There are at least three certainties for the upcoming Oscars. Jane Campion will win Best Director, Drive My Car will take International Feature, and Diane Warren will lose Best Song. Again. It’s nomination number 13 for Warren and, unfortunately, a baker’s dozen of tries won’t be the charm. Warren is quickly becoming the unsung bridesmaid of the Oscars. She should have at least a pair of Academy Awards by now. However, her bad luck still lags behind 17-time losing sound designer Greg P. Russell, who probably came close on many of the films for which Warren was nominated, like Armageddon and Pearl Harbor.
But don’t let all the losses fool you. Few people have amassed so many accolades and so much name recognition with below the line credits as Warren has. Her signature style, moreover, is without equal. She’s the queen of the power ballad. No movie finds a closer quite like a movie with a Diane Warren song on the end credits. With all those nominations under her belt, let’s look back at Warren’s history of losing at the Oscars. Some times Oscar got it right, but others, he got it very, very wrong. Turn the speakers up to 11 and get ready for all the feels.
1987: “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from Mannequin
What won: “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing
Diane Warren scored her first Oscar nomination for this fun slice of feel-good ’80s cheese. Mannequin itself is mostly forgotten, but “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” endures as pick-me-up anthem. It’s enjoyed a second wind with an epic sibling lip sync in The Skeleton Twins and ample airtime decades after its debut. As much as I like this song, though, Oscar voters made the right choice with Dirty Dancing. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” is one of the all-time best Oscar-winning songs. It’s an awesome poppy tune that let Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey burn up the dance floor. It also plays such a great role in the film itself, which one wishes more songs did. But will they ever stop putting Diane Warren in the corner?
1996: “Because You Loved Me” from Up Close and Personal
What won: “You Must Love Me” from Evita
It took a whopping nine years for Diane Warren to land nomination number two. “Because You Loved Me” is an epic Céline Dion anthem and was a legitimate hit on the pop charts. It’s a karaoke voice-cracker and a love song for the ages that finds the sweet spot between sappy and satisfying. Warren scored a Grammy for the song and even admits that this nomination is one time she expected to win. Unfortunately, voters didn’t agree and gave Andrew Lloyd Webber the O in his eventual EGOT. But his song from Evita is rather forgettable aside from Madonna’s performance. Other notable nominees that year included the rousing title track from That Thing You Do! and the Diane Warren-y Barbra Streisand/Bryan Adams duet “I’ve Finally Found Someone” from The Mirror Has Two Faces.
1997: “How Do I Live” from Con Air
What won: “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic
Poor Diane Warren. In 1997, she wrote one of the biggest hits of all time. “How Do I Live” was performed by LeAnn Rimes and quickly set multiple records for its endurance on the charts. At the time, it set the record for longest run on the Billboard Hot 100 after charting for over a year. It also set records for its longevity in the Billboard top five and top ten. The song was also released (on the same day, actually) as performed by Trisha Yearwood for the Nicolas Cage trashterpiece Con Air. One can debate which version is better—I prefer how the mature timbre of Yearwood’s vocals complement the lyrics, whereas Rimes’ version seems a bit too innocent. Regardless, the Yearwood version was nominated as the recording from the film.
Any other year Warren could and would have won this race. However, she was up against a smash hit from the biggest movie ever. Céline Dion’s performance of James Horner and Will Jennings’ “My Heart Will Go On” helped propel Titanic to massive blockbuster, Oscar-sweeping success. And rightly so.
1998: “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” from Armageddon
What won: “When You Believe” from The Prince of Egypt
The third of Warren’s four consecutive nominations to round out the 1990s, “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” is a true banger. This song is the ultimate Diane Warren power ballad. It’s a definitive power ballad, moreover, with Steven Tyler’s screechy yet soulful performance and the massively ridiculous orchestration that embodies the best of 1990s’ blockbuster excess. “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” helped propel Armageddon as one of the biggest hits of the year and, as one of the songs of the summer, gave Aerosmith its first—and only—Billboard top 100 #1 hit.
Even better, it’s a song that makes one cheer for a Michael Bay movie. Warren throws down the glove and delivers a tune with Bay-level bombast. It lost to “When You Believe” from The Prince of Egypt, which is a nice song thanks to the vocal duet by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey (which is not the main track in the film), but an unremarkable work by comparison. There are few bullshit calls in the history of the Oscars quite like this one.
