The Best of the Best Picture Oscar Winners, Part 1

AcademyAwards02This year marks the 86th anniversary of the Academy Awards, an annual celebration of the best in motion pictures selected by more than 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Conceived by legendary studio magnate Louis B. Mayer as a mediator for labor disputes, the Academy started with a modest membership of 36 and has since become one of the most important organizations with one of the most prestigious and sought-after prizes anywhere in the world.

An Academy Award can mean a better career. It can lead to more lucrative offers. It can add millions to a film’s box office. There is no other film award that can compare in terms of its global importance and familiarity.

Over the last 85 selections of the best films of each year, the Academy has made landmark choices and questionable ones. For each brilliant choice, there’s an equally polarizing one. Even when terrific movies lose out to more important films (think 1941’s How Green Was My Valley winning over Citizen Kane), the Academy finds admirers and detractors with relative ease.

In celebration of the 85 prior years of Oscar winners, the Online Film Critics Society has decided to rank all past winners from worst to best. There have been 86 films that have received a Best Picture prize from the Academy. This includes the one-year split of the prize between Best Production for 1927/28 which went to the box office success Wings and Unique and Artistic Picture which went to the more stylish Sunrise, a Song of Two Humans. Although the Academy typically leaves Sunrise off its list of the group’s Best Picture winners, we have decided to include it for ranking purposes.

Starting today and posting each day this week, we will start at the bottom and work our way to the top of the list of film’s considered by the voting members of the OFCS as the Best of the Academy’s Best Picture winners. Then, on the Monday following the Oscars, we will announce where this year’s Best Picture winner will fall into our list of the Best Best Pictures. (Introduction written by Wesley “The Oscar Guy” Lovell)

Let’s start things off with the first twenty-one titles on the list, ranked from 86 to 66.

86. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)25th

Synopsis: A behind-the-scenes look at the men and women who perform for and orchestrate “The Greatest Show on Earth.” With the cooperation of the Ringling Bros. / Barnum & Bailey Circus, Cecil B. DeMille’s Big Top spectacle starred Chalrton Heston and Betty Hutton.
Trivia: This is the only film legendary producer and director DeMille ever won an Oscar for.
Films It Beat:
High Noon
Moulin Rouge
The Quiet Man

85. Crash (2005)78th

Synopsis: Issues of race, pain and triumph bring together multiple stories of Los Angelinos struggling for normality.
Trivia: Crash is the first movie to be set primarily or entirely in Los Angeles to win a Best Picture Oscar.
Films It Beat:
Brokeback Mountain
Good Night, and Good Luck.

84. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)29th

Synopsis: Based on the celebrated novel by Jules Verne, Around the World in 80 Days tells the story of an English gentleman who wagers he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. He sets off on a globe-spanning adventure to prove it.
Trivia: Of all Best Picture winners in history, it has the largest all-star cast with 49 credited (and uncredited) cameos in addition to the four-person cast. The only surviving stars of the film are both Oscar nominees: Shirley MacLaine and Glynis Johns.
Films It Beat:
Friendly Persuasion
The King and I
The Ten Commandments

83. Cavalcade (1932/33)6th

Synopsis: As the 19th Century turned into the 20th, a family of Londoners must struggle against a tide of change covering events from 1899 through 1933.
Trivia: Until Titanic, Cavalcade was the only Best Picture winner to feature scenes set on the fated cruise liner.
Films It Beat:
A Farewell to Arms
42nd Street
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
Lady for a Day
Little Women
The Private Life of Henry VIII
She Done Him Wrong
Smilin’ Through
State Fair

82. Broadway Melody (1928/29)2nd

Synopsis: Shifting from Vaudeville to Broadway, two sisters find love and loss in the Big Apple as they struggle with fame, romance and music.
Trivia: It was the first musical and first talking picture to win Best Picture at the Oscars.
Films It Beat:
Hollywood Revue
In Old Arizona
The Patriot

81. A Beautiful Mind (2001)74th

Synopsis: Loosely based on the life of mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., A Beautiful Mind follows Nash as he takes on secret cryptography work for the United States and how the obsession nearly destroys him.
Trivia: This is the only Best Picture winner Ron Howard has ever directed. It was his second of three films nominated for Best Picture. This is the only Best Picture nominee or winner screenwriter Akiva Goldsman has ever written.
Films It Beat:
Gosford Park
In the Bedroom
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Moulin Rouge

80. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)62nd

Synopsis: Forced to hire a black chauffeur at the height of the Civil Rights era, an aging Jewish woman must confront her internal prejudices as the nation changes around her.
Trivia: This is one of only four films to win Best Picture without a corresponding Best Director nomination. It was the first such film in 57 years.
Films It Beat:
Born on the Fourth of July
Dead Poets Society
Field of Dreams
My Left Foot

79. Out of Africa (1985)58th

Synopsis: Facing various hardships in colonial Kenya, a Danish baroness falls in love with a charismatic big game hunter as her marriage crumbles.
Trivia: Actress Meryl Streep has starred only starred in three Best Picture winners in her career. All three of which she was nominated for an Oscar. This is the only one of those three for which she received a nomination in the lead category.
Films It Beat:
The Color Purple
Kiss of the Spider Woman
Prizzi’s Honor

