With the Oscars rapidly approaching, we’re commemorating the Academy Awards with a complete list of Best Picture winners since the award’s inception when Wings won in 1928.

OG Complete List Best Picture Oscars Winners
Best Picture winners at the Oscars (clockwise): Lawrence of Arabia, The Apartment, The Godfather Part II, The Best Years of our Lives. (Image: Variety)

At the first two installments of the Academy Awards, the category was known as Outstanding Picture in 1927-28. In the 1930s, it was referred to as Outstanding Production. For a short period between 1941 and 1943, it was known as Outstanding Motion Picture.

In 1944, the Academy changed the name of the category to Best Motion Picture. The last change occurred in 1962 when Best Motion Picture was shortened to Best Picture.

Prior to 1950, the studio that produced the film was awarded the Oscar. Since 1951, individual producers are listed as the recipient.

Post-Silent, Pre-War: 1928-1939

The Silent Age of Hollywood ended in 1926 with the introduction of sound. The Academy Awards were introduced the next year. Between 1929 and 1936, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer won Best Picture four times.

Wings won Outstanding Picture at the first Academy Awards in 1928. Other early winners include All Quiet on the Western Front, Cimarron, and Grand Hotel.

It Happened One Night, a classic screwball comedy directed by Frank Capra, won in 1934.


OSCARS BEST PICTURE WINNERS LIST (1928-1939)
YEAR FILM STUDIO
1928 Wings Famous Players-Lasky
1929 The Broadway Melody MGM
1930 All Quiet on the Western Front Universal
1931 Cimarron RKO Radio
1932 Grand Hotel MGM
1933 Cavalcade Fox
1934 It Happened One Night Columbia
1935 Mutiny on the Bounty MGM
1936 The Great Ziegfeld MGM
1937 The Life of Emile Zola Warner Bros.
1938 You Can’t Take It with You Columbia
1939 Gone with the Wind Selznick

Frank Lloyd directed two winners in the 1930s with an adaption of Noel Coward’s play Cavalcade in 1933, and Mutiny on the Bounty in 1937.

The 1930s ended with the Civil War epic Gone with the Wind winning the Oscar for Outstanding Production.

The Golden Age of Hollywood: 1940s

How Green Was My Valley is a John Ford western that’s best known as the film that prevented Citizen Kane from winning the Oscar in 1942. Citizen Kane is widely considered the best film ever made, which means it’s also the best film to never win Best Picture at the Oscars.

Casablanca took home best pic honors in 1943. The screenplay to Casablanca is still taught in film schools to this day as one of the greatest all-time scripts.

Billy Wilder scored a hat trick with The Lost Weekend, a film that tackled the subject of alcoholism. Wilder won Best Screenplay and Best Director, while The Lost Weekend won best pic.


OSCARS BEST PICTURE WINNERS LIST (1940-49)
YEAR FILM STUDIO
1940 Rebecca Selznick
1941 How Green Was My Valley 20th Century-Fox
1942 Mrs. Miniver MGM
1943 Casablanca Warner Bros.
1944 Going My Way Paramount
1945 The Lost Weekend Paramount
1946 The Best Years of Our Lives Samuel Goldwyn
1947 Gentleman’s Agreement 20th Century-Fox
1948 Hamlet J. Arthur Rank-Two Cities
1949 All the King’s Men Columbia

The Best Years of Our Lives won in 1946, which tackled the thorny subject of World War II vets struggling to adjust to life after returning stateside.

All the King’s Men is a story about a southern politician based on a novel by Robert Penn Warren. Warren’s novel is loosely based on the legendary Huey Long, former governor of Louisiana.

The Fall of the Studio System: 1950s

All About Eve, the winner in 1950, was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who is the younger brother of Herman Mankiewicz. The elder Mankiewicz is depicted in David Fincher’s film Mank, which is up for Best Picture at the 2021 Oscars.

An American in Paris is a Gene Kelly musical that snagged Best Picture honors in 1951. Cecil B. DeMille’s epic The Greatest Show on Earth won in 1952.


OSCARS BEST PICTURE WINNERS LIST (1950-59)
YEAR FILM PRODUCER
1950 All About Eve 20th Century-Fox
1951 An American in Paris Arthur Freed
1952 The Greatest Show on Earth Cecil B. DeMille
1953 From Here to Eternity Buddy Adler
1954 On the Waterfront Sam Spiegel
1955 Marty Harold Hecht
1956 Around the World in 80 Days Michael Todd
1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai Sam Spiegel
1958 Gigi Arthur Freed
1959 Ben-Hur Sam Zimbalist

In 1953, From Here to Eternity crushed the Academy Awards with eight Oscars, including best pic. The WWII flick starred Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, and Frank Sinatra, who earned an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

At the time, Ben-Hur was the most-expensive film produced in Hollywood with a budget of nearly $16 million. The famous chariot race was shot without any modern special effects, which makes the nine-minute scene even more daring and impressive.

The 1950s were also an important era in Hollywood history due to the creation of the “Blacklist,” which stalled or ended the careers of many screenwriters due to their extreme left-wing political affiliations. Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson fled to the United Kingdom and worked on the screenplay to A Bridge on the River Kwai in secret.

