Ranking the Oscar's Best Picture winners from every year

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January 4, 2019

Ranking the Oscar's Best Picture winners from every year

The 91st Academy Awards are right around the corner, with Oscar nominations set to be announced Jan. 22. The acclaimed live show will be broadcasted Feb. 24 by ABC to more than 225 countries and territories around the world. The event's come a long way since its start as a private dinner reception for 270 people in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (with no adjoining radio broadcast).

Today's venue, audience, attendance numbers, and categories have all increased substantially. Likewise, the film industry has adopted a slew of new technologies, making the cinematic experience as immersive and detailed as possible while maintaining the cherished core tenants of story pacing and character from 91 years ago. 

Of all its categories, the Academy Awards' Best Picture nominees and winners receive some of the most widespread recognition. In honor of great cinema new and old, Stacker has ranked Best Picture winners from each year of the awards. That officially takes us back to 1927, though technically the first Oscars weren't until 1929. IMDb ratings were relied on to rank every Best Picture winner. 

Counting down from 91, Stacker presents the best of the best in descending order.

ALSO: Golden Globes Best Picture in Drama from the year you were born

#91. Cavalcade

IMDb user rating: 6.0
Year: 1933
Director: Frank Lloyd

World history is seen through the eyes of well-heeled Londoners in “Cavalcade,” which remains tied with “Cimarron” as the lowest-rated Best Picture winner on IMDb, not to mention the one with the fewest votes. However, audiences viewing the debut of “Cavalcade” were far more receptive: The movie was a box office success and critical darling upon its 1933 release.

#90. Cimarron

IMDb user rating: 6.0
Year: 1931
Director: Wesley Ruggles

A newspaper editor and his frustrated wife settled down in an Oklahoma boom town at the end of the 19th century in 1931’s “Cimarron.” It was the first Western to win an Oscar, something that wouldn’t happen again until 1990’s “Dances With Wolves.”


#89. The Broadway Melody

IMDb user rating: 6.2
Year: 1929
Director: Harry Beaumont

“The Broadway Melody” follows two performance artist sisters who stray from the vaudeville circuit in search of big Broadway dreams only to get sidetracked by romantic endeavors. The film was a box office smash and MGM’s first talking picture, though a silent version was also released as a number of theaters weren’t yet equipped for sound.


#88. Tom Jones

IMDb user rating: 6.6
Year: 1963
Director: Tony Richardson

Henry Fielding’s famous novel about the frisky adventures of its titular lothario leaps from page to screen in 1963’s “Tom Jones.” Certain music fans might see the title and think of a famous Welsh singer of the same name wondering if there’s a connection. There is: Thomas John Woodward took on the stage name Tom Jones.


#87. The Greatest Show on Earth

IMDb user rating: 6.7
Year: 1952
Director: Cecil B. DeMille

From acclaimed director Cecil B. Demille came the story of the lives of various circus performers, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” DeMille took no shortcuts when it came to his actors and actresses, demanding that they each master the stunts they’d be performing on screen. For actor Cornel Wilde, that meant conquering his fear of heights in order to play a high-wire artist.


#86. The Great Ziegfeld

IMDb user rating: 6.8
Year: 1936
Director: Robert Z. Leonard

His name was Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. and his legacy was so great that a movie was made about it. That movie was “The Great Ziegfeld” and it took home the award for Best Picture in 1937. The movie features an uncredited cameo from Patricia Ryan, who later married Richard Nixon.


#85. Gigi

IMDb user rating: 6.8
Year: 1958
Director: Vincente Minnelli

Not to be confused with “Gigli,” the now-famous cinematic abomination starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, 1958’s “Gigi” remains an acclaimed Broadway adaptation about the relationship between a wealthy playboy and the granddaughter of his uncle’s former mistress. Production was so rapid on this musical that the cast had to mouth words to songs because the score wasn’t yet recorded. Obviously, it all worked out in the end.


#84. Around the World in 80 Days

IMDb user rating: 6.8
Year: 1956
Director: Michael Anderson, John Farrow

Based on the famous novel by Jules Verne, “Around the World in 80 Days” is about a Victorian Englishman who travels the entire globe in just 80 days in order to win a bet. Broadly considered the largest production in Hollywood history, the movie is also credited with introducing the first cameo roles as it had well-known entertainers walk on for bit parts.


#83. Shakespeare in Love

IMDb user rating: 7.1
Year: 1998
Director: John Madden

From the fantasies of every actor and actress came the 1998 smash hit “Shakespeare in Love.” Ultimately, it was lucky thespians Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes who landed the lead roles. In the film, a young frustrated William Shakespeare finds both love and inspiration with a woman named Viola De Lesseps. Their romance prompts him to write “Romeo and Juliet,” arguably the most famous play of all time.


