The Past 28 Oscar ‘Best Picture’ Winners From Worst To Best

28. 2002: Chicago

Chicago is one of the few Academy Award-winning films relying heavily upon song and dance. The duality of nostalgia and aesthetics makes for a truly captivating piece of art. Of course, this adaptation from a 1975 Broadway hit cannot be complete without some heavy hitters within the industry.

Director Rob Marshall/writer Bill Condon opted to go for a star-studded cast — which included the likes of John C. Reilly, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, Renee Zellweger, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It isn’t the typical Best Picture film — though it certainly is entertaining.

27. 1998: Shakespeare In Love

The weaving of fictional events with a non-fictional base makes for compelling art. Utilizing the famed life of playwright William Shakespeare, Shakespeare in Love is a fictional story in which Shakespeare himself (Joseph Fiennes) is experiencing many of the storylines from plays he himself has crafted. The cast is a who’s who of acting brilliance.

This in all likelihood was Gwyneth Paltrow’s best performance to date (she won the award for Best Actress). Dame Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress in a complementary role.

Image Sources: Miramax/Movie Room Reviews, Variety

26. 2005: Crash

Though created in 2004, Crash is perhaps more poignant today than at any other time. Multiple vignettes are showcased in this story. Families and individuals from all different walks of life are highlighted in the struggle to exist in Los Angeles. The narrative is further buoyed by prevalent themes of systemic racism, blatant racism, and xenophobia.

Director Paul Haggis used an expansive cast for the project. It featured Hollywood giants in Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard, and Michael Peña (among others).

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25. 1999: American Beauty

There’s something to be said about the forbidden fruits of society. For some, there’s an existential thirst to crave what they can’t have — or shouldn’t have. American Beauty speaks to this premise. Kevin Spacey’s character is a middle-aged man beset by a proverbial itch that needed to be scratched.

With an unfulfilling existence, Spacey suddenly sets his eyes on the friend (Mena Suvari) of his teenage daughter (Thora Birch). The film is chock-full of interpretative themes — thus allowing for audience members to come to their own conclusions.

Image Source: IMDb

24. 1996: The English Patient

There’s a lot to like about The English Patient. Strong direction from Anthony Minghella was enhanced further by his intricate script. A period piece, it relied heavily upon the breadth of emotion from leads Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes. The cinematography accentuates the ever-changing settings during the film as well.

Despite the impressive performances of the aforementioned actors, the film drags on far too much. It’s rather slow and uneventful — thus limiting its placement within this list.

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23. 2011: The Artist

The Artist was a throwback to cinema from yesteryear. Director/writer Michel Hazanavicius opted to make this silent film function under a black and white filter. It utilized old-fashioned techniques in terms of its aspect ratio (4:3). From a story standpoint, it pitted the dichotomy of a fond, traditional world up against a newfound method of procedure.

The film is unquestionably well done — and does feature some American actors (John Goodman, James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, Penelope Ann Miller) — despite it being French in nature.

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22. 2004: Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby plucked exquisitely at the heartstrings of any underdog athlete. Scratching and clawing for eternal glory, protagonist Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) attempts to overcome the odds as an unknown boxer. There are considerable amounts of heart, determination, and sadness in this gut-wrenching story.

Writer Paul Haggis teamed with director Clint Eastwood to provide a very apropos sporting film. Though it didn’t end in the usual cheery fashion, the presentation of virtually every emotion possible takes the audience on a worthwhile journey.

Image Source: Warner Brothers/NY Times

21. 2014: Birdman

Birdman is atypical of the traditional Best Picture winner. A true visionary from a presentation standpoint, director/writer Alejandro G. Inarritu took the canvas that was Birdman and turned it into a film rooted in magical realism. A down-on-his-luck actor (Michael Keaton) must work his way back into the limelight after a long hiatus. However, his past character (Birdman) still remains embedded in his soul — and thus is manifested on screen.

It’s a wildly unique film, and one in which Keaton truly stars. The originality here is not something seen very often in today’s film business (which has since taken to recycling tired themes/reinvigorating older projects).

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20. 2017: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water must not be taken overly seriously. Sure, the plot makes little to no sense — especially for those operating solely in reality and reason. With that said, inventive director Guillermo del Toro was largely motivated to make this film off of his childhood love for monsters. Taking place in the ’60s, there are obvious ties to a former generation in which ‘monsters’ were terrorizing communities and towns.

The visuals (as to be expected) were brilliant in this film. It’s a movie meant to illuminate themes between individuals, rather than simply portray a love story between a mute woman and a mutant amphibious creature.

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19. 2012: Argo

Directed by Ben Affleck and produced by George Clooney, Argo attempts to recreate scenes from the Iran Hostage Crisis. The template for this story was created in real time 30 years prior to the filming of the movie. However, Affleck did a very nice job in piecing together this captivating story.

Strong acting performances from veterans Alan Arkin and John Goodman were further helped by Bryan Cranston and Affleck himself. The film won three awards — including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing.