New Hollywood: 1960s

The 1960s started with Billy Wilder’s The Apartment and ended with Midnight Cowboy, with a slew of diverse Best Picture winners in between during a tumultuous decade in American history propelled by anti-war protests and civil rights marches. Counterculture begins to seep into the mainstream thanks to Hollywood by the end of 1960s.

A couple of musicals took home Oscars for best pic, including West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and Oliver!


OSCARS BEST PICTURE WINNERS LIST (1960-69)
YEAR FILM PRODUCER
1960 The Apartment Billy Wilder
1961 West Side Story Robert Wise
1962 Lawrence of Arabia Sam Spiegel
1963 Tom Jones Tony Richardson
1964 My Fair Lady Jack L. Warner
1965 The Sound of Music Robert Wise
1966 A Man for All Seasons Fred Zinnemann
1967 In the Heat of the Night Walter Mirisch
1968 Oliver! John Woolf
1969 Midnight Cowboy Jerome Hellman

Lawrence of Arabia, the winner in 1962, is simply a cinematic work of art filmed on location in Jordan and Morocco.

In 1967, In the Heat of the Night with Sidney Poitier defeated one of the strongest fields of best film nominees, including The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

The Auteur: 1970s

Hollywood in the 1970s was dominated by auteurs during a brief era when studios allowed directors a lot of leeway to make some of the most important films in history. Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, Woody Allen, George Roy Hill, Milos Forman, and Michael Cimino all came to prominence in the ‘70s.

The decade kicks off with a throwback to WWII with Patton ,and ends with the anti-Vietnam War film, The Deer Hunter.

Coppola directed a pair of best picture winners with The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. With the second movie, Coppola pulled off a rare feat in which the sequel is often referred as a better film than the original.


OSCARS BEST PICTURE WINNERS LIST (1970-79)
YEAR FILM PRODUCER
1970 Patton Frank McCarthy
1971 The French Connection Philip D’Antoni
1972 The Godfather Albert S. Ruddy
1973 The Sting Tony Bill, Michael Phillips, Julia Phillips
1974 The Godfather Part II Francis Ford Coppola, Gray Frederickson
1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Michael Douglas, Saul Zaentz
1976 Rocky Irwin Winkler, Robert Chartoff
1977 Annie Hall Charles H. Joffe
1978 The Deer Hunter Barry Spikings, Michael Cimino
1979 Kramer vs. Kramer Stanley R. Jaffe

Woody Allen broke through with a win for Annie Hall in 1977, which edged out Star Wars. Yes, it’s true. George Lucas’ Star Wars earned a nomination for best pic.

The 1970s is stacked with the strongest decade of films. Even films that were nominated, but which lost the award, would totally crush films of the modern era. Those losing films from the 70s include A Clockwork Orange, The Last Picture Show, Deliverance, American Graffiti, The Exorcist, Chinatown, The Conversation, Lenny, Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Nashville, All the President’s Men, Network, Taxi Driver, Midnight Express, Heaven Can Wait, Coming Home, All That Jazz, and Apocalypse Now.

Rise of the Blockbuster: 1980s

The 1980s included a mixture of dysfunctional families (Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment) and major biopics (Gandhi, Amadeus, Last Emperor).

Oliver Stone made a personal film about his experiences in Vietnam with Platoon, which won in 1986, but which had the anti-establishment feel of a 1970s Hollywood film.


OSCARS BEST PICTURE WINNERS LIST (1980-89)
YEAR FILM PRODUCER
1980 Ordinary People Ronald L. Schwary
1981 Chariots of Fire David Puttnam
1982 Gandhi Richard Attenborough
1983 Terms of Endearment James L. Brooks
1984 Amadeus Saul Zaentz
1985 Out of Africa Sydney Pollack
1986 Platoon Arnold Kopelson
1987 The Last Emperor Jeremy Thomas
1988 Rain Man Mark Johnson
1989 Driving Miss Daisy Richard D. Zanuck, Lili Fini Zanuck

In 1981, Chariots of Fire pulled off a major upset when Raiders of the Lost Ark lost out in the best pic race.

Much like the 1970s, other several classic films fell short of winning best pic, including Raging Bull, On Golden Pond, Tootsie, ET, The Big Chill, The Right Stuff, The Killing Fields, The Color Purple, Hannah and Her Sisters, Broadcast News, Fatal Attraction, Mississippi Burning, Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, and Field of Dreams.

Fin de Siecle: 1990s

Westerns made a profitable comeback in the 1990s with Dances with Wolves and Unforgiven. Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves made waves as a long-shot winner in 1990 over Ghost and Goodfellas.

The Silence of the Lambs is one of the creepiest films to earn best pic honors, while Mel Gibson’s Braveheart is one of the bloodiest.

After near misses with previous films, Steven Spielberg took home best pic with his tragic holocaust film Schindler’s List.

The 1990s also included a couple of romantic films (aka chick flicks) that picked up an Oscar, including The English Patient, Titanic, and Shakespeare in Love.


