Oscars: All 89 Best Picture Winners Ranked

89) The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
No symbolism intended of the forgettable film’s Oscar night triumph. The story aptly includes ‘life’s a circus’ nonsense, folk flying from one obstacle to the next, and a clown that doesn’t take off his make-up.
Could Have Been
High Noon; The Quiet Man
Not Even Nominated
Rashomon; The Bad and the Beautiful; Singin’ in the Rain

88) Cimarron (1930/31)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Oklahoma-set western of sorts. A rare golden guy win for RKO Pictures. Ticking many familiar Academy alluring boxes. And a huge budget for its time to boot.
Could Have Been
The Front Page
Not Even Nominated
Dracula; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; City Lights

87) The Broadway Melody (1928/29)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
A novelty back then, this had dance numbers and sound. A musical to start the sporadic trend of the Best Picture shining of the genre. With producer Irving Thalberg to be an award himself decades later. The only film to win Best Picture and nothing else.
Could Have Been
In Old Arizona; The Patriot
Not Even Nominated
Pandora’s Box; Coquette; The Passion of Joan of Arc

86) Cavalcade (1932/33)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Based on his play, Noël Coward would get top billing over any acting or producing talent. A semi-historical picture with New Year’s bookends.
Could Have Been
A Farewell to Arms
Not Even Nominated
Duck Soup; King Kong; Footlight Parade

85) Going My Way (1944)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
More sing-song, this time from Bing Crosby, winning the Oscar for Best Actor. Barry Fitzgerald lost to his co-star there. But won for Supporting Actor. Come again? We change the rules. Okay. The sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s, would also contend for gold the following year.
Could Have Been
Double Indemnity
Not Even Nominated
Laura; Meet Me in St. Louis; Lifeboat

84) Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Based on the Jules Verne novel, as if you didn’t know, the film also features footage from Georges Méliès’ 1902 film A Trip to the Moon. In this adventure, Phileas Fogg and Passepartout are on a trip far more down to Earth. Shirley MacLaine is in this too. Yes she is.
Could Have Been
Friendly Persuasion; Giant; The King and I; The Ten Commandments
Not Even Nominated
The Searchers; The Bad Seed; All That Heaven Allows; War and Peace; Baby Doll

83) The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
William Powell is the main man in the fictional retelling of Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. Cinematic to say the least, was known back then for its extensive set and costume decoration. Not to mention some breakthrough choreography. It has, though, not aged particularly well. Luise Rainer won the first of back-to-back Best Actress Oscars.
Could Have Been
Anthony Adverse
Not Even Nominated
Modern Times; Sabotage; Swing Time

82) Tom Jones (1963)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Not in any way a biopic of the Welsh music artist. Though the man’s popularity is comparable. Practically the whole cast were Oscar nominated (but not Susannah York!). Tony Richardson’s period romp was a minor blip in the flourishing Best Picture winners of the 1960s.
Could Have Been
Cleopatra
Not Even Nominated
The Leopard; The Great Escape; Hud; The Birds; 8½

81) The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Another biographical motion picture to take the top prize in the early years of AMPAS. This may now be remembered for some suspected scandal rather than a respected take on the life of the Nobel Prize nominated writer.
Could Have Been
A Star is Born
Not Even Nominated
The Hurricane; Nothing Sacred; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

80) Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
A journalism movie is rarely a Best Picture winner. The 1947 film dealt with issues of exposing antisemitism. Elia Kazan would be no stranger to controversy eventually. This won him the first of his two Best Director Oscars.
Could Have Been
Great Expectations; Miracle on 34th Street
Not Even Nominated
Black Narcissus; Beauty and the Beast; A Double Life

79) Gigi (1958)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
The My Fair Lady of Best Picture winners. Until My Fair Lady won of course. This is romnantic, this is musical, this is gloriously elegant. Not favored as a great Best Picture winner, Vincente Minnelli’s production won 9 Oscars, the record highest wins. Until Ben Hur the very next year of course.
Could Have Been
The Defiant Ones
Not Even Nominated
Touch of Evil; Vertigo; I Want to Live!

