Let’s be honest, the Academy Awards isn’t the most reliable source when it comes to what movies are the best of the year. First of all, the voters are mostly older white men. There is not enough diversity and gender equality. These are problems that continue to this day. Just take a look at the 2016 Academy Award nominations. There have been some amazing movies that never won best picture. Citizen Kane, Chinatown, and Pulp Fiction just to name a few. Some would say that a list of the best movies that never won Best Picture would be a better list than 10 best movies that did. But I’m an optimist. I like to think that there still is good things about the Academy Awards. It’s a great way to learn more about films. It’s a celebration of all that was great over the past year in film. And there have been times when a movie came along that was so good, that everyone could agree that it would win best picture. These 10 films have stood the test of time and are considered some of the greatest movies ever. So without further ado, here are the 10 greatest movies that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Honorable Mentions: It Happened One Night, All About Eve, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Apartment, Ben-Hur, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, The Last Emperor, No Country For Old Men
10. The Silence of the Lambs – 1991
The Silence of the Lambs did the unthinkable back in 1992 and won the Academy Award for Best Picture as a horror movie. This movie is not only super scary, but also extremely well made. The directing is top notch, and the performances are some of the best you will ever see. This movie came out almost 25 years ago, and is still very scary. This has a lot to do with the performance Anthony Hopkins gives as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. This is considered one of the great performances of all time, and Hannibal Lecter is considered one of the great movie villains ever. This movie also has another great villain in Buffalo Bill, played by the underrated Ted Levine. Talking about this film, you cannot leave out Jodie Foster’s performance either. The cat and mouse game between her character and Hopkin’s character in the film is truly magnificent to watch. This movie not only won Best Picture, but also Best Actor, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, and Director. There is no question this film should have won best picture in 1992. It is constantly parodied and even spawned the critically acclaimed TV show Hannibal.
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one for the ages. All three movies are great on their own, and were released back to back to back in 2001, 2002, and 2003. I will never forget watching these movies in theaters as a young teen. The effects are flawless. The performances are great. And it features some of the greatest battle scenes you will ever see on screen. Peter Jackson does an amazing job re-creating J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional world before our very eyes. Watching these movies, you really feel like you are part of this extraordinary world with all these unique and interesting characters. But it was the very last movie of the trilogy that finally got that Best Picture award at the Academy Awards. By the way, it also won 10 other awards going 11 for 11 and tying the record for most wins ever at the Academy Awards. The Return of the King has AMAZING moments throughout its 3 hour and 21 minute run time. The extended cut is 250 minutes!! Yes it is super long, and yes it has a lot of endings, but of course it will be, because there is so much story arch to wrap up, and so many different characters to give a send off to. The Return of the King is an incredible film and very well deserves a spot on this list.
8. Annie Hall – 1977
This is a very different movie from The Return of the King. Released back in 1977, to this day it is still considered one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time. Woody Allen wrote and directed this movie, and it is considered his masterpiece. Very few movies do a better job realistically showcasing how a relationship really happens between a man and a woman. Most romantic movies have the couple finally getting together, and the movie just ends. With Annie Hall, you really get all the ups and downs of this relationship. The chemistry between the two lead characters is fantastic. This movie breaks all the romantic movie cliche rules. And also breaks the fourth wall multiple times which leads to some truly hilarious scenes. It wouldn’t be right to leave out the character with which the movie gets its name. Diane Keaton lives and breathes Annie Hall, and won Best Actress at the Academy Awards for her performance. Annie Hall also won Best Original Screenplay and Directing. Annie Hall was an incredibly original film at it’s time and still holds up to this day.
7. On the Waterfront – 1954
On the Waterfront dominated the Academy Awards the year it took home the top prize for Best Picture. It won 8 Academy Awards, and was nominated for 12 total. The directing, writing, and cinematography are all great, but it’s the acting in this film that truly stands out. A total of five actors were nominated for Academy Awards, and two of them took home a trophy. Including Marlon Brando, who was INCREDIBLE in this film. Okay, Brando is a very controversial guy don’t get me wrong. There are times where he is not really trying and you can obviously tell in some of his performances. He actually came to the set of Apocalypse Now over-weight and unprepared. But when he really puts all his effort into a performance, it is truly a sight to see. On the Waterfront is a perfect example of this, and Brando gives it everything he has. Brando’s famous “I coulda been a contendah” speech is easily one of the iconic movie scenes in the history of cinema. The characters feel so real in this movie, and that’s due to the amazing writing and acting. On the Waterfront is the kind of movie that is shown in film schools and teaches students how to make a film the right way.
6. Schindler’s List – 1992
Steven Spielberg made some unforgettable classics like Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T., before he made Schindler’s List, but it was with Schindler’s List where he finally won Best Picture and Best Director for one of his movies. There has never been a movie, and there never will be one, that realistically showed the brutality and horror of the Holocaust as well as Schindler’s List. This is a very hard movie to sit through and watch, because it is just so real. This movie is extremely well made and I think is Spielberg’s masterpiece. The black and white cinematography was a perfect choice, because it really symbolizes the bleak, hopelessness of this tragic event in history. Also the use of color in this film is very smart and unforgettable. This movie introduced a lot of people to Liam Neeson, who gives an underrated performance as Oskar Schindler. Ralph Fiennes is also great in this movie. Schindler’s List won a total of seven Academy Awards, and will continue to be discussed and praised for decades, maybe even centuries.
