Wondering where you can watch the below films? Here’s our complete streaming guide to the Oscar Best Picture Winners. This list has been updated to include the Best Picture winner of 2022.
The Academy Awards, as film historian David Thompson once explained for Vanity Fair, may have evolved out of studio head Louis B. Mayer’s desire to distract his employees from any potential interest in unionization. Yet since those first awards were handed out in 1929, they’ve become an industry obsession, around which the entire annual cycle of film releases is now oriented, with that illustrious goal of Oscar being the most meaningful scorecard for which studios and filmmakers alike can strive.
This makes it fascinating to dig into the 90-plus year history of the awards, and remember that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has made some weird-ass choices since Wings won the award for “Outstanding Picture.” Every year, up until today, has been packed with drama over who was nominated, who wasn’t, and who ultimately won; every film fan has strong opinions about years when the best films went under-appreciated. (Funnily enough, we don’t talk all that much about the years when Oscar did get it right — there’s something about human nature that makes us so much more prone to engage with outrage.)
On some level, Oscar-watching is a sport, a game to be played; there’s an entire industry built around attempting to optimize each year’s contenders for a win. It’s a whole epic drama in its own right, one with real stakes: No matter what the ceremony’s origins might have been, today winning the Oscar for Best Picture means a film has that much more of a chance at the everlasting life which Elinor St. John (Jean Smart) describes to movie star Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) in 2022’s Babylon: “A child born in 50 years will stumble across your image flickering on a screen and feel he knows you like a friend, though you breathed your last before he breathed his first.”
Babylon was not nominated for Best Picture in 2023, but there are currently 10 other nominated films all hoping to join the below list. It’s a funny kind of immortality, winning an award declaring you to be the best movie of that year. But it’s more than most of us mortal humans will ever achieve.
— Liz Shannon Miller
Senior Entertainment Editor
96. Crash (2005)
Even if Crash hadn’t stood in the way of Ang Lee’s masterful Brokeback Mountain winning the trophy it deserved, it’d still take the bottom slot of this list. Nothing about Crash has aged well: Leaving out writer/director Paul Haggis’s recent legal issues (including a civil court ruling that he sexually assaulted a woman in 2013), it remains a clunky, over-the-top, and tone-deaf attempt to make white Oscar voters feel less bad about racism.
Its sprawling narrative contains many reasons to eye-roll, with perhaps the most egregious being Matt Dillon’s racist cop sexually assaulting a woman (Thandiwe Newton) during a traffic stop — but it’s all okay, because later said cop risks his life to pull her out of a burning car. Crash remains an infuriating win… But on the plus side, we didn’t struggle to figure out what should take the bottom spot on this list. — L.S.M.
95. The Broadway Melody (1931)
The competition wasn’t astounding at the second Academy Awards, as the industry struggled to adapt to a new era of synchronized sound. Thus, a film like The Broadway Melody — a sound-packed melodrama about two sisters who dream of an acting career, torn apart by their mutual love for a cad of a songwriter — managed to stand out against the other nominees. But it’s a thin film, and the romance isn’t very convincing. In retrospect maybe some of the other nominated films, like the clever thriller Alibi or the subtextually queer Western In Old Arizona, had more going for them. (Then again, maybe not. It really wasn’t a great year.) — William Bibbiani
94. Cimarron (1929)
The first Western to win the Best Picture Oscar (and the only one to win until Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven six decades later) is an ambitious technical achievement, capturing the rise of a frontier boom town from nothingness into an urban sprawl. At the center is, at least on paper, a fascinating story about Yancy (Richard Dix), a heroic man with wanderlust, his conservative wife Sabra (Irene Dunn), and how they evolve — and get lost — in an increasingly progressive American society. But after a thrilling opening land grab sequence, it’s boring. Staggeringly boring. And to think, it was up against the quick-witted and cynical The Front Page and the funny, smart, and emotionally powerful Skippy, both of which make a grander impact despite their smaller scale. — W.B.
93. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
In the earliest days of the Oscars, the winners were decided by a tiny pool of voters and tended to be dominated by films by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The Great Ziegfeld was pure MGM: huge set-pieces, an inspirational true-life story, and eye-watering musical showstopper — a costly endeavor with over a thousand people working on the production. You definitely see every cent on-screen in this highly sanitized musical biopic of the theatrical impresario Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld Jr., but at three hours long, it’s a total slog, over-reliant on clichés and nowhere near as magical as other musicals of the era. At least the costumes are gorgeous. — Kayleigh Donaldson
92. Tom Jones (1963)
To understand why, exactly, a light social satire like Tom Jones might win Best Picture, sometimes the answer lies in its competition. The ’60s aren’t exactly considered a high point for American cinema; there are no shortage of masterpieces from that decade, but Hollywood productions in particular were in a bit of a rut that would last until young blood like Francis Ford Coppola, Bob Fosse, and Steven Spielberg revolutionized things in the ’70s. Thus, in 1964, the Albert Finney-starring comedy’s competition in the category that year included studio-killing flop Cleopatra — meanwhile perhaps the most lasting classic from that year, The Great Escape, wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. Tom Jones is a fine enough time — Tony Richardson brings wild energy to the period setting, and what a scamp that Tom is! — but it’s not operating on the same level that so many of the other films on this list reach. — L.S.M.
91. Green Book (2018)
Let’s just get it over with: Green Book is not a great movie. Inspired by the 1962 travels of Black pianist Don Shirley and his white driver and bodyguard Frank “Tony Lip” as they toured the Deep South, featured stellar performances from Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, but the exceptionalism pretty much stops there. In addition to some very uncouth characterization of Shirley’s character, which garnered criticism for being stereotyped and lazy, Green Book also wades into the waters of a film depicting the “white savior” narrative, downplaying the unabashed racism of 1960s America to simply focus instead on the budding friendship between the two leads. It’s a disappointing Best Picture win, one that probably should have gone to Roma or BlacKkKlansman. — Cady Siregar
90. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
Celebrated in its day for its biographical depiction of the iconoclastic French writer, whose work defied social norms and shook the foundations of government, The Life of Emile Zola looks conventional and quaint by modern standards. But even at the time it was cowardly, completely ignoring Zola’s battles against antisemitism in an apparent attempt to stay out of 1930s politics and to avoid speaking out against the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Even if you can (somehow) set that aside, there were no shortage of superior, more exciting motion pictures in that year’s nominees, like the emotional coming-of-age tale Captains Courageous, the gorgeously photographed proto-noir Dead End, the crowd-pleasing One Hundred Men and a Girl, and the illuminating backstage ensemble Stage Door. — W.B.
89. Braveheart (1995)
The Academy loves a historical epic, but Braveheart, for all of its technical prowess, is a staggeringly ahistorical mess that panders to the worst excesses of the genre. Mel Gibson’s take on the life of William Wallace includes the Battle of Stirling Bridge without the bridge, a ton of homophobic stereotypes with its depiction of Prince Edward, and an added romance with Isabella of France so that Mel could bed more than one lady in the narrative. Gibson does know his way around a fight scene, but its bastardizing of hugely important Scottish history for the sake of a wannabe superhero origin story/Gibson vanity project is tedious. — K.D.
88. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
In 2022’s The Fabelmans, Steven Spielberg showcases Cecil B. DeMille’s winning film as the spark which inspires his young avatar to become a filmmaker, and when seen in full it’s easy to understand why the film would stand out in the imagination of a young boy. Packed with spectacle courtesy of the real-life Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which DeMille incorporated documentary-style into the action, The Greatest Show on Earth is light on plot, revolving largely around the love triangle that emerges between the circus’s two trapeze artists (Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde) and the manager (Charlton Heston). But the film does feature a standout supporting performance by James Stewart as a clown with a terrible secret; really, its biggest crime is the fact that it won in the same year as High Noon, The Quiet Man, and the not-even-nominated Singin’ in the Rain. — L.S.M.
