The 92 films to win Best Picture at the Oscars, from Wings to Parasite
After Parasite’s mould-breaking win at the 2020 awards, the running for Best Picture looks to be another historic year, with two women nominated in the Best Picture and Best Director categories for the first time ever.
In the run-up to the Oscars 2021 ceremony on Saturday April 25 (Sunday 26, 12.30am for UK viewers), we take a look back at all 92 Best Picture winners, exploring such cinematic landmarks as the transition into Technicolour and the surprise win that beat Citizen Kane to the Best Picture title.
Oscars Best Picture winners list
1. 1929: Wings
Wings will forever have its place guaranteed in cinematic history due to the fact that it won the inaugural Best Picture Oscar for the 1927-28 award (a two-year eligibility period was used for the first six years of the ceremony). But this thrilling epic about a love triangle during World War I – for over 80 years, the only silent film to win Best Picture – merits wider recognition.
From its archetypal Hollywood melodrama, to its dazzling depiction of dogfights, and a standout performance from Clara Bow as the plucky nurse Mary, the 144-minute runtime glides by.
2. 1930: The Broadway Melody
The formerly little-known production company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) was founded in 1924, and only five years later it had chalked up its first Academy Award win. The Broadway Melody – MGM’s first ever musical – tells the tale of Harriet (Bessie Love) and Queenie Mahoney (Anite Page), a beautiful vaudeville act who arrive at Broadway, and become swept up in New York high society.
While it was wildly successful at the time, it seems audiences were more impressed by the mere presence of sound and Technicolor sequences, because the musical numbers are banal and uninspired.
3. 1931: All Quiet on the Western Front
Adapted from the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of the First World War, this film centres on a group of German schoolboys, who are convinced to enlist by their jingoistic professor. Director Lewis Milestone, who won a second consecutive Best Director Oscar for the film, made one of the most influential anti-war films ever simply by showing the ravages of war through the eyes of these young German recruits.
4. 1932: Cimarron
Perhaps as a reflection of the movie industry’s growing prowess, RKO Radio Pictures invested more than $1.5 million into their production of Edna Ferber’s epic novel about the history of a frontier family, despite being mired in the woes of the Great Depression.
The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 prompted thousands to relocate to claim free government land, and in Cimarron, Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) takes his young family to build their newspaper Oklahoma Wigwam into an empire.
5. 1933: Grand Hotel
Reworked from former chambermaid Vicki Baum’s novel Menschen im Hotel, the film stars Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford as guests in Berlin’s grandest hotel. Joan Crawford once said of her performance in Grand Hotel: “Little Joan was called upon to match Garbo, Beery and the Barrymores and she came off smelling like a rose.”
It’s difficult to begrudge the actor such an accolade given her showing as the glittering, ambitious stenographer Flaemmchen.
6. 1934: Cavalcade
Directed by Frank Lloyd and adapted from the Noel Coward play, Cavalcade was a darling of the box-office and critics alike. It was even credited with stirring up patriotism before that year’s general election.
From the turn of the twentieth century, we view a changing Britain through the lives of two families: the swanky Marryots (Diana Wynyard and Clive Brook) and their staff, the Bridges (Una O’Connor and Herbert Mundin).
7. 1935: It Happened One Night
‘Daughter escaped again!’ shouts the father of capricious heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) as she swims away from his yacht. On her way to one unsuitable man she falls for another: the struggling reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable) who offers her help in exchange for a society scoop.
It Happened One Night won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director (Frank Capra) and Screenplay, making it the first film to win all five of the big awards.
8. 1936: Mutiny on the Bounty
Based on a cycle of bestselling novels co-written by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, this rollicking movie became one of the quintessential nautical adventures. Directed by Frank Lloyd, it focuses on an eighteenth century voyage from Tahiti to the West Indies.
Smarting from the cruelty of Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton), the noble first mate Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) leads the crew of English conscripts to mutiny, and a new life on a paradise island.
Being filmed on location, Mutiny on the Bounty blew its $2 million budget, but became the most profitable film of the year.
9. 1937: The Great Ziegfeld
Running at three hours, requiring a thousand employees, and taking hundreds of designers six months to produce its costumes, Robert Z. Leonard and Hunt Stromberg’s The Great Ziegfeld is seen to epitomise the glamour and extravagance of Hollywood’s golden age.
Inspired by the real-life Chicago impresario Flo Ziegfeld Jr., it charts the multiple rises, falls, rivalries and marriages of the charismatic showman, here played by William Powell. It was one of the biggest movies of the 1930s.
10. 1938: The Life of Emile Zola
William Dieterle’s portrait of the famous French author was lauded by critics upon release, being proclaimed the best biographical picture yet made.
A fictionalised account of the writer’s battle for social justice, the film centres on his historical involvement in the Dreyfus Affair, which saw an innocent Jewish soldier accused of treason to cover up the crime of a wealthy superior.
But as it was filmed against the backdrop of the rise of the Nazis and their oppression of European Jews, people still debate whether the film could have done more to denounce anti-semitism.
11. 1939: You Can’t Take It With You
Scooping Frank Capra his third Best Director Oscar as well as the Best Picture, You Can’t Take It With You is an adaptation of the Pulitzer-Prize winning play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.
