The moment I decided to rank all previous 93 Oscar winners I immediately regretted my decision and the task at hand. This is insane! Imagine seriously ranking all the winners on your own. Some movie enthusiasts and critics do lists like this as part of a team. A consensus is always great in terms of getting it reasonably right. Interestingly, I’ve seen dozens of lists online and I wonder how many of these websites and their writers have actually seen all these films? Anyway who am I to judge, right? But what I will say is that I’ve actually seen all these movies. More than half of these at least twice and a select group too many times to remember.
For the purposes of this article I’ve relied upon what I remember about each film. I’m seriously not going to sit through watching all 93 movies again. Though I will admit I’ve rewatched at least 10 movies from this list in recent weeks to help me assess where they should sit on this list. Interestingly, there is a consensus no matter where I poke my nose that Crash (2004) and The Greatest Show On Earth (1952) deserve their place as two of the worst best picture Oscar winners of all-time. Honestly, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never fully understood the appeal of Crash. It beat out Brokeback Mountain, Good Night and Good Luck, Capote and Munich in 2005. In my opinion Brokeback Mountain should have won but didn’t that year.
In some sense the Academy is often blinded by prejudices, backslapping and how and who actually gets to vote. So if you are a best picture winner at the Oscars, it doesn’t always necessarily translate to a film being one of the best of all time. In surveys and polls by critics, directors and the public for instances films like Bicycle Thieves, Citizen Kane, Vertigo and Tokyo Story and 2001: A Space Odyssey are often highly praised as the greatest of all time. And interestingly, none of these are best picture winners! But anyway here below is how I would roughly rank all the official best picture winners in the Academy’s history so far. Enjoy!
93. Crash (2005)
92. Cimarron (1931)
91. The Greatest Show On Earth (1952)
90. Shakespeare in Love (1998).
89. Greenbook (2018).
88. Out of Africa (1985).
87. Around the World in 80 Days (1956).
86. Gigi (1958).
85. The Broadway Melody (1930).
84. Cavalcade (1933).
83. The Artist (2011).
82. The Life of Emile Zola (1937).
81. The Great Ziegfred (1936).
80. West Side Story (1961).
79. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935).
78. A Man For All Seasons (1966).
77. Argo (2012).
76. The King’s Speech (2010).
75. Driving Miss Daisy (1989).
74. Chicago (2002).
73. Tom Jones (1963).
72. Going My Way (1944).
71. All the King’s Men (1949).
70. You Cant Take It With You (1938).
69. Marty (1956).
68. Mrs. Miniver (1942).
67. Hamlet (1948).
66. An American In Paris (1951).
65. My Fair Lady (1964).
64. The English Patient (1996).
63. American Beauty (1999).
62. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).
61. Wings (1927).
60. From Here To Eternity (1953).
59. Ordinary People (1980).
58. Terms of Endearment (1983).
57. Moonlight (2016).
56. Rocky (1976).
55. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014).
54. The Lost Weekend (1945).
53. Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
52. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947).
51. Nomadland (2020).
50. Dances with Wolves (1990).
49. Titanic (1997).
48. Gladiator (2000).
47. Ben Hur (1959).
46. Patton (1970).
45. The Last Emperor (1985).
44. Gandhi (1982).
43. In the Heat of the Night (1967).
42. Chariots of Fire (1981).
41. Gone With The Wind (1939).
40. Grand Hotel (1932).
39. 12 Years a Slave (2013).
38. Parasite (2019)
37. Spotlight (2015)
36. Forrest Gump (1994)
35. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
34. The Hurt Locker (2009)
33. Braveheart (1995)
32. The Sound of Music (1965)
31. The Departed (2006)
30. Oliver! (1968)
29. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
28. Rain Man (1988).
27. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).
26. The Deer Hunter (1978).
25. The Sting (1973).
24. The Apartment (1960).
23. All About Eve (1950).
22. Annie Hall (1977).
21. Million Dollar Baby (2004).
20. The Shape of Water (2017).
19. Midnight Cowboy (1969).
18. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).
17. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).