Image Source: The New York Times

18. 2009: The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker proved to be a transcendent film. Its win at the Academy Awards marked the first time in which a female director (Kathryn Bigelow) came away with the honor. The United States in general has been plagued with a number of wars abroad — primarily in the Middle East region. Attempting to delve into the psyche of American soldiers, The Hurt Locker beautifully portrays the personal pitfalls as well as mental highs experienced by the troops. It’s a haunting tale, and one which effectively hits the audience’s collective emotional core.

Image Source: Summit Entertainment/The New York Times

17. 1992: Unforgiven

Clint Eastwood is the unquestioned King of Western films. As such, it comes as no surprise to see Unforgiven register as an all-time great. In what turned out to be Eastwood’s final Western, the now-88-year-old actor simply shined in an all-too familiar role. If an aspiring actor is reading this piece, it may be worth your time to check out this film.

An impromptu acting class is held within this film by the likes of Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Richard Harris, Morgan Freeman, and Frances Fisher. Without question, Unforgiven is one of the best Westerns of the last 50 years.

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16. 1997: Titanic

Grand and unabashed, Titanic remains as one of the most highly popular films in cinematic history. Its ground-breaking debut took a historical scene and flipped it upside down in the form of a love story. No one can dispute the incredible visuals from the film. It was almost as if the entire cast was traveling on the original Titanic itself.

The regal nature of the first class passengers were accented further by the presence of immigrants residing in the bowels of the ship. This was illustrated beautifully in the relationship between Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet).

Image Source: Hollywood Reporter

15. 2016: Moonlight

Moonlight is a coming of age tale. The presence of varying themes smack the audience right in the face. Essentially, a poor, young African-American teenager is dealing with image issues. As we see an arc of adolescence, teenage years, and adulthood, the protagonist (played by Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert) must also come to grips with his sexuality. There are some heavy moments in this film — particularly with interactions between some of the main players.

With that said, director/writer Barry Jenkins crafted a world in which personal exploration is applauded rather than concealed. The grappled nature of growing up — and thus trying to grapple with internal pressures — is something we can all resonate with.

Image Source: The Atlantic

14. 2001: A Beautiful Mind

The braintrust of Brian Grazer and Ron Howard teamed to direct/produce the award-winning film A Beautiful Mind. This film aims to essentially promote the brilliance of real-life figure John Nash (portrayed by the highly talented Russell Crowe). Though the story has non-fictional elements to it, it’s not a comprehensive representation of Nash.

Crowe’s portrayal of a brilliant yet mentally ill man was simply phenomenal. He was able to evoke emotion from the audience, and at the same time provide a performance which exuded tangible pain. Along with Crowe, an all-star cast (Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Judd Hirsch, Ed Harris, Christopher Plummer) aided in making this a truly great movie.

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13. 1990: Dances with Wolves

Dances with Wolves registers as the oldest film from this list. Kevin Costner co-functioned as both the director and lead in this Western saga. In a sense, there are some interesting parallels with the film Avatar. Costner — a soldier from the Civil War — ends up befriending a Sioux tribe. From there, a mutual respect grows between Costner and those natives with dissimilar cultures. Strife certainly follows later on within the film.

With that said, the overarching themes of acceptance, tolerance, and friendship ring true today when looking at the current climate of the world. Dances with Wolves is more than just a Western; it’s a beautifully told tale.

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12. 2010: The King’s Speech

Another historical drama, The King’s Speech speaks to the humanist nature of all people, regardless of social class or strata. King George VI (played by Colin Firth) was beset by a speech impediment. With many of his responsibilities revolving around addressing an entire nation, something had to be done about the stuttering. In came Geoffrey Rush’s character Lionel Logue — an Australian speech therapist who wasn’t shy about working with such a prestigious client.

The chemistry between Rush and Firth was simply fantastic. Additionally, the set work, scenery, and overall artistic presentation effectively took the audience back to the 1930’s.

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11. 2013: 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave is the type of picture which hurts the heart yet places historical significance in perspective. The true story features a free African-American man named Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) living in the state of New York. However, a potential job opportunity quickly turned into a dire situation. Northrup was unknowingly drugged — and ultimately became a slave in the Southern part of the United States. As the title suggests, this once-free man spent 12 years as a slave. To the audience’s horror, we see the gross exploitation of these poor humans by other sick individuals. Ejiofor was phenomenal in his role.

Many (including the writer of this piece) feels as if he was robbed of winning the Best Actor award. Even when immersed in a world of evil and sorrow, Ejiofor was still able to evoke glimpses of aplomb.

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10. 1994: Forrest Gump

Within the last 25 years, one would be hard-pressed to find a more beloved character than Forrest Gump. The simpleton with a heart of gold embarks on a whirlwind journey across the country. Tom Hanks was both endearing and empathetic in his role as the lead. He was brilliant in the cultivation of empathy he collected from audiences and critics alike. It’s a large reason as to why Hanks won the award for Best Actor at the 1994 Academy Awards.

During this year, Forrest Gump beat out both The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction in order to win the Best Picture award. This fact alone endorses Gump’s placement within the top-10 perhaps more than anything.

