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.