watcher of the Academy Awards. The 2020 Oscars telecast is scheduled earlier this year, on Sunday, February 9, 2020, and you can view this year’s nominees here. (On a personal note, I, too, hope the Academy continues and broadens its efforts to diversify its membership so that Oscar nominations better reflect the amazing talents and skills that women and people of color contribute to the world of cinema.)
I am updating a post I first put together in 2013 and then updated in 2017, rounding up Best Picture-nominated films that feature librarians, in roles large and small. I have updated the post and have added quite a few new titles to the list. (Note: I am not as familiar with this year’s nominated films, so if there is a Best Picture nominee that I need to add to this list, please leave a comment and let me know, thanks!)
I’ve listed the nominated films below in chronological order, oldest to newest, and you can also skip to a specific time period using the shortcut links below.
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
This 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. She also gets her shush on later in this short, but memorable, library scene.
Related posts: ‘What does thee wish?’ To analyze the librarian in ‘The Philadelphia Story’ ; Comparing the Philadelphia stories ; Reel Substance: A look at Classes III and IV ; Romance and the reel librarian ; The shushing librarian: Celebration or scorn? ; Revisiting favorites | ‘The shushing librarian,’ Feb. 5, 2013 ; It all started with a big list ; Comic Relief librarians ; Any reel librarians in the AFI Top 100 list? ; The Quotable Librarian 1 ; Earliest reel librarians in different character type categories, reader question follow-up ; Reel librarian firsts
Citizen Kane (1941)
This 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).
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The Human Comedy (1943)
This Best Picture nominee (and Class III film), set in the U.S. homefront during WWII, features 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).
This Hitchcock film and Best Picture nominee, doesn’t technically feature a librarian — nor does it include a library scene — thus 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.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
This 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) 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.
Related posts: ‘It’s a wonderful’… stereotype? ; Revisiting ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ ; All hail Mary? ; Hall of Shame ; The Spinster Librarian ; Best librarian films by decade, Part I: 1910s – 1950s ; Any reel librarians in the AFI Top 100 list? ; Three cheers for librarians! ; Librarian as nightmare ; ‘The danger of a single story’ for reel librarians ; Reel Substance: A look at Classes I and II ; War films and reel librarians ; The Quotable Librarian 5 ; It all started with a big list
The Music Man (1962)
This 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 (Robert 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.
Related posts: Marian or Marion? ; Revisiting favorites | ‘Marian or Marion?,’ May 28, 2012 ; Marian and Ms. Jones ; Musical numbers for the library-minded ; A love song for a librarian ; The Liberated Librarian (ladies, you’re up) ; Reel librarian love for Valentine’s Day: Movies for different romantic moods ; Romance and the reel librarian ; Librarians save the day! ; Comparing ‘best of’ reel librarians lists ; The Quotable Librarian 6 ; Reel librarian trivia challenge ; Advertising the reel librarian ; It all started with a big list ; Joy in a cup ; Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s ; What’s in a name? ; Honorable Mention
Love Story (1970)
In this Best Picture nominee (and Class II film), a Harvard law student and jock, Oliver (Ryan O’Neal), falls in love with a Radcliffe music major, Jenny (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 woman (thus far) to have been nominated for an acting Oscar for a reel librarian role.
Related posts: Oscar-nominated reel librarians ; The Spirited Young Girl ; Reel librarian love for Valentine’s Day: Movies for different romantic moods ; Romance and the reel librarian ; Notable additional occupations for reel librarians ; Stylish female reel librarians ; Reel Substance: A look at Classes I and II ; The Quotable Librarian 1 ; The Quotable Librarian 8 ; Is reading a spectator sport? Librarians in sports movies ; Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s
This Best Picture nominee stars Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in a twisty, neo-noir storyline set in the 1930s. Nicholson plays a private detective, and in one scene he uses the county archives, encountering a sullen archives clerk. This film is on my Master List, and I need to rewatch this film!
Related posts: Any reel librarians in the AFI Top 100 list?
All the President’s Men (1976)
This Best Picture nominee (and Class III film) features not one, but five 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 at the Library of Congress helps by providing them with info and records they need.
Related posts: All the president’s librarians in ‘All the President’s Men’ ; Favorite reel librarian posts, 2017 ; Any reel librarians in the AFI Top 100 list? ; Librarians of Congress ; Reel librarians in political-themed films ; Heard but not seen ; Information Provider librarians ; It all started with a big list
Fatal Attraction (1987)
In this Best Picture nominee (and Class IV film), a lawyer (Michael Douglas) has an affair with a woman (Glenn Close), who then starts to stalk him and his family. In a short scene, Douglas confesses his troubles to a colleague in their firm’s private law library while a law librarian shelves books from a cart in the background.