#82. Going My Way

IMDb user rating: 7.2
Year: 1944
Director: Leo McCarey

In “Going My Way,” crooner and actor Bing Crosby plays Father Charles O’Malley, who helps revitalize a struggling church in a bad neighborhood. The movie was a major box office success, though it could have done even better were it not banned in certain Latin American countries that took offense to the depiction of a priest wearing a white shirt.


#81. An American in Paris

IMDb user rating: 7.2
Year: 1951
Director: Vincente Minnelli

There was a decade or two when the musical reigned supreme in Hollywood. Those days are more or less gone (the occasional retread notwithstanding,) but the legacy lives on through classics like “An American in Paris.” The film stars Gene Kelly as an American struggling for work in the world’s most romantic city, where he predictably falls in love. The only problem is that his best friend has fallen in love with the same girl.


#80. Chariots of Fire

IMDb user rating: 7.2
Year: 1981
Director: Hugh Hudson

One might see the title “Chariots of Fire” and immediately think of Greek composer Vangelis and his iconic theme music. However, along with that music came an award-winning film about two British track stars of different faiths competing in the 1924 Olympics. Look for a cameo from actor and director Kenneth Branagh.

#79. Out of Africa

IMDb user rating: 7.2
Year: 1985
Director: Sydney Pollack

Starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, 1985’s “Out of Africa,” the story of a love affair between a plantation owner and big game hunter, duly delivered on its promise of brilliant performances and taut drama—raking in no less than seven Academy Awards. Streep was reportedly quite nervous while shooting a now-iconic hair washing scene, during which some territorial hippos were gathering close by.


#78. Chicago

IMDb user rating: 7.2
Year: 2002
Director: Rob Marshall

Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones sing and dance their way off death row in 2002’s “Chicago,” a film adaptation of the perennially popular Broadway play, based on the true story of two actual women acquitted of murder in the 1920s. Naturally, the real life ordeal probably contained a lot less singing and dancing.

#77. The Life of Emile Zola

IMDb user rating: 7.3
Year: 1937
Director: William Dieterle

“The Life of Emile Zola” is a fictionalized account of French writer Emile Zola, who put everything on the line to defend a falsely accused military captain named Alfred Dreyfus. Controversial in France upon its 1937 release, the movie wasn’t screened there until 1952. In the United States, meanwhile, it was the first movie in Hollywood history to rack up 10 Academy Award nominations.


#76. Gentleman's Agreement

IMDb user rating: 7.4
Year: 1947
Director: Elia Kazan

Directed by Elia Kazan and starring Gregory Peck, “Gentleman’s Agreement” follows a reporter who pretends to be Jewish in order to experience anti-Semitism first hand. Suffice it to say the Oscar-winning film is not for the faint of heart, tackling themes of bigotry head on. In spite of the film’s acclaim and substantial box office receipts, Kazan would later admit to being disappointed with the final product, adding that he felt Peck was miscast in the lead role.


#75. Terms of Endearment

IMDb user rating: 7.4
Year: 1983
Director: James L. Brooks

Leave it to James L. Brooks to mix heart-wrenching drama and heartwarming comedy to Oscar-winning effect in 1983’s “Terms of Endearment.” It stars Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine as a mother-daughter duo who don’t always see eye to eye, but come together when the going gets tough. Apparently, things behind the scenes were far less reparable with Winger’s frequent mood swings, leading to a physical shoving match with MacLaine.


#74. Driving Miss Daisy

IMDb user rating: 7.4
Year: 1989
Director: Bruce Beresford

“Driving Miss Daisy” might rank fairly low on this list when stacked against other Oscar winners, yet it nevertheless endures as a pop culture cornerstone, to the extent that people might refer to the movie without actually having seen it. Should those same folks actually give the film a chance, they might be pleasantly surprised to find a highly watchable tale about the relationship between an elderly Jewish woman and her African-American male driver. An 81-year-old Jessica Tandy won Best Actress for her performance as Miss Daisy, making her the oldest winner of all time in that category.

#73. The English Patient

IMDb user rating: 7.4
Year: 1996
Director: Anthony Minghella

Elaine Benes of “Seinfeld” fame might have found “The English Patient” to be a plodding mess, but that didn’t stop the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from awarding it Best Picture in 1997. Through flashbacks, the film details the World War II exploits of a mysterious hospital patient who may or may not be a German spy. Based on a novel of the same name, the film was written and directed by Anthony Minghella, who completed no less than 20 drafts of the script before shooting. 


#72. Moonlight

IMDb user rating: 7.4
Year: 2016
Director: Barry Jenkins

Still fresh on everyone’s minds is 2016’s “Moonlight,” a film about a gay African-American boy who grows up to become a sexually guarded criminal. Filmed in 25 days on an incredibly low budget of $1.5 million, the movie takes place over three distinct time periods and features three different variations of the same character. To ensure each variation retained his own persona, director Barry Jenkins made sure the three separate actors never met during production.


