Since the first radio broadcasted Academy Awards ceremony, movie fans have tuned in each year to see which film will come out on top as Best Picture. But grouping together top-tier movies bodes the question: which Best Picture is actually the best?
From the not-so-great The Broadway Melody to the magnificent non-English film Parasite, here are some of the Best Picture winners who deserved the award and some that didn’t.
Did Not: Around The World In 80 Days
The comedy film Around the World in 80 Days proved that a movie doesn’t have to have a lot going for it to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, which this particular film did during the 29th Academy Awards.
Starring David Niven as the lead character, the picture really does nothing more than featuring a very cheery English guy who bets he can travel the globe in under three months. It’s nothing special.
Did: The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
At the 76th Academy Awards Ceremony, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King won all 11 of its nominations, including Best Picture, making it the first fantasy film to win in that category.
Between its visual achievements, special effects, crowning storyline, and solid 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the final installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy more than earned its place among history’s Best Picture winners.
Did Not: The Great Ziegfeld
At the time of its release, The Great Ziegfeld’s extravagance enchanted movie-goers and film critics alike. During the 9th Academy Award Ceremony, the film wound up winning Best Picture, beating the likes of Romeo and Juliet, San Francisco, and even A Tale of Two Cities.
Coming back to the film years later, critics believe the film actually relies so much on its extravagance, the reason why people loved it in the first place, to cover up its dull plotline.
Did: Gone With The Wind
In 1939, the epic Gone With the Wind was released to the silver screen. The hours-long movie was unlike anything ever put on screen, and it wound up winning eight Academy Awards for its efforts, including Best Picture.
The film is still considered to be a historical masterpiece, beautifully shot, and wonderfully acted. Recent reviews have said that even though Vivien Leigh and Rhett Butler were spectacular, the writing was tasteless, and the dialogue was flowery. Even so, it still deserved to win Best Picture.
Did Not: Shakespeare In Love
Even though it won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 71st Academy Award Ceremony, Shakespeare in Love didn’t necessarily earn the prestigious golden statue. A strange mix between a Shakespearean biopic and a love story, the film never found a solid footing for a plot.
There was even controversy over the win since Saving Private Ryan was clearly the critic’s favorite that year. Even so, Shakespeare in Love wound up winning.
Did: The Shape Of Water
During the 90th Academy Awards, The Shape of Water became the second-ever fantasy film ever to win Best Picture. The Guillermo del Toro film was visually stimulating, with an unlikely character who falls in love with a more unlikely specimen.
With a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, this particular Best Picture is one of the most highly-praised Oscar-winners in history. Peter Travers of The Rolling Stones said, “Del Toro is a world-class film artist. There’s no sense trying to analyze how he does it.”
Did Not: Cavalcade
Set from New Year’s Eve 1899 to New Year’s Day 1933, the film Cavalcade has good bones to work with but doesn’t really deliver. Well, at least to viewers, considering it wound up winning the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1934.
With a 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, the critical consensus regarding the movie reads, “Though solidly acted and pleasant to look at, Cavalcade lacks cohesion, and sacrifices true emotion for mawkishness.”
Did: Forrest Gump
The comedy-drama Forrest Gump wound up winning a solid six Academy Awards during the 67th ceremony, including Best Picture and a Best Actor award for Tom Hanks. While many critics didn’t particularly enjoy the slow-talking title character, a majority of reviews were positive.
Film critic Roger Ebert might have said it best, stating, “The performance is a breathtaking balancing act between comedy and sadness, in a story rich in big laughs and quiet truths…What a magical movie.”
Did Not: The Broadway Melody
At the second-ever Academy Award ceremony, the 1929 “talkie” The Broadway Melody won Best Picture. The thing is, this particular film has no right to be included in the growing group of Best Picture films.
While the film was considered a huge feat for the film industry, incorporating talking, singing, and dancing, it doesn’t detract from the less than stellar acting. There is a reason why The Broadway Melody has a solid 33% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Did: The Departed
The crime thriller The Departed was the unlikely winner of the 79th Academy Awards, beating out the likes of Little Miss Sunshine and Letters from Iwo Jima for Best Picture. Starring Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Matt Damon, the Martin Scorsese film deserved all of its praise.
Keeping viewers on their toes from start to finish, the mob film proved that even thriller films deserve golden statues and a place amongst the greatest films of all time.