Related posts: Law librarian sighting in ‘Fatal Attraction’
In this Best Picture-nominated film that is 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.
Related posts: Reel Substance: A look at Classes III and IV
Scent of a Woman (1992)
This Best Picture nominee (and Class II film) is a coming-of-age story about a young man (Chris O’Donnell), a student library assistant at a private prep school, who spends Thanksgiving 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 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)
This 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).
Related posts: Librarian as Failure ; Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s ; A list of banned reel librarian movies ; Notable additional occupations for reel librarians ; Any reel librarians in the AFI Top 100 list? ; Comparing ‘best of’ reel librarians lists
Quiz Show (1994)
It is on my Master List to rewatch this Best Picture nominee, which is based on the controversial true story behind the Twenty One quiz game 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.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
This Best Picture nominee (and Class IV film), and the first in 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 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.
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The Reader (2008)
I still need to watch this 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.
Related posts: A list of banned reel librarian movies
Spotlight (a Class III film) won the Best Picture Academy Award for 2015. The film focuses on the Spotlight team of reporters at the Boston Globe who published a series of stories in 2002 about Catholic priests who had been sexually abusing children in their parishes for decades. A few scenes and montages feature the Boston Globe librarians and research methods of using church directories to track down priests.
Related posts: ‘Spotlight’-ing a news library ; Revisiting favorites | ‘Spotlight’ on a news library, May 4, 2016 ; Best of 2015 ; The good, the bad, and the misshelved | Library call numbers in the movies ; Librarians save the day! ; Private libraries + librarians onscreen, reader question follow-up ; A list of banned reel librarian movies
Hidden Figures (2016)
This Best Picture nominee (and Class IV film) is a biographical film highlighting the personal and professional struggles and contributions of three African-American female mathematicians — or “computers” — at NASA during the early 1960s. Taraji P. Henson plays brilliant mathematician Katherine G. Johnson; Octavia Spencer, in an Oscar-nominated performance, plays mathematician and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan; and Janelle Monáe plays firecracker engineer Mary Jackson. There is a brief, but pivotal, library scene in which Vaughan enters the “whites” section of the library because the “colored” section doesn’t have what she needs.
This Best Picture nominee (and Class II film) was also nominated in four other categories, including Spike Lee for Best Director, and won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
In the early 1970s, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is hired as the first black officer in the Colorado Springs police department. Initially assigned to work in the records room as a “Records Librarian” (nameplate and all!), he gets reassigned to the intelligence division. While reading the newspaper, he finds an advertisement to join the Ku Klux Klan. He calls and pretends to be a white man, and eventually becomes a member of the Colorado Springs chapter. Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, in an Oscar-nominated performance) substitutes for Stallworth in order to meet the KKK members in person. There are a couple of scenes in the Records Room, as well as a brief research scene in an academic library.
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Best Picture nominees with library scenes (but no reel librarians)
Libeled Lady (1936)
This Best Picture-nominated screwball comedy involves a newspaper editor (Spencer Tracy), his long-suffering fiancée (Jean Harlow), and his lawyer (William Powell), who aims to compromise a high-society lady (Myrna Loy) before she can sue the paper for libel. In an attempt to cozy up to her, Powell does a little research on her personal interests, first reading newspaper articles about her father and his love of fishing, and then ringing the ship’s steward for books on angling from the ship’s library. Alas, we never see a reel librarian, so this film ended up in the Class V category.
Related posts: A ‘Libeled Lady’ and a library
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
This Best Picture-nominated film is based on a real-life 1952 case in which the novel’s author, John D. Voelker, was the defense attorney. Lawyer Paul Biegler (James Stewart) defends Lt. Manion (Ben Gazzara), who is charged with murder of a local man. Biegler argues temporary insanity and pulls an all-nighter in a law library to find a case to use as precedent.
Children of a Lesser God (1986)
This Best Picture-nominated film boasts the Oscar-winning performance of lead actress Marlee Matlin, who works at a school for the deaf. I was able to watch this movie recently, and there is a pivotal scene in the school’s library — but no school librarian to be seen.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture, this fairy tale film features a bookshop and a memorable private library.
