Denim and the Oscars: A Look at Jeans in Cinema

Levi Strauss & Co.
February 27, 2014

It’s Oscar time. That means dazzling gowns, tailored tuxes and … denim?

Yep! While it’s not often associated with the red carpet, iconic indigo has a definitive place in Hollywood when it comes to the films themselves. Since the 1950s, onscreen jeans have created a cinematic archive of popular styles over the years, setting trends as they record them.

In honor of the 86th Academy Awards, which is set to air this Sunday, we present a look at 12 films featuring blue jean styling that made the Academy—and audiences everywhere—proud:

(Note: The following clips are best viewed on desktops and devices which support Flash. If some clips don’t load, please refresh this page.)

1. Rear Window, 1955
Nominated for four Academy Awards, including best screenplay and best director.


In the final shot of what is often called Alfred Hitchcock’s finest work, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) reclines on a daybed in slim-fit rolled pedal pushers, waiting until her wheelchair-bound boyfriend falls asleep before opening up Harper’s Bazaar with a satisfied smirk.

FUN FACT: The character’s jeans have been interpreted as a metaphor for her “wearing the pants in the relationship,” especially when contrasted with her husband’s casts.

2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1962
Nominated for five Academy Awards and won two,  for best score and best original song.


True, Audrey Hepburn could make anything look chic, but Holly Golightly’s denim pedal pushers, paired with a guitar and terry cloth turban, were one of her best looks in Blake Edwards’ masterpiece — especially when paired with her breathy and delicate rendition of the Oscar-winning song “Moon River.”

FUN FACT: At the preview screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the president of Paramount Pictures announced that the song would be removed from the final version—to which a typically demure Hepburn replied, “Over my dead body.”

3. West Side Story, 1962
Nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 10, including best picture and best director.


Though Bernardo’s Sharks were more the Dockers® type, the Jets sported serious street style with their denim duds in the tragic musical directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Riff and Toni’s gang epitomized 1950s cool kids and reminded us that jeans are made for dancing.

FUN FACT: West Side Story won more Academy Awards than any other film in history.

4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1976
Nominated for nine Academy Awards and won five: best picture, best director, best screenplay, best actor and best actress.


Jack Nicholson starred as Randle McMurphy, the ultimate rebel in Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Contrasted with the white scrubs of the hospital staff, McMurphy’s denim-on-denim ensembles emphasized his bad-boy image.

FUN FACT: This film was the second to win all five major Academy Awards, a feat not repeated until 1991 with Silence of the Lambs.

5. Grease, 1979
Nominated for one Academy Award, for best original song.


Directed by Randal Kleiser, Grease didn’t exactly clean up at the Oscars, but it’s undeniably an award-worthy classic. Set in the 1950s, the film features Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and his crew rocking the greaser look, of which cuffed Levi’s® 501® jeans are an essential component.

FUN FACT: “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” the song that received the film’s only Academy Award nomination, was written halfway through the shoot and was recorded after the movie had wrapped.

6. Field of Dreams, 1990
Nominated for three Academy Awards, including best picture.


“If you build it, he will come.” Words to live by. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) sported the archetypal “dad jeans” (Levi’s®, in fact!) during a touching game of catch with his ball-player father in Phil Alden Robinson’s mystical baseball flick.

FUN FACT: This film could be counted as one of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s early works. They were two of thousands of extras in the movie’s Fenway Park scene.

7. Ghost, 1991
Nominated for five Academy Awards and won two, including best supporting actress.

Still Feel You




We can’t show you the steamy pottery-wheel scene, in which Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) proves that sometimes jeans are an entire outfit unto themselves. Instead we give you this clip, in which Molly Jensen (Demi Moore) rocks an epic pair of artist overalls.

 FUN FACT: Bruce Willis was offered the role of Sam Wheat. He turned it down because he didn’t think it would be interesting to play a character that was dead. He regretted the decision and years later starred as (spoiler alert!) the already-dead Dr. Malcom Crowe in 1999’s The Sixth Sense.

8. Thelma and Louise, 1992
Nominated for six Academy Awards and won one, for best original screenplay.


While ultimate bad-girl fugitives Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) and Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis) had some great denim looks in Ridley Scott’s adventure film, J.D. (Brad Pitt) sported an eye-catching jean-on-jean ensemble that turned out to be enough to convince the duo to let him tag along.

 FUN FACT: Billy Baldwin was originally cast as J.D. and dropped out when he was offered the lead role in Backdraft. The studio auditioned 400 actors before choosing Pitt. Among the rejects? George Clooney.

9. Erin Brokovich, 2001
Nominated for five Academy Awards and won one, for best actress.


We’re all about clean water and equal pay here at LS&Co. In Steven Soderbergh’s film, Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) inspires us not only to fight for change but also to rock a seriously fashionable pair of cutoffs.

 FUN FACT: Roberts is one of two best actress winners to portray a right-handed character although she is naturally left-handed. The only other woman to do so was Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in 2002’s The Hours.

10. Brokeback Mountain, 2006
Nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three, including best director and best adapted screenplay.


Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) sported rugged jean ensembles against the beautiful backdrop of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. In a particularly touching scene in which Ennis returns to the now-deceased Jack’s home, he finds the pairs’ bloodstained shirts (one of which is denim) hanging together in the closet and weeps.

FUN FACT: In 2006, local collector Tom Gregory purchased said shirts on eBay for a reported $101,100, calling them this generation’s ruby slippers.

11. No Country for Old Men, 2007
Nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four, including best picture and best director.


Regarded by some as the Coen brothers’ finest, the film not only had us on the edge of our seats, it also reminded us that blue jeans are rugged enough to sustain even the most intense of chases, as evidenced by Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) and terrifying villain Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem).

FUN FACT: No Country for Old Men is only the second film in history for which the best director Oscar is shared by two people. The first was for West Side Story, shared by directors Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise.

 12. Drive, 2012
Nominated for an Academy Award for best sound editing.

I Drive




In Nicholas Winding Refn’s groundbreaking film, the Driver (Ryan Gosling) sports dark-wash slim-fit jeans paired with a deep indigo denim jacket, perfectly fitting his mysterious persona and spawning a slew of fashion followers. Levi’s® 511™ jeans never looked so good.

FUN FACT: The movie has the same tagline as 2007’s No Country for Old Men: “There are no clean getaways.”