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.
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)|
|1929||The Broadway Melody||MGM|
|1930||All Quiet on the Western Front||Universal|
|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)|
|1941||How Green Was My Valley||20th Century-Fox|
|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)|
|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|
|1956||Around the World in 80 Days||Michael Todd|
|1957||The Bridge on the River Kwai||Sam Spiegel|
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)|
|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|
|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)|
|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)|
|1980||Ordinary People||Ronald L. Schwary|
|1981||Chariots of Fire||David Puttnam|
|1983||Terms of Endearment||James L. Brooks|
|1985||Out of Africa||Sydney Pollack|
|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)|
|1990||Dances with Wolves||Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner|
|1991||The Silence of the Lambs||Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt|
|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)|
|2000||Gladiator||Douglas Wick, David Franzoni|
|2001||A Beautiful Mind||Brian Grazer, Ron Howard|
|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)|
|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
- 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.