#71. The Shape of Water

IMDb user rating: 7.4
Year: 2017
Director: Guillermo del Toro

"The Shape of Water" was the most nominated film at the 2018 Oscars, with 13 nominations and four wins. The movie follows a mute janitor named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), who in 1962 works at a classified government laboratory. She inadvertently discovers the facility's top-secret project and forms a tight bond. The film, described as "somewhere between a fairy tale, a fable, and a fantasy" by Vox's Alissa Wilkinson, gained recognition from critics and did incredibly well at the box office

#70. All the King's Men

IMDb user rating: 7.5
Year: 1949
Director: Robert Rossen

“All the King’s Men,” a noirish tale about the rise of an idealistic politician who loses his principles along the way, was adapted from a Pulitzer Prize winning-novel and it accordingly retains a news-like feel. Reportedly, the main character was loosely based on Huey Long, an American politician who was a governor and senator before being assassinated in 1935.


#69. Grand Hotel

IMDb user rating: 7.5
Year: 1932
Director: Edmund Goulding

The overlapping lives of various guests at a luxurious Berlin hotel make for all sorts of romantic drama in 1932’s “Grand Hotel.” To date, this movie remains the only Best Picture winner not to be nominated for any other categories at the Academy Awards.


#68. Oliver!

IMDb user rating: 7.5
Year: 1968
Director: Carol Reed

An updated musical take on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” 1968’s “Oliver!” stars Mark Lester as an escaped orphan who falls in with a group of pickpockets and learns to survive on the streets. Being that Lester was quite young during filming, his payment was put in a trust for later withdrawal. What did Lester do when he turned 18, finally gaining access to those hard-earned funds? He bought a Ferrari, of course.


#67. Mrs. Miniver

IMDb user rating: 7.6
Year: 1942
Director: William Wyler

More than just a movie, 1942’s “Mrs. Miniver” was heralded by Winston Churchill himself as doing more for the war effort than a “flotilla of destroyers.” Accordingly, the film is about a British middle class family struggling during World War II. Bonds were so close on set that actress Greer Garson ended up marrying actor Richard Ney, who played her son in the film.


#66. West Side Story

IMDb user rating: 7.6
Year: 1961
Directors: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise

Recent reports have indicated that Steven Spielberg plans to remake “West Side Story,” but the original—a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet” against the backdrop of two rivalling New York City gangs—is about as perfect as musicals can get. In fact, with no less than 10 Academy Awards under its belt, “West Side Story” remains the biggest Oscar-winning musical of all time.


#65. The Hurt Locker

IMDb user rating: 7.6
Year: 2008
Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Most Oscar-winning films go big on emotional drama, but Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” primarily eschewed human conflict in favor of pure situational tension. The movie is about a risky bomb squad sergeant who dismantles deadly explosives one at a time. It marked the first of three (to date) collaborations between Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal. In spite of critical acclaim, “The Hurt Locker” remains the lowest grossing Best Picture winner when adjusted for inflation.



#64. Wings

IMDb user rating: 7.7
Year: 1927
Directors: William A. Wellman, Harry d'Abbadie d'Arrast

In 1927’s “Wings,” actress Clara Bow plays the love interest of two World War I fighter pilots. Discounting 2011’s “The Artist,” which is more an homage than an authentic silent movie, “Wings” is the only true silent film to win the Oscar for Best Picture.


#63. Marty

IMDb user rating: 7.7
Year: 1955
Director: Delbert Mann

In 1955’s “Marty,” a jaded butcher and equally jaded school teacher decide to give romance one last chance. The movie is a succinct, low-budget affair and the first American film to win the Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival. With its 90-minute run time, “Marty” is also the shortest Best Picture winner in history.


#62. From Here to Eternity

IMDb user rating: 7.7
Year: 1953
Director: Fred Zinnemann

Few Hollywood scenes are more recognizable than the one in 1953’s “From Here to Eternity,” where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kiss on the beach, but the movie surrounding that one scene is of equal note and caliber. The film about military exploits in Hawaii tied with “Gone With the Wind” for the most Oscars won by a single film up to that point in time.


#61. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

IMDb user rating: 7.7
Year: 2014
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Giving new meaning to the long take is 2014’s “Birdman.” It’s set behind the scenes of a tumultuous Broadway production where the washed-up lead actor (and playwright) has let a previous superhero film role get to his head. The movie features only 16 visible cuts, yet that doesn’t prevent it from being wildly entertaining and compulsively watchable. For obvious reasons, editing took a mere two weeks.


#60. Argo

IMDb user rating: 7.7
Year: 2012
Director: Ben Affleck

A few years before donning the bat suit, seasoned actor Ben Affleck was cozying himself into the director’s chair. The pinnacle of Affleck’s directing career was 2012’s “Argo,” which details a dangerous 1979 rescue mission where a CIA agent infiltrates Iran using a phony Hollywood production as his cover. Affleck’s fellow (former) caped crusader, George Clooney, produced the film.


