Here Are The Best And Worst Academy Award-Winning Films
Since the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony, movie fans have tuned in year after year to see which film will come out on top as Best Picture.
From the not-so-great The Broadway Melody to the magnificent Korean film Parasite, here are some of the best and worst Best Picture films.
Out of ten nominated films, Casablanca took home the Academy Award for Best Picture during the 16th annual ceremony in 1944. Casablanca is now considered a true classic.
One of the most beloved films to come out of the Hollywood Golden Age, Casablanca’s engrossing story, top-notch acting, and emotional dialogue peg it as one of the best films of all time.
Upon its 1986 release, Platoon received positive praise and critical acclaim due to the direction, the cinematography, the lead performances, and the realistic nature of the battles. During the 59th Academy Awards, Platoon won Best Picture.
But that doesn’t mean it earned the award. While the film is critically acclaimed, some, such as critic Pauline Kael, believe “that Stone takes too many melodramatic shortcuts… it doesn’t leave you room for an honest emotion.”
When Titanic was released in 1997, people were spellbound by the tragic love story between Rose and Jack, as well as its astonishing special effects.
Film critic Roger Ebert said, “It is flawlessly crafted, intelligently constructed, strongly acted, and spellbinding… Movies like this are not merely difficult to make at all, but almost impossible to make well.” Titanic wholeheartedly deserved its best picture win at the 70th Academy Awards Ceremony.
Worst: Shakespeare In Love
Even though it won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 71st Academy Award Ceremony, Shakespeare in Love didn’t necessarily deserve it. A strange mix between a Shakespearean biopic and a love story, the film never found a solid footing for a plot.
There was controversy over the win since Saving Private Ryan was the critic’s favorite that year. Even so, Shakespeare in Love wound up winning.
Best: Forrest Gump
The comedy-drama Forrest Gump won Best Picture at the 67th Academy Awards Ceremony. While many critics didn’t particularly enjoy the slow-talking title character, a majority of reviews were positive.
Film critic Roger Ebert said it best, stating, “The performance is a breathtaking balancing act between comedy and sadness, in a story rich in big laughs and quiet truths…What a magical movie.”
Worst: Out Of Africa
Nothing is “horribly wrong” with the epic romantic film Out of Africa. The cinematography is actually beautiful, and the acting from leads Meryl Streep and Robert Redford is top-notch. However, the narrative is so slow-paced that viewers might fall asleep before the final credits roll.
Despite this, the film was still awarded the Best Picture statuette at the 58th Academy Awards.
Best: The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
At the 76th Academy Awards Ceremony, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King became the first fantasy film to win Best Picture.
Between its visual achievements, special effects, crowning storyline, and solid 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this final installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy more than earned its place among history’s Best Picture winners.
Worst: The Great Ziegfeld
At the time of its release, The Great Ziegfeld’s extravagance enchanted movie-goers and film critics alike. The film won Best Picture at the 9th Academy Awards Ceremony, beating the likes of Romeo and Juliet, San Francisco, and even A Tale of Two Cities.
In hindsight, many critics believe the film actually relies too much on its extravagance in order to cover up its dull plotline.
Best: Gone With The Wind
In 1939, the epic Gone With the Wind was released on the big screen. The film was unlike anything ever put on screen, and it wound up winning eight Academy Awards for its efforts, including Best Picture.
The film is beautifully shot and wonderfully acted. Some recent reviews have said Gone with the Wind is an uncomfortable watch in the year 2021, but even so, it still deserved to win Best Picture.
Set from New Year’s Eve 1899 to New Year’s Day 1933, the film Cavalcade has good bones to work with but doesn’t really deliver. Still, the Academy liked it enough to award it Best Picture in 1934.
With 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, the critical consensus regarding the movie reads, “Though solidly acted and pleasant to look at, Cavalcade lacks cohesion and sacrifices true emotion for mawkishness.”
Best: The Shape Of Water
During the 90th Academy Awards, The Shape of Water became the second-ever fantasy film ever to win Best Picture. The beautiful Guillermo del Toro film follows an unlikely character who falls in love with a more unlikely specimen.
With a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, this particular Best Picture is one of the most highly-praised Oscar winners in history.
Worst: The Broadway Melody
At the second-ever Academy Award ceremony, the 1929 “talkie” The Broadway Melody won Best Picture, but perhaps undeservedly.
While the film was considered a huge feat for the film industry because of its incorporation of talking, singing, and dancing, it doesn’t detract from the less-than-stellar acting. There is a reason why The Broadway Melody has only 33% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The 1940 psychological thriller Rebecca was a smashing success, garnering both critical and commercial praise for its suspenseful story, brilliant acting, and marvelous direction by Hitchcock.
During the 13th Academy Awards, Rebecca beat out multiple critically acclaimed films for Best Picture. In the end, Rebecca hands down deserved the award that year.
Worst: The Greatest Show On Earth
Remember how it became a pseudo-joke that Leonardo DiCaprio always got snubbed at the Oscars, eventually winning for what viewers thought to be not his best work? Well, the same can be said for Cecil B. DeMille.
After being snubbed for films such as Cleopatra, Samson and Delilah, and The King of Kings, DeMille finally won Best Picture for The Greatest Show on Earth, a forgettable three-ring circus experience on the silver screen.
