Oscar-Winning Movies: 11 Surprising Films You Forgot Actually Won
These stellar movies are proof enough: You never know who will end up a winner come Oscar night.
How Green Was My Valley
Citizen Kane may be considered one of the greatest films ever made, yet this Orson Welles grand tale of a newspaper magnate’s rise and fall lost out on Best Picture in 1942. Instead, the prize went to How Green Was My Valley, a drama depicting the struggles of a Welsh mining family. As director, co-author, producer, and star, Welles had every hand in the making of Citizen Kane, but his controversial film, thought to be based on media mogul William Randolph Hearst, managed to alienate him from Hollywood. How Green Was My Valley, from director John Ford, proved to be a more sentimental favorite of the time. (Don't miss out on these classic movies that didn't win Best Picture.)
An American in Paris
Before the 1950s, only three musical films had managed to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Then in 1952, Vincente Minnelli’s lavish, Technicolor spectacle An American in Paris, starring the one and only Gene Kelly, would steal the show, pulling off a surprising win for Best Picture over dramas A Streetcar Named Desire and A Place in the Sun. The sunny musical would take home six total Oscars that evening, proving that song and dance could be taken seriously.
The Sound of Music
Surprisingly, the beloved movie musical was not a favorite to win Best Picture in 1966. In fact, many critics found the story of an Austrian nun who brings love and music to a widower and his seven children to be trivial. Respected The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther panned the “romantic nonsense and sentiment” of the film’s heroine Maria while calling the children “artificial.” Yet, The Sound of Music would go on to win the top prize and nab four more Academy Awards that evening, including Best Director. (Here are 20 Broadway musicals you really should know some of the songs to by now!)
Much like the film’s boxing hero, Rocky was an underdog going into the 1977 Oscars. Facing off against such acclaimed movies like All the President’s Men, Network, and Taxi Driver for Best Picture, the low-budget, cult favorite, penned by the film’s breakout star Sylvester Stallone, was considered a long shot to take the gold. But in true Rocky fashion, the film would beat the odds, not only winning Best Picture, but also scoring Best Director for John G. Avildsen (who would later direct the popular Karate Kid series). Never underestimate an underdog.
Chariots of Fire
Hugh Hudson’s British drama Chariots of Fire is heavy on the running, but the heart of the film goes way deeper than sports. Based off the true story of two runners training for the 1924 Olympics, the film examines the young men’s struggles with faith and the British class system after World War I. Though the movie was received positively by critics, it was still a dark horse to win Best Picture in 1982, especially up against Warren Beatty’s self-produced and directed Reds, inspired by the real-life story of a radical American journalist who gets caught up in Communism and the Russian Revolution. Yet, Chariots of Fire would come out the surprise winner; it’s one of three sports movies to win Best Picture at the Oscars, along with Rocky and Million Dollar Baby.
The Silence of the Lambs
A young FBI agent. A cannibalistic serial killer. The chase to solve a string of spine-chilling murders. Not only did The Silence of the Lambs keep movie goers’ hearts racing, but the thriller also slayed come Oscar night in 1992. It’s one of only three films to win the "Big Five" Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Adapted Screenplay. It’s also still considered to be the only horror film to take home the award for Best Picture, despite past nominations for movies like Jaws and The Exorcist. And don't forget to add these 32 scary movies to your must-watch list.
The best word to sum up the 1996 Academy Awards? Unpredictable. With an unlikely set of nominees (including everyone’s favorite pig Babe) facing off in the Best Picture category, film aficionados were left guessing as to the actual winner. “Likable but less-than-great entries dominate the best-picture category,” wrote Janet Maslin of The New York Times. Though the favorite of the bunch was Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, the prize would ultimately go to Mel Gibson’s epic Scottish war drama Braveheart, despite being written off by the industry early on.
Shakespeare in Love
Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic Saving Private Ryan was hands down the favorite to take Best Picture in 1999. Imagine everyone’s surprise when romantic dramedy Shakespeare in Love was named winner instead. The film, depicting an imaginary love affair of William Shakespeare, ultimately managed to stun the Tom Hanks-starring Ryan, widely praised for its realistic portrayal of the Invasion of Normandy. Though Spielberg would take home the award for Best Director that night, Shakespeare in Love’s triumph still remains one of the most shocking Oscar upsets. (Here are 10 movies with the best one-liners you'll want to repeat all day long!)
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Though the series’ first two films The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers were both nominated for Best Picture, it was not until 2004 that Peter Jackson’s final installment of the fantasy drama would take home the prize (and nab Jackson the statue for Best Director). Not to mention the film would cement The Lord of the Rings in Oscar history. Winning all 11 Academy Awards for which it was nominated, The Return of The King shares the record for most Oscar wins by a film, along with Titanic and Ben-Hur.
An ensemble film with interweaving stories of race and social tension in Los Angeles, Crash pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Academy Awards history when it beat Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture in 2006. Ang Lee’s romantic drama between two cowboys was a front-runner for the Oscar that year. While the filmmaker would take the statue for Best Director, increased recognition for Crash leading up to the Oscars gave the film added momentum to land the top prize. The win still remains controversial, as some critics felt Academy voters weren’t ready to award a mainstream movie featuring gay romance.
Who could forget the heartwarming tale of an elderly widower who goes venturing the skies with balloons strung to his home? In 2010, Up would come away with the statue for Best Animated Feature Film, a category the Academy first introduced back in 2001. While it’s certainly not the first animated film to win Oscar gold, the movie would make history that year as the second animated film to receive a nomination for Best Picture, following Beauty and the Beast in 1992. With the addition of Toy Story 3 in 2011, only three animated films have managed to receive Oscar nods for Best Picture. (Check out these movies with the best soundtracks!)