Every Oscar Best Picture Winner Ranked—From Worst to Best
Some Oscar Best Picture winners have been obvious shoo-ins, but others left us scratching our heads. Where do your favourite films place on our list celebrating 93 years of the Academy Awards?
93. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Did Academy voters give director Cecil B. DeMille the night’s biggest prize because they felt bad he hadn’t won any Oscars up to that point? Maybe. Is this Charlton Heston and James Stewart-led melodrama nothing more than a two-hour advertisement for circuses with a few plot lines thrown in? It sure feels that way. Is The Greatest Show on Earth the worst film to ever win Best Picture? Definitely.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: High Noon
92. Crash (2005)
Perhaps writer-director Paul Haggis really believed he was onto something with Crash, which examines racial tensions in Los Angeles from the perspectives of a Black detective, a Latino locksmith, a Persian storeowner and a white district attorney, among others. The film’s thesis—everyone is a little prejudiced—is true enough; it’s just too bad the message is delivered by glaring stereotypes (read: “characters”) through a series of laughably contrived scenarios. Matt Dillon’s nasty turn as a racist cop and Mark Isham’s evocative score are Crash‘s only bright spots.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Brokeback Mountain
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91. The Broadway Melody (1928-1929)
The Broadway Melody is important for three things: it was the first sound film to win Best Picture, it was Hollywood’s first all-talking musical, and it once featured a Technicolor sequence, sparking an industry-wide interest in colour. Historical importance aside, this story of two sisters trying to make it on Broadway is both dull and dated.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: The Broadway Melody
90. Cimarron (1930-1931)
The pre-Hays Code Cimarron was the first Western to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Set during the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush, Cimarron is impressive for its epic budget and scope. Unfortunately for modern viewers, however, there’s not much in terms of drama here.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: The Front Page
89. The Artist (2011)
Before his monumental fall from grace, Harvey Weinstein could turn utterly forgettable films into Oscar gold. Exhibit A: The Artist. This French throwback to American silent cinema was never supposed to be huge—its director, Michel Hazanavicius, and stars, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, all previously collaborated on two modest spy film parodies in France. But when Weinstein bought The Artist’s distribution rights and launched an Oscar campaign, it was game over for Academy voters, who (in 2011, at any rate) seemed to have a soft spot for mediocrity.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: The Tree of Life
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88. Cavalcade (1932-1933)
Like Cimarron before it, Cavalcade feels more like the answer to an Oscar trivia question than a film. Adapted from the Noël Coward play of the same title, it stars Diana Wynyard and Clive Brook as an upper-class couple who, along with their children and servants, experience several Earth-shattering events in the early 1900s. It’s all handsomely staged, but Cavalcade is ultimately hollow.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: 42nd Street
87. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
Around the World in 80 Days, Michael Anderson’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s beloved novel, is one of the best examples of ’50s Hollywood pomp: 140 sets, 69,000 extras, 75,000 costumes and more than 40 celebrity cameos. The result? Profoundly empty fun.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: The Ten Commandments
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86. Argo (2012)
Argo is not a terrible film—this true story of CIA agents attempting to smuggle American diplomats out of Tehran manages some suspenseful moments. But its real problem—other than the fact that it gives virtually no credit to Canada’s part in the real-life mission—is that it’s so painfully average. We do have Argo to thank for Ben Affleck’s late-career resurgence, however—for better or worse.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Zero Dark Thirty
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85. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, the decades-spanning Driving Miss Daisy tells the story of a wealthy Jewish widow (Jessica Tandy) and her Black driver (Morgan Freeman); the pair form an unlikely bond during a period of dramatic social change. Driving Miss Daisy has the uncanny ability to tug on the heartstrings; it also makes for incredibly naive entertainment.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Dead Poets Society
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84. Green Book (2018)
In this mawkish tribute to friendship and racial tolerance, Italian bouncer Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) becomes the chauffeur for Black pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) during his 1962 concert tour of the Deep South. Unfortunately, Green Book is far more interested in Vallelonga’s redemption than Shirley’s suffering, forcing Shirley to take a backseat in his own true story. Green Book may be a reverse Driving Miss Daisy, but it’s equally as vapid.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: A Star Is Born
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83. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
A mildly entertaining biopic of the famous Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell), whose theatrical revues, the Ziegfeld Follies, ran from 1907 to 1931. Myrna Loy is memorable as his wife, Billie Burke, as is Luise Rainer in a role that won her an Academy Award. Unfortunately, gloss and glitter don’t equate Best Picture.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Mr. Deeds Go to Town
82. Out of Africa (1985)
Even Meryl Streep and Robert Redford can’t save Sydney Pollack’s superficial Out of Africa, based on the acclaimed memoir of the same name. It might have seemed impossible to make a film about a woman’s adventures and revelations in Kenya boring, but Out of Africa manages to do just that. At least the East African landscapes are gorgeous…
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Witness
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81. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