Did Not: The Greatest Show On Earth
Remember how it became a pseudo-joke that Leonardo DiCaprio always got snubbed at the Oscars, eventually winning for what viewers thought to be not his best work? Well, the same can be said for Cecil B. DeMille’s film resume and eventual Oscar win.
After directing films such as Cleopatra, Samson and Delilah, and The King of Kings, DeMille finally had a film win Best Picture in The Greatest Show on Earth, a forgettable three-ring circus experience on the silver screen.
Did: Going My Way
At the 17th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony, the film Going My Way won seven out of its ten nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Bing Crosby. The musical was wildly praised, especially Crosby’s tailor-made character.
One critic writing for Variety wrote, “Bing Crosby gets a tailor-made role in Going My Way, and with major assistance from Barry Fitzgerald and Rise Stevens, clicks solidly to provide top-notch entertainment for wide audience appeal.”
Did Not: Out Of Africa
Nothing is “horribly wrong” with the epic romantic film Out of Africa. The cinematography is actually beautiful. The acting of leads Meryl Streep and Robert Redford is top-notch; it’s just that the narrative is so slow-paced that viewers might fall asleep before the final credits roll.
That didn’t deter the Academy from awarding the film the Best Picture statuette at the 58th Academy Awards. Years after the ceremony, film critic James Berardinelli is still baffled about Out of Africa’s win.
A startling funny biopic about the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the 1984 film Amadeus became the Best Picture winner at the 57th Academy Awards ceremony. Starring Tom Hulce as the title character and Murray Abraham as the reluctant narrator, the movie shows what brilliant storytelling is capable of.
Some critics believed the film to be risky, as frame filming techniques weren’t necessarily common in the 80s. In the end, Amadeus was brilliant, charming, and more than deserving of its Bets Picture win.
Did Not: Crash
Just because a film has an all-star cast with talents such as Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, and Ludacris, to name a few, doesn’t mean the plot is great. This just so happens to be the case for Crash, the Best Picture-winner at the 78th Academy Awards.
The interweaving stories skirt around the big-picture issues the film is trying to tackle, making it a bit shallow. The film beat the heavily favored Brokeback Mountain, too.
Did: Million Dollar Baby
Hillary Swank literally came out swinging in Million Dollar Baby. What was marketed as a female Rocky turned out to be something emotionally raw, dark, and completely different from any previous boxing flick, especially the Rocky franchise.
Considered one of the best films to come out of 2004, Million Dollar Baby deserved every award it received, including a Best Picture award and a Best Actress award for Swank during the 77th Academy Awards.
Did Not: The Sound Of Music
The 1965 film The Sound of Music might be considered a classic, but it received mixed reviews upon its release. Film critic Pauline Kael even went as far as calling the movie “the sugar-coated lie people seem to want to eat…[we] turned into emotional and aesthetic imbeciles when we hear ourselves humming the sickly, goody-goody songs.”
But one bad review didn’t sway the academy, and the movie and its catchy songs wound up winning the Best Picture award at the 1966 ceremony. Even so, it might not have been Best Picture-worthy.
Did: Dances With Wolves
In his directorial debut, Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves wound up winning the Academy Award for Best Picture during the 63rd annual ceremony. The film proved to be immensely popular with fans and critics alike, garnering positive reviews for its cinematography and acting. It even made an impact on the Sioux Nation.
The film ended up being one of the most highly-regarded and honored films of 1990, deserving of each and every one of its accolades.
Did Not: Platoon
Upon its 1986 release, Platoon received positive praise and critical acclaim, namely Oliver Stone’s direction, the cinematography, the lead performances, and the realistic nature of the battles. The following year, during the 59th Academy Awards, Platoon won Best Picture.
But that doesn’t mean it earned the award. While the film is critically acclaimed, some, such as critic Pauline Kael, believe “that Stone takes too many melodramatic shortcuts… it doesn’t leave you room for an honest emotion.”
In 1959, the biblical epic Ben-Hur was released to the silver screen. Almost instantly, the movie became a classic, illustrating the pure excitement and drama that Hollywood is able to bring to life on the screen.
With overwhelmingly positive reviews upon its release, it really came as little surprise when it was announced that Ben-Hur had won Best Picture, along with another ten Oscars, during the 32nd Annual Academy Awards ceremony in 1960.