5. The Godfather: Part II – 1974
Best. Sequel. Ever. The Godfather: Part II is the first sequel ever to win Best Picture, but it almost isn’t even fair to call it a sequel. This film can be viewed as a fantastic stand alone piece of filmmaking craftsmanship. What makes the first film so amazing: the acting, writing, and directing, the second film is just as impressive. Al Pacino shines as Michael Corleone who really transforms himself for the role. His character is so much different in this movie compared to the beginning of the first film, and he truly gives an unbelievable performance. He should have won Best Actor! Sorry Art Carney…Robert De Niro also gives a great performance as a young Vito Corleone. He mostly speaks Sicilian in this movie, and actually lived in Sicily for three months to prepare for the role. It is also the role that really launched him into stardom and he won Best Supporting Actor for his performance. This movie won a total of 6 Academy Awards and is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. The Godfather: Part II continues to be parodied and quoted just like the first film, and is truly an amazing piece of art.
4. Lawrence of Arabia – 1962
The epic of all epics. Lawrence of Arabia is directed by David Lean, director of Bridge on the River Kwai, and stars Peter O’Toole. The film is about the life of English military officer T.E. Lawrence. Peter O’Toole gives one of the greatest acting performances EVER in this film. Premiere Magazine actually listed his performance as the greatest of all time. This film also features some of the greatest cinematography you will ever see on the screen. This movie was made to be shown on the big screen, and I would love to see this film get re-released on IMAX someday. The film was made using Super Panavision 70mm film compared to the common 35 mm. This method really showcases the wonder and beauty of the Arabian Desert where a lot of the film is located. It is a true beauty to watch. This film also has, in my opinion, the greatest edit sequence ever. If you have seen it, you know exactly what I am talking about. Lawrence of Arabia won 6 other Academy Awards and is a truly magnificent movie and one of the greatest ever! I can say the same thing for pretty much every movie on this list, but you get the point. Moving on….
3. Gone With the Wind – 1939
This movie came out 77 years ago!! There might not be a movie that has stood the test of time as efficiently as Gone With the Wind. Besides maybe The Wizard of Oz which came out in 1939 as well. I can’t imagine living in 1939 and watching this movie in theaters. This film is actually, adjusted for inflation, the highest grossing movie of all time. 1.74 Billion dollars!! This film really set the bar for how American cinema can be achieved and very few films have even reached it’s impact to this day. Gone With the Wind offers some amazing performances from Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, and Hattie McDaniel, who became the first African American ever to win an Academy Award. The cinematography is still impressive to this day. Also this movie takes place during a very important time in American History, before and after the Civil War. So much more can be said about this masterpiece, but let’s move on to the top two greatest Best Picture winners of all time..
2. Casablanca – 1942
This is the kind of movie that needs to be viewed by every movie buff, I don’t care if it came out in 1942. This movie is so iconic and legendary. I understand if you don’t wanna watch Gone With the Wind, because it is four hours, but Casablanca is the closest thing to perfection you will ever see in cinema. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are movie icons and their chemistry is second to none in this film. Watching this movie, I was immediately struck with how interesting the characters were. Rick Blaine was super cool, but he had this vulnerability to him that made you really relate with his character. Everyone felt like real people and not actors. The music in this film is also legendary. I think this might be the most quotable movie of all time. So many great lines, which really proves how AMAZING the screenplay is. Casablanca is many people’s favorite movie of all time. It is the type of movie that has to be on every “best movies of all time” list, just because it is so important and impactful. And lastly, the ending to this movie is one of the greatest ever. If you haven’t seen this masterpiece, please go watch it, because this is the type of movie that defines Hollywood films and is one of the greatest ever.
1. The Godfather – 1972
Okay, so me being Sicilian might have something to do with this being my selection for the greatest Best Picture Academy Award winner of all time, but I will try my best to prove why it is the greatest. First of all, this movie defined a new generation of actors. It rejuvenated Marlon Brando’s career. Gave us Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, and James Caan. And introduced us to Al Pacino. All these legendary actors give top-notch performances. Especially Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. Marlon Brando’s performance as Vito Corleone is one of the greatest I have ever seen. His performance is truly transformative. He is not Marlon Brando in this movie, he is Vito Corleone. And just hearing him talk gives me goosebumps. Al Pacino’s character growth in this movie is phenomenal to watch and true perfection in character development. The attention-detailed directing by Francis Ford Coppola is incredible. The score is iconic. You really can’t appreciate this film by just watching it one time. It requires multiple views to really understand how phenomenal it is. The Godfather is a film that is showing no signs of aging at all. Where Casablanca has aged slightly over the years, The Godfather continues to reach new generations of people and is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Without The Godfather, there may not be actors like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, and movies like Scarface and Goodfellas. The influence this movie brought to many other filmmakers and actors is second to none. This was an obvious Best Picture choice in 1973, and to me the definite choice for greatest Best Picture winner ever at the Academy Awards.