The romantic comedy starring James Stewart and Jean Arthur follows a head-on collision of values and lifestyle when stenographer Alice (Arthur) introduces her eccentric and unmaterialistic family to the relatives of her fiance Tony (Stewart), who are wealthy, status-driven tycoons.
12. 1940: Gone With the Wind
Winning 8 Oscars including Best Actress for Vivian Leigh and Best Director for Victor Fleming, this classic adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel remains the most successful film in box office history.
Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and reconstruction, it follows the romantic travails of a plantation owner’s daughter, Scarlett O’Hara.
It was an epic in every sense: over 1400 women were allegedly interviewed in the famous ‘search for Scarlett’, and Fleming was briefly replaced as director by Sam Wood, while he took time off due to exhaustion.
13. 1941: Rebecca
This early Hitchcock thriller portrays a naive young bride, who marries rich widower Maxim De Winter, and soon discovers how he is still troubled by the death of his first wife, Rebecca, in a boating accident the year before. Rebecca’s death seems to have had an unnatural effect on all the residents of De Winter’s large country estate.
Despite not including the one murder that takes place in the Du Maurier novel, the film still evokes all the psychological unease and suspense we would expect from a Hitchcock.
14. 1942: How Green Was My Valley
One of the few Hollywood blockbusters set in rural Wales, How Green Was My Valley tells the story of the Morgans through the eyes of their youngest son, Huw. The family live in a mining village at the turn of the century, and through portraying their trials and tribulations, the film also charts the destruction of the environment in the Welsh coalfields and deteriorating conditions for miners.
Based on the 1939 Richard Llewellyn novel, the film scooped five Oscars, beating Citizen Kane in both the Best Film and Best Director categories.
15. 1943: Mrs Miniver
Set in a fictional English town, Mrs Miniver charts the effects of World War II on the lives of a rural housewife and her family. Though the men in her life go to war, her son signing up to join the RAF and her husband volunteering to take his boat to the Dunkirk evacuation, the women are still exposed to the conflict when a German pilot parachutes into the garden.
The film won six Oscars, including Best Director for Walter Wyler, and earning Walter Pidgeon his first Best Actor nomination.
16. 1944: Casablanca
Casablanca is one of the best-loved films in all of cinema, and its denouement is one of the most quoted. Set in December 1941, the month Pearl Harbour pitched the United States into the Second World War, Humphrey Bogart’s cynical bar owner rediscovers his lost political ideals when Ingrid Bergman, the woman he loved, and loves, walks into his gin-joint with a legendary resistance hero. Meanwhile, the movie features some of the finest character actors of the era.
17. 1945: Going My Way
Wartime America just adored this heartwarming tale of two country priests, and critics were as satisfied. Complete with singalongs from Bing Crosby, who took the Best Actor Oscar for his appearance, Going My Way won big during awards season. The film is about a young priest taking over a parish from an established old veteran, and went on to become the top-grossing release of the year ($6.5 million).
18. 1946: The Lost Weekend
The Lost Weekend is a frank, taboo-breaking examination of alcohol addiction, which follows the life of a chronic alcoholic-cum-failed novelist (Phillip Terry) over the course of a long weekend.
The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay). It was Billy Wilder’s fourth directorial effort, after The Major and the Minor (1942), Five Graves to Cairo (1943), and the classic film noir Double Indemnity (1944).
19. 1947: The Best Years of Our Lives
Producer Samuel Goldwyn’s classic American film is about the trauma and social displacement experienced by a group of returning veteran servicemen (Harold Russell, Frederic March, Dana Andrews) following World War II. Unemployment, adultery, and alcoholism plague their lives in this bitingly-ironic film title.
It sold approximately 55 million tickets in the United States, which equates to a gross of $24 million and remains the sixth most-attended film of all time in the UK, with over 20 million admissions registered.
20. 1948: Gentleman’s Agreement
Adapted from Laura Z. Hobson’s bestselling novel of the same name, Gentleman’s Agreement tackles the subject of ingrained anti-semitism in America. When widowed journalist Philip Green (Gregory Peck) moves to New York City with his son and mother he is asked to research people’s prejudices against Jews, and adopts a Jewish identity for himself and his family.
Noticing the difference in treatment he receives, and growing more aware of bigotry toward others, he reevaluates his own accepted ideals.
Gentleman’s Agreement won three Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Director (Elia Kazan) and Best Supporting Actress (Celeste Holm).
21. 1949: Hamlet
What better film to take Britain’s first Academy Award for Best Picture? Sir Laurence Olivier held his audience’s attention in his multiple capacity as producer, director, and adaptor of Shakespeare’s play.
But it was Larry’s performance in the most coveted role in all of acting which made history. He doesn’t stop there. Did you know that Hamlet’s father’s ghost is him, too: his voice slowed down by a tape recorder?
22. 1950: All the King’s Men
A small-town man with big ideas, Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) rises from self-taught lawyer to champion of his local people to State Governor. But on the way he loses what originally set him apart from the ruthless politicians he hated in his early, idealistic days. Corrupt himself, and disloyal to those who are most loyal to him, he tries to defend himself against those who would see him fall.
Adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren, John Wayne famously turned down the lead role, which meant that Broderick Crawford beat him to Best Actor when the awards came round.