#59. Hamlet

IMDb user rating: 7.8
Year: 1948
Director: Laurence Olivier

Among the most famous plays of all time is Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the story of a young prince who struggles to avenge his father’s death. The play got the big screen treatment with award-winning results. Playing the title role is Laurence Olivier, who also directed the film, making him the first person to direct himself into a Best Actor win at the Academy Awards, and one of only two people to do it to this day. 


#58. How Green Was My Valley

IMDb user rating: 7.8
Year: 1941
Director: John Ford

Director John Ford helmed 1941’s “How Green Was My Valley,” which details the Morgan family’s hard life in a Welsh mining town. If you don’t see Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” on any list of Best Picture winners, this movie is why: “How Green Was My Valley” also garnered Ford his third Academy Award for Best Director, surely to Welles’ chagrin. 


#57. Mutiny on the Bounty

IMDb user rating: 7.8
Year: 1935
Director: Frank Lloyd

A disgruntled crew takes on their tyrannical captain in 1935’s “Mutiny on the Bounty.” The film was remade in 1962 with Marlon Brando playing the lead, though it’s the original that lays claim to Oscar gold. 


#56. Ordinary People

IMDb user rating: 7.8
Year: 1980
Director: Robert Redford

Robert Redford’s directorial debut, “Ordinary People” upends its own name by depicting a wealthy couple under tremendous strain after their oldest son dies. The film marked a dramatic turn for actress and comedian Mary Tyler Moore, who called it the “holy grail of my career.”


#55. The Last Emperor

IMDb user rating: 7.8
Year: 1987
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Italian filmmaking legend Bernardo Bertolucci exquisitely details the rise and fall of China’s final emperor in “The Last Emperor.” The film was the first of three to be part of Bertolucci’s “Oriental trilogy.” It was also the first Hollywood film made in China with their government’s consent since 1949.


#54. The French Connection

IMDb user rating: 7.8
Year: 1971
Director: William Friedkin

A pair of New York cops take on drug smugglers in William Friedkin’s “The French Connection.” The movie endures primarily thanks to an extensive car chase sequence toward the end, much of which was filmed without proper city permits.


#53. Kramer vs. Kramer

IMDb user rating: 7.8
Year: 1979
Director: Robert Benton

It’s a heated battle between Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep in 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer.” The iconic actors play divorced parents who each want custody of their son Billy. If the performances feel more authentic than usual, it might have to do with the fact that Hoffman was going through his own divorce during shooting while Streep was still recovering from the death of lover John Cazale.


#52. Crash

IMDb user rating: 7.8
Year: 2004
Director: Paul Haggis

The dysfunctional melting pot known as Los Angeles is put front and center in 2004’s “Crash.” Made on a shoestring budget, the Paul Haggis film interweaves seemingly disparate stories and characters over the course of 36 hours, most of the drama underscored by racial divides. Haggis was inspired to write “Crash” after falling victim to a carjacking, hence the carjacking scene that takes place early in the movie.


#51. Titanic

IMDb user rating: 7.8
Year: 1997
Director: James Cameron

James Cameron’s “Titanic” might only rank #51 on this list, but in many ways it remains the quintessential modern Best Picture winner. The story of a romance between a young scamp and a young aristocrat aboard the most famous sunken vessel of all time pretty much has it all, including epic set pieces, memorable characters, outrageous box office numbers, and an iconic movie score. 


#50. A Man for All Seasons

IMDb user rating: 7.9
Year: 1966
Director: Fred Zinnemann

King Henry VIII seeks approval from one of England’s foremost Catholics to get a divorce in 1966’s “A Man For All Seasons.” The film stars Hollywood legend Orson Welles, who later claimed he directed many of the scenes himself after having the credited director removed from the set. 


#49. My Fair Lady

IMDb user rating: 7.9
Year: 1964
Director: George Cukor

Continuing Old Hollywood’s love affair with musicals was 1964’s “My Fair Lady,” which chronicle’s a high society professor’s bet that he can turn a flower girl into a cultural elitist. The film stars Audrey Hepburn who almost exited the film after being told her singing voice wasn’t strong enough. Instead, she stayed on board and gave it her all, only to discover her vocals were later overdubbed at the studio’s request.


#48. Midnight Cowboy

IMDb user rating: 7.9
Year: 1969
Director: John Schlesinger

In 1969 everybody was talking about “Midnight Cowboy,” which stars Jon Voight as a small town boy hustling for dollars in the big city. Just as worthy of note is Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Ratso Rizzo, a scruffy outcast who lives off city scraps and deals with constant health issues. Hoffman was so invested in the character that he began vomiting during one of his induced coughing fits.

#47. The Artist

IMDb user rating: 7.9
Year: 2011
Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Paying deft tribute to the silent era was 2011’s “The Artist,” which takes place in the 1920s, and features an actor and a dancer whose lives take separate paths when sound is introduced into film. The movie came from France and is widely considered the most awarded film in that country’s history.