87. Out of Africa (1985)
Not for the first time and not for the last, Academy voters mistook an epic running time and stunning cinematography for a movie with something to say. True, Meryl Streep is divine, and Robert Redford is as handsome and charming as ever. But take away the backdrop of colonialism and all you’re left with is a failing farm and a woman who falls in love with the wrong man three separate times. The 160-minute length is rough going compared to some of the sprightlier films on this list, and the awards it took home — including for Best Picture and Best Director — should rightly have gone to the cast instead. — Wren Graves
86. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
The Oscars tend to lean towards honoring the “most” movie of each year, especially in earlier decades. Of the nominees at the 20th annual awards — including Giant, The King and I, and The Ten Commandments — Around the World in 80 Days definitely squeaks out a win for “most.” epic in length, this pretty by-the-book adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel, according to TCM, filmed in Paris, New Mexico, Colorado, Calcutta, Bangkok, Bombay, Chinchón, London, Mexico City, Pakistan, and more locations, with dazzling color cinematography making this half-adventure film, half-travelogue. While some elements have aged pretty badly (let’s just say casting Shirley MacLaine as an Indian princess is the tip of the iceberg here), the star-studded cast of dozens includes everyone from Sir John Gielgud to Noel Coward to Buster Keaton to Marlene Dietrich to Frank Sinatra. That’s probably why it won in its year, truth be told — every Academy member was probably friends with at least one of the actors featured. — L.S.M.
85. Gigi (1958)
Brimming with charm and visual beauty, Gigi won all nine of its nominations in 1959, including Best Picture and Best Director — holding the record for biggest Oscar sweep until it was finally overtaken four decades later by Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’s 11-trophy victory. Based in Paris at the turn of the century, watching Gigi is like taking a holiday through Europe condensed into two hours. However, Gigi’s visual charm does not make up for how poorly aspects of the film have aged, beginning with watching Gigi being trained by her family to become a courtesan at only 16 years old. The opening song, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” may also be the most problematic song featured in a Best Picture film to date. — Grace Ann Natanawan
84. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Hilary Swank could have made darning socks compelling — during one scene, they nearly did just that — and perhaps a story around ratty footwear would have been preferable to the dumpster fire of the final act. The injury that befalls boxer Maggie (Swank) may have resonated among the Hollywood crowd, who perhaps could not imagine living without their corporeal advantages. But the plot twist drew near universal condemnation from disability activists, besides thumbing its nose at the movie’s own themes. If Maggie couldn’t find meaning in her new chosen family, then did those relationships even matter? — W.G.
83. American Beauty (1999)
Whenever you talk about the most polarizing Best Picture winners, director Sam Mendes’ 1999 black comedy starring Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening tends to pop up. If you’re a fan of the film, you probably find that it’s a witty, provocative portrait of middle-class suburban malaise. If you’re not a fan, you’d say it’s a lot less deep than its admirers seem to think it is, content to bludgeon the audience with Metaphor and Symbolism and Motifs. It’s definitely a film for people who find plastic bags blowing in the wind to be devastatingly beautiful. American Beauty may have lost some of its initial sheen over the past two decades (not to mention it’s a film that’s anchored by an accused sex abuser), but it remains a cinematic encapsulation of pre-9/11 America, imperfect but still capable of driving conversation. — Spencer Dukoff
82. Going My Way (1944)
Bing Crosby plays a hip, young Catholic priest bringing the 20th century to an old-fashioned church, and to an aging colleague whose antiquated ways aren’t helping his community. Going My Way is a feel-good film, perfectly amiable and remarkably slight, overshadowed a bit by its superior sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s (which was also nominated for Best Picture, but lost to Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend). It also doesn’t hold a candle to the two classic thrillers it competed against: Double Indemnity and Gaslight. At least it’s better than the fusty and interminable presidential biopic Wilson, which somehow tied Going My Way for the most nominations in 1944. — W.B.
81. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
The Academy crowned Driving Miss Daisy as Best Picture in the same year that Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was eligible for the top prize. While the latter tackles race with bracing honesty, the former feels quaint and conservative. Much like 2018’s Green Book, it’s a film about race that makes white people feel comfortable (and both happen to feature a Black person and a white person driving in a car as the central setting, albeit in different configurations). You can’t knock the performances by Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy (who took home a statuette for Best Actress), but it’s tough to make a case that the last PG-rated movie to win Best Picture belongs among the cream of the crop on the rest of this list. — S.D.
80. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
The greatest crime How Green My Valley commits isn’t heavy-handed storytelling, although there’s plenty of that. No, its greatest crime was winning Best Picture in a year when Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon were also nominated. While we’re at it, The Little Foxes, long forgotten by most audiences today, is a shockingly vicious tragedy that holds up better than John Ford’s Welsh coal mining melodrama on almost every level. But this isn’t a bad film, just an overbearing one, with real criticisms about the abuses of industry against the working man, and a fine performance from a young Roddy McDowall. –– W.B.