23. 1951: All About Eve
Following the advancement of aspiring actress Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) from fan girl to golden girl, the people she has crossed gather to watch her accept an award.
This arch comedy about ambition in the theatre world garnered 14 Oscar Nominations, which would remain a record until Titanic came along in 1997.
And had the Academy given awards to collective female casts, All About Eve would no doubt have picked up one for its combination of Baxter, Bette Davis, Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter and Marilyn Monroe. It is still the only film to have secured nominations for four of its actresses.
24. 1952: An American in Paris
A fully technicolour musical based on a score by George Gershwin, An American in Paris would certainly have been a sensory spectacle of the highest order. Three aspiring artists and musicians try to make names for themselves in Paris, with Gene Kelly playing Jerry, an American WWII veteran turned struggling painter.
One day he is picked up by a wealthy society belle (Nina Foch) who wishes to offer him more than just patronage, while Jerry falls for a girl he doesn’t even know.
25. 1953: The Greatest Show on Earth
“We bring you the circus…” opens Cecil B. DeMille’s large-scale technicolour, and bring it they did. The film featured the whole of Ringling bros and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus troupe, comprising 1400 people, hundreds of animals and over 50 cartloads of equipment and tents. General manager Brad (Charlton Heston) finds himself in a tricky love triangle when he hires The Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde) to replace his girlfriend Holly (Betty Hutton) in centre-ring.
The film caused controversy by winning Best Picture over films such as Ivanhoe, High Noon and Singin’ in the Rain.
26. 1954: From Here to Eternity
Set in 1941 in the months leading up to Pearl Harbour, this military drama won eight Oscars of 13 nominations. Montgomery Clift stars as Private Robert E. Lee Prewett, a recent transfer to a barracks in Hawaii. When he refuses to join the regiment’s boxing club, the captain sets out to punish him into submission, assisted by First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster). Prewitt only has the support of his friend Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra).
27. 1955: On the Waterfront
Seen as the summit of his early movie career, Marlon Brando’s portrayal of longshoreman Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront won him his first Oscar. The film, about Terry’s struggle to stand against the corruption and mob control in the New Jersey docks where he works, also debuted Eva Marie Saint and earned Elia Kazan his second Best Director award.
Produced at the height of HUACs investigation of Hollywood, many saw the film (which explores the nature of testimony) as an attempt by Kazan to justify his decision to name communist affiliates in the House.
28. 1956: Marty
Ernest Borgnine plays lovelorn butcher Marty; 34, still living at home and under pressure from his parents to get married. His fortunes change when he meets school-teacher Clara (Betsy Blair) in a Bronx dancehall.
This neat and compact character study, adapted from writer Paddy Cheyefski’s original TV drama takes place over a very short time-frame of a little over 24 hours, and won Cheyefsky best screenplay. Delbert Mann and Borgnine also received Best Director and Best Actor awards for their roles in the film.
29. 1957: Around the World in 80 Days
Like most films of the era, Around the World in 80 Days was a mammoth production, oozing American glamour, with over 40 cameos from the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, Frank Sinatra and Buster Keaton.
David Niven stars as the unflappable hero of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel, assisted by the comedic butler Passepartout (played by prolific Mexican comedian Cantinflas).
Producer Michael Todd claimed they shot in every location featured in the film, and the picture was touted as a chance for audience to admire exotic locales. Interestingly, the iconic flight by hydrogen balloon was not a feature in Verne’s novel.
30. 1958: The Bridge on the River Kwai
As part of a tourism drive in 2014, Sri Lanka rebuilt the replica bridge destroyed in an iconic scene from The Bridge on the River Kwai. In the film, the titular bridge is constructed by a band of British prisoners of war during World War II, who are ordered to do so to accommodate the Burma-Siam railway.
Alec Guinness delivers a poignant performance as Colonel Nicholson, an honourable but vain man in charge of the POWs. From a budget of $2.8 million, the movie took $30.6 million on its first release.
31. 1959: Gigi
Maurice Chevalier thanked heaven for little girls, and we got a case of “right director, wrong film”, as Vincente Minnelli’s stupidly lavish Parisian tuner won all the votes, and his far superior melodrama Some Came Running got left out of the, well, running.
As with many of Minnelli’s musicals, Gigi fulfilled the important winning criteria: an original score, well-sketched characters, and a bittersweet romance. The film is considered the last great MGM musical.
32. 1960: Ben-Hur
Somehow the makers of the first Ben-Hur film, a silent movie from 1907, condensed all the action into a nine-minute one-reeler. The 1959 remake (there was another in 1926) was a landmark achievement in grand biblical storytelling for the cinema, and lasts three hours and 32 minutes.
Ben-Hur was the most expensive film ever made at the time, costing $15 million to shot in Technicolour. Its success ultimately saved MGM Studios from bankruptcy.
33. 1961: The Apartment
Back in 1960, to see someone on screen portraying genuine everyman anxiety – ie, not the camped-up Jerry Lewis kind – must have been something rather odd and special.
In Billy Wilder’s darker-than-it-seems romantic comedy, Jack Lemmon (as CC Baxter) turns common-or-garden nerves into a revolutionary form of acting, his doleful stares and wildly gesticulating hands making for a mesmerising two hours, incorporating the subtlest kind of comic genius.
