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Oscars: All 89 Best Picture Winners Ranked

49) The Last Emperor (1987)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
An Academy Award Best Picture blueprint right here. Epic, beautiful, biographical, historical, lavishly produced in all departments. The life of the title character Puyi is told through four different actors. Thousands of extras used. Nine Oscar wins – every one it was nominated for.
Could Have Been
Moonstruck
Not Even Nominated
My Life as a Dog; Au revoir les enfants; Empire of the Sun; The Untouchables; Full Metal Jacket; Jean de Florette

48) Chicago (2002)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
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?
Could Have Been
The Pianist
Not Even Nominated
Frida; Road to Perdition; Talk to Her

47) Rain Man (1988)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
The dramatization of Twins, this time Danny and Arnie are Dustin and Tom. Genius though, Ray can cheat at poker, count a bunch of toothpicks, and announce his farts.
Could Have Been
Dangerous Liaisons
Not Even Nominated
A Fish Called Wanda; The Last Temptation of Christ; The Accused; Who Framed Roger Rabbit; Big; Die Hard

46) Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
So you wanna be a boxer, wanna be the champ? There’s a golden girl inside you, not a punched-out tramp. Clint Eastwood delivers the underdog, then rips our hearts out. Tough ain’t enough.
Could Have Been
Sideways; The Aviator
Not Even Nominated
Vera Drake; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; The Incredibles

45) From Here to Eternity (1953)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Fred Zinnemann again. With a remarkable, big-hitting cast, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, and Supporting Acting Oscar winners Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed. Surprisingly low on this list given its stature.
Could Have Been
Roman Holiday
Not Even Nominated
Lili; Stalag 17; I Confess

44) The Lost Weekend (1945)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
One of just two films that have won the top picture prizes at Cannes and with AMPAS. Ray Milland won Best Actor for playing a writer with a drinking problem. Relatable?
Could Have Been
The Bells of St. Mary’s
Not Even Nominated
The Southerner; National Velvet; Leave Her to Heaven

43) Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Ted is prospering at work, but Joanna announces she is leaving him. WIth Billy, their son, staying with Ted, a turbulent, then bonding relationship ensues. Joanna returns for custody of Billy, but realizes his home is with his father.
Could Have Been
All That Jazz
Not Even Nominated
The Marriage of Maria Braun; Picnic at Hanging Rock; La Cage aux Folles; The China Syndrome; Alien; …And Justice for All; Being There; Manhattan

42) Gladiator (2000)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Welcome back to the Roman epic. Even Charlton Heston attended the Oscars. But it was Russell Crowe’s surprise Best Actor win that made it so. You would think, though, that to take Best Picture, winning Oscars for Film Editing, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor, and Directing would be good indicators.
Could Have Been
Traffic
Not Even Nominated
Almost Famous; Billy Elliot; Quills; Wonder Boys; You Can Count On Me; Dancer in the Dark

41) Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
A gem of a winner, realistically had no competition. What over-shadowed a perfectly deserved win for Best Picture? Was it all the talk of The Reader sneaking in, and The Dark Knight missing out? Yes. Final answer? Yes. Lock kiya-jaye.
Could Have Been
Nothing nominated
Not Even Nominated
The Dark Knight; WALL-E; Doubt; Revolutionary Road

40) Terms of Endearment (1983)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
The turbulent relationship of a mother and daughter over the decades. A film were I coincidentally find I have something in my eye each time I watch it.
Could Have Been
The Right Stuff
Not Even Nominated
Silkwood; Fanny and Alexander; Zelig

39) In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Having recently made history by winning the Best Actor Oscar, the first black man to do so, Sidney Poitier slaps a white racist man in retiation. You could hear the gasps. They call him Mr. Tibbs.
Could Have Been
Bonnie and Clyde; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; The Graduate
Not Even Nominated
In Cold Blood; Thoroughly Modern Millie; The Jungle Book

38) Rocky (1976)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Sylvester Stallone’s underdog gem. The one were Rocky loses. It’s the taking part that counts. Plus it is the start of a beautiful friendship. The real victory is having that mutual love declaration with the pet shop girl.
Could Have Been
Network
Not Even Nominated
Seven Beauties; Carrie; The Omen; The Tenant