#46. You Can't Take It with You

IMDb user rating: 8.0
Year: 1938
Director: Frank Capra

Director Frank Capra was a master of heartfelt cinema and 1938’s “You Can’t Take It With You” was no exception. The film centers around the romantic relationship between a spoon-fed businessman and his non-materialistic secretary. When the businessman’s wealthy family meets the secretary’s eccentric clan, a class battle ensues. The film marked the first collaboration between Capra and actor James Stewart.


#45. The Lost Weekend

IMDb user rating: 8.0
Year: 1945
Director: Billy Wilder

Another Billy Wilder classic, “The Lost Weekend” follows a longtime alcoholic as he relapses and goes on a four-day bender, remembering past mistakes along the way. Wanting to walk a mile in his character’s shoes, lead actor Ray Milland checked himself into the Bellevue Hospital drunk ward for a night. Unable to bear it, Milland escaped while still wearing his gown only to be stopped and returned by a local police officer, and then briefly treated like an actual patient. 


#44. In the Heat of the Night

IMDb user rating: 8.0
Year: 1967
Director: Norman Jewison

Showing that racial injustice is hardly a new phenomenon, 1967’s “In the Heat of the Night” pits an African-American detective against hostile locals as he investigates a homicide in a small Southern town. While the movie itself takes place in the South, most of the filming was completed in the North, the reason being that lead actor Sidney Poitier had experienced a near-death encounter with the Ku Klux Klan during a previous visit to Mississippi. The film would go onto inspire a TV show of the same name in the 1980s.

#43. Patton

IMDb user rating: 8.0
Year: 1970
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

The story of contemptuous military Gen. George S. Patton Jr. makes for one heck of a cinematic ride in 1970’s “Patton.” The movie was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and co-written by Francis Ford Coppola, who would go on to co-write and direct “The Godfather” just two years later. According to legend, in the opening scene of “Patton” when the general shouts “ten-hut,” real soldiers in movie theaters were prompted to reflexively stand to attention.


#42. The Sound of Music

IMDb user rating: 8.0
Year: 1965
Director: Robert Wise

The Hollywood hills were alive with “The Sound of Music,” which won five Academy Awards in 1966. It featured Julie Andrews as a governess left in charge of a Navy captain’s seven rambunctious children. To call the film and adjoining soundtrack a smash hit would be an understatement. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, “The Sound of Music” is among the top grossing films of all time.


#41. Dances with Wolves

IMDb user rating: 8.0
Year: 1990
Director: Kevin Costner

Directed by and starring Kevin Costner, “Dances with Wolves” tells the story of Lt. John Dunbar, who makes friends with the animals and natives around him while assigned to a Civil War outpost. In keeping with its built-in theme, Costner went to extreme lengths to make sure no animals were harmed during filming. One method involved using lifelike paper as buffalo skin, which was realistic looking enough to convince a random passerby to call the police and report the film crew for poaching.


#40. Annie Hall

IMDb user rating: 8.0
Year: 1977
Director: Woody Allen

Filmmaker Woody Allen delivered the romantic story of a neurotic comedian and a charming, insecure gal from the Midwest in 1977’s “Annie Hall.” Allen initially conceived the film as a murder mystery with a love story subplot, eventually changing gears during script revisions. Similarly, the original rough cut of the film ran for two hours and 20 minutes before being edited down to just 93 minutes. 


#39. Rain Man

IMDb user rating: 8.0
Year: 1988
Director: Barry Levinson

Before Tom Cruise became an action movie mainstay, he was a fairly versatile actor who consciously tackled challenging roles. Among them was Charlie Babbitt, an egotistical salesman who takes his mentally impaired brother under his wing in 1988’s “Rain Man.” Of course, as formidable as Cruise’s performance might be, it’s Dustin Hoffman’s role as Raymond Babbitt that ultimately steals the show. To prepare for the role, Hoffman spent a considerable amount of time with savant Kim Peek, who originally inspired the character.


#38. The King's Speech

IMDb user rating: 8.0
Year: 2010
Director: Tom Hooper

True to its name, “The King’s Speech” tells the story of a king who must learn to overcome a speech impediment with the help of a specialized therapist who becomes a close friend. The film’s screenwriter, David Seidler, was 73 years old by the time awards season rolled around, making him the oldest person ever to win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.


#37. Slumdog Millionaire

IMDb user rating: 8.0
Year: 2008
Director: Danny Boyle

Loosely based on a novel, Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” was a bona fide sleeper hit upon its 2008 release, having almost been slated for a direct-to-DVD release. The movie is about a young boy accused of cheating on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” To defend himself the boy narrates a series of flashbacks, sharing a tumultuous story of brotherhood and survival.