34. 1962: West Side Story
It’s impossible to begrudge the vertiginous energy and feeling that make West Side Story one of the great American musicals, and one radically told through dance.
Jerome Robbins’s legendary choreography needs the biggest screen it can get; when the movie’s firing on all cylinders of music, lyrics and motion (twice: “America” and “Gee, Officer Krupke”) there’s little to touch it.
The film, set in 1950s blue-collar New York City, won 10 Oscars in total, claiming everything from Best Picture to Best Costume Design.
35. 1963: Lawrence of Arabia
David Lean and Sap Spiegel’s epic, as well as being the inspiration for modern greats such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese, is credited by most institutions and polls as one of the best films ever made.
Famed for its beautiful desert scenes and its central performance by Peter O’Toole, it is also, at 227 minutes, the longest film ever to win an Oscar for Best Picture.
A biopic of the controversial war hero T. E. Lawrence, it shows his progress from outspoken and learned intelligence officer to saviour of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during WWI.
36. 1964: Tom Jones
Henry Fielding’s bawdy 18th century epic is considered one of the first true novels, and this raucous adaptation was one of the most successful comedies of its day.
Eccentric, too: it was noted for its unique mixture of cinematic techniques such as voice-over, silent-film set pieces and actors addressing the camera.
Wrongfully kicked out of his home, the wayward but good-intentioned orphan Tom Jones (Albert Finney) travels to London to find his fortune, but on the way must negotiate bandits, the law, high-society intrigue, and a liaison with someone who might be his long-lost mother.
37. 1965: My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady, which sees cockney flower-seller Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) transformed into a gentlewoman by elocution teacher Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), is lodged in our popular consciousness.
Based on a musical update of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, it broached the subjects of class and the relation between the sexes.
Harrison took Best Actor for a role he had played since the inception of the original stage version, and musical numbers such as On the Street Where You Live and I Could Have Danced All Night remain classics to this day.
38. 1966: The Sound of Music
Nothing is more evocative of the musical genre than Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, here made famous by Robert Wise’s picture. Maria, a nun struggling to make a go of the religious life, becomes governess to a widowed naval captain’s children, teaching them the value of music before the Nazis invade Austria.
The movie starring the legendary Julie Andrews won five Oscars and became the highest grossing film in history at the time, knocking Gone with the Wind off the top spot. Taking into account the standards of the day, it is the fifth highest grossing film of all time.
39. 1967: A Man for All Seasons
Fred Zinnemann’s screen adaptation of Robert Bolt’s acclaimed play about Sir Thomas More was an Oscars smash, winning six awards, including Best Director for Zinnemann and Best Actor for Paul Scofield, who had played More since the theatre version.
Once a beloved advisor and teacher to Henry VIII, More disagrees with his king over the divorce of his wife Catherine of Arragon. As Henry establishes the Church of England, he remains true to his Catholic conscience, refusing to recognise the King’s religious authority, and eventually dies for his principles.
As well as making More a saint after his death, the Vatican unsurprisingly classes this among the greatest films of all time.
40. 1968: In the Heat of the Night
Norman Jewison’s dramatic portrayal of racism and murder in the American South stars Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs, Philadelphia’s top homicide detective. While on a visit to Sparta, MS, Tibbs is arrested on general principles in the murder investigation of a prominent white businessman. On his identity being established, he is recruited to help the small-town team solve the crime.
At the time, having a non-white actor in a lead role was so controversial that the crew couldn’t actually film in the Deep South, and instead recreated sets in Illinois and Tennessee. Despite this, the film was a triumph with critics, beating The Graduate to Best Picture.
41. 1969: Oliver!
The musical adaptation of Dickens’ witty classic won five Oscars of six nominations, including Best Art Direction, and Best Musical Score for Johnny Green’s arrangement of the broadway soundtrack. On escaping from the workhouse, orphan Oliver runs away to London, and is welcomed into Fagin’s gang of young pickpockets.
Starring Ron Moody as Fagin, Shani Wallis as Nancy and Oliver Reed as Bill Sykes. It was the last musical film to win Best Picture until Chicago 34 years later in 2002.
42. 1970: Midnight Cowboy
The only X-rated film to ever win Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy follows the journey of Joe Buck, a young Texan dishwasher who travels to New York in an attempt to make money as a ‘hustler’. Selling himself on the streets to little avail, he meets seasoned con-artist Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), and the pair strike up a working relationship.
Ratso’s name would later be lent to Jim Henson’s wise-cracking muppet Rizzo the Rat.
The film won Best Director for John Schlesinger and Waldo Salt scooped Best Screenplay for his adaptation of James Leo Herlihy’s 1965 novel of the same name.
43. 1971: Patton
Subtitled ‘A Salute to a Rebel’, Patton is a portrait of the flamboyant, and outspoken American military general George S. Patton, (played by George C. Scott) who is described in the film as “a magnificent anachronism”.
The plot follows his army career throughout World-War Two, from his leadership in Casablanca to the fall of the Third Reich. With his loud and colourful language and unabashed love of battle, Patton was a controversial figure, but one who very much suited the high-budget Hollywood war-film treatment.
The film won Francis Ford Coppola his first Oscar for Best Screenplay based on fact, and 6 other awards including Best Picture.