OSCARS BEST PICTURE WINNERS LIST (1990-99)
YEAR FILM PRODUCER
1990 Dances with Wolves Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner
1991 The Silence of the Lambs Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt
1992 Unforgiven Clint Eastwood
1993 Schindler’s List Steven Spielberg, Gerald R. Molen
1994 Forrest Gump Wendy Finerman, Steve Tisch
1995 Braveheart Mel Gibson, Alan Ladd Jr.
1996 The English Patient Saul Zaentz
1997 Titanic James Cameron, Jon Landau
1998 Shakespeare in Love David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Edward Zwick
1999 American Beauty Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks

American Beauty is a dark comedy about suburban bourgeois malaise penned by Alan Ball, which was the perfect film to end the 20th century.

Other films that were snubbed for best pic in the 1990s included Apollo 13, Pulp Fiction, A Few Good Men, JFK, Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Good Will Hunting, LA Confidential, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, and The Sixth Sense.

The Millennium: 2000s

In 2002, Chicago became the first musical to earn Best Picture in quite some time, which inspired a musical renaissance in Hollywood.

JRR Tolkein’s epic books finally got the Hollywood treatment when they were adapted for the big screen by Peter Jackson. In 2003, Jackson earned Best Pic honors with The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

Martin Scorsese added another Oscar to his collection with his Boston-based mob flick The Departed in 2006.

It’s been 16 years since Crash won in 2005 and people are still clamoring about the upset over Brokeback Mountain.


OSCARS BEST PICTURE WINNERS LIST (2000-2009)
YEAR FILM PRODUCER
2000 Gladiator Douglas Wick, David Franzoni
2001 A Beautiful Mind Brian Grazer, Ron Howard
2002 Chicago Martin Richards
2003 Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson
2004 Million Dollar Baby Clint Eastwood, Albert S. Ruddy
2005 Crash Paul Haggis, Cathy Schulman
2006 The Departed Graham King
2007 No Country for Old Men Scott Rudin, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
2008 Slumdog Millionaire Christian Colson
2009 The Hurt Locker Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal

Joel and Ethan Coen directed the western No Country for Old Men, based on a Cormac McCarthy novel.

Hollywood cranks out war movies from nearly every era, but an Iraq War film won its first Oscar in 2009. The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, was co-written by embedded journalist Mark Boal.

By 2009, the category for best pic expanded from five films to as many as 10-plus.

Post-Modern Hollywood: 2010s to Present

In the previous decade, Hollywood honored international directors and a diverse group of films, including Steve McQueen’s film about a slave’s memoir and Guillermo del Toro’s love story between a woman and a fish.

The Artist was a throwback to the silent film era. Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman capped off a major comeback by Michael Keaton.

Argo was a taunt spy flick based in the 1970, which had the feel of a 1970s conspiracy thriller.

Last year, Korean director Bong Joon-ho pulled off a major coup with Parasite.


OSCARS BEST PICTURE WINNERS LIST (2010-2020)
YEAR FILM PRODUCER
2010 The King’s Speech Iain Canning, Emile Sherman
2011 The Artist Thomas Langmann
2012 Argo Ben Affleck, George Clooney
2013 12 Years a Slave Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Steve McQueen
2014 Birdman Alejandro G. Inarritu, John Lesher
2015 Spotlight Blye Pagon Faust, Nicole Rocklin
2016 Moonlight Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner
2017 The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro, J. Miles Dale
2018 Green Book Jim Burke, Peter Farrelly
2019 Parasite Kwak Sin-ae, Bong Joon-ho
2020 Nomadland Chloe Zhao, Frances McDormand

The 2010s had their share of controversy and several stellar films missed out on best pic including 1917, Roma, Dunkirk, Manchester by the Sea, La La Land, The Revenant, Whiplash, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, Django Unchained, Moneyball, The Social Network, and Inception.

In 2016, Moonlight eventually upset La La Land after a snafu from Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway read the wrong card.

Oscars: Best Picture Upsets

For some reason, most likely due to internal politics, several of the greatest films in Hollywood history were robbed at the Academy Awards and failed to win for best picture.

Citizen Kane is considered one of the best pictures in cinematic history, yet Orson Welles’ masterpiece was upset by How Green Was My Valley in 1942.

Goodfellas lost to Dances with Wolves in 1990, but that was not the first time Martin Scorsese was screwed by the Academy. In 1976, Taxi Driver lost out Rocky, which also beat out Network and All the President’s Men in one of the biggest group upsets of all time.


Top Films to Never Win Best Picture
  • Citizen Kane
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • Goodfellas
  • Taxi Driver
  • All the President’s Men
  • A Place in the Sun
  • Shawshank Redemption

Steven Spielberg had two films lose out close races, including Raiders of the Lost Ark and Saving Private Ryan.

In 1994, Forrest Gump defeated The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction in a stunning upset. Shakespeare in Love pulled off a major upset in 1999 by beating Spielberg’s WWII epic Saving Private Ryan. In 2006, Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash, which was another shocker.

Comments

  1. I just read about Chloe Zhao winning an Oscar. Did you read about that? She’s the first the first Chinese woman to receive an Academy Award for best director. She won for directing Nomadland. Nomadland also took best picture.

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