All About Eve Is Still The Only Film To Achieve This Oscar Milestone

Landing an Academy Award nomination is tough enough, but what about earning a record-setting 14 Academy Award nominations? Only three films in history have ever reached that number: "All About Eve," "Titanic," and "La La Land." To achieve that kind of Oscar success requires across-the-board enthusiasm for a particular picture, from the directors and actors to the costume designers and sound mixers. In a film landscape that continues to fragment and diversify, that kind of consensus seems totally out of reach. Biopics swallow up the above the line categories, and action blockbusters tend to reap the rewards below the line, there are even less awards to get nominated for with the recent rule change to combine sound categories.

It makes sense that movies like "Titanic" and "La La Land" could rack up those nominations. The former is an outrageously grand epic melodrama with plenty of spectacle, and the latter is a big musical, and those kinds of films can straddle the artistic and technical branches of the Academy. But "All About Eve" is a different matter entirely. It is a talky, witty drama from Joseph L. Mankiewicz. On its face, it doesn't scream out as a down-ballot given. "All About Eve" is an exquisitely designed movie from top to bottom, but what really helped it achieve such acclaim was earning five nominations for acting, though it is not the only film to accomplish that. What sets "All About Eve" apart, in that respect, is who got those nominations.

The Ladies Who Triumph

Joseph L. Mankiewicz's tale of the seemingly naïve Eve (Anne Baxter) ingratiating herself into the life of middle aged Broadway star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is the only film in history to receive four Academy Award nominations for female cast members. Baxter and Davis were both nominated for lead actress, along with Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter, as Margo's friend and dresser respectively, in supporting roles. Yes, it has been over 70 years since four women have been nominated for an Oscar for the same film. To be fair, getting that many nominations for a film's cast is exceptionally difficult, but it's still been an awfully long time since that many women had juicy enough parts to be loved by the Academy that way.

Meanwhile, three films have received four acting nominations on the male side, all of them in the Marlon Brando-sphere. "On the Waterfront," "The Godfather," and "The Godfather Part II" all racked up four acting nods. Comparatively, "All About Eve" still stands as an even further outlier due to its nominee allocation. While those other three films all had one lead and three supporting nominees, the two-and-two for "All About Eve" is wholly unique.

The Rarity of the Co-Lead

The vast majority of films are about one central figure. Finding movies that focus on a pair of people is more difficult than you might think, and even more so when that pair is of the same gender. Sure, we have plenty of heterosexual romance films with male and female leads, but films featuring leads of the same gender are tougher to find, especially when it comes to award worthy releases. Even when you do find a film that fits the bill, you'll likely find that the studio ran an awards campaign to commit blatant category fraud by bumping one of its leads to a supporting role. "The Godfather" actually did this with Al Pacino, who you could argue is even more of a lead in the film than Marlon Brando. Pacino being a newcomer opposite a Hollywood stalwart like Brando gives them an out to fudge the categories, bu it's still gaming the system to better increase your odds at nominations.

Only 17 movies in the entire 94-year history of the Academy Awards have managed to get multiple nominees in the lead categories, a dozen times with the men and five with the women. We have not seen it since Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon both got nominated for "Thelma and Louise" at the 1992 Oscars ceremony 30 years ago. Of course, the big fear with having two people in the same category from the same movie is vote splitting. Choosing one or the other when the two performances are inextricably tied together feels like a slight to the one who wouldn't win. Therefore, someone else can emerge the winner. Out of the 17 double nominees, only five of those produced a winner. "All About Eve" was not one of those five. Bette Davis and Anne Baxter both lost to Judy Holliday for "Born Yesterday." The vote splitting also hindered Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter in their supporting category, as they lost to Josephine Hull for "Harvey."

But Who Actually Took Home the Trophies?

While "All About Eve" holds the distinction of the most female acting nominations in history, only one woman was ultimately rewarded with the Academy Award for her work on the film. That would be legendary costume designer Edith Head, who shared her win with fellow designer Charles LeMaire. The film won six out of its 14 nominations, and outside of Head, they were all male winners. Joseph L. Mankiewicz won both Best Director and Best Screenplay, and 20th Century Fox head Darryl Zanuck took home Best Picture. Meanwhile, Thomas T. Moulton won for his sound recording, and George Sanders, the lone male acting nominee from the film, took home Best Supporting Actor. "All About Eve" earned a historical milestone for its ladies, but it's the one guy in the cast who ultimately wins the Oscar. Ah, Hollywood!

Obviously, not having another film in over 70 years accomplish this kind of nomination haul for women is fairly shameful. How many films can you actually think of that even came close? The last couple of decades has only seen the further spreading out of nominees across different movies. Also, Oscar campaigning has become so shrewd and specific that studios and public relations firms know exactly the right few people to throw all their weight behind. Maybe this kind of milestone will never happen again, but if it does, I can't think of a nicer compliment than for a film to be in the same conversation as "All About Eve," one of the greatest films that classic Hollywood has to offer.