44. 1972: The French Connection
Gene Hackman plays short-tempered cop Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle in this fast-paced action thriller directed by William Friedkin. Along with his partner Buddy Russo (Roy Schneider), Doyle tails two French nationals to intercept a large shipment of heroin.
The film is inspired by the late 60s and early 70s drug trade, when swathes of illegal heroin in the East Coast was smuggled in via France. Doyle and Russo were based on real life narcotics detectives.
The film is perhaps most notable for the famous car chase in which Popeye chases an elevated subway train. Winning 5 Oscars, the film proved popular with both the critics and the box office.
45. 1973: The Godfather
Presenting producer Albert S. Ruddy’s The Godfather with a Best Picture Oscar was an offer the Academy couldn’t refuse.
Based on Puzo’s eponymous best-selling novel, The Godfather is – with the possible exception of Goodfellas – the greatest and most influential film in the gangster genre. In 2007, it was ranked by the American Film Institute as second in their “greatest films of all time list”, behind only Citizen Kane.
46. 1974: The Sting
In the pantheon of great male cinematic double acts, Robert Redford and Paul Newman are up there with Laurel and Hardy. So memorable was their on-screen chemistry, it’s easy to forget they only appeared in two films together.
Their first collaboration, the lyrical, vaguely comic western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), was directed by George Roy Hill and saw Redford and Newman pour charisma into their roles as insouciant outlaws.
Their next film was even better. A crafty, good-natured crime caper, The Sting (1973) reunited Hill with Redford and Newman and won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
47. 1975: The Godfather Part II
The Godfather is great, but director Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II is greater. It’s that rare thing – a sequel that doesn’t just match but actually surpasses the original film.
Not content with just recycling the same story, Part II illuminates and elaborates on the first part, adding a classically tragic dimension by using flashbacks to show the origins of the Corleone family, and then moving forward in time to show that same family ripping itself apart.
48. 1976: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Beautiful, devastating and hilarious, Milos Forman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s classic novel is the ultimate “buck the system” movie. When smooth-talking prisoner Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) cons his way into a mental asylum to ride out his sentence, he hasn’t bargained on the despotic Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher).
McMurphy refuses to tow the line, showing inmates that they’re “no crazier than the average asshole on the streets”, which leads to a battle of wills in which there can be only one winner.
49. 1977: Rocky
The film that broke Sylvester “Sly” Stallone’s career as a Hollywood’s hottest property for macho leads was the highest grossing movie of 1976, racking up $225 million at the box office.
Three decades later, and 16 years after Rocky V, Stallone was tempted to reprise his role as boxer Robert “Rocky” Balboa in 2006’s lazily titled Rocky Balboa, and again in 2015 with Creed, which saw Stallone nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
50. 1978: Annie Hall
Annie Hall marks Woody Allen’s departure from simple farces to what we now think of as a classic Woody Allen movie: a mixture of hilarity, philosophy and self-annihilation.
Alvy Singer (Allen) is trying to work out what went wrong with his last girlfriend Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), and in so doing looks back into his own childhood and attempts to rewrite their relationship.
It picked up four Oscars at the 50th Academy Awards ceremony, including Best Director and Screenplay for Allen, and Best Actress for Keaton. The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw calls it the best comedy film of all time.
51. 1979: The Deer Hunter
Evocative and distressing in equal measure, The Deer Hunter is often hailed by the critics as an American epic in the same class as The Godfather films. In an iconic, exuberant opening section, a tight-knit group of Russian-American friends celebrate together, looking forward to enlisting in the Vietnam war.
The ensuing action shows, in another string of iconic scenes involving gambling halls and Russian roulette, what war does to them.
With a memorable soundtrack including Frankie Valli and a theme played by classical guitar legend John Williams, and a stellar cast featuring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep and John Cazale, The Deer Hunter picked up four Oscars.
52. 1980: Kramer vs Kramer
A touching film which focuses on the other side of family life, Kramer vs Kramer examines divorce and the impact for all involved. Ambitious ad-man Ted (Dustin Hoffman) is left alone to raise his son Billy after his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) announces that she is leaving them.
Initially a struggle, over time Ted reevaluates his priorities and the father and son become close. But when Joanna returns over a year later to take Billy, the two Kramers battle for custody.
Both Kramers, it turns out, won Oscars. The film won five in all.
53. 1981: Ordinary People
Robert Redford’s directorial debut earned him an Oscar, and dealt with a family’s grief in its various manifestations. The Jarretts, a well-to-do family living in Chicago, lost their favourite son on a boating accident. While the younger son Conrad spends time in psychiatric hospital and blames himself, his mother denies it ever happened.
While most of the leads in the film received Oscar nominations or awards (Timothy Hutton got Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Conrad), Donald Sutherland didn’t for his role as the father, Calvin, which was seen as bad form.
54. 1982: Chariots of Fire
“The British are coming” announced screenwriter Colin Welland as he won his Oscar for Chariots of Fire, a rousing classic about more British winners.
Celebrating the success of the 1924 Olympics running team, it follows the path of two passionate athletes: Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a Jewish Cambridge student who finds in running a weapon against prejudice, and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a Christian Scotsman who feels God when he runs.
Since it was released, people have been imagining Vangelis’ famous soundtrack whenever they see something in slow motion.