79. Forrest Gump (1994)
Whether Robert Zemeckis’ history-bending, sweeter-than-chocolate Tom Hanks showcase endears you or not, Forrest Gump stands as a towering movie in Oscar history. With a whopping 13 nominations and five wins, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, the film is incredibly decorated. Now, should it have necessarily beat The Shawshank Redemption or Pulp Fiction? Well, at the risk of sounding like a freshman-year film major, all we’ll say is that the path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the… — Jonah Krueger
78. Cavalcade (1933)
Thirty years in the life of an English family fly by in Frank Lloyd’s classic, which stands out from other winning war pictures of the era with its emphasis on life at home during major events like the Boer War and World War I. It’s a strong concept and Noël Coward’s script handles the passing of time well, but the drama veers too hard into melodrama at certain points, and the characters aren’t deep enough to make the story as engaging as it could be. There were some other strong contenders nominated that year, as well — A Farewell to Arms, Little Women, She Done Him Wrong — but this isn’t the worst mistake the Academy has made over the years. — L.S.M.
77. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Directed by Danny Boyle, the vibrant Slumdog Millionaire was the big winner at the 81st Academy Awards in 2009, nominated for 10 Academy Awards and winning eight. (This was the final year in recent memory in which only five films were nominated for Best Picture; The Academy expanded to 10 Best Picture nominations the following year, due to controversy regarding The Dark Knight and WALL-E being snubbed for nominations.) While receiving critical acclaim in the West, at the time of its release several notable Indian filmmakers commented on how the film borders on poverty porn and feels exploitative in nature. Such concerns mean that Slumdog Millionaire has become less enjoyable to revisit in recent years. — G.N.
76. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Everyone knows the Vangelis score that defines Chariots of Fire, but the film it supports gets less attention these days. This biographical drama about two runners trying to overcome prejudice in the lead-up to the 1924 Olympics is the epitome of a sturdy, respectful British prestige film. There’s elegance in its simplicity, although it feels creaky in points that leave the fascinating material in the lurch — watch it for some scene-stealing work by Ian Holm and that score, but it’s tough to justify this Best Picture win over the likes of Reds and Raiders of the Lost Ark. — K.D.
75. Grand Hotel (1932)
Crime! Drama! Betrayal! Intrigue! Although Grand Hotel dates all the way back to 1932, many of its themes still feel relevant. The film, which stars Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, competed at the fifth Academy Awards, and, despite a cast whose names still carry weight, has faded a bit into obscurity. One accolade Grand Hotel could very well hold forever is that this movie is the only Best Picture winner to not be nominated in any other category: As the awards show has evolved in the nearly hundred years since Grand Hotel, campaigns often gain momentum through the packaging of a film as a whole — the actors, production, script, and direction keep a film in the conversation. On that level alone, there might not ever be a Best Picture winner like Grand Hotel again. — Mary Siroky
74. Wings (1927)
Wings might be the first film to officially win the award for Best Picture (the other big winner of that first ceremony, Sunrise, officially won for being that year’s “Unique and Artistic Picture”). But what’s most fascinating about it is that it’s exactly the kind of film Hollywood still loves to make: a big war epic with a sweeping romance at its center. And it’s much more solid than so many of its imitators. (I’d rather watch Wings again than, say, Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor.) Plus, the star power of Clara Bow still shines brightly after all these years; her plucky performance as an ambulance-driving girl next door gives this film an essential emotional anchor. — L.S.M.
73. You Can’t Take It with You (1938)
Years before It’s a Wonderful Life would cement his legacy as America’s foremost purveyor of cinematic wholesomeness, Frank Capra would cultivate his homespun charm with this adaptation of the 1936 play about a young banking scion (James Stewart) who falls for his charming secretary (Jean Arthur) — only to contend with her too-quirky-by-half family. It’s got screwball verve in spades, but it’s maybe one of Capra’s lesser efforts by comparison. Plus, it beat out Jean Renoir’s masterpiece Le Grand Illusion, an early portent of the Academy’s overall aversion to awarding the big prizes to anything that isn’t in English. — Clint Worthington
72. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Maybe A Beautiful Mind wasn’t the most accurate depiction of its real-world subject, but when has that ever stopped the Academy from showering a film with awards? Russell Crowe, Ron Howard, and company went into Hollywood’s biggest night with an impressive eight nominations and managed to walk away with four golden statues, including Best Picture. And given the swath of worthy motion pictures that weren’t nominated for Best Picture that year (Donnie Darko, Mulholland Drive, The Royal Tenenbaums, Spirited Away, Amélie), why not throw it to A Beautiful Mind? — J.K.