37) Platoon (1986)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Charlie Sheen, not long a man, heads off into the Vietnam War jungle, to complete his manhood. It’s a harrowing journey though, in typically brutal Oliver Stone fashion. Made all the more poignant by Adagio for Strings.
Could Have Been
Hannah and Her Sisters
Not Even Nominated
Blue Velvet; Salvador; Aliens; Manhunter

36) Ben-Hur (1959)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Roberto Benigni remembers seeing the grand ruH-neB as a youngster, not knowing then that the movie projection was the wrong way around. Ben Hur is more famous though for deftifying chariot races, and winning a record-breaking 11 Oscars.
Could Have Been
The Diary of Anne Frank
Not Even Nominated
Some Like It Hot; Pillow Talk; North by Northwest; The 400 Blows

35) The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
William Wyler again, 15 years prior. The film tackles the aftermath of war, as three servicemen return home to aclimnatize to their old lives. Critically and commercially, one of the most successful films of that era.
Could Have Been
It’s a Wonderful Life
Not Even Nominated
The Children of Paradise; Rome, Open City; The Big Sleep; Brief Encounter; Duel in the Sun; Notorious

34) Forrest Gump (1994)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
The whimsical chronicle of the United States of America in the twentieth century. From the point of view of a simple man, who knows what love is. Extremely sentimental, flourishing, emotive, somewhat pandering at times – you can still see exactly why it won.
Could Have Been
Pulp Fiction
Not Even Nominated
Bullets over Broadway; Three Colors: Red; The Lion King; The Madness of King George; Legends of the Fall; Little Women

33) All Quiet on the Western Front (1929/30)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
One of the most acclaimed films of those early bird Oscar Best Picture winners. And a war film held in very high esteem. Lewis Milestone was the first to win Best Director for a Best Picture victor. A trend that would last.
Could Have Been
The Love Parade
Not Even Nominated
The Cocoanuts; Applause; Anna Christie

32) The Hurt Locker (2009)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
A film of war not quite like any other, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to actually win Best Director. A satisfying win historically, but made much sweeter that she defeated her ex-husband James Cameron of all people.
Could Have Been
Avatar
Not Even Nominated
Star Trek; Fantastic Mr. Fox; The White Ribbon

31) The Sound of Music (1965)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Robert Wise returns to the podium, winning Best Director fours years after West Side Story. And over twenty years since being nominated for editing Citizen Kane. Back to the hills alive with the sound of music, Julie Andrews delivers ample portions of love and music to the von Trapp family.
Could Have Been
Doctor Zhivago
Not Even Nominated
Contempt; Cat Ballou; The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

30) Titanic (1997)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
James Cameron’s monumental triumph. The RMS Titanic is the venue for a classic love story. We all know how it ends though. Rose tells Jack she will never let him go. And then does so. He drowns, and she goes on to live a very, very long, happy life.
Could Have Been
L.A. Confidential
Not Even Nominated
Amistad; Kundun; The Wings of the Dove; Boogie Nights; Mrs Brown; The Sweet Hereafter; The Ice Storm

29) Birdman (2014)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Michael Keaton plays it tongue in cheek as he revisits the superhero alter-ego. The film also pokes fun at the industry, actors, film critics – and the Academy love it. A Mexican wins Best Director again.
Could Have Been
Boyhood; The Grand Budapest Hotel
Not Even Nominated
Foxcatcher; Gone Girl; Ida

CONTINUE – Part IV: A Single Note, Hanging There, Unwavering

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16 Comments

  1. steve schweighofer steve schweighofer January 4, 2018

    Amazing job, Robin! Just incredible – no wonder it took so much work.

    • Robin Write Robin Write Post author | January 4, 2018

      Appreciate that, thank you. I’m hibernating.

  2. danielgsr danielgsr January 4, 2018

    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.

    • Robin Write Robin Write Post author | January 4, 2018

      And are you?

  3. danielgsr danielgsr January 4, 2018

    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.

    • Robin Write Robin Write Post author | January 4, 2018

      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.

  4. Mark Mark January 4, 2018

    Birdman is way too high in this list.

    • Robin Write Robin Write Post author | January 4, 2018

      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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