55. 1983: Gandhi
A biopic of Gandhi’s life was Richard Attenborough’s dream project, and this film was the final result of two previous unfinished attempts, making the whole project a labour of nearly 18 years.
The film introduces us to Mohandas K. Gandhi (played by Ben Kingsley in his second ever feature film role) as an English law student who forsakes all his worldly possessions to promote the cause of Indian independence from the British.
The film won Attenborough both Best Picture and Director as well as five other awards and a further three nominations.
56. 1984: Terms of Endearment
Simpson’s producer James L. Brooks’ cinematic debut charting the complex relationship between Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger) was the second highest grossing film of that year, being pipped only (although quite substantially!) by Return of the Jedi.
Jack Nicholson won his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as ex-astronaut Garrett Breedlove, while MacLaine and Winger both garnered Best Actress nominations for their performances, MacLaine taking the trophy in the end.
57. 1985: Amadeus
An adaptation of the hit broadway production, the film reflects on the events leading to the death of prodigal musician Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart’s arch rival Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) recalls his sabotage from his current residence of an asylum.
The film garnered 11 nominations, winning 7, including Best Director for Milos Forman. In opposition to the legend, Salieri pipped Mozart at this awards season, with Murray Abraham clinching the Best Actor Oscar over Tom Hulce who played the role of Mozart.
58. 1986: Out of Africa
Meryl Streep stars as Karen Blixen-Flecke, a Danish woman who moves to a plantation in a British East Africa with her new husband Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer). Left to her own devices on a farm which is largely neglected by Bror, she meets and develops a close relationship with local hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford).
The film is based on a Karen’s memoir, published under the pseudonym of Isak Dinesen.
The soundtrack won John Barry his third Best Music Oscar, while Sidney Pollack scooped Best Director, although Streep missed out on Best Actress, pipped by Geraldine Page.
59. 1987: Platoon
Described as the first real movie about the war in Vietnam, Platoon drew on director Oliver Stone’s own experiences as an infantry soldier in Vietnam. Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) drops out of college to volunteer in the US army, and is sent with a platoon of other young soldiers to fight in Vietnam, where he quickly loses the innocent view of war he held before he left home.
Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger both received nominations for their roles as violent and ruthless commander sgt. Barnes (Berenger) and good-natured but utterly disenchanted sgt. Elias (Dafoe).
60. 1988: The Last Emperor
Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor surveys the story of a man who is shackled by his past. The Chinese Emperor Pu Yi (John Lone) inherits the throne as a little boy and is forced to live incarcerated in the Forbidden City. This is a profound film about how politics can affect not only the masses, but an unusual person too. It won nine Academy Awards.
61. 1989: Rain Man
Probably the most famous fictional savant is Raymond, Dustin Hoffman’s character in the 1988 film Rain Man. Raymond was based on a real-life person called Kim Peek who, despite having an IQ measuring just 72 (below normal), had a stunning memory.
Rain Man was heralded by viewers and critics alike, winning the Golden Bear at the 39th Berlin Film Festival, four Academy Awards, and taking $350 million at the box office.
62. 1990: Driving Miss Daisy
Based on Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Driving Miss Daisy traces the quarter-century long relationship between a Black chauffeur, Hoke (Morgan Freeman) and a matriarchal Southerner Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy).
This is a complex and compelling portrait of old age, dealing with the thorny issue of race. It received nine nominations, winning four for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Makeup, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
63. 1991: Dances With Wolves
Epic, sprawling 181-minute films don’t tend to be the stuff of Best Picture winners, though star actor-cum-director Kevin Costner’s filmmaking debut was not your average blockbuster.
Set in the 1860s, Dances with Wolves ostensibly follows Costner’s First Lieutenant John J. Dunbar, who is wounded in the midst of the American Civil War, yet it contains much more: with a relatively frugal $19 million budget, the film features 300 horses, 3,500 buffalo, 250 Native Americans, 150 cavalry, and 48 speaking roles.
64. 1992: The Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs won all ‘Big Five’ Academy Awards at the 1992 Oscar ceremony and was one of the biggest grossing films of 1991 thanks in part to Jonathan Demme’s direction and Ted Tally’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ second Hannibal Lecter novel.
It was the performances of the two lead actors though – Jodie Foster, and in particular, Anthony Hopkins as Lecter – which really grabbed the imagination and eventually earned the movie, after a slow start, widespread acclaim.
65. 1993: Unforgiven
Starring, produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven ranks fourth in the American Film Institute’s best Westerns of all time. When a sex worker is attacked by two cowboys in the town of Big Whisky, a bounty is put on their heads. William Munny (Eastwood), a one-time outlaw, takes himself out of retirement for one last job.
The film was intended to be a last hurrah before Eastwood stopped creating Westerns, but the old gunslinger returned in 2014 with the controversial American Sniper, a traditional Western set on the battlegrounds of the Middle East.
66. 1994: Schindler’s List
Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece about Nazi Poland almost had another director. Though interested in the real life story of Oskar Schindler, he didn’t believe he was ready to tackle the subject matter, and tried to pass it on to other directors. How lucky for us that none of the other possibilities took it!
Schindler (Liam Neeson), a wealthy Nazi businessman, comes to Kraków to set up a munitions factory, employing cheap labour from the city’s Jewish ghetto. When an SS overseer (Ralph Fiennes) is ordered to move Jews to a concentration camp, Schindler witnesses the extent of Nazi brutality, and begins to devote himself to keeping as many Jews alive as possible.