78. Cimarron (1930/31)4th

Synopsis: Edna Ferber’s novel acts as the foundation for this story of a newspaper editor settling in a boom town in Oklahoma at the end of the 19th century.
Trivia: Cimarron was the first and only western to win Best Picture, a record it would hold for 59 years when Dances With Wolves won in 1990.
Films It Beat:
East Lynne
The Front Page
Trader Horn

77. Chicago (2002)75th

Synopsis: Two death row inmates fight for fame in the hopes that it will save them from execution.
Trivia: Became the first musical since An American in Paris in 1951, to win Best Picture without also winning Best Director. It is one of only ten musicals ever to win Best Picture.
Films It Beat:
Gangs of New York
The Hours
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Pianist

76. Forrest Gump (1994)67th

Synopsis: Modern United States history acts as the backdrop for a story of a mentally challenged man as he strives to make a name for himself and win the love and admiration of a young woman he fell in love with when they were both children.
Trivia: Tom Hanks was only the fifth individual to win back-to-back acting Oscars. His Oscar for Forrest Gump was the second of his two, the prior coming for 1993’s Philadelphia. He was the first of those five individuals to win his second prize for a Best Picture winner. Only Luise Rainer received either Oscar for a Best Picture winner. Her first was for The Great Ziegfeld in 1936.
Films It Beat:
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Pulp Fiction
Quiz Show
The Shawshank Redemption

75. Oliver! (1968)41st

Synopsis: A musical adaptation of the Charles Dickens story Oliver Twist about an orphan who runs away and joins a band of pickpockets struggling to survive on the streets of London.
Trivia: Oliver! was the last musical of Hollywood’s Musical Era to win Best Picture and would remain the last such Best Picture winner for more than thirty years when Chicago won in 2002.
Films It Beat:
Funny Girl
The Lion in Winter
Rachel, Rachel
Romeo and Juliet

74. Going My Way (1944)17th

Synopsis: A young, progressive priest brings a worldly knowledge to his Roman Catholic parish reaching out to a group of youths and working hard to overcome the consternation of his parish superior.
Trivia: Going My Way remains the only film in Oscar history to have a member of its cast nominated in both acting categories, lead and supporting, for the same role. Barry Fitzgerald won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor losing Best Actor to star Bing Crosby. This is no longer possible by Academy rules.
Films It Beat:
Double Indemnity
Since You Went Away

73. Braveheart (1995)68th

Synopsis: A Scottish commoner leads a revolt against the English tyrant ruling over Scotland after the murder of his wife by a soldier who had intended to rape her.
Trivia: This was one of the few films in Oscar history to win Best Picture without a single corresponding prize from another critics or guild organization.
Films It Beat:
Apollo 13
The Postman (Il Postino)
Sense and Sensibility

72. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)9th

Synopsis: A musical extravaganza based on the life of legendary Broadway entertaining Florenz Ziegfeld, following the ups and downs of his storied career.
Trivia: The Great Ziegfeld was the first biopic to win Best Picture at the Oscars.
Films It Beat:
Anthony Adverse
Libeled Lady
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Romeo and Juliet
San Francisco
The Story of Louis Pasteur
A Tale of Two Cities
Three Smart Girls

71. Gladiator (2000)73rd

Synopsis: When he his betrayed and his family murdered, a Roman general returns from exile as a gladiator to seek revenge against the emperor’s son.
Trivia: This was the first film in almost fifty years to win Best Picture without winning an Oscar for either Best Director or one of the writing awards. The film previous film was The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952.
Films It Beat:
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Erin Brockovich

70. Gigi (1958)31st

Synopsis: A weary Parisian playboy finds friendship, and love, with a beautiful courtesan-in-training.
Trivia: For nearly 30 years, Gigi was the most Oscar-winning film in history to win awards for every nomination. The Last Emperor tied its 9 awards, a record later broken by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which went 11-for-11.
Films It Beat:
Auntie Mame
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Defiant Ones
Separate Tables

69. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)81st

Synopsis: Accused of cheating on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” a Mumbai teen explains in flashback why he knew the answers to every question he answered correctly.
Trivia: It became the first Bollywood-style film to be nominated for and to win Best Picture.
Films It Beat:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader

68. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)31st

Synopsis: This is the story of muckraking novelist Emile Zola and his attempts to fight the injustice of the Dreyfuss Affair.
Trivia: Was the first film to receive double-digit Oscar nominations: 10.
Films It Beat:
The Awful Truth
Captains Courageous
Dead End
The Good Earth
In Old Chicago
Lost Horizon
One Hundred Men and a Girl
Stage Door
A Star Is Born

67. The English Patient (1996)69th

Synopsis: A tragic love affair is revealed by a badly-burned plane crash victim as he relates the story to the young French nurse who tends his wounds.
Trivia: This Best Picture prize was the first ever won by legendary Oscar campaigner Harvey Weinstein, even though he wouldn’t receive a statuette until two years later for Shakespeare in Love.
Films It Beat:
Jerry Maguire
Secrets & Lies

66. Shakespeare in Love (1998)71st

Synopsis: Forbidden by custom and law, a female actor masquerades as a man in order to perform. She falls in love with a young playwright and becomes his inspiration for one of his most famous plays.
Trivia: This film became first Best Picture in nearly two decades to have its director nominated for Best Director and lose that prize.
Films It Beat:
Life Is Beautiful
Saving Private Ryan
The Thin Red Line

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