#36. The Best Years of Our Lives

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Year: 1946
Director: William Wyler

1946 Best Picture winner “The Best Years of Our Lives” deals with the struggles soldiers face when reintegrating with society after returning home from war—in this case World War II. Aiming for authenticity, director William Wyler hired a paratrooper instructor named Harold Russell, who lost both hands during a training exercise, to play a similarly handicapped character in the film. Wyler wanted Russell’s performance to be as natural as possible and was annoyed when he discovered that the studio had signed Russell up for acting lessons.


#35. All Quiet on the Western Front

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Year: 1930
Director: Lewis Milestone

Adapted from a German novel, 1930’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” depicts World War I and its aftermath through the eyes of young German soldiers. The uncompromising film was explicitly violent for its time, including a scene where a bomb goes off and leaves nothing behind but a dismembered hand grabbing barbed wire.


#34. It Happened One Night

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Year: 1934
Director: Frank Capra

Director Frank Capra’s charm and talent was on full display in 1934’s “It Happened One Night.” The movie follows the adventures of a spoiled runaway heiress and the desperate undercover reporter who helps her, hoping for a big scoop in return. This was the first film to sweep the five main categories at the Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. After the ceremony actor Clark Gable gave his award to a young boy who admired the trophy, explaining it was the honor—not the physical award—that counted.


#33. Rebecca

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Year: 1940
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock’s only Best Picture winner—and his first film made in Hollywood—“Rebecca” tells the story of an insecure bride who’s tormented by the psychological grip her husband’s dead first wife has over the household. To ensure that lead actress Joan Fontaine delivered nothing but the most despairing of performances, Hitchcock informed her that everyone on the set hated her.


#32. Ben-Hur

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Year: 1959
Director: William Wyler

Known for its intense chariot races, “Ben-Hur” is one of the original “sword and sandals” epics, and the winner of 11 Academy Awards. In the movie, Charlton Heston plays Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince who exacts revenge on his betrayers after being sold into slavery. The iconic chariot race scene required 15,000 extras and took five weeks to shoot.


#31. Gandhi

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Year: 1982
Director: Richard Attenborough

One of history’s foremost nonviolent protesters gets the biopic treatment in 1982’s “Gandhi,” which stars Ben Kingsley in the titular role. Kingsley moved to India and lived there in order to get into character. He ended up looking up so much like Gandhi that many of the villagers in the film were convinced he was actually the dead leader’s ghost.

#30. The Deer Hunter

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Year: 1978
Director: Michael Cimino

A classic wartime film, 1978’s “The Deer Hunter” is a three-hour saga centered around the Vietnam War. Included in the film’s star-studded cast are Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. In addition to its top notch performances, the movie is notable for a handful of unforgettable scenes, many of which were not entirely scripted. For instance, the scene where actor John Savage’s character cries out for help because he’s surrounded by rats was the result of Savage finding himself suddenly flanked on all sides by the furry rodents.


#29. Platoon

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Year: 1986
Director: Oliver Stone

Drawing loosely from personal experience, Oliver Stone wrote and directed “Platoon,” which follows a young soldier at conflict with both himself and his peers during the Vietnam War. Stone originally wrote the screenplay in 1971 and sent a copy to Jim Morrison in hopes that the famous Doors singer would play the lead role. A copy of the script was discovered among Morrison’s possessions after his death in Paris.


#28. Spotlight

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Year: 2015
Director: Tom McCarthy

In “Spotlight,” Boston Globe reporters work tirelessly to expose a child molestation scandal being covered up by the local Catholic Archdiocese. Striving for authenticity, many of the actors spent time with their characters’ real-life counterparts. Additionally, director Tom McCarthy went to great lengths to recreate the Boston Globe offices so much so that when the real reporters arrived on set they gravitated toward their desks and began rearranging things.


#27. Rocky

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Year: 1976
Director: John G. Avildsen

"Rocky" tells the story of a small-time boxer who gets in the ring with a heavyweight champion. The low-budget flick stars a then-unknown Sylvester Stallone, who was earning $36 a week as an usher at the time. Stallone also wrote the screenplay, famously completing a first draft in just three days.


#26. 12 Years a Slave

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Year: 2013
Director: Steve McQueen

A free Northern man is abducted and then sold into Southern slavery in Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave.” Based on a novel originally published in 1853, the movie presents a harrowing depiction of the cruelty and violence that befell African-Americans during the slavery era. The story and the reality behind it were so intense that actor Michael Kenneth Williams suffered an emotional breakdown when shooting one of his scenes.


#25. Million Dollar Baby

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Year: 2004
Director: Clint Eastwood

Directed by Clint Eastwood, from a Paul Haggis script, “Million Dollar Baby” is a sparse, brilliantly effective movie about an aspiring female boxer training to go pro. In order to play the lead role, actress Hilary Swank gained 20 pounds and underwent some brutal training herself.


