Patrice Vermette and Zsuzsanna Sipos pose with their awards.
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Oscar-winning production designs of the past 25 years

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April 26, 2022
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Oscar-winning production designs of the past 25 years

Films that win the Academy Award for Best Production Design have a distinctive visual look. These are the kinds of films set on other planets, or in lush fantasy realms, or that recreate the past in exquisite detail. Movies like “Dune” and “Titanic” immerse audiences in a singular time and place, whether that’s a futuristic planet or a devastating moment in history. This award goes to the team responsible for the set pieces, locations, and props that bring the film’s world to life.

Giggster looked at the past 25 years of films that won Oscars for Best Production Design and listed them in chronological order from earliest to most recent. IMDb user ratings and Metascores are provided for popular and critical context. Movie buffs, add these breathtaking flicks to your queue.

The director and cinematographer play a huge role in a film’s visual design, but before they shoot a scene, the set is designed and decorated, often to meticulous detail. Directors like Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, and others helmed more than one film on this list. One production design team, Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo, appear three times for two different directors.

Read on for 25 movies with thrilling visual styles.

Peter Lamont accepts the Cinematic Imagery Award.
1 / 25
Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images

‘Titanic’ (1997)

- Director: James Cameron
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: 75
- Runtime: 194 minutes

The exquisite details of first-class suites offer a sharp contrast to the below-deck, steerage quarters in this epic blockbuster about the real-life sinking of the unsinkable Titanic in 1912. The ship’s incredible lobby and other parts of the massive vessel were recreated in their full glory, during their tragic destruction, as well as in shipwrecked states after decades on the bottom of the ocean. Peter Lamont was the art director, while Michael Ford decorated the elaborate sets.

Martin Childs and Jill Quertier pose with Oscar.
2 / 25
Vince Bucci/AFP via Getty Images

‘Shakespeare in Love’ (1998)

- Director: John Madden
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 123 minutes

“Shakespeare in Love” takes viewers into Elizabethan England with detailed reproductions of famous playhouses of the time period. This fictional account of English playwright William Shakespeare’s love life features meticulous recreations of the busy bustle of 16th-century city life in addition to its courtly grandeur. Jill Quertier was the set decorator and Martin Childs led art direction.

Rick Heinrichs poses with Oscar
3 / 25
Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images

‘Sleepy Hollow’ (1999)

- Director: Tim Burton
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Metascore: 65
- Runtime: 105 minutes

Rick Heinrichs and Peter Young oversaw the production design for the visually mesmerizing “Sleepy Hollow,” which offers a Gothic vision of early America in its adaptation of Washington Irving’s 1820 short story about a mythic Headless Horseman. The film captures the humor and whimsy of Walt Disney’s 1949 cartoon version alongside its expressionistic gore and shadowy, gloomy set pieces.

Tim Yip holds his Oscar.
4 / 25
LEE CELANO/AFP via Getty Images

‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ (2000)

- Director: Ang Lee
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 120 minutes

Tim Yip’s art direction creates poetry of motion in this beautifully visual film known for its innovative production design. Set in China during the Qing dynasty, gorgeous martial arts choreography takes place across village rooftops and in stunning natural locations such as breathtaking green treetops and sprawling desert slopes.

Catherine Martin and Mexican Brigitte Broch pose with their Oscars.
5 / 25
MIKE NELSON/AFP via Getty Images

‘Moulin Rouge!’ (2001)

- Director: Baz Luhrmann
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: 66
- Runtime: 127 minutes

Art director Catherine Martin, and set decorator Brigitte Broch, electrify the screen with a kinetic, pastiche style in the musical love story “Moulin Rouge!” The film’s visual splendor fuses together the modern with the past in a look that combines Victorian-era impressionism, Bollywood spectacle, and music video sensibility with film and music references from across the 20th century.

John Myhre and Gord Sim pose with their Oscars.
6 / 25
J. Vespa/WireImage // Getty Images

‘Chicago’ (2002)

- Director: Rob Marshall
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 113 minutes

John Myhre led art direction with Gordon Sim as set director in this Best Picture winner famous for its extraordinary adaptation of a Broadway show for the film screen. The film’s production design uses the proscenium look of a stage for some numbers while seamlessly moving into nightclubs, apartments, and prison locales. The result offers a front-row seat that expands the limits of the stage.

Grant Major, Dan Hennah, and Alan Lee pose with their Oscars.
7 / 25
Frank Micelotta // Getty Images

‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ (2003)

- Director: Peter Jackson
- IMDb user rating: 9
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 201 minutes

The third film in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is lauded for its epic scale and stunning visual effects. J.R.R. Tolkien’s sprawling adventure set in a mythic fantasy world is imagined in spellbinding detail. Grant Major led the art direction team responsible for the sets and locations of Middle-earth such as the haunting Mordor, while set decorators Dan Hennah and Alan Lee created the fantastical creatures and elaborate weaponry for Aragon’s heroic forces against the army of Orcs.