1999: “Music of the Heart” from Music of the Heart
What won: “You’ll Be in My Heart” from Tarzan
As much as I stan the Meryl Streep/Wes Craven collaboration that is Music of the Heart, Warren’s title track isn’t the strongest of her nominees. It’s a novelty, though, thanks to the collaboration between Gloria Estefan and NSYNC. It’s nice adult contemporary credits music. And it’s a worthy anthem for a film that’s basically Dangerous Minds with violins. The eventual winner, Tarzan’s “You’ll Be in My Heart” by Phil Collins, continued the trend of awarding decent songs that could have been from literally any other movie. (See above.) Warren’s fellow nominees—“Save Me,” Aimee Mann’s haunting tune from Magnolia, and “Blame Canada” from the freaks behind South Park—were true signatures of their respective films.
2001: “There You’ll Be” from Pearl Harbour
What won: “If I Didn’t Have You” from Monsters Inc.
If there’s a fault to the nomination for “There You’ll Be,” it’s that it represents a truly awful movie. Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor was one of 2001’s epic critical and commercial bombs. However, its love anthem soars. Warren offers something of a spiritual song sequel to “How Do I Live” (the Yearwood version) with these bittersweet lyrics about heroes and ill-fated love. It’s disappointing that she lost to Randy “rinse-and-repeat” Newman for his first win for movie songs that sound exactly the same. (I.e. some dude tinkling on the piano and mumbling.) Also nominated was Paul McCartney’s stellar title theme for Vanilla Sky and Enya’s haunting Lord of the Rings tune “May It Be.” Warren probably came close this year, although I might have given it to McCartney.
2014: “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights
What won: “Glory” from Selma
It then took another thirteen years—thirteen!—for Diane Warren to land another Oscar nomination. With her citation for “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights, Warren began a phase of her nomination period that demonstrated three things. For one, she showed her esteem within the industry with seven nominations in eight years. Secondly, she proved herself a shrewd campaigner by landing noms for relatively obscure films. Finally, she demonstrated that the Oscars can actually spotlight quality arts and crafts work in films that are otherwise overlooked. The powerful Rita Ora anthem “Grateful” might not have stood a chance against “Glory” from Selma (the winner), “Lost Stars” from Begin Again, and “Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie, but its nomination represented a genuinely welcome surprise from Oscar, and a well-deserved return to the ceremony for Warren.
2015: “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
What won: “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre
Lightning struck when Warren collaborated with Lady Gaga for the spine-chilling “Til It Happens to You.” Warren herself has cited this nomination as another she hoped to win, but knew she had little chance competing as a song from a documentary against James Bond. However, it’s further proof of the three lucky strikes she demonstrated previously. The song itself is a stunner and one of Warren’s most complex arrangements.
However, the events of later years put The Hunting Ground in an awkward place in history as the sexual assault documentary distributed by Harvey Weinstein. That obviously marks an asterisk beside it, which perhaps makes it better that the song didn’t win. The winner, “Writing’s on the Wall,” is a letdown as one of the lesser Bond themes. David Lang’s “Simple Song #3” from Youth (my favourite film of 2015) would have be an inspired choice for the win. Warren eventually won the Emmy for this song, making her a bit closer to EGOT status once she gets an Oscar.
2017: “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall
What won: “Remember Me” from Coco
Who here saw Marshall? Nobody? Ok. Well, neither did I. However, Warren’s nominated song “Stand Up for Something” proved a highlight in the Oscar ceremony. Actually, all the songs were pretty great, except for the winner, “Remember Me” from Coco. (It’s seven or eight words on repeat.) While I totally expected the pandering-but-upbeat anthem “This Is Me” to win for The Greatest Showman, and have a soft spot for Call Me By Your Name’s “Mystery of Love,” Warren’s “Stand Up for Something,” performed by Andra Day and Common, is one of her stronger nominations.
This powerful ode from the Thurgood Marshall proved a stronger counterpoint to the populism of The Greatest Showman. As much as I love “This Is Me,” it’s a bit problematic to celebrate a hymn to diversity in a revisionist P.T. Barnum flick after his legacy of putting “freaks” on display. “Stand Up for Something” is a note-perfect call to action.
2018: “I’ll Fight” from RBG
What won: “Shallow” from A Star Is Born
Walking into the Oscar ceremony on February 24, 2019, few things were certain except for one race: “Shallow” would win Best Original Song in a runaway. The A Star Is Born theme made an Oscar winner out of Warren’s previous collaborator Lady Gaga. It was well-deserved. There was lots of love, too, for Black Panther’s funky theme “All the Stars.” However, Warren’s nominee “I’ll Fight” from the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary RBG brought a worthy performance from Jennifer Hudson to the broadcast. It’s a celebratory girl power anthem for the late legal eagle and cultural icon.
