18 Oscar Best Picture Winners Over the Years

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For many film fans, Oscar night feels like a big celebration. The first ceremony debuted in 1929 for movies produced between 1927 and 1928. For the past 100 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has awarded Hollywood filmmakers a litany of prestigious awards, not least of which is Best Picture. 

Since its inception, there have been 601 nominees and 95 Big Picture award winners. However, tastes change, and the time comes for all films, with some aging worse than others. Let’s look at 18 of the best of these Best Picture winners, listed in chronological order, to see which films stand the test of time!

1. Wings (1927)

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The first film to win the Best Picture award, William A. Wellman’s 1927 romantic epic, follows Jack Powell and David Armstrong, two enemies from the same town who join the Air Force to fight in World War I while wooing the same girl.

It’s a classic sweeping romance filled with beautifully staged aerial combat sequences—shot in real planes, no less!

2. It Happened One Night (1934) 

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Frank Capra’s romantic comedy follows a frustrated young socialite (Claudette Colbert) who tries to shake her upbringing by falling in love with a hotshot reporter (Clark Gable).

An absolute barnburner, the film is hilarious from beginning to end. You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll cheer at the sheer power of romance!

3. How Green Was My Valley (1941) 

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.

American master John Ford’s Depression-era masterpiece is more known today for taking the Best Picture award from Citizen Kane, but looking beyond this reputation reveals a powerful film about a family of miners witnessing the downfall of their way of life due to rapid social change. It’s a beautiful triumph that’s well worth your time!

4. Casablanca (1942) 

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

A film which needs no introduction, Michael Curtiz—who was also nominated the year before for his musical Yankee Doodle Dandy—directs this World War II spy thriller. An American expat must decide whether or not he chooses the love of a woman or saving her husband from persecution by the Nazis in the heavily guarded city of Casablanca.

A true feat of filmmaking, this is the kind of two-fisted drama Hollywood doesn’t make anymore.

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5. The Lost Weekend (1945) 

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

One of three films to win the prestigious Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or and the Oscar for Best Picture in the same year—the other two being 1955’s Marty and 2019’s Parasite—this Billy Wilder drama follows a writer who must decide whether or not to honor his sobriety while going on a weekend retreat with his brother. It’s a dour watch, but an ultimately rewarding one.   

6. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) 

Photo Credit: RKO Radio Pictures.

William Wyler’s anti-war drama follows a group of World War II veterans who must adjust to post-war living and face a society that wants nothing to do with them. Shockingly frank and endlessly depressing, this beautiful film packs an emotional punch!

7. An American in Paris (1951) 

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Vincente Minnelli’s epic musical follows a young American artist who must contend with a French singer for the heart of a dancer. Based on George Gershwin’s poem of the same name, this musical contains some of the best choreography of any era of filmmaking and is worth it for the dance sequences alone.

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8. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) 

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Based on the 1952 novel of the same name, David Lean’s war film follows a group of British POWs in Thailand as they’re forced to construct the Burma Railway. An epic in every sense of the word, the film maintains an impressive sense of scale that’s sorely lacking in modern Hollywood movies.

9. The Sound of Music (1965) 

The Sound of Music
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Robert Wise’s Cinemascope musical follows an Austrian nun who becomes the governess of the Von Trapp family, giving them a newfound love of music. Frequently sweeping and even more frequently gorgeous, this is one roadshow musical that withstands the test of time. 

10. The French Connection (1971) 

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.

New Hollywood whizz kid William Friedkin’s gritty cop procedural follows Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider), two NYPD detectives hell-bent on catching a group of French narcotics smugglers. A tense, gritty drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat!

11. The Godfather Parts I and II (1972/1974) 

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Francis Ford Coppola’s epic crime saga, based on the novel by Mario Puzo, follows the Corleone crime family as its new patriarch, Michael (Al Pacino), ascends the ranks to become the new Don of the crime family. Masterfully constructed and suitably massive in scope, these are two crime films you definitely won’t want to miss.

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12. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Robert Benton’s family drama follows the Kramer Family (Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, respectively) as they undergo the looming specter of divorce. The film focuses on how the divorce impacts their family, their son, and the evolution of their relationship. It’s a heartbreaking film, but one that’s certainly worthy of the award.

13. Terms of Endearment (1983) 

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

James L. Brooks’ comedy follows the 30-year relationship between Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter, Emma (Deborah Winger). Giving anything away about the film would be a disservice, so check it out!

14. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) 

Photo Credit: MGM.

Jonathan Demme’s classic horror thriller, based on the Thomas Harris crime novel of the same name, follows FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) as she hunts for the notorious serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), with help from the serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).

This is the only time a horror film won a prestigious award. A classic chiller well worth your time!

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15. Unforgiven (1992)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Clint Eastwood’s eulogy to the Old Hollywood Western, the film follows faded outlaw William Munny (Clint Eastwood) as he takes on one last job for an old friend. Epic in scope and surprisingly tender, Eastwood’s swan song to the Western is a fitting ode to a classic film genre.

16. Titanic (1997) 

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

James Cameron’s disaster film follows two star-crossed lovers (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, respectively) as they witness the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Cementing James Cameron’s place as the master of the modern blockbuster, this sweeping spectacle is just as impressive now as it was at its production.

17. No Country for Old Men (2007) 

Photo Credit: Miramax Films.

The Coen brothers’ masterful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s eponymous novel follows Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a Vietnam veteran who stumbles into a large sum of money after a drug deal goes awry and Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), the man sent to find the money and kill Llewelyn.

This film earns its place on this list because it masterfully adapts a novel whose reputation marks it as “unfilmable.” A masterclass in adaptation and pure film style.

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18. The Shape of Water (2017) 

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Guillermo Del Toro’s tender examination of loneliness and ensuing romance seems an unlikely winner of this prestigious award. Still, the sheer power of its filmmaking helped the Academy overcome the strange romance that lies at the film’s center.

 

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