Francesca Lo Schiavo and Dante Ferretti pose with their Oscars.
8 / 25
J. Vespa/WireImage // Getty Images

‘The Aviator’ (2004)

- Director: Martin Scorsese
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Metascore: 77
- Runtime: 170 minutes

Production designers Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo recreated period aircraft in resplendent detail in this biopic about successful businessman and film director Howard Hughes’ obsession with aviation. The film features gorgeous art deco interiors along with the glitz and glamor of Hollywood film sets and nightclubs, as well as an epic plane crash on a residential street in Beverly Hills, California, that immerses viewers in the action.

John Myhre accepts Oscar.
9 / 25
M. Caulfield/WireImage // Getty Images

‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ (2005)

- Director: Rob Marshall
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Metascore: 54
- Runtime: 145 minutes

Set in Japan during the pre- and post-World War II period, “Memoirs of a Geisha” displays a dreamy, atmospheric beauty in its recreation of period details in its story of impossible love. Sumptuous interior and exterior settings evoke the time period as well as the inner landscape of characters who can’t express emotions openly. John Myhre led the art direction with Gretchen Rau as the set decorator.

Pilar Revuelta and Eugenio Caballero pose with their Oscars.
10 / 25
Vince Bucci // Getty Images

‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ (2006)

- Director: Guillermo del Toro
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Metascore: 98
- Runtime: 118 minutes

Art direction by Eugenio Caballero and set decoration by Pilar Revuelta combine to create a surreal and monstrous fusion of historical realism with fantasy in this fairy tale for grown-ups. Set in rural 1940s Spain, the story follows a child who enters maze-like portals to an underground world of arresting darkness that matches the war-torn horrors above.

Francesca Lo Schiavo and Dante Ferretti pose with their Oscars.
11 / 25
Vince Bucci // Getty Images

‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ (2007)

- Director: Tim Burton
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 116 minutes

Director Tim Burton’s characteristically surreal visual style gives this adaptation of the popular Broadway musical about a serial killer a dark, expressionistic flair. The production design gives the proceedings a gory wit, as Dante Ferretti’s art direction paints Victorian London with macabre splendor, while Francesca Lo Schiavo’s set decorations provide rich period details.

Donald Graham Burt and Victor J. Zolfo accept their Oscars
12 / 25
Kevin Winter // Getty Images

‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ (2008)

- Director: David Fincher
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 70
- Runtime: 166 minutes

This dramatic fantasy about a man who ages backward takes place across nearly a century and each time period is recreated with intricate visual details that ensnare the audience in the time and place. Donald Graham Burt provided the sumptuous art direction, while Victor J. Zolfo was the set decorator for such key props as a large train station clock that runs backward.

Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg and Kim Sinclair pose with their Oscars
13 / 25
Dan MacMedan/WireImage // Getty Images

‘Avatar’ (2009)

- Director: James Cameron
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 162 minutes

A feat of motion capture technology at the time of its release, “Avatar” takes place in the extraordinary world of Pandora, a bioluminescent ecosystem that’s home to the Na’vi, alien beings who sync with the flora and fauna of their strangely gorgeous planet. Production designers Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg, with set decorator Kim Sinclair, created an original and spectacular science-fiction world.

Karen O'Hara and Robert Stromberg accept their Oscars
14 / 25
Kevin Winter // Getty Images

‘Alice in Wonderland’ (2010)

- Director: Tim Burton
- IMDb user rating: 6.4
- Metascore: 53
- Runtime: 108 minutes

With a seamless fusion of computer-generated imagery and live action, “Alice in Wonderland” brings the classic tale to a new generation with a spectacularly weird wonder. Production designer Robert Stromberg’s visionary set pieces create a magical fantasia, while set decoration by Karen O’Hara offers mesmerizing originality throughout Alice’s adventures.

Francesca Lo Schiavo and Dante Ferretti pose with their Oscars
15 / 25
Jason Merritt // Getty Images

‘Hugo’ (2011)

- Director: Martin Scorsese
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 126 minutes

The details of 1930s Paris merge with steampunk fantasy in this visually stunning children’s tale adapted from Brian Selznick’s 2007 bestseller, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” The production design by Dante Ferretti includes elaborate sets in a train station, amid a giant clock face, and in the world of early cinema, while set decoration by Francesca Lo Schiavo features an automaton and other mechanical wonders.

Rick Carter speaks at a panel discussion
16 / 25
Angela Weiss //Getty Images

‘Lincoln’ (2012)

- Director: Steven Spielberg
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 150 minutes

Known for its distinctive historical realism, this biopic recreates battlefields, the White House, and the Capitol during the last four months of President Abraham Lincoln’s life in 1865. Set decoration by Jim Erickson features meticulous period minutiae, which combines with production design by Rick Carter to flawlessly reconstruct the era.