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9. 2015: Spotlight

This film sheds light on the news team responsible for uncovering what turned out to be one of the most egregious child sexual abuse stories in the history of the United States. Played by Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci, the ‘spotlight’ team from The Boston Globe pieced together mass evidence which effectively condemned Catholic priests in the greater Boston area.

Spotlight isn’t a film packed with explosions or raw action. Instead, it offers a portrayal of true events to effectively demonstrate how dire the situations had become for these victims. McAdams in particular shines as a hard-nosed journalist attempting to overturn every possible stone.

Image Source: IMDb

8. 2007: No Country for Old Men

Javier Bardem plays a killer psychopath quite well. In fact, it’s almost eerie as to how brilliantly wicked he was as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. This film has understated levels of terror to it. It’s not a horror movie in the classic sense. However, using a rural desert town as the backdrop, the audience gets a real sense of suspense.

As has been the case for decades, the Coen brothers brilliantly pieced together what many presume to be a highly compelling tale. Veterans Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, and Kelly Macdonald shine alongside the talented Bardem. Though not a classic Western film with cowboys and shootouts, it suffices as a wonderfully great film.

Image Source: Substream Magazine

7. 2008: Slumdog Millionaire

This film is a cornucopia of striking visuals. It follows the plight of two young Indian boys attempting to navigate the world without their recently deceased mother. Director Danny Boyle and writer Simon Beaufoy were tremendous in adapting a novel to the screen. Not only did this story offer much in the way of heartache and sorrow, but it also brought great joy — and an overarching sense of sheer determination.

The freshness of the cast worked well to offer true authenticity. In addition, the cinematography brought the scenery all across India to life. This was a relatively low budget film — though most certainly doesn’t hold the dreaded ‘indie’ stigma. Dev Patel was particularly marvelous as the lead protagonist Jamal Malik.

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6. 2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The Return of the King was a groundbreaking film on a number of fronts. For one, director Peter Jackson took one of the most dense and thought-provoking literary series of all-time and turned it into an utter masterpiece. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards — and ended up winning every single category.

This aspect alone speaks to the brilliance of this film. Whether it be the special effects — or the intense cinematography — this film hit all the marks as a legitimate blockbuster. Jackson’s attention to detail can be seen in virtually every frame. Another respective strength of the film sits with the cast. Each individual actor fit his/her specific character perfectly.

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5. 2000: Gladiator

Gladiator is simply a bad-ass film. From a cinematography standpoint, the film hits every major note with supreme precision. The various fight scenes are as epic as one would imagine them to be back during the actual time period. Ancient Greek/Roman culture has always been viewed through a romanticized scope. This film encompasses every major theme one could ask for in a typical dramatic tragedy. Russell Crowe is immense as the protagonist Maximus.

Duly, the mysterious Joaquin Phoenix plays Commodus with a much-needed ruthlessness. The two play off of one other’s energy immensely well. Collectively, this film meshes together the world of an ‘action movie’ with apt elements of grandeur.

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4. 1995: Braveheart

Speaking of epic, Braveheart fits the bill quite well in this capacity. Directed and acted in by the controversial Mel Gibson, this swashbuckling film makes the audience feel as if they’re fighting alongside Gibson and the Scots in search of total autonomy. In the classic oppressed underdog versus the hated Kingdom of England, Gibson conjures up emotions of togetherness, unabated pride, and leadership as the role of William Wallace.

An action-packed film from start to finish, one must appreciate the close-up look of the perpetual violence. Duly, the sound presentation of the battle scenes still holds up incredibly well today.

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3. 2006: The Departed

Martin Scorsese is widely regarded as one of the best directors in cinematic history. The Departed is yet another example of his prowess as a filmmaker. A sweet-spot for Scorsese involves anything dealing with the mafia. As constructed, this film spoke about the relationship between the Irish mob, the city of Boston, and the state police. Relationships between each entity soon start to melt together in what eventually turned out to be a complete mess.

The acting chops displayed in this film are simply mind-boggling. Rarely does any film possess this sort of star-power. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin and Jack Nicholson all play integral roles in this masterpiece.

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2. 1991: The Silence of the Lambs

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” This frightening sentence only scratched the surface at how brilliantly creepy Sir Anthony Hopkins was in The Silence of the Lambs. This film has some twisted and demonic levels to it. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart — nor is it one that can be construed as ‘light’ and ‘fuzzy’. With that said, the psychological elements of this film makes the movie a complete mindf**k.

Hopkins channels his inner cannibal with scary-good effectiveness. His performance is simply stunning on multiple levels. This film in general reinvented the horror genre — where gore is spliced together with attempts to infiltrate the minds of the audience.

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1. 1993: Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List registers as the most acclaimed movie from this 28-year span. Steven Spielberg’s portrayals of the horrors behind the Holocaust were shockingly real. Every aspect of this film was simply superb — including the cinematography, the score, the camera work, the musical arrangements, and the acting. There’s an inherent power emanating from this film.

Though the subject matter is bleak (to say the least), glimmers of humanity can still be seen through Oskar Schindler (portrayed by Liam Neeson). Perhaps the most haunting scene from this film involves the Girl in Red. Much like the film, it’s something extremely moving and unforgettable.

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