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Best Picture nominees (with potential reel librarians) to watch/rewatch
Imitation of Life (1934)
This Best Picture-nominated drama stars Claudette Colbert as Bea, a white widow and single mother, who becomes close to black housekeeper Delilah (Louise Beavers) and her mixed-race daughter Peola (Fredi Washington). Peola, who “passes” for white, tells everyone she works at the library to cover up the fact that she’s actually working as a dancer in a club. I have not yet seen this film, but it’s on my Master List, as is the 1959 remake.
All the King’s Men (1949)
This Best Picture winner stars Broderick Crawford in the role of the ruthless politician, Willie Stark, and is based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren. It’s on my Master List — but I can’t honestly remember why — so I need to watch it to see if there are any library or librarian scenes!
This Best Picture nominee stars Elizabeth Taylor in the title role. It’s on my Master List to (re)watch, as I remember Cleopatra being very upset that the Library of Alexandria was destroyed. I can’t remember if there are any actual scenes set in the Library of Alexandria, so please leave a comment if you do remember!
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Doctor Zhivago (1965)
I still need to rewatch this 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. I believe Lara works as a librarian in this film… I will have to investigate further. Please leave a comment if you have more to share about this film and its reel librarian(s)!
The Graduate (1967)
In this Best Picture nominee, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is a disaffected college graduate, and he rushes to a college library to see Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross). I need to rewatch this film, which is on my Master List, to see if there are any librarians visible in the background of this library scene.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
This Best Picture nominee is on my Master List, and I still need to rewatch this film! Alex (Malcolm McDowell) works in the prison library, and talks with a priest while in the library. I need to rewatch this movie to see if there are any librarians (perhaps other than Alex, if he works in the prison library?) in this scene.
Field of Dreams (1989)
In this Best Picture-nominated film and classic baseball flick, Kevin Costner stars as Ray Kinsella, who is inspired to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn field. I do not recall a library scene, but I do seem to remember a scene about censorship set at the local school… bottom line, I need to rewatch this film, which is on my Master List.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
This Best Picture winner won the “big 5” Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best (Adapted) Screenplay. This film is on my Master List, as there is a scene in which Clarice is researching stories on microfilm about Hannibal Lecter. I need to rewatch this classic film to see if there are any reel librarians in the background of this library research scene.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
This Best Picture nominee is on my Master List. Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts, in an Oscar-winning performance) visits several records offices and archives in her research to find evidence against a gas and electric company; therefore, I need to rewatch this film for clues of archivists or librarians.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
This Best Picture winner (!) is on my Master List, but I have not yet seen it. John Nash (Russell Crowe, in an Oscar-nominated performance) is allowed to return to Princeton to audit classes and work out of the library. I need to watch this film to see if there are any discernible librarians in the background of any library scenes.
In this Best Picture nominee, Ellen Page stars as Juno, a high-schooler who gets (unexpectedly) pregnant. There is a scene in which Juno mentions librarians (or rather, wannabe librarians), and I seem to remember a scene or two set in the school library (?)… so I need to rewatch this film, which is on my Master List.
Related posts: The Quotable Librarian 7
I still have not seen this Best Picture nominee (although I loved the book!). This film is on my Master List to watch, however, because Hugo and Isabelle go to the Film Academy Library in one scene to research legendary film director Georges Méliès, and I need to watch this scene to see if there’s a reel librarian somewhere in the background of this special library. If you have watched this movie and remember a reel librarian, please let me know in the comments!
- “Academy Award for Best Picture” via Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0
- All the President’s Men. Dir. Alan J. Pakula. Perf. Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jason Robards, Jane Alexander. Warner Bros., 1976.
- Anatomy of a Murder. Dir. Otto Preminger. Perf. James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden, George C. Scott. Columbia Pictures, 1959. Based on the novel by John D. Voelker, under the pen name of Robert Traver.
- Awakenings. Dir. Penny Marshall. Perf. Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, Julie Kavner, Penelope Ann Miller. Columbia, 1990.
- BlacKkKlansman. Dir. Spike Lee. Perf. John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier. Focus Features, 2018. Based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth.
- Citizen Kane. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Ruth Warrick, Alan Ladd. RKO, 1941.
- Fatal Attraction. Dir. Adrian Lyne. Perf. Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer. Paramount, 1987.
- Hidden Figures. Dir. Theodore Melfi. Perf. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali. Fox 2000 Pictures, 2016.
- 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.
- Libeled Lady. Dir. Jack Conway. Perf. Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy. MGM, 1936. Based on the story by Wallace Sullivan.
- 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.
- Scent of a Woman. Dir. Martin Brest. Perf. Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gabrielle Anwar. Universal, 1992.
- 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.
- Spotlight. Dir. Tom McCarthy. Perf. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber. First Look, 2015.