71. My Fair Lady (1964)
Starring Audrey Hepburn and directed by George Cukor, the 1964 musical comedy My Fair Lady won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Rex Harrison’s portrayal of Professor Henry Higgins. Adapted from the 1956 stage musical, the film became the second highest-grossing film of 1964, which perhaps helped it beat fellow nominees Mary Poppins and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Stangelove for the top prize. Hepburn charms in her performance and the musical numbers remain captivating and pleasant. However, with a runtime of two hours and fifty-five minutes, My Fair Lady trudges through its scenes at a lethargic pace. — G.N.
70. The English Patient (1996)
Every now and then, who doesn’t enjoy a love story that spans continents, challenges, and the test of time? The English Patient boasts an all-star cast, including Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Naveen Andrews, and Colin Firth, but, even so, isn’t one of the buzziest Best Picture victors. At the 69th Academy Awards, The English Patient beat out Jerry Maguire and Fargo for the top prize, but today, of those three films, it’s probably not the movie most people would point to as the “best.” — M. Siroky
69. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
A rare example of the early Oscars recognizing a movie focused on social issues — in this case, the overt and subtle ways anti-semitism creeps into society. Elia Kazan doesn’t bring too many filmmaking flourishes to the story of a journalist (Gregory Peck) going undercover as a Jewish man, but while the approach is straightforward, its subject matter was groundbreaking for the time. Today, it holds up less well, but Peck more than ably proves why he’s one of film history’s greatest leading men. Fun fact: The boy playing Peck’s son? Why that’s future Quantum Leap and Battlestar Galactica star Dean Stockwell! — L.S.M.
68. All the King’s Men (1949)
All The King’s Men chronicles the rise of populist politician Willie Stark in the 1930s Deep South, modeling the character of Stark directly off real-life U.S. Senator Huey P. Long. Based on the 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren, the film was directed by Robert Rossen, who was blacklisted by Hollywood studios after appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee as an accused Communist (he later named 57 current or former Communists in order to end the blacklisting). Few films have been able to explore power, class, and corruption so incisively, and the film holds up as a stirring, dark journey into the depths of the American psyche. — S.D.
67. Patton (1970)
For the modern viewer, the big draw of Patton is the script, co-written by Francis Ford Coppola (whose name will be showing up a few more times on this list), as well as a thoroughly committed performance from George C. Scott. Scott famously refused to accept his award for Best Actor, but definitely deserved the recognition, tearing into the titular general’s thirst for combat in a performance that still remains one of the all-time greats in ways that were interpreted as anti-war upon its release. But through modern eyes, it’s surprisingly more neutral than that, especially given the setting of World War II; it’s not that Patton doesn’t care about the cause he’s fighting for, it’s that he loves the fundamentals of wartime just a little bit more. At the 43rd Oscars, it faced competition from Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H and tragic romance Love Story, but once again the Academy’s love of “most movie” won out, because the movie and the man have one thing in common: They were both a lot. — L.S.M.
66. The Last Emperor (1987)
For my money, better nominees like Broadcast News and Moonstruck could have easily stolen the Oscar away from Bernardo Bertolucci’s historical epic. But there’s no denying the sheer scope of craftsmanship on display in The Last Emperor, a vivid and heartbreaking biopic about China’s boy emperor Pu Yi. Its lush presentation, courtesy of Vittorio Storaro’s honeyed cinematography and Ferdinando Scarfiotti’s pitch-perfect recreation of the Forbidden City, belies a tragic tale of a boy raised to rule, only to be torn apart by the winds of political change. It can teeter on Orientalism (being a Chinese drama filmed in English to satiate Western sensibilities), but it’s still a stunning work of film craft. – C.W.