The American Film Institute puts it in the top ten greatest American films.
67. 1995: Forrest Gump
This epic begins with a man sitting on a bench, waiting for a bus and telling strangers his life story. The man is Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks), eminently quotable for a generation of cinema-goers, and his life features cameos from some of the century’s leading figures, from Richard Nixon and JFK to Elvis and John Lennon.
A boy of below average intelligence with a good heart, he discovers early that he is a naturally gifted athlete, and later makes a brave soldier in Vietnam.
The film took six Oscars and to this day divides critics, with half finding it heart-warming, and others finding it a little too sentimental.
68. 1996: Braveheart
After the Medieval King of England Edward I’s conquest of Scotland, English lords took increasing liberties over the Scottish people. After his wife was executed for refusing to sleep with an English lord, William Wallace takes vengeance, and becomes a beacon of hope to Scottish patriots.
Though famously taking many liberties with historical fact, this epic boosted tourism to Scotland, and even increased Scottish people’s engagement with that period of their history.
69. 1997: The English Patient
Based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient won nine Academy Awards.
Set in Italy during WWII, it explores the relationship of a French-Canadian nurse (Juliette Binoche) to her badly disfigured patient, Count Laszlo de Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) who relives his memories of the war in a series of flashbacks.
The author was consulted by the film editor Walter Murch on how to achieve the complex play between timeframes, spawning a book based on these conversations.
70. 1998: Titanic
James Cameron’s epic romantic disaster film set on the ill-fated british passenger liner RMS Titanic stood as the most popular film in box office history, grossing over $2 billion. It was only topped by Cameron himself, with Avatar in 2009.
The all-conquering tragic romance between Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) was an entirely fictionalised account, however there was a J. Dawson aboard the original ship.
It won 11 Oscars, tying with Ben-Hur (1959) and Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King (2003) as the most Oscars won for a single film.
71. 1999: Shakespeare in Love
John Madden’s romantic comedy about William Shakespeare stars Joseph Fiennes as the struggling poet and playwright searching for a muse. This he finds in the form of Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), a passionate actor auditioning for all-male casts in the guise of Thomas Kent.
The eighth British film to ever win Best Picture, it featured Judi Dench as Elizabeth I and Colin Firth as Lord Wessex. It scooped 7 Oscars in all, with Paltrow and Dench securing best actress and supporting actress.
72. 2000: American Beauty
Sam Mendes’ suburban drama starring Kevin Spacey as a father in the grips of a midlife crisis makes him the most recent of only six directors to ever win Best Picture on their cinematic debut.
Lester Burnham (Spacey), ever more depressed and estranged from family life, becomes infatuated with his daughter’s best friend Angela (Mena Suvari).
The film won five Oscars including Best Actor for Kevin Spacey, and beat The Green Mile to Best Picture.
73. 2001: Gladiator
Russell Crowe plays Maximus, a Roman army general in the year 180. The subsequent chaos after the death of Marcus Aurelius leads to him being sentenced to execution, and losing all his wealth and status. He escapes and becomes a gladiator, determined to avenge himself against Aurelius’ son and return himself to his former glory.
The epic production was a hit at the worldwide box office, being topped only by Mission Impossible: II.
74. 2002: A Beautiful Mind
Based loosely on the biography of nobel-prize winning mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., A Beautiful Mind charts his meteoric rise and initial promise studying at Princeton in the 1940s, to his Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994. In between he suffers highs and lows, dealing with his asocial tendencies and schizophrenia.
Jennifer Connelly won Best Supporting actress for her role as his student and later wife, Alicia, and the film earned Ron Howard his first Best Director Oscar.
75. 2003: Chicago
Director Rob Marshall’s Chicago is a hard-edged Prohibition-era city far from the one depicted in High Fidelity two years before. Killers on the run Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger), however, charm their way to the top – and away from death row – by becoming Vaudeville stars.
Adapted by screenwriter Bill Condon, Chicago won six Academy Awards in 2003, including Best Picture (the first musical to win Best Picture since Oliver! in 1969).
76. 2004: The Lord of the Rings – Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings trilogy was probably the greatest gamble in filmmaking history. Executives at New Line Cinema risked the entire studio by giving Peter Jackson – a New Zealander known mainly for a handful of zombie films and the real-life drama Heavenly Creatures – $300 million and a free hand to make all three films at once.
The denouement to JRR Tolkien’s trilogy, however, turned out to be Jackson’s favourite, and the one that finally scooped a Best Picture Oscar for its troubles.
77. 2005: Million Dollar Baby
Actor-director Clint Eastwood stars as Frankie Dunn, a virtuoso veteran trainer, who one day takes on pocket-rocket Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank). The screenplay was written by Paul Haggis, and loosely based on a series of short stories by the former fight manager Jerry Boyd.
78. 2006: Crash
Not to be mistaken for David Cronenberg’s psychological thriller of the same name, writer-director Paul Haggis’s Crash is about a handful of Los Angeles residents, whose trajectories come to collide in a 36-hour period.
The city is amid a race relation storm, playing on racial and identity politics, as a Caucasian district attorney and his wife are carjacked by two black men.