#24. No Country for Old Men

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Year: 2007
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

"No Country For Old Men” finds the Coen Brothers in top form. Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, the compulsively watchable film features an unforgettable performance by Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, a cold-blooded psychopath who will stop at nothing to get back some stolen drug money. The movie won four Academy Awards and was nominated for eight. Among those nominations was Best Editing, originally credited to a man named Roderick Jaynes—a pseudonym for the Coen Brothers themselves, naturally.

#23. Sunrise

IMDb user rating: 8.2
Year: 1927
Director: F.W. Murnau

Man’s inner temptations turn to flesh in 1927’s “Sunrise,” a murderous morality tale directed by F.W. Murnau. To build a street for the film, Fox Studios spent a then-unprecedented $200,000. To recoup the money, the studio ended up reusing the same street in later productions.


#22. On the Waterfront

IMDb user rating: 8.2
Year: 1954
Director: Elia Kazan

Marlon Brando plays a former prize fighter battling union corruption in 1954’s “On the Waterfront.” Knowing that Brando would be reluctant to star, director Elia Kazan auditioned a young Paul Newman instead. Brando predictably reacted by taking on the role, if only to prove he was better than some hotshot newcomer. 


#21. The Bridge on the River Kwai

IMDb user rating: 8.2
Year: 1957
Director: David Lean

Loosely based on a true event, “The Bridge on the River Kwai” tells the story of British prisoners of war instructed by their captors to build a bridge while their allies discreetly plan to blow the bridge up. The wartime classic was directed by David Lean, who almost died during filming when he got swept away in a river current and was saved by actor Geoffrey Horne.


#20. Gone with the Wind

IMDb user rating: 8.2
Year: 1939
Director: Victor Fleming

Clocking in at just under four hours, the sweeping drama details Scarlett O’Hara’s many rises and falls during the Civil War and subsequent Reconstruction era. Not only was “Gone With the Wind” the longest movie to win Best Picture, but when adjusted for inflation, it’s the top-grossing film of all time.


#19. Unforgiven

IMDb user rating: 8.2
Year: 1992
Director: Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood was already a celebrated movie star and director by the time he made “Unforgiven,” yet the film nevertheless signified a major stepping stone in his career. In the movie he played William Munny, a retired gunslinger called back into action for one last job. To date, “Unforgiven” remains Clint Eastwood’s last Western.


#18. A Beautiful Mind

IMDb user rating: 8.2
Year: 2001
Director: Ron Howard

Starring Russell Crowe as the brilliant, but mentally imbalanced mathematician John Nash, “A Beautiful Mind” takes a brazenly melodramatic approach to the fine line between genius and sociopathy. Director Ron Howard strived for an authentic performance, from Crowe shooting the movie in chronological order so as to best capture the character’s progressively worsening mental state.


#17. All About Eve

IMDb user rating: 8.3
Year: 1950
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

In Hollywood, jealous actresses usually keep their ambitious antics behind the scenes, but in 1950’s “All About Eve,” those antics take center stage. Specifically, the film is about an aspiring actress named Eve who claws her way to the top of an acting company. Bette Davis starred, earning plenty of high marks for her performance. She later named her adopted daughter Margot after the character she played in the film.


#16. The Apartment

IMDb user rating: 8.3
Year: 1960
Director: Billy Wilder

A man loans out his apartment to various philandering executives in order to climb the corporate ladder in 1960’s “The Apartment.” When one of those executives wants to use the apartment for a tryst with a girl the protagonist fancies, complications ensue. The movie was directed by legend Billy Wilder, who worked on the script with his co-writer even as shooting progressed, according to lead actress Shirley MacLaine. 


#15. The Sting

IMDb user rating: 8.3
Year: 1973
Director: George Roy Hill

The con is on in 1973’s “The Sting,” which stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford as two grifters who get revenge on a crime boss by pulling off the ultimate confidence game. The classic film’s execution and unforgettable score made it iconic. Apparently, inspired by all the clever onscreen antics, Paul Newman got into numerous prank wars with the cast and crew behind the scenes.


#14. Lawrence of Arabia

IMDb user rating: 8.3
Year: 1962
Director: David Lean

Count Steven Spielberg as one of this 1962 Best Picture’s biggest fans. The acclaimed director cites “Lawrence of Arabia” as his favorite film and the main reason he became interested in making movies. That’s no surprise since David Lean’s masterpiece about an English officer who united warring Arab tribes against the Turks during World War I is easily one of Old Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters.


#13. Amadeus

IMDb user rating: 8.3
Year: 1984
Director: Milos Forman

Those who hear the name Amadeus Mozart and picture a serious and studious genius have obviously never seen 1984’s “Amadeus,” which depicts the famous composer as a downright playful and frisky gent simply oozing with talent. Of course, that only makes fellow composer Antonio Salieri all the more jealous, and he soon begins to plot Mozart’s demise. In the spirit of Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon,” director Milos Forman shot the entirety of “Amadeus” using natural light.