65. An American in Paris (1951)
The iconic music of Gershwin and the athletic movement style of Gene Kelly are a match made in heaven. While it’s not Kelly’s most well-known film (that would have to be Singin’ in the Rain), it might very well be his most romantic — the “dream ballet” opposite Leslie Caron is hypnotic, gorgeous, and iconic, a dialogue-free sequence that runs for seventeen minutes with the kind of patience and focus some modern films should perhaps consider emulating. While this is the climax of the movie, don’t sleep on the “I Got Rhythm” sequence, almost unbearable in how adorable it is. A bit surprisingly in retrospect, An American in Paris beat out A Streetcar Named Desire for Best Picture at the 24th Academy Awards. Marlon Brando couldn’t even catch a break in the Best Actor category, where the award went to Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen. — M. Siroky
64. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Despite having more Best Director nominations than anyone else, William Wyler has become weirdly underrated in recent decades: The king of dramatic nuance and literary adaptations during the Golden Age had a run of hits that lasted for over 20 years. Mrs. Miniver may not be the peak of that, but it’s respectable stuff. Released in the midst of World War II, it follows the eponymous housewife as she tries to hold her family together during falling bombs and a potential Nazi invasion. Credited with inspiring major American support for the Brits before Pearl Harbor, Mrs. Miniver is certainly too sentimental for its own good, but mightily effective as a tale of family fortitude amid impossible circumstances. — K.D.
63. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Fred Zimmerman’s British period piece is just as relevant today as it was in 1966. That sounds cliché, but that doesn’t make the statement false. Beyond its all-star cast, its costumes, or the way Zimmerman balances humor, drama, and subtle dread, A Man for All Seasons is all about political corruption: Specifically, the film illustrates how far a powerful person might go to rewrite laws and put their illegal actions on the right side of the law. Sir Thomas Moore (Paul Schofield) stands as the one incorruptible person in King Henry VIII’s (Robert Shaw) way, and he remains an obstacle despite everything taken from him in the process. A Man for All Seasons not only won Best Picture, but took home Oscars in five other categories as well. If the movie came out today, there’s a good chance we’re looking at the same results. — Marcus Shorter
62. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Arguments over historical accuracy or fidelity to source material often take up a lot of oxygen. Mutiny on the Bounty represented a time when studios and creative types alike cared less about the details than they did entertaining the audience with something fit for the screen. Put another way, Frank Lloyd’s flick didn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. Starring Clark Gable when he was untouchable in star power, Mutiny on the Bounty perfectly matched the mid-1930s zeitgeist, with the Great Depression almost in the rearview mirror but anger at the powerful still palpable. When Gable’s Fletcher Christian goes against William Bligh (Charles Laughton) for the way Bligh treats his crew and their miserable living conditions, he’s speaking for an entire fed-up nation. Some Best Pictures nominees win on their craft. Some win based on sheer star power and spectacle. But a film like Munity on the Bounty, while packing all of the above, edges out the competition because it taps into the cultural moment. — M. Shorter
61. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
While a new All Quiet adaptation is a 2023 Oscar contender, the 1930 adaptation still stands out for its impressive filmmaking (especially given the technical limitations of the era) and unflinching look at the horrors of war. The third-ever film to win Best Picture, its competition at the time wasn’t too fierce — but its pacifist message rings out so strongly that Nazi Germany actually banned the film entirely. You’re pissing off the right people, when you’re pissing off the Nazis. — L.S.M.
60. Dances with Wolves (1990)
Kevin Costner’s 1990 Western drama is one he starred in, directed, and produced, telling the tale of an army lieutenant who encounters the Lakota in 1863. Initially celebrated for modernizing the Western genre, one that was increasingly becoming outdated within Hollywood, recent criticisms of the film allude to its tendency to portray Costner’s character as a “white savior,” despite the film’s efforts to preserve and authentically portray Native American culture. Dances with Wolves is a beautiful film, and wonderfully shot; it was worthy of a Best Picture win in its time, but we have to wonder how Hollywood has taken stock of the film’s cultural criticisms in the decades since. — C.S.
59. From Here to Eternity (1953)
Everyone knows From Here to Eternity for the hottest kiss on the beach ever committed to celluloid, but the melodrama surrounding it is equally deserving of your time. An all-star cast gives career-best performances, (Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift, and the scene-stealing Deborah Kerr) depicting soldiers and their families stationed in Hawaii in the days before the Pearl Harbour attack. Considered shocking by the standards of the time with its candid depictions of infidelity and toxic masculinity, it still carries a potency that makes it extremely rewatchable. Its flaws are evident, but these characters are so enthralling that you can’t help but go with it. — K.D.