The film received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Paul Haggis.
79. 2007: The Departed
Martin Scorsese continued his domination of the Oscars with this bloody remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, with young undercover policeman Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) assigned to infiltrate the mob syndicate run by Irish gang chief Frank Costello. It was not immediately considered an Oscar contender due to its graphic violent content, though many credited its heavyweight PR campaign for the eventual victory (the film’s budget was $90 million).
80. 2008: No Country for Old Men
This Coen Brothers film, for many critics, established the directors as among the very best. Shot in the arid badlands of Texas, it is an up-to-date incarnation of the Western.
After stumbling across a bag of money, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is hunted by the assassin Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), one of the scariest characters in modern cinema, who flips a coin to decide whether he will kill people he meets along the way.
Watching it, for many, was a truly gripping and unsettling experience, leading some to say that Alfred Hitchcock himself couldn’t have made it more menacing.
81. 2009: Slumdog Millionaire
Having done brilliantly on the gameshow Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Jamal (Dev Patel), a teenage boy from the slums of Mumbai, must prove he hasn’t cheated. Questioned by police backstage before the final question, he details how he knows every answer, and in explaining tells the story of his life: from picking pockets, his gangster brother who worked his way out of the slums, and the love of his life.
Danny Boyle’s film met praise across the board from audiences, though many Indian critics found it patronising, saying it showcased only the bad parts of Mumbai and Indian cinema.
82. 2010: The Hurt Locker
“Every time you suit up,” says one bomb disposal expert to another, “it’s life or death.”
Sergeant First Class William James is brought in to head up an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team in Iraq after his predecessor is blown up. A man who loves the adrenaline of his job more than anything else in his life, his colleagues fear him. But when he believes a local child has been killed, he takes his team on a private war.
With The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win Best Director. Strangely, it is the “lowest-grossing movie to ever win Best Picture.”
83. 2011: The King’s Speech
The charismatic King Edward VIII is provoking scandal by courting a divorced woman, and his brother, the shy and stuttering Prince Albert (Colin Firth), might have to replace him. He is persuaded to see a speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), and so begins an unlikely and life-long friendship.
Veteran Hollywood screenwriter David Seidler tracked down the son of Logue and was shown his notebooks, but in order to write about what he found he needed permission from the Queen Mother, who requested that he wait till after her death. This uplifting film bagged a Best Actor award for English darling Colin Firth.
84. 2012: The Artist
The Artist is a modern silent film, depicting the point in the late Twenties when silent films fell out of vogue. George Valentine (Jean Dujardin) is a Hollywood star at the height of his fame, when a chance meeting leads to him helping out the career of Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), an aspiring dancer and actress.
Their two trajectories pass as Valentine refuses to take part in the new ‘talkies,’ and Miller becomes the bigger star. As Valentine eventually comes round to the idea of talkies, the film becomes one.
Jean Dujardin became the first French actor to receive a Best Actor award.
85. 2013: Argo
Based on a true CIA covert operation which was unknown to the public for years, Argo tells the story of CIA ‘exfiltration’ expert Tony Mendez, in his attempt to smuggle six Americans out of Iran during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, under the guise of a Hollywood film producer.
Starring, produced and directed by Ben Affleck, the film won awards for Writing, Editing and Screenplay. In order to make it look authentically 1970s, it was shot on traditional film, with each frame being cut and then blown up to increase graininess.
86. 2014: 12 Years a Slave
Adapted from Solomon Northrup’s 1853 memoir of the same title, 12 Years a Slave tells the harrowing tale of an African-American musician living in New York State, who is kidnapped, put on the slave-market in Louisiana, and sold to a plantation.
Steve McQueen’s third feature film, it is the first film directed by a black filmmaker to have won Best Picture. Best Supporting Actress also went to Lupita Nyong’o for her role as Patsey.
87. 2015: Birdman
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s satire about an ageing movie star trying to reinvent himself as a respected Broadway actor took Best Picture and three other top awards at the 2015 Oscars.
Birdman, starring Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. Read our review
88. 2016: Spotlight
It was two years running for Michael Keaton-fronted Best Pictures, with this true-life story of intrepid Boston Globe journalists who crack open a wide conspiracy of child abuse within the Catholic Church.
The film received six Academy Award nominations, including Supporting nods for Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, along with a win for Best Original Screenplay. Read our review
89. 2017: Moonlight
Director Barry Jenkins’s affecting drama of a gay man growing up poor in Miami won three Oscars: best supporting actor, best adapted screenplay and Best Picture. The main award was handed to Moonlight after presented Warren Beatty mistakenly announced La La Land as the winner. Read our review
90. 2018: The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro’s fish-meets-girl love story, inspired by Hollywood’s classic monster movies and starring Sally Hawkins as a mute cleaner, is the first fantasy film to win Best Picture winner since 2004’s The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Read our review
91. 2019: Green Book
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali handle a dopey script with rare élan in Peter Farrelly’s Oscar-baiting road movie about the black pianist Don Shirley and his high-risk tour of the Sixties Deep South. Read our review
92. 2020: Parasite
Bong Joon Ho’s ingenious class warfare thriller beat stiff competition from The Irishman and 19117 to become the first ever foreign language film to win the Best Picture Oscar. Parasite also won Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Film. Read our review