16. How Green Was My Valley (1941).
15. Rebecca (1940).
14. On The Waterfront (1954).
13. The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
12. Unforgiven (1992).
11. The French Connection (1971).
10. The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003).
9. Platoon (1986).
8. It Happened One Night (1934).
7. The Godfather Part II (1974).
6. No Country for Old Men (2007).
5. The Godfather (1972).
4. Amadeus (1984).
3. Schindler’s List (1993).
2. Casablanca (1942).
1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
If I am to briefly comment about just one film on this list, let’s talk about Lawrence of Arabia. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards in 1963, in which it eventually won 7, including Best Picture and Best Director. Its huge canvas is so striking, its story so completely enthralling that I dare you not to be impressed by David Lean’s masterpiece. “It was a miracle”, director Steven Spielberg once said, devouring every single frame as an inspiration to his development as a filmmakers. Spielberg especially loved the transition of scenes. One scene, in particular, caught his eye and has managed to stay with him his whole life. It involves an elegant shot of actor Peter O’Toole as Lawrence blowing out a match, which cuts straight to a gorgeous Arabian sunrise with a sweeping musical score to boot. I dare say it rivals Kubrick’s opening sequence with the sun rising over the Earth and the moon in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Everything about Lawrence of Arabia is seemingly perfect and even at over three and half hours long it never feels like it drags. Still to this day I feel like Lawrence of Arabia is a high point of filmmaking. Everything that has come after it owes some sort of debt to it.
This was quite an undertaking, and when I first saw the notification, I thought you might be discussing every single film! That would have been a herculean task, and one I’m relieved you avoided. I generally agree with many of your rankings, and would most definitely place “Lawrence of Arabia” on top (it’s my #2 all-time favorite film, after “The Wizard of Oz”. I also agree that “Crash” was the worst film to win Best Picture, and am still angry it beat out “Brokeback Mountain”. Here are my 10 favorite Best Picture winning films (not necessarily the best from a critical standpoint):
1. Lawrence of Arabia
2. All About Eve
4. Gone With the Wind
5. The Best Years of Our Lives
6. The Apartment
7. In the Heat of the Night
8. Terms of Endearment
9. Annie Hall
10. Schindler’s List (a great film, but one that I cannot watch again)
Thanks for your contribution Jeff. I definitely couldn’t bring myself to commenting on every single best picture. That’s what comments are for and I hope readers can debate my list here.
Yeah yeah, I respect everyone’s opinion and all, but the correct list is:
1. The Deer Hunter
2. Dances With Wolves
3. No Country For Old Men
4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
6. Bridge on the River Kwai
7. Rain Man
8. The Departed
9. French Connection
And really I just phoned in the last 5 🤷♂️
I’m thrilled you agree Platoon deserves a top ten spot. I’m curious why The Deer Hunter at no.1?
I could probably write a dissertation on the Deer Hunter being the greatest movie ever made…and probably will one day…but simply, in addition to its most famous scene being the most suspenseful scene in any movie, the film itself sort of moves like a fever dream. We’ve all had dreams that were so powerful that they affect our day, but we can’t quite explain them, so we stay silent about them. I think this is why so few people talk about this movie despite it being so undeniably powerful. It’s an experience. Plus I find director Michael Cimino to be one of the most interesting and mysterious persons in Hollywood history.
That’s the only way I can describe it 🤷♂️
Your list is fairly close to Robert’s. While I like most of the films you chose, most are too violent for me to want to watch again. Regarding “Rain Man”, while I’m generally a fan of Dustin Hoffman, I thought his performance in that film was just a bunch of overacting. The one who deserved an award for having to basically carry the film was Tom Cruise.
Oh yeah! Totally! It’s actually nice to see Tom Cruise actually ACT
I thoroughly enjoyed the list!
I haven’t seen enough of these to comment intelligently. I’ve never seen Rebecca, although I love the book – that still of Miss Danvers is pretty amazing.
West Side Story & The English Patient would be much higher on my list. Titanic is very overrated and Rain Man though pulls at heartstrings is very imperfect film, indeed, so is Rebecca. Casablanca is my least favourite of all. I have noticed that your top 20 films definitely involve some sort of “male psyche examination” and your bottom 20 have many which most would describe “sentimental love stories”. That definitely reflects the state of male-dominated film industry, of course, but still, unpleasant.
That’s an astute assessment but not a deliberate act of sabotage on my part with the films that made my top 20. The three romance-based movies that did make my top 20 are deserving and it could have been maybe one or two more. I love romantic films like Moonstruck, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotness Mind, Silver Lining Playbook, Roman Holiday and Doctor Zhivago, which are all highly praised films but unfortunately they didn’t qualify for this list.
I’m glad I found someone who did this particular ranking. I’m currently in the process of watching all remaining Best Picture winners. I only have 11 left and I’ll probably rank them all as well. Your list is very interesting given what I’ve seen so far. I’d be curious to know how CODA ranks on your list.
The temptation is to give it a lofty position because it is still fresh in our minds. It’s an emotive film that definitely ticks all the right boxes. I’m not sure it has timeless hallmarks. I guess for now let’s wait and see until I revisit it maybe next year.
Fair enough. I’m probably gonna rate it pretty high, because it hits just the right note.
I look forward to your list.