58. Ordinary People (1980)
Talk about a gut punch. This meditation on trauma and grief holds up four decades later because of its core quartet: Donald Sutherland, Timothy Hutton, Mary Tyler Moore, and Judd Hirsch all deliver some of the best performances of their respective careers. It’s a film that finds power in subtlety, buoying the characters with relatability and alloying the emotional payoffs on screen. That Ordinary People marks Robert Redford’s directorial debut (for which he won the Oscar for Best Director) makes the film even more impressive. And while some film buffs may say that Raging Bull was robbed of Best Picture, count me as an Ordinary People apologist. — S.D.
57. Terms of Endearment (1983)
Many Oscar fans see Terms of Endearment’s Best Picture win over The Right Stuff and The Big Chill as a mistake by the Academy. We get that, but James L. Brooks’ dramedy of a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship really withstands the test of time. Shirley MacLaine finally won an Oscar for her scene-stealing turn as a widow trying to figure out her relationship with her child, played by Debra Winger — the comic timing is strong and Brooks manages the often wild tonal shifts with ease. It isn’t as technically ambitious as its Best Picture competition that year, but there’s something to be said for a smart adult drama about interesting people. — K.D.
56. The King’s Speech (2010)
Give Colin Firth all the awards, always. Tom Hooper’s 2010 historical drama The King’s Speech explores the relationship between Firth’s King George VI and his language coach, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), as the king tries to deal with his speech impediment in time to make his first wartime radio broadcast as Britain declares war on Germany in 1939. Empathetic and sensitive, The King’s Speech portrayed a different side to the way films approach war and politics, leading it to win over films including Inception, The Social Network, and True Grit. — C.S.
55. Oliver! (1968)
The 1968 adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic won over audiences and critics alike. What a year for classics, though — Oliver! was at the same Academy Awards as Funny Girl, The Producers, Romeo & Juliet, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hindsight is 20-20, of course, but it’s wild that the Stanley Kubrick space adventure didn’t make its way into the Best Picture category at all.
Oliver! was the last movie-musical to win Best Picture until Chicago over 30 years later, in 2002. Now, the adaptation is best remembered for its larger-than-life choreography and, of course, the iconic question: “Please, sir, may I have some more?” — M. Siroky
54. Gladiator (2000)
Ridley Scott’s Roman Empire epic, Gladiator, was a massive achievement. Clearly, the 73rd Academy Awards agreed, as it rightly beat crowd-pleasers such as Cast Away and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to take home Best Actor (for Russell Crowe), Best Picture, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects. Indeed, Crowe is immensely sympathetic, imposing, and noble, just as Best Supporting Actor nominee Joaquin Phoenix portrays one of the best villains of the 2000s. Despite its sluggish pace and thin plot, those career-making performances — alongside consistently exquisite cinematography and set design — allowed Gladiator to conquer most of its Oscar opponents. — Jordan Blum
53. Hamlet (1948)
When it comes to the pursuit of plaques and trophies, Shakespeare is an easy bet. Do at least a halfway decent job at adapting one of ol’ Willie’s plays, and you’re bound to rake in at least a couple of nominations. Laurence Olivier’s 1948 version of Hamlet cashed that check all the way to Best Motion Picture, making it the first British film to accomplish such a feat. The film also took home titles for Best Actor, Best Set Design (black and white), and Best Costume Design (black and white). And while modern audiences likely conjure images of Kenneth Branagh’s more faithful, grandiose adaptation when they think of Hamlet, Olivier’s version remains one of the better Shakespeare-related projects to gain Oscar recognition. – J.K.
52. Gone with the Wind (1939)
Gone with the Wind is a complicated film in 2023. Gone with the Wind was a complicated film in 1939. Victor Fleming’s film glorifies the Confederacy and slavery, while doing its fair share in shaping misinformation regarding the Confederate flag as the film staked its place in pop culture decades after its initial release. But not all art soothes the soul; some of it challenges and creates visceral reactions. What does the film say about race? How does it view the South and romanticize an ugly period in America’s history? What does it teach us about diversity in Hollywood? And after we dig into those cultural issues, how does the actual filmmaking hold up by today’s standards?