Moreover, the song’s nomination added to the growing presence of documentary themes breaking through with the music branch. What’s really criminal, though, was that Warren’s A Star Is Born song “Why Did You Do That?” (yes, the asses and jeans one) wasn’t even submitted by Warner Bros for consideration.
2019: “I’m Standing with You” from Breakthrough
What won: “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” from Rocketman
The “just give her an Oscar, already” momentum for Warren hit a pitch with her somewhat random nomination for “I’m Standing with You.” It’s actually a very nice song that picked up a few citations en route to the Dolby Theatre. But Breakthrough also marked a breakthrough for Christian mainstream cinema at the Oscars. (Breakthrough actually out-grossed several Best Picture nominees.) I guess one could say that the rightly-maligned “Alone Yet Not Alone” walked so “I’m Standing with You” could run.
One might chalk this nomination up to a relatively weak year in the category, but, again, it’s evidence that Warren hit a level of recognition with her peers and put in the work to be recognized for a film that few people took seriously. But how can you argue with Elton John and Bernie Taupin winning for Rocketman’s “I’m Gonna Love Me Again”?
2020: “Io sí (Seen)” from The Life Ahead
What won: “Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah
I really thought last year was going to be the one for Diane Warren. Not only did she have the massive support of Oscar-hungry Netflix behind her, but she delivered a mic drop of a power ballad and in Italian, no less! This collaboration with Laura Pausini for the Sophia Loren drama The Life Ahead seemed to check all the boxes. It was emotional tune from a film that wasn’t recognized elsewhere. It also brought a message about inclusion and “seeing” outsiders that the Academy openly craved. The song has as much body as a glass of Chianti and as much soul as Loren’s performance.
“Io sí” won the Golden Globe en route to the Oscars and seemed like the frontrunner alongside three relatively generic end credits songs and the novelty of “Husavik.” The eventual winner, “Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah is as snoozy as it is groovy. Warren was robbed.
2021: “Somehow You Do” from Four Good Days
What won: TBD
This year, Warren’s chances of winning are virtually nil. Her song, “Somehow You Do,” appears in the credits for Four Good Days. Vegas odds are paying +2500 to the bet as of press time. “Somehow You Do,” sung sweetly by Reba McEntire, is actually a lovely song from a decent movie that nobody saw. Four Good Days premiered a Sundance 2020 and was one of those fake Oscar movies that usually tries to reignite a go-nowhere awards campaign with a TIFF Gala in the fall. Had COVID not disrupted things, that probably would’ve happened, and might have given Warren some insurance for a win for “Io sí.”
Glenn Close and Mila Kunis couldn’t muster any traction for this gruelling portrait of addiction and sobriety, but the film again showed that Warren could get voters to recognize the song, rather than using a song as residual support for a movie. “Somehow You Do” isn’t necessarily a standout in a field that includes a doozy of a Beyoncé song from King Richard, a derivative Billie Eilish Bond tune for No Time to Die, Belfast‘s Van Morrison toe-tapper, and a song by Encanto‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda, whom the world seems fervently fixated on EGOTing. “Somehow You Do” is a nice song in its own right, probably shouldn’t be the one to bring home Oscar gold when “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” or “How Do I Live” went home empty handed. But if anyone knows that it’s an honour just to be nominated, it’s Warren.
And these songs weren’t even nominated!
“Can’t Fight the Moonlight” from Coyote Ugly (2000)
This fun anthem inspired many filmgoers to put their drinks up, but Oscar didn’t bite. But Bob Dylan deservedly won that year, so whatever.
“You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me Yet” from Burlesque (2010)
Warren won a Golden Globe and scored a Gammy nomination for this Cher showstopper from Burlesque. However, in the bitchiest of bitchy moves from the Academy, voters only nominated four songs under the old system that allowed members to rate the songs with points, which often sunk frontrunners.
“Why Did You Do That?” from A Star Is Born (2018)
Again, “Why do you look so good in those jeans? / Why’d you come around me with an ass like that?” Why did you do that, Oscar voters?
“If You Asked Me To” from Licence to Kill (1989)
I’m willing to throw down the glove and say that Warren is responsible for the most unheralded James Bond theme. This song closes the credits for Licence to Kill and is arguably much better, if less Bondier, than the opening track by Gladys Knight. Patti LaBelle’s recording for the film is great, while Céline Dion blew it out of the water a few years later. The song continued the trend of 007 songs being ignored by the Academy until “Skyfall” came along. The Little Mermaid won that year for “Under the Sea,” though, proving the seaweed is always greener on the other side.
Better luck with nomination number fourteen, Diane!