Best: The Departed
The crime thriller The Departed was the unlikely winner of Best Picture at the 79th Academy Awards. Starring Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Matt Damon and directed by Martin Scorsese, the film deserved all of its praise.
Keeping viewers on their toes from start to finish, the mob film proved its place among the greatest films of all time.
Best: Going My Way
The film Going My Way won Best Picture at the 17th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony. The musical was wildly praised, especially Bing Crosby’s tailor-made character.
One Variety critic wrote, “Bing Crosby gets a tailor-made role in Going My Way, and with major assistance from Barry Fitzgerald and Rise Stevens, clicks solidly to provide top-notch entertainment for wide audience appeal.”
Just because a film has an all-star cast with talents doesn’t mean the plot is great. This just so happens to be the case for Crash, the Best Picture winner at the 78th Academy Awards.
The interweaving stories skirt around the big-picture issues the film is trying to tackle, making it a bit shallow.
A startling funny biopic about the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the 1984 film Amadeus became the Best Picture winner at the 57th Academy Awards ceremony. This movie shows what brilliant storytelling is capable of.
Some critics believed the film to be risky, as frame filming techniques weren’t necessarily common in the 80s, but in the end, Amadeus was brilliant, charming, and more than deserving of its Bets Picture win.
Best: Million Dollar Baby
What was marketed as a female Rocky turned out to be something emotionally raw, dark, and completely different from any previous boxing flick.
Considered one of the best films to come out of 2004, Million Dollar Baby deserved all of the awards it received, including a Best Picture award and a Best Actress award for Swank during the 77th Academy Awards.
Worst: The Sound Of Music
The 1965 film The Sound of Music might be considered a classic, but it received mixed reviews upon its release. Film critic Pauline Kael even called the movie “the sugar-coated lie people seem to want to eat…[we] turned into emotional and aesthetic imbeciles when we hear ourselves humming the sickly, goody-goody songs.”
However, the criticism didn’t sway the academy, and the movie and its catchy songs wound up winning the Best Picture award at the 1966 ceremony.
Best: Dances With Wolves
In his directorial debut, Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves wound up winning the Academy Award for Best Picture during the 63rd annual ceremony. The film proved to be immensely popular with fans and critics alike because of its excellent cinematography and acting.
The film ended up being one of the most highly-regarded films of 1990, and it really did deserve each and every one of its accolades.
In 1959, the biblical epic Ben-Hur was released on the big screen. It became an instant classic, illustrating the pure excitement and drama that Hollywood is capable of bringing to life.
With overwhelmingly positive reviews upon its release, it really came as little surprise when it was announced that Ben-Hur had won Best Picture during the 32nd Annual Academy Awards ceremony in 1960.
Worst: The Hurt Locker
The 2009 war thriller The Hurt Locker showcases soldiers’ psychological reactions during and after combat.
While the movie earned much of its praise and accolades, saying it deserved the Academy Award for Best Picture during the 82nd Academy Awards would be a lie, especially since it was up against James Cameron’s Avatar, the animated film Up, and even District 9.
Best: Silence Of The Lambs
The psychological thriller Silence Of The Lambs won Best Picture, among many other awards, during the 64th Academy Awards.
Expertly skirting between a psychological study of serial killers and an all-out horror film, Silence of the Lambs is widely considered to be a masterpiece of the genre.
In 2020, Parasite made history by becoming the first-ever non-English language film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The South Korean black comedy brilliantly showcases the absurd lengths a family will go to secure their ideal lifestyle.
Critic A.O Scott wrote, “[Parasite‘s] wildly entertaining, the kind of smart, generous, aesthetically energized movie that obliterates the tired distinctions between art films and popcorn movies.”
Worst: The English Patient
The English Patient might have garnered positive reviews and critical acclaim, but that doesn’t mean it deserved the Best Picture award at the 69th Academy Awards.
The film really is nothing more than hours upon hours of the main character telling his life story in a series of flashbacks. Arguably, this film had no place in beating Fargo for Best Picture.
Best: Kramer Vs. Kramer
The 1979 film Kramer vs. Kramer was ahead of its time. Showcasing the legal battle between a divorced couple, the film illustrates issues surrounding gender roles, father’s vs. mother’s rights, women’s rights, single parenting, and even work-life balance.
It was a critical and commercial success, garnering more than a few positive reviews from big-named critics like Roger Ebert. The film wound up winning Best Picture at the 1980 Oscars.
Worst: Around The World In 80 Days
The comedy film Around the World in 80 Days won Best Picture at the 29th Academy Awards, and it proved that a movie doesn’t have to have a lot going for it to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Starring David Niven as the lead character, the picture features a cheery English guy who bets he can travel the globe in under three months, but it’s really nothing special.
Best: West Side Story
Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the film adaptation of Broadway’s West Side Story made history during the 34th Academy Awards, becoming the most decorated musical in the history of the ceremony.
According to many critics, West Side Story was a huge feat for Hollywood musicals, bringing together spectacularly dazzling cinematography, thrilling camera work, and superb production design to amplify its story.
Best: Rain Man
The stellar on-screen chemistry between Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise propelled Rain Man straight to the winner’s circle at the 61st Academy Awards.
The moving film follows the story of two estranged brothers on a cross-country road trip is a familiar storyline. What’s more, Hoffman’s character is autistic, and Cruise’s character is money hungry and wants to take their late father’s multi-million dollar estate away from him.