While the first few questions come with their own complications, depending on who answers the questions, the last one is pretty definitive: Gone with the Wind remains a stunning piece of work. Created during a time where Hollywood fell in love with Technicolor and filmmakers invented new camera techniques on the fly, Gone with the Wind is gorgeous and never dull despite its seemingly gargantuan runtime — the “most movie” of all the films nominated that year. Its cultural issues notwithstanding, Gone with the Wind still works, for the most part. But when compared to some of its competition that year, namely The Wizard of Oz and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gone with the Wind feels like a candle in the sun. — M. Shorter
51. Nomadland (2020)
It’s hard to say yet how history will remember Chloé Zhao’s searing yet quiet look at a woman (Frances McDormand) who lives her life on the road, finding her own kind of peace as a seasonal worker at the edges of society. But while Nomadland might feel very different from the Oscar winners of old, it does have something in common with films like Lawrence of Arabia and The Sound of Music — boy does Zhao love a sweeping vista. The lush filmmaking captures the American West from a very different point of view, but still makes Fern’s journey feel as epic as any war picture. — L.S.M.
50. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
John Schlesinger’s 1969 classic, Midnight Cowboy, won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 42nd Academy Awards. That’s notable for a few reasons, including the fact that it remains the only X-rated film to win Best Picture. (Cumulatively, it deservingly beat superb contenders such as Goodbye, Columbus; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) Best Actor nominees Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman have excellent chemistry and completely disappear into their roles, and over 50 years later, the perfectly paced film remains a seminal exploration of lost innocence and the desperation of loneliness. — J.B.
49. The Sting (1973)
The Sting is the complete opposite of The Exorcist, another film up for Best Picture that year, and yet they both represent two types of films the Academy looks down on these days. If a studio made The Sting today, maybe they get an Oscar nomination. Do they win though? Highly doubtful, as The Sting represents a time when the Academy rewarded impeccably-made crowd pleasers with big movie stars having fun: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw, Eileen Brenan (Mrs. Peacock for Clue fans), and Charles Durning come together for a heist film that set the blueprint for Ocean’s Eleven, in the same way that film created a lane for everything that came after 2001. The Sting introduces the audience to a new world and never makes any of it feel confusing or intimidating — Redford and Newman’s charm, combined with David S. Ward’s screenplay, makes the whole complicated affair feel light and accessible. During the very serious and bleak 1970s, The Sting’s lightness stands out amongst the more serious and dour Oscar winners of the decade. — M. Shorter
48. Rain Man (1988)
In hindsight, Rain Man seems like it was mathematically crafted to win Best Picture at the 61st Academy Awards. Starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman and directed by Barry Levinson (fresh off of Good Morning, Vietnam), it’s an obvious winning formula — in fact, the film won four of its eight nominations, including Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Is there a conversion to be had around the film’s depiction of autism? Yes, no question about it. But reevaluating the other films up for Best Picture that year — a group of nominees sorely missing classics like Dead Poets Society and When Harry Met Sally — Rain Man’s lasting cultural relevance outshines them. At the very least, Rain Man is far from the most forgotten Best Picture winner. – J.K.
47. Gandhi (1982)
As far as historical biopics go, Gandhi is one of the classics. Starring Ben Kingsley in the title role and directed by the one and only Richard Attenborough, the 1982 feature arguably set the standard for biopics as it followed the life of the Indian leader as he led the independent movement against the rule of the British Empire in the name of peace. The film was celebrated around the world, a shoo-in as the Best Picture winner for that year, even beating that year’s heavy-hitters: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Tootsie. — C.S.
46. On the Waterfront (1954)
Elia Kazan’s 1954 opus On the Waterfront is essential for a few reasons — sure, it’s a powerfully tense exploration of the psychological dynamics of obeying authority, but the biggest winner is Marlon Brando. His performance and journey as dockworker Terry Malloy is packed with standout moments; his ability to tackle subtext and command a rolodex of emotions is stunning, and his “I coulda been a contender!” scene is still iconic today. Brando proved that his acting expertise was enough to root a film in, and it remains On the Waterfront’s most legendary quality nearly 70 years later. — Paolo Ragusa