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 favorite films place on our list celebrating 91 years of the Academy Awards?
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91. Argo (2012)
The worst thing the Academy Awards ever did was give Ben Affleck the impression that he was an artist. To be fair, Argo is not a terrible film by any means. As a director, Affleck manages to create some feeling of suspense in this true story of CIA agents attempting to smuggle American diplomats out of Tehran by posing as a science-fiction film crew. The real problem with Argo—other than the fact that it gives virtually no credit to the Canadian government’s part in the real-life mission—is that there’s not a single memorable scene or line of dialogue in the entire film, and that simply shouldn’t be the case for any film that wins an Oscar for Best Picture. Here are some things you didn’t know about the Academy Awards.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Zero Dark Thirty
90. Cimarron (1930-1931)
Directed by Wesley Ruggles and starring Irene Dunne, pre-Hays Code Cimarron was the first Western to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Set during the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush, Cimarron laid the groundwork for the epics that would expand Hollywood’s audiences across the globe—not to mention the type of film Academy voters would quickly favor. Unfortunately, there’s not much in terms of drama in Cimarron. Take a look back at the Academy’s most memorable snubs.
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. Here are the greatest movies to watch just for the clothes.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: The Tree of Life
88. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Is The Greatest Show on Earth the worst film to win Best Picture? No, but it’s close. Did voters give director Cecil B. DeMille the night’s biggest prize simply because they felt bad he hadn’t won any Academy Awards up to that point? Maybe. Is The Greatest Show on Earth nothing more than a two-hour advertisement for circuses with a few plot lines thrown in? Debatable, but it sure feels that way.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: High Noon
87. Cavalcade (1932-1933)
Like Cimarron before it, Cavalcade feels more like the answer to an Oscar trivia question than a film in its own right. Adapted from the Noël Coward play of the same title, Cavalcade stars Diana Wynyard and Clive Brook as an upper-class couple who, along with their children and servants, live through several Earth-shattering events in the first quarter of the 20th century. It’s all handsomely staged, but the film is ultimately hollow. These are the most iconic movies set in every state.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: 42nd Street
86. Crash (2005)
Even a well-meaning film doesn’t get a pass when it fails. Perhaps Canadian 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 Hispanic locksmith, a Persian storeowner and a white district attorney, among other characters. The film’s thesis—everyone is capable of racism—is solid enough; it’s just too bad the message is delivered through a series of laughably contrived scenarios. Matt Dillon’s nuanced performance as a racist cop is the film’s sole saving grace.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Brokeback Mountain
85. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
Pomp and circumstance was the name of the game in 1950s Hollywood: the bigger your film, the more highly regarded it would be in the eyes of Academy voters. Case in point: Around the World in 80 Days. Michael Anderson’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s beloved novel used more than 140 sets, 68,894 extras, 74,685 costumes, and more than 40 celebrity cameos. The result? Empty fun. After you’re done watching all of these award-winning movies, you’ll also want to tackle these books everyone should read before they die.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: The Ten Commandments
84. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Winner of six Academy Awards, William Wyler’s Mrs. Miniver is widely credited with increasing American support for World War II. In fact, Winston Churchill reportedly said it was more important to the war effort than an entire fleet of battleships. Starring Greta Garson and Walter Pidgeon, Mrs. Miniver depicts the experiences of a middle-class English family during the war. Audiences may have loved it back in 1942, but it really is just propaganda masquerading as melodrama.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: The Magnificent Ambersons
83. Oliver! (1968)
“Please sir, I want some more.” Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist is so famous a novel, even those who haven’t read 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 spectacle. 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
82. Rain Man (1988)
The best thing about Rain Man is its movie poster. This story of a yuppie car dealer (Tom Cruise) who goes on a road trip with his autistic savant brother (Dustin Hoffman) set a dangerous precedent when it won Best Picture at the 61st Academy Awards: if a film makes you feel good, and its message is moral and positive, then it deserves to win. Hoffman’s career peaked with Rain Man, but fortunately, Cruise would go on to do bigger, better and more mature things. You probably won’t believe these surprising movie trivia facts.
What Should Have Won Best Picture: Dangerous Liaisons