Beverley Dunn and Catherine Martin pose with their Oscars
17 / 25
Jason Merritt // Getty Images

‘The Great Gatsby’ (2013)

- Director: Baz Luhrmann
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 55
- Runtime: 143 minutes

Production design by Catherine Martin, who also won the Oscar for Costume Design, with set decoration by Beverly Dunn lavishly evokes the spectacular parties and extravagant wealth of the 1920s in this sparkly adaptation of the classic American novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. City streets, industrial roadways, and grandiose mansions have a spellbinding, dreamlike realism. Visuals burst with a mythic beauty that also captures the story’s tragic themes.

Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock accept their Oscar
18 / 25
Kevin Winter // Getty Images

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014)

- Director: Wes Anderson
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 99 minutes

Director Wes Anderson is known for elaborately detailed films. His signature vision was brought to life by production designer Adam Stockhausen and set decorator Anna Pinnock in this stylish comedy that recreates grand European hotels of the 1930s and across additional eras. The movie’s visual flair emphasizes settings and prop details, including a Renaissance painting at the center of the madcap plot.

Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson pose with their Oscars
19 / 25
Jason Merritt // Getty Images

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015)

- Director: George Miller
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 120 minutes

The arresting spectacle of amped-up car chases splash across the screen with frenetic originality in this science fiction action film that continues the “Mad Max” franchise. Production design by Colin Gibson and set decorator Lisa Thompson give this future apocalyptic desert landscape strange and terrible visual poetry. Riveting stunt crashes and details of a bizarre, cyborgian future heighten the punk rock vibes.

David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco pose with their Oscars
20 / 25
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic // Getty Images

‘La La Land’ (2016)

- Director: Damien Chazelle
- IMDb user rating: 8
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 128 minutes

“La La Land” captures the color and bounce of classic Hollywood musicals, updating the genre for a modern sensibility. Dance numbers erupt in a traffic jam on the freeway, and in one memorable, rhapsodic episode, across the planetarium screen at the landmark Griffith Park Observatory. David Wasco as production designer, with Sandy Reynolds-Wasco as set decorator, give the glamorous love story a vibrant, vintage feel.

Jeffrey A. Melvin, Paul Denham Austerberry and Shane Vieau pose with their Oscars
21 / 25
Dan MacMedan/WireImage // Getty Images

‘The Shape of Water’ (2017)

- Director: Guillermo del Toro
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 123 minutes

There’s a surreal underwater look to the fantasy love story in “The Shape of Water.” In 1962, a cleaner in a secret laboratory falls for the strange sea creature held captive there. The production design, by Paul Denham Austerberry, with Shane Vieau and Jeffrey A. Melvin on set decoration, captures a surreal, period vibe saturated with dreamlike colors and vintage props.

Jay Hart and Hannah Beachler accept their award
22 / 25
Kevin Winter // Getty Images

‘Black Panther’ (2018)

- Director: Ryan Coogler
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 134 minutes

Production designer Hannah Beachler and set decorator Jay Hart infuse this film’s fantastically mythic world of Wakanda with an Afrofuturist aesthetic that fuses a sense of ancient history with scientific innovation. Settings in “Black Panther” have a distinctive look that bursts with colors and textures that seem out of this world and freshly archetypal in this story about the Marvel hero.

Nancy Haigh and Barbara Ling pose with their Oscars
23 / 25
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic // Getty Images

‘Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood’ (2019)

- Director: Quentin Tarantino
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 161 minutes

The vibrant, nostalgic style of “Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood” offers a sun-soaked vision of 1969 Tinseltown. Production designer Barbara Ling’s sets and locations evoke a bygone era with specificity and camp details that recall classic Westerns. Set decoration by Nancy Haigh makes the story about a has-been TV actor and his stuntman seep with color and a sense of the ultra-cool.

Donald Graham Burt and Jan Pascale pose with their Oscars
24 / 25
Chris Pizzello-Pool // Getty Images

‘Mank’ (2020)

- Director: David Fincher
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Metascore: 79
- Runtime: 131 minutes

Set in 1930s Hollywood and chronicling the life of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the screenwriter of “Citizen Kane,” the black-and-white compositions rival those of the classic period in which it’s set. The film drips with contrast between shadows and light over rich period detail, including a meticulous recreation of Hearst castle. Donald Graham Burt and Jan Pascale make up the production design team.

Patrice Vermette and Zsuzsanna Sipos pose with their awards
25 / 25
Mike Coppola // Getty Images

‘Dune’ (2021)

- Director: Denis Villeneuve
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: 74
- Runtime: 155 minutes

Dune’s sci-fi sandscapes engross audiences with epic scale and strange, otherworldly details. Production designer Patrice Vermette created set pieces that seem ancient and futuristic at once. Set decorator Zsuzsanna Sipos designed the insect-like spacecraft and gorgeously brutal interiors, in a world where legions vie over spice and giant worms.

This story originally appeared on Giggster and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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