When "Wall Street" debuted in movie theaters in 1987, it didn't seem like a typical Oscar contender. The drama about stock-market greed looked too commercial and featured a lead star chiefly known for thrillers like "Fatal Attaction" and heart-tuggers like "Romancing the Stone." Michael Douglas had another strike against him. In "Wall Street," he portrayed a vicious corporate raider. Back in those days, villainous roles rarely won Oscars.
But "Wall Street" was directed by Oliver Stone, who had just swept the Academy Awards with "Platoon" the previous year. That gave Douglas additional academy cachet, which he already had as a producer of the best picture of 1975, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." He had another plus: He was a prince of Hollywood, being the son of Kirk Douglas (star of "Spartacus" and Oscar nominee for "Lust for Life," "The Bad and the Beautiful" and "Champion").
When the best-actor derby of 1987 began, there was no clear favorite, but Michael Douglas was first out of the gate. He won National Board of Review for "Wall Street." Two days later Jack Nicholson took the New York Film Critics Circle prize for three flicks: "Broadcast News," "Ironweed" and "Witches of Eastwick." Two days after that, there was a tie at the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. between Nicholson (hailed for "Ironweed" and "Witches of Eastwick" but not his cameo in "Broadcast News") and Steve Martin ("Roxanne"). Martin gained further momentum when he won National Society of Film Critics in early January.
Heading into the Golden Globes, Steve Martin was pushed over into that separate category for comedies/musicals where he ended up losing to Robin Williams ("Good Morning, Vietnam"). In the race for best drama actor, Douglas competed against John Lone ("The Last Emperor"), Jack Nicholson ("Ironweed"), Nick Nolte ("Weeds") and Denzel Washington ("Cry Freedom"). Douglas won.
When Oscar nominations came out, Douglas was pitted against William Hurt ("Broadcast News"), Marcello Mastroianni ("Dark Eyes"), Jack Nicholson ("Ironweed") and Robin Williams ("Good Morning, Vietnam").
Kirk Douglas was too nervous, and superstitious, to attend the Oscar ceremony. Afterward, he told Variety's Army Archerd, "I was afraid if I was there, I would jinx Michael. I forewarned Michael to be prepared for any eventuality. I reminded him that when I was up for 'Lust for Life,' they said I was a shoo-in, but Yul Brenner won for 'The King and I.' "
When Michael won, he dedicated his award to "my father, who I don't think ever missed one of my college productions." He thanked his dad "for his continued support and for helping a son step out of a shadow. I'll be eternally grateful to you, Dad!"
Variety reported the next morning: "For Michael Douglas, winning the Oscar last night for Best Actor was more rewarding than his gold statue 12 years ago as producer of Best Picture winner 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.' This time out, he said, 'I was looking for credibility.' "
Photo: "Wall Street." Credit: 20th Century Fox