Good news: a plot line from the film—the real-life jailing of Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery officer of Jewish descent, on bogus treason charges—is one of Hollywood’s first attempts to address anti-Semitism. Bad news: The Life of Emile Zola would be much better if it were The Life of Alfred Dreyfus instead.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: The Awful Truth
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80. The Shape of Water (2017)
In Guillermo del Toro’s throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood, a mute cleaning lady (Sally Hawkins) falls in love with a humanoid amphibian at a top-secret research facility. While The Shape of Water is indeed a technical marvel, its exploration of weighty themes—Cold War politics, sexual identity, disability—is awfully simplistic. It’s nice to see weird films like The Shape of Water win big at the Oscars, but a weirder love story deserved the golden statue more…
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Phantom Thread
79. American Beauty (1999)
In the wake of allegations against Kevin Spacey, it may be difficult to watch American Beauty. But this tale of an ad exec’s infatuation with his teen daughter’s best friend was always uncomfortable—that screenwriter Alan Ball excuses his character’s unlawful desires by making sure to tell the audience the best friend is promiscuous doesn’t help matters. Other aspects of American Beauty haven’t aged well either, although Annette Bening’s performance remains a revelation.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: The Sixth Sense
78. Dances with Wolves (1990)
Kevin Costner was America’s Sweetheart when he directed, produced and starred in Dances with Wolves, which tells the story of a Union army lieutenant who befriends Sioux Indians on the frontier. While credited with revitalizing the then-tired Western genre and boasting stellar performances from Mary McDonnell and Graham Greene, Dances with Wolves is perhaps the most famous example of Hollywood’s “white saviour” trope. And it’s yet another case of a merely OK movie beating out an all-time classic for the coveted Best Picture.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: GoodFellas
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77. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
It’s easy to see what made audiences and Academy voters fall in love with A Beautiful Mind back in 2001—Russell Crowe, for starters, was on top of the world, and it’s really fun to watch really smart people doing really smart things. Still, it’s hard to accept A Beautiful Mind’s deeply formulaic take on mathematician John Forbes Nash’s struggle with schizophrenia, despite a few strong performances.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: In the Bedroom
76. Oliver! (1968)
“Please sir, I want some more.” Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist is so famous a novel, even those who haven’t read it are familiar with the tale of a plucky orphan who falls in league with a ragtag bunch of London pickpockets. Still, even a master filmmaker like Carol Reed can’t save this song-and-dance schlock. You’d better love the songs, because that’s pretty much all there is to Oliver!.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: The Lion in Winter
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75. Rain Man (1988)
The best thing about Rain Man is its poster. This overlong, I-guess-it’s-supposed-to-be-inspirational story of a yuppie car dealer (Tom Cruise) who goes on a road trip with his autistic savant brother (Dustin Hoffman) won big at the 61st Academy Awards. Rain Man‘s biggest cultural impact? It popularized the misconception that card counting is illegal in the U.S. Hoffman’s career peaked with Rain Man, but fortunately, Cruise (who played the more difficult role of the two) would go on to do bigger, better and more mature things.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Dangerous Liaisons
74. Going My Way (1944)
Bing Crosby stars as Father Chuck O’Malley, a happy-go-lucky priest who takes over a rundown parish, attempts to please the cantankerous Father Fitzgibbon, and organizes a choir for a local gang of troubled youths. Director Leo McCarey’s film is often delightful, but its saccharine sentimentality can be too much for some.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Double Indemnity
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73. Gigi (1958)
Vincente Minnelli directed this Parisian musical about a wealthy playboy (Louis Jourdan) who falls in love with the titular courtesan (Leslie Caron) against a backdrop of Lerner and Loewe tunes. Gigi commits a cinematic cardinal sin: it’s forgettable. In its favour, the stunning location filming will likely have you looking up the next flights to Paris.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
72. Braveheart (1995)
Big on spectacle but lacking in emotional depth or complexity, Braveheart was Mel Gibson’s directorial “I have arrived” moment. His take on legendary warrior William Wallace, who led the wars of Scottish independence against the British, played a huge role in bringing Wallace’s legend to the mainstream. While an impressive technical effort, Braveheart is a wildly uneven movie.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Sense and Sensibility
71. The King’s Speech (2010)
Ah, another Weinstein picture… Are you noticing a pattern? Held together by memorable performances and exquisite attention to period detail, this retelling of the relationship between the stammering King George VI and his speech therapist is an ode to the pleasures of good old-fashioned storytelling. There’s nothing wrong with giving Best Picture to crowd-pleasers like The King’s Speech—it just so happens that voters overlooked the best biopic of the decade…
What Should Have Won Best Picture: The Social Network
70. The Sting (1973)
George Roy Hill’s The Sting made $160 million at the box office; adjusted for inflation, that’s a whopping $800 million! It’s certainly not hard to understand what drew audiences to this comedy caper about two con artists trying to outsmart a mob boss. What’s less understandable is how the charms of Paul Newman and Robert Redford beat out the stiff competition. Also nominated that year were The Exorcist, a horror landmark; Cries and Whispers, an international arthouse classic; and American Graffiti, the movie that put George Lucas on the map.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: The Exorcist