78) You Can’t Take It With You (1938)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Notable for establishing Frank Capra as the golden boy of directing in pre-war cinema. Comedy depicting an unlikely romance. This was Capra’s third Best Director Oscar in the 1930s.
Could Have Been
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Not Even Nominated
Angels with Dirty Faces; Bringing Up Baby; Holiday

77) Oliver! (1968)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Gold, Glorious Gold for Carol Reed and the diverse musical ensemble. One of the lesser respected musical winners judging by it’s placing here. The Charles Dickens adaptation is largely considered to be something of a treasure.
Could Have Been
The Lion in Winter
Not Even Nominated
Belle de Jour; 2001: A Space Odyssey; The Battle of Algiers; Rosemary’s Baby; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

76) Hamlet (1948)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Sir Laurence Olivier directed, produced, adapted the play, and played the prince himself. Some claim the Shakespearean text was butchered somewhat. Kenneth Branagh, who artistically emulated Olivier to extent, would fully adapt the play in his 4-hour version, with nowhere near the Oscar success.
Could Have Been
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Not Even Nominated
The Bicycle Thief; Joan of Arc; The Lady From Shanghai; Letter from an Unknown Woman

75) Crash (2005)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Directed by a scientologist, revamped by Lionsgate, and aided by homophobia elsewhere. One of the worst Original Screenplay winners too. Much life lessons from an ensemble going heavy with the cultural stereotypes and collectively claiming they are not racist, but…
Could Have Been
Brokeback Mountain
Not Even Nominated
King Kong; Memoirs of a Geisha; Walk the Line

74) All the King’s Men (1949)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Political corruption and personal struggles collide in the adaptation of the Robert Penn Warren novel. The film was touted to have a noir feel, given its dark nature.
Could Have Been
The Heiress
Not Even Nominated
Come to the Stable; The Fallen Idol; She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

73) Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Made during World War II, this was William Wyler’s first of three Oscars for Best Director (and entries on this very list). A war time drama that has a woman at the center of the story. The film won both Actress Oscars to boot.
Could Have Been
The Pride of the Yankees
Not Even Nominated
The Man Who Came to Dinner; Now, Voyager; Bambi

72) Grand Hotel (1931/32)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Another producing victory for Irving Thalberg. And with the great Greta Garbo at the center of the pandemonium. This film is unique for winning the one Academy Award it was nominated for – Best Picture.
Could Have Been
The Champ
Not Even Nominated
Frankenstein; Red Dust; Scarface

71) Argo (2012)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Something about becoming a hero by making a lousy film during troubled times. Ben Affleck didn’t even need a Best Director for this. Was much more valued before the Oscar politics kicked in.
Could Have Been
Lincoln; The Life of Pi
Not Even Nominated
The Master; Moonrise Kingdom; Skyfall

70) Chariots of Fire (1981)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Glory of the little people runs warm with the Academy on many an occasions. The little Brit flick that could. But it was composer Vangelis who scored big, pretty much wining all the film’s Oscars.
Could Have Been
Raiders of the Lost Ark; Reds
Not Even Nominated
Ragtime; Body Heat; My Dinner with Andre

69) Out of Africa (1985)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
The Sydney Pollack epic that would inspire his future buddy Anthony Minghella to pay homage and win Best Picture too. God rest both their souls. And as polite as he is, don’t ask Spielberg about this Oscar year.
Could Have Been
The Color Purple; Prizzi’s Honor
Not Even Nominated
Ran; Blood Simple; Back to the Future

CONTINUE – Part II: Perilous Voyage To An Unknown Land

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16 thoughts on “Oscars: All 89 Best Picture Winners Ranked

  1. I see what you did with #52 and #51. But…can epic filmmaking really be brought back twice in six years? I think you’re just testing us to see if we’re paying attention.

  2. I don’t understand your caption for Chicago (2002):
    “Some exquisitely executed set-pieces don’t really make this familiar musical a big screen classic. On the verge of war, were America looking for some razzle-dazzle relief a la post World War II?”
    Was America on the verge of war in 1931, when Chicago is set? What makes you say there was “famous razzle-dazzle relief” around 1946? Having studied the period, I don’t see it. Or did you mean World War I? That would make a certain sense, that’s when women went from dresses to skirts, start of radio and magazines, Great Gatsby stuff. But then it would be weird to ask if 1931 was trying for that, when 1931 was in many ways a continuation of that (to some degree, Cabaret is about that).
    Confused.

    1. It’s a basic and casual reference to the flourish of musicals in Hollywood after the second world war. Not just the reflection on Oscar nominations and winners, but cinema in general. Almost like the world needed cheering up or distracting. Which we did. And not that many of those musicals were uplifting. The Chicago win may in some part be on a similar vein, post-9/11 and the resulting fiasco.

    1. Yeah very high. It’s on the back of the recent win. If we did this in 5 years, 2 years, it’d be lower.

      Or are you complaining it should be higher? 😁

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