Did Not: The Hurt Locker
The 2009 war thriller The Hurt Locker is raw, showcasing soldiers’ psychological reactions during and after combat. In this particular case, the Iraq War Explosive Ordnance Disposal team. While the movie earned all of its praise and accolades, saying it deserved the Academy Award for Best Picture during the 82nd Academy Awards would be a lie.
The film went up against James Cameron’s Avatar, the animated film Up, and even District 9. Amazingly, Hurt Locker came out on top.
In 2020, Parasite made history by becoming the first-ever non-English language film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The South Korean black comedy is a magnificent piece, showcasing the absurd lengths a family will go to in order to secure their ideal lifestyle.
A solid 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, critic A.O Scott wrote, “[Parasite‘s] wildly entertaining, the kind of smart, generous, aesthetically energized movie that obliterates the tired distinctions between art films and popcorn movies.”
Did Not: The English Patient
The English Patient might have garnered positive reviews and critical acclaim, but that doesn’t mean it deserved the Best Picture award at the 69th Academy Awards. Said to be powerful and moving, the film really is nothing more than hours upon hours of the main character telling his life story before the war in a series of flashbacks.
The only thing is the story drags and involves the main character having an affair with a married woman. Arguably, this film had no place beating Fargo for Best Picture.
Did: Silence Of The Lambs
The psychological thriller Silence Of The Lambs ran away with awards during the 64th Academy Awards ceremony, and the film deserved every single one, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director.
Expertly skirting between a psychological study of serial killers and an all-out horror film, Silence of the Lambs is widely considered to be a masterpiece of the genre, as seen by its multi-Oscar wins. Upon its win, the film was the first in the genre to win Best Picture.
Did: Kramer Vs. Kramer
The 1979 film Kramer vs. Kramer was a bit ahead of its time. Showcasing the story of the legal battling going on between a divorced couple, the film illustrates issues surrounding gender roles, father’s vs. mother’s rights, women’s rights, single parenting, and even work-life balance.
It was a critical and commercial success, garnering more than a few positive reviews from big-named critics like Roger Ebert. The film wound up winning Best Picture at the 1980 Oscars.
Did: West Side Story
Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the film adaptation of Broadway’s West Side Story made history during the 34th Academy Awards, winning 11 awards, including Best Picture. It is currently the most decorated musical in the history of the ceremony.
According to more than one film critic, West Side Story was a huge feat for Hollywood musicals, bringing together spectacularly dazzling cinematography, thrilling camera work, and superb production design to amplify an already magnificent story.
When Titanic was released in 1997, people were spellbound by the tragic love story between Rose and Jack, not to mention the special effects that make the picture a marvel of its time.
Even film critic Roger Ebert said, “It is flawlessly crafted, intelligently constructed, strongly acted, and spellbinding… Movies like this are not merely difficult to make at all, but almost impossible to make well.” Titanic wholeheartedly deserved its 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, during the 70th Academy Awards.
Did: Rain Man
The stellar on-screen chemistry between Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise propelled Rain Man straight to the winners circle at the 61st Academy Awards, earning a golden statue for Best Picture and even the Best Actor award for Hoffman.
The story of two estranged brothers on a cross-country road trip is a familiar storyline. Still, Rain Man brings different aspects into the plot, including the fact that Hoffman’s character is autistic; and Cruise’s character is money hungry and wants to take their late father’s multi-million dollar estate away from him. It’s quite moving.
Out of ten nominated films, Casablanca took home the Academy Award for Best Picture during the 16th annual ceremony in 1944. A classic, Casablanca is now considered one of those films everyone has to see at least once in their life.
One of the most beloved films to come out of the Hollywood Golden Age, Casablanca’s engrossing story, top-notch acting, and emotional dialogue peg it as one of the best films of all time, deserving of its Best Picture award. Here’s to looking at your award, kid.
In 1940, Alfred Hitchcock stunned movie-goers with his first-ever American project, the psychological thriller Rebecca. The gothic tale was a smashing success, garnering both critical and commercial praise for its suspenseful story, brilliant acting, and marvelous direction by Hitchcock.
During the 13th Academy Awards, Rebecca wound up beating out multiple critically acclaimed films, including The Great Dictator, The Grapes of Wrath, Our Town, and even The Philadelphia Story for Best Picture. In the end, Rebecca hands down deserved the award that year.