When it comes to the Academy Awards, Diane Warren is always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
The Californian hitmaker has picked up 11 best original song nominations during her prolific career. But unless there’s a major shock at Sunday’s ceremony (Feb. 9), she will have soon gone home empty-handed 11 times, too.
Yes, Warren may have penned no less than 32 top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hits – nine of which have reached pole position – but that appears to count for little with the Academy. From epic power ballads to, erm, other epic power ballads, here’s our ranking of her Oscar-nominated songs.
11. “I’m Standing with You” (from Breakthrough, 2020 Oscars)
“I’m Standing with You” is a rank outsider to defeat Elton John’s hot favorite “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” at the forthcoming 92nd Academy Awards and it’s not hard to understand why. Sure, it’s performed with gusto by leading lady Chrissy Metz. But it’s essentially Warren on autopilot. The faux-inspirational lyrics are as heavy-handed as you’d expect from a faith-based melodrama and the shoehorned-in gospel choir ensures that no cliché is left unturned.
10. “Music of My Heart” (from Music of the Heart, 2000 Oscars)
Unlike their rivals Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC’s slower numbers were always much weaker than their pop bangers and the drippy “Music of My Heart” is no exception. Making her final top 40 appearance as a solo artist, Gloria Estefan’s emotive voice combines well with Timberlake and co.’s multi-layered harmonies. But they’re all saddled with the kind of air-grabbing, stand-up-for-the-key-change arrangement that gave the boy band ballad a bad name.
9. “Grateful” (from Beyond the Lights, 2015 Oscars)
After five nominations in six years, Warren appeared to fall out of favor with the Academy. But she unexpectedly broke her 13-year duck in 2015 with this Sia-esque number from musical romantic drama Beyond the Lights. It’s not exactly clear why voters deemed the perfunctory “Grateful” worthy of giving a nod when they’d previously ignored superior Warren efforts (such as Cher’s Burlesque number “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me”). And its performer was no doubt slightly nonplussed, too; Having previously claimed the track could elevate Rita Ora’s career to new heights, Warren then called out the British singer for failing to promote it.
8. “I’ll Fight” (from RBG, 2019 Oscars)
Taken from the documentary about the pioneering U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “I’ll Fight” and its all-too-literal lyrics (“I’ll fight, stand and defend you/Take your side/That’s what I’m here to do”) proved once again that subtlety isn’t Warren’s strong point. But thanks to a typically powerhouse vocal from Jennifer Hudson – who, of course, bagged an Academy Award at the first time of asking – this rally cry still packs a punch.
7. “Stand Up for Something” (from Marshall, 2018 Oscars)
Co-written with Common for another film about an American Supreme Court Justice, “Stand Up for Something” is an outlier in Warren’s Oscar-nominated canon. Its brassy retro-soul sound bears all the hallmarks of a Memphis Stax classic, while Common’s potent rhymes provide a rare flirtation with hip-hop. Andra Day – who appears in Marshall as a jazz club singer – also adds to the vintage vibes with a timeless vocal which explains her lead casting in the upcoming The United States vs. Billie Holiday.
6. “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” (from Armageddon, 1999 Oscars)
Reportedly inspired by a Barbara Walters interview with Barbra Streisand and James Brolin, “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” cemented Warren’s status as the queen of the blockbuster power ballad. Aerosmith hadn’t hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 before they were offered the most epic number from Michael Bay’s most epic disaster movie, Armageddon. But the combination of Steven Tyler’s yelping, Warren’s inherent romanticism and a whopping 52-piece orchestra launched the hard rock veterans a four-week stay atop the chart.
5. “Til It Happens to You” (from The Hunting Ground, 2016 Oscars)
Undoubtedly Warren’s most emotionally affecting Oscar-nominated song, “Til It Happens to You” was written with performer Lady Gaga for The Hunting Ground, Kirby Dick’s devastating documentary about campus rape. Gaga, who had previously been vocal about her own experiences as a sexual assault victim, delivers one of her finest vocal performances as she summons up a compelling mixture of rage, frustration and vulnerability. And although the swelling strings are undoubtedly dramatic, they don’t overshadow the powerful message. “Til It Happens to You” being denied by the histrionics of Sam Smith’s Bond theme is perhaps Warren’s biggest Oscar injustice.
4. “Because You Loved Me” (from Up Close and Personal, 1997 Oscars)
Far more memorable than the Michelle Pfeiffer/Robert Redford romantic drama it was recorded for, Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” kickstarted Warren’s imperial phase. It gave her the first (and so far only) Grammy Award of her illustrious career, another No. 1 and essentially set the template for her entire Hollywood output. Showboating vocals, sweeping orchestration and lyrics seemingly tailor-made for that wedding first dance – all the Warren trademarks are here in a ballad that’s since been recorded by everyone from Johnny Mathis to the cast of Glee.
3. “How Do I Live” (from Con Air, 1998 Oscars)
Spending a then-record breaking 69 weeks on the Hot 100 in the 1990s, LeAnn Rimes’ “How Do I Live” was nothing short of a chart juggernaut. Incredibly, it isn’t one of Warren’s nine No. 1s – it had the misfortune of peaking at the same time as Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997.” Nor was Rimes’ more successful rendition the one featured in Con Air – fellow country star Trisha Yearwood’s recording was selected for the enjoyably ridiculous Nicolas Cage actioner. But no matter which version, “How Do I Live” remains one of Warren’s superior ballads.
2. “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” (from Mannequin, 1988 Oscars)
Warren’s first No. 1 and Oscar nomination, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” gave one of the decade’s corniest romcoms Mannequin some unlikely awards attention in 1988. However, its best big-screen moment is undoubtedly Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s impromptu duet in the underrated dramedy The Skeleton Twins. From its cheesy singalong chorus to that bombastic air guitar solo, Starship’s third chart-topper is poles apart from the politicized psych-rock of their earlier incarnation, Jefferson Airplane. But if ever there was a song that defined the term “guilty pleasure,” this is it.
1. “There You’ll Be” (from Pearl Harbor, 2002 Oscars)
Warren’s affiliation with Michael Bay reached its apex in 2001 on the much-maligned Pearl Harbor. The war epic may have failed dismally in its attempt to become the new Titanic, but their respective main themes were far closer in both quality and spirit. The track’s windblown chorus even allows Faith Hill to compete with Celine Dion in the lung-busting stakes but she’s just as affecting on the more subdued verses, her melancholic tones perfectly complementing Warren’s heartfelt words to a lost loved one. With “My Heart Will Go On” picking up a coveted Oscar, Warren can perhaps feel slightly aggrieved that “There You’ll Be” didn’t do the same.