#12. Braveheart

IMDb user rating: 8.4
Year: 1995
Director: Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson unified his two greatest preoccupations—martyrdom and violence—with the utmost precision in 1995’s historical epic “Braveheart.” The movie tells the tale of William Wallace who led a Scottish uprising against tyrannical English rule. Should you watch the film, see if you can determine which horses are mechanical—apparently Gibson will give you $5 if you get it right.

#11. American Beauty

IMDb user rating: 8.4
Year: 1999
Director: Sam Mendes

Kevin Spacey might be persona non grata in Hollywood (and elsewhere) these days, but he left a fairly substantial legacy in his wake. Among Spacey’s more notable efforts was his turn as a discontented father who falls for a teenage girl in Sam Mendes’ “American Beauty.” The classic flick includes top-notch performances all around and effectively exposes a darker underbelly of '90s suburbia. As a result, it received substantial profits and five Academy Awards.


#10. Casablanca

IMDb user rating: 8.5
Year: 1942
Director: Michael Curtiz

One of the most heavily quoted films of all time, “Casablanca” follows the adventures and romances of Rick Blaine, an expatriate who runs a nightclub known for its illicit clientele. During early stages of production, the working title of the film was “Everyone Come to Rick’s.”


#9. The Departed

IMDb user rating: 8.5
Year: 2006
Director: Martin Scorsese

2006 was finally the year Martin Scorsese took home Best Picture. The movie, of course, was “The Departed,” which focused on an undercover cop and an undercover criminal who try to unmask one another while the police work on taking down an Irish gang. The movie was a star-studded affair, to say the least, with about half of the $90 million budget going toward actors’ salaries.


#8. Gladiator

IMDb user rating: 8.5
Year: 2000
Director: Ridley Scott

“Are you not entertained?” asks Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator.” Apparently, audiences and critics alike were entertained indeed. The supremely popular movie earned huge numbers at the box office and won five Academy Awards out of a whopping 12 nominations. With all that testosterone in the air and Russell Crowe’s difficult reputation preceding him, is it any wonder that Crowe and fellow actor Oliver Reed nearly came to blows on set?

#7. The Silence of the Lambs

IMDb user rating: 8.6
Year: 1991
Director: Jonathan Demme

Few modern performances are more memorable than Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s “Silence of the Lambs.” Adapted from a Thomas Harris novel, the movie finds Lecter creeping his way into FBI agent Clarice Starling’s head in order to help her catch a serial killer. To prepare for the role, Hopkins read up on numerous serial killers and even attended ghastly murder-related court hearings.

#6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

IMDb user rating: 8.7
Year: 1975
Director: Milos Forman

Jack Nicholson stirs the pot in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” an allegorical tale about a criminal who tries to rally frightened patients at a mental hospital against their oppressive nurse. Reportedly, many of the actors stayed in character even after their scenes were over, which must have made for some interesting encounters on the set.

#5. Forrest Gump

IMDb user rating: 8.8
Year: 1994
Director: Robert Zemeckis

It’s American history by way of a charming albeit dim-witted man named Forrest Gump in this film of the same name. Lead actor Tom Hanks was so convinced the movie would be a hit that he forewent a salary in return for points on the back end, netting him a cool $40 million.

#4. Schindler's List

IMDb user rating: 8.9
Year: 1991
Director: Steven Spielberg

Filmmaking phenomenon Steven Spielberg has only one Best Picture win under his belt, but what a best picture it is. Shot primarily in black and white, 1993’s “Schindler’s List” tells the true story of Oskar Schindler a vain businessman who saves approximately 1,100 Jews from the gas chamber at Auschwitz. To help ameliorate his mood after a long day of shooting, Spielberg would reportedly watch episodes of “Seinfeld,” a show that later featured an episode where Jerry gets caught making out during “Schindler’s List.” 

#3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

IMDb user rating: 8.9
Year: 2003
Director: Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson brings J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy to glorious life in “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” The final installment of a trilogy, the movie spares no expense and no detail as battling armies compete for control over Middle-earth. According to legend, the dead oliphaunt carcass used in the film was the largest prop ever built for a movie

#2. The Godfather: Part II

IMDb user rating: 9.0
Year: 1974
Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Here’s a movie so great that the only film better than it is its predecessor. In “The Godfather II,” unlikely patriarch Michael Corleone fills his father’s shoes while squaring off against unseen enemies. Robert De Niro won an Oscar for his performance in the film as a young Vito Corleone, making him and Marlon Brando the only two actors in Hollywood history to win an Academy Award for the same character.

#1. The Godfather

IMDb user rating: 9.2
Year: 1972
Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick once posited that Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” might very well be the best film ever made. The movie introduces audiences to the members of the Corleone crime family, who hold their loyalty to one another above all other virtues. Everything about the film, from the acting to the writing to the music to the cinematography, was top of the line. 

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