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69. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Never mind the fact that Shakespeare in Love beat out two of the greatest war films ever made for Hollywood’s most prized statue—it wasn’t even the best Elizabethan drama nominated that year! Sure, the whimsical romance between the Bard of Avon and the fictitious Viola de Lesseps is lovely to watch, and its approach in adapting Shakespeare to the big screen is inventive, but Best Picture of 1998 it certainly is not.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Saving Private Ryan
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68. You Can’t Take It with You (1938)
Frank Capra was on a roll when he directed You Can’t Take It With You, an adaptation of a successful Broadway play and the first film to have a director’s name preceding the title. Unfortunately, its mixture of light and dark subject matter feels like a warm-up for Capra’s real masterpiece, It’s A Wonderful Life.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Grand Illusion
67. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Clark Gable stars as Fletcher Christian, first mate of the HMS Bounty, who leads a mutiny against the psychotic Captain William Bligh (Charles Laughton) after he causes the death of the ship’s doctor. Frank Lloyd’s Mutiny on the Bounty was a box office smash, helped solidify Gable’s star in Hollywood, and is perhaps the best adaptation of this oft-told tale.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Top Hat
66. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
Gregory Peck stars a journalist who poses as a Jew to write a series of articles on anti-Semitism, eventually experiencing racism firsthand in forms both overt and subtle. An early example of the “issue” movies that the Academy often favours to this day, Gentleman’s Agreement escapes potential pitfalls by making a few sharp insights on bigotry.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Great Expectations
65. Chicago (2002)
Rob Marshall is synonymous with larger-than-life stories and exciting choreography. In his feature film debut (another Weinstein production), Marshall gathered Hollywood’s top actors (Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere) to retell the story of a chorus dancer who murders her lover and achieves nationwide notoriety. Its lampooning of the American justice system and celebrity culture is entertaining, but it was facing better competition at the 75th Academy Awards.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: The Pianist
64. My Fair Lady (1964)
Four musicals won Best Picture during the 1960s, and George Cukor’s My Fair Lady is the second-worst of the bunch. It’s worth watching for the always-lovely Audrey Hepburn and the lavish costumes, but song-and-dance shouldn’t have trumped the greatest satirical film of the decade—and maybe of all time.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Dr. Strangelove
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63. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep (who inexplicably won in the Best Supporting Actress category for a role that was essentially a lead) play a couple who go through a painful separation, leaving Hoffman’s character to pick up the pieces. Writer-director Robert Benton’s Kramer vs. Kramer is credited with helping change public opinion on gender roles. While culturally significant, it also happened to steal the Best Picture trophy from one of the greatest achievements in film history…
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Apocalypse Now
62. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Chariots of Fire follows two runners competing in the 1924 Paris Olympics: a Christian Scotsman (Ian Charleson) and an English Jew (Ben Cross), the latter facing anti-Semitism. The Academy Awards have long been criticized for awarding self-congratulatory and inoffensive films, and this checks both of those boxes. How many people would remember Chariots of Fire four decades later if not for its Vangelis soundtrack?
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Raiders of the Lost Ark
61. Wings (1927-1928)
Two WWI pilots compete for the affections of a nurse in Wings, the very first film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. The film plays surprisingly well when seen today… If you’re watching it for the spectacular dogfights and not for the overwrought love triangle, that is. But just as Wings helped sustain the superstardom of Twenties “it-girl” Clara Bow, it also helped launch the career of Gary Cooper, who appears in a small role.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: 7th Heaven
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60. Grand Hotel (1931-1932)
The lives of a jewel thief (John Barrymore), a Russian ballerina (Greta Garbo) and a stenographer (Joan Crawford) intersect in comic, but ultimately unconvincing ways in this Irving Thalberg production. And that’s just a third of the characters in the film! Grand Hotel‘s main claim to fame? An iconic line delivered by Garbo: “I want to be alone.”
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Shanghai Express
59. An American in Paris (1951)
The lack of narrative discipline in this Vincente Minnelli musical is overshadowed by a lavish, 17-minute ballet sequence featuring Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly. An American in Paris, however, is neither Kelly nor Minnelli’s best musical, and when it comes down to it, a melodrama starring a guy named Brando was more deserving of Best Picture…
What Should Have Won Best Picture: A Streetcar Named Desire
58. The English Patient (1996)
In the Seinfeld episode “The English Patient,” which aired 11 days before The English Patient won Best Picture, Elaine’s hatred of the film alienates everyone around her. Granted, The English Patient is easier to admire than it is to actually like, but it sure doesn’t deserve to be loathed either. Anthony Minghella’s box office smash—featuring beautiful landscapes and strong turns by Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas and Juliette Binoche—is a throwback to the sweeping romances of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Fargo
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57. Marty (1955)
Running just 94 minutes, Delbert Mann’s Marty is still the shortest film to win Best Picture—and possibly one of the least orthodox choices for the night’s biggest prize. Written by Paddy Chayefsky, this modest tale of a good-natured but loveless butcher (Ernest Borgnine) and the shy schoolteacher he falls for (Betsy Blair) is one of the more moving